Sunday, September 23, 2018

Give place to the Lord of the heavenly banquet.



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Luke 14:1-11  One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.  2 There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.  3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"  4 But they remained silent.  So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.  5 Then he asked them, "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?"  6 And they had nothing to say.  7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.'  Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.'  Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.  11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."


Dear honored guests at the Lord’s banquet,

            The past week or so, I have been watching from a distance, with growing horror, as a man widely lauded as being a good man and well qualified for the position to which he is nominated, is put on trial for something that may or may not have happened over thirty years ago.  Now, I obviously have no way to judge the validity of the accusations, the sincerity of the accuser, nor the integrity of the accused, but I find this whole exercise to be a vivid display of the pompous self-righteousness of the natural man.  So many people on both sides of the political spectrum, and even more so among media elites, have pre-emptively judged the individuals involved as if only those two people could be guilty of serious offenses.  Rather than honoring the man nominated for the highest court, the whole nation waits and watches with serious intent to see what the outcome will be.

Now, I don’t know what to tell you concerning the outcome of the hearings in Washington, but our focus this morning should really be on a trial that took place almost two thousand years ago.  It wasn’t called a trial, of course.  Instead, Jesus was invited to dine at a Sabbath day dinner at the house of a prominent Pharisee.  Most likely, that invitation was extended under the pretense of honoring our Lord, but it was immediately apparent to Jesus that He had been invited there to be put under the scrutiny of those who considered themselves His superior.  By contrast, Jesus’ response shows us that we must Give place to the Lord of the heavenly banquet.

As Jesus entered the dining room of His host, the seating arrangement immediately showed the intent of that Pharisee.  A man suffering from dropsy was seated directly in front of our Lord, and because the others attending this meal were so intently watching Jesus’ actions, there is no way this was a random seating.  Jesus saw through their deceptions, of course, and He asked them a simple question, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"  But, no one answered a word.

Jesus had caught them in a trap of their own making.  The Pharisees were meticulous about obeying law, but only so far as it was convenient for them.  Of course, this is not particularly different than anyone else.  We might all well admit, that we are most diligent about obeying the various laws when it works best for ourselves, or when law enforcement is present and watching our moves.  But, the Pharisees had set up this test, not because they were concerned for the man suffering from dropsy, nor because they were eager to see Jesus do a miracle.  Rather, they wanted to accuse Jesus of doing some unlawful work on the Sabbath.  Jesus’ question stymied them.

“They remained silent.  So taking hold of the man, He healed him and sent him away.”  Before any accusations could be made against Him, Jesus asked His judges another question: "If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?"  And they had nothing to say.  What could they say?  They were caught in their own web.  Instead of honoring the Lord of Creation, they had tried to trap Him.  Those pompous, self-righteous sinners were confronted by the truth that when it suited their materialism, they would gladly set aside their self-made rules so that they could protect their own interests.  Yet, at the same time, they were more than willing to use those rules against the Son whom God had sent to save all people.

Thus, we must be clear, it is willful arrogance that causes men to judge the Lord of heaven and earth.  It is willful arrogance that causes people to hold others to a higher standard than they are willing to use against themselves, and it is only willful arrogance that keeps anyone from throwing himself before the Lord in complete and sincere repentance for our many sins.

Our sermon text teaches humility.  When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.'  Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.'  Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Most of the people at the dinner that day put themselves above Jesus.  They wanted the best seats by which to judge His actions.  Rather than honoring the Son of God, they honored themselves.  At the same time, none of us should feel too boastful.  How often could we be found guilty of judging our God?  How often do we question God’s actions or His providence?  Even more so, how often might we be found secretly thinking ourselves somehow worthy of His honor?

We come before the Lord in worship, but how do we come?  Are we thinking that we earn merit by being here?  Do we assume that we are better than others by how we live?  You and I have been invited to the marriage feast of the Son of God, but how do we enter His presence?  Do we enter God’s house in humble repentance, or do we enter hoping to nab a place of honor? 

Dear friends, I am not trying to knock you down a peg or two.  Please understand that every person on earth needs to see what Jesus was doing at that dinner.  The One who created the world and everything in it was there at that banquet showing His incredible power to heal, and furthermore, His incredible concern for the hurting sinner.  Yet, no one there honored His presence, so Jesus warned that that type of arrogance is dangerous for the soul.

Our natural man wants to hold himself up as good and righteous, even though the truth is much different.  We naturally want to be honored for even the most minimal good things we do.  We don’t want to be confronted with our faults and sins against the Creator.  Natural man is unwilling to accept God’s just judgment over us, but rather, expects that God should cower to our demands.  However, natural man is destined to destruction for his rebellion against God.

Dear friends, I know it sounds like I am implying that we might not always have the sincerest humility and the greatest devotion before our Lord.  What’s even worse though, is that we all know those implications are true.  Looking at ourselves in honest humility, we can only judge that we have no right even to enter the banquet feast of heaven, yet God invites us in. 

Thanks be to God, we are not left alone to face the judgment of the Creator of all.  Because we are all sinners who deserve only eternal punishment and death, and because we couldn’t do anything to rectify our sad condition, Jesus came into the world to win our place at His wedding banquet.  For you and me, the Son of the Almighty humbled Himself to live as a Man.  Instead of entering our world demanding His rightful due, Jesus came as the Servant of all, and as the Scapegoat for the world.

This morning, Jesus teaches us that when we enter His banquet feast, we should come not boasting of ourselves or judging His handiwork.  Rather, we should come to the marriage of the Lamb in humility, not overestimating our worth, but seeking only the lowest places in the house, humbling confessing our lack of merit, but also remembering the plea of the psalmist, If You, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”  At the same time, we remember also his words of comfort, “But with You there is forgiveness; therefore You are feared.” (Psalm 130:3-4)

Dear friends, the most important thing we can remember is that Jesus died to save sinners of whom we each like St. Paul can say, “I am the worst.”  Therefore, Jesus died for you and me.  Living in perfect humility in our place, Jesus took all our arrogant boastfulness upon Himself and carried those sins to the cross so that there can be no condemnation of any of us at the marriage feast of God’s Son.  Since our baptisms, and the faith we were given in those waters, when the Father in heaven looks at us, today and forevermore, He sees only the perfect righteousness of His beloved Son covering us and the sanctified things we now do by the power of the Spirit to serve and honor our Savior.

So how do we Give place to the Lord of the heavenly banquet?  We do so when we give our rapt attention to His every word, when we share His healing touch with those we meet, when we bow in humble confession that we have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed, but at the same time trust that all of our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  You see, the merit we need to move up in Jesus’ house doesn’t come from our lives, but from the life Jesus lived for us. 

Because of Jesus, when our Father in heaven comes to you and me at the feast, He will see only that the blood of His Son has washed us clean and made us worthy guests, and seeing the righteousness of His Son on you, it is then that “He will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.'  Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." 

Today, and every day, Give place to the Lord of the heavenly banquet.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

We are family of immeasurable love.


Sermon for Trinity 16, September 16, 2018

Grace, mercy, love, and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Ephesians 3:13-21  I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.  14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.

We are family of immeasurable love.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

            How many of you would say you are proud to wear your father’s name?  Chances are, if you had a good relationship with your father, you appreciate your last name.  On the other hand, some who didn’t have a good relationship with their fathers have been known to change their name once they were old enough to do so.  As you well know, in Scandinavian tradition, the child’s last name noted that he was the son of a certain man, so that would make me, Ronaldson, and my father would have been Alfredson.  Of course, my Germanic forefathers didn’t follow that tradition, so my last name has a somewhat mysterious origin.  In other words, we don’t really know where it came from.

I won’t spend a lot of time on names this morning, but St. Paul makes an interesting statement in our sermon text.  He said, I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”  This is most curious because here on earth, none of us bear the name, God’sson.  Here we are most commonly known by our natural father’s name.  Yet, there is another reality to consider for the Christian.  As believers in Christ Jesus, we have another home, a more permanent residence, and in that home, we are honored to bear the name of our heavenly Father, the One who sent His Son to live and die so that we could be adopted into the family of the Almighty.  You see, according to St. Paul, We are family of immeasurable love.

It appears that the congregation at Ephesus was somewhat troubled by the fact that Paul was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  Paul wanted them to disregard his trials, because he knew that what had put him in prison had also brought freedom to those who had heard him preach.  He said, I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.”  Paul was bound in chains because of Christ, but his bringing Christ to the Ephesians had set them free from sin and death.  As joint heirs with Paul in Christ, the apostle rejoiced that even though he was suffering temporarily, his brothers and sisters in faith had gained forgiveness and salvation.  Thus, he wrote, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”  In spite of his chains, Paul chose to pray for his fellow believers, his brothers and sisters by the adoption of faith.

Paul’s words roll out like a beautiful hymn of praise: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  There are so many things to talk about in these few words, but I hope to touch on a few.

Paul prayed that God would strengthen his readers by His glorious riches.  What are those riches?  It isn’t silver, gold, or precious stones.  Those material things will burn in the fires of Judgment Day, but regardless, couldn’t buy anyone’s freedom in the courts of heaven.  The riches of God’s grace are found in Christ Jesus.  It is His perfect life, perfect obedience to His Father’s will, and perfect substitutionary sacrifice on a cross that makes us rich with God.  This is the message of the Gospel, that Christ redeemed us from all sin, from death, and the power of the devil.  May God also pour out this good news on us, repeatedly throughout our lives, so that we never wonder or doubt. 

Furthermore, it is through the hearing of the Word that Christ and His Father come to dwell in us.  Jesus assured His disciples, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23)  Thus, Paul’s prayer for the people was that the Father would send His Holy Spirit through the Gospel to increase and strengthen the faith of those Christians, so that nothing could lead them away from trusting in Jesus.

My friends, consider all those who truly walk with Jesus, holding to His Word in all its truth and purity, throughout all the expanse of time.  Do you think the color of their skin, the riches of their bank accounts, or their earthly situations mattered at the Judgment Seat of God?  Now, look around this room.  See your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.  Here, We are family of immeasurable love.  Here, in God’s Word, in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior, we are united with faithful believers of every age and time, our fellow brothers and sisters from the time of Adam and Eve until the very last, future child is baptized before Jesus returns to judge the world.  All are forgiven and made holy in Christ.

Paul wrote, I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”  How immeasurable is the love of Christ?  He didn’t ask if we were good enough to die for.  Jesus didn’t ask whether we were worth saving.  Jesus didn’t even ask us to pay part of the penalty needed for our release from the devil’s chains.  In perfect love, Jesus graciously stepped into our human skin to live for us and then to die for all the sins of the world.  Jesus didn’t care what color you are.  He didn’t care how wicked your past has been.  He didn’t decide to die for some and not for others. 

As He was being nailed to the cross of shame and bitter death, Jesus prayed for the soldiers nailing him to that tree, for the wicked rulers and Jews who unjustly sentenced our beloved One to die, for the patriarchs and the slaves, the Egyptians and the Romans, for every race under the sun—and for you and me—and Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." (Luke 23:34)  This is how the Christ showed His great love for you.

How many of you would say you love your natural-born children, or your birthparents?  I would suppose that almost every decent person on earth would make that claim.  But do we really love like God wants us to love?  How many of us have to admit that we have failed to love constantly?  Or, failed to forgive?  Maybe in a moment of anger, we said something we shouldn’t have.  Perhaps, in our earthly affection, we failed to properly train the child in some way.  Perhaps, our earthly relationships have caused us to, at times, look the other way when false doctrine is professed, or a sinful lifestyle chosen.  Perhaps, we have even placed our affection for a child, a parent, or a friend over our love for the Lord—ignoring Jesus’ warning that "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37-38)

Jesus never loved anyone so superficially.  Instead, while He was living for you, Christ always taught that what God calls sin must be condemned.  He believed that God’s will must always be carried out, and He lived that true faith in His Father in heaven perfectly on your behalf.  Jesus lived in perfect obedience to His Father’s Word, and commands, so that you and I may be counted as holy before the face of our heavenly Father.

Now, look around this room again.  Contemplate who we are through faith in Christ Jesus.  We are family of immeasurable love—the immeasurable love of God.  Each and every person here has been washed clean of his, or her, sins and been adopted into the most noteworthy family in the history of the eternity.  God has made us all His dear children through the redeeming work of His Son and the sanctifying work of His Spirit in the means of grace.  Though we deserved nothing but shame and condemnation, God lifted us from the dreadful mire and counted us worthy of life everlasting, not because we did good, but for Jesus’ sake.  Therefore, the relationships we have in Christ Jesus must take precedence over any other earthly relationship, because these are your true brothers and sisters with Jesus.

Paul wrote, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”

Did you ever have a disagreement with a fellow believer?  Did you ever struggle to forgive someone else’s sin?  Did you ever wake up in the morning wondering who could love you?  Do you ever wonder whether the struggles of life are worth the effort?  Do you ever feel the pangs of worthlessness, depression, or despair creeping into your guts?  All of these things, and more, are the burdens we bear because of sin in the world.  On our own, we don’t have much power to help or defend ourselves.  Therefore, Paul prayed, and we pray, for the power of God to help and deliver us.

Jesus has already done more for us than any human could have ever imagined.  His life and death paid the ransom price for your freedom and eternal life.  Still, God isn’t finished blessing us yet.  He continues to work in us to increase our sanctified living, to help us serve and love our neighbors as we share the truth of God’s Word in everything we say and do.  He lifts us up and carries us through the battle fray, defending us from all the slings and arrows the devil and the world throw against us.  And through it all, we give all glory to God for the rich mercy and love He has shown us, and the glorious rescue mission He planned and carried out—all because God has loved us with an everlasting love; We are family of immeasurable love.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fully trust the One True God.


Sermon for Trinity 15, September 9, 2018

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  7 Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.


Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

            I tell you, I’ve had rough days the last week or so.  It seemed like every day, I was being pulled in seven different directions.  I had too many things to do and too much to take care of.  Of course, that probably sounds like every week for many of you.  Moms and dads have to balance working to support the family with time spent with kids and with each other.  The monthly bills grow too long and the money too short.  Workers and business men must meet the expectations of the owners, or board of directors, not to mention their co-workers and customers for if the customer isn’t happy, there won’t be much business.  Farmers have to fight tooth and nail to make a crop, beat the markets, keep creditors at bay, and still pay the family bills.  Plus, all of us forced to deal with a world gone mad while still living up to our responsibilities as citizens.  So, how are we supposed to deal with all that?

On the other hand, when it comes to meeting expectations, how would you like to trade places with God?  King David once wrote, The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16)  Imagine, having to satisfy every living thing on earth!  And, not just the seven billion people that now inhabit this planet, but every living thing: the birds, the fish, the plants, and the animals in the fields and the seas, even the insects, and right on down to the bacteria and other creepy things; so how silly of me for beginning to think that I had it tough.

Now, I know my little whine festival might sound a bit silly, but did you ever think about how often we try to take God’s place?  In our Gospel lesson, Jesus taught His followers not to worry but rather to trust His Father in heaven.  Jesus was pretty gentle in His instruction, because the truth is all of us worry way more than we should, and every time we worry, we are putting ourselves in God’s place, because we are presuming we can control the future and all the other forces of the world around us.  Furthermore, we don’t just worry about things we can control, we worry about things that no human could possibly control, and we complain.  We got too much rain, or not enough.  It’s too cold, or too humid, or too hot, or too just about anything.  And, there’s always someone in the crowd thinking, why doesn’t God just fix this mess?  Maybe some days that’s you or me.

The truth is, there isn’t a person on this planet who, with worry, questions, or doubt, hasn’t sinned against the God who loves us more than any person ever could.  There isn’t any person on earth who loves you as much as God Almighty does.  How can I make such a bold claim?  Because not only does God say it, He lives it, gives it, and shows it even though we question and blame Him.

So far, I’m probably not making you feel too good about yourself.  That’s okay; I didn’t intend to build up your ego.  Moses’ command to the people of Israel was that they were to Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  It’s an amazing challenge, isn’t it?  That command to love demands that we submit ourselves to God’s every desire, to serve Him unquestionably, faithfully, thankfully, and we are supposed to do that with every part of our bodies, souls, personalities, intellects, and consciousness.  Thus, we are invited and commanded to Fully trust the One True God.

If I was making you feel poorly before, I imagine this explanation doesn’t help much.  Of course, you may run into some who think they do love and trust God so faithfully and fully.  But, if God’s law doesn’t knock them off their high horse, nothing I can say will.  Nevertheless, I know I don’t live up to this, or any of God’s commands, because whenever I worry about things beyond my control, whenever I begin to wonder whether God truly is working for my good, and whenever I even question the plans He has for me or the circumstances of my life, I am no better than the devil who wanted to steal God’s throne.

So, what do we do, go home and weep for the condemnation due us?  Do we party like ancient pagans and live it up until we die in spite of the consequences?  Do we act like modern-day mockers who, just as much as the ancient pagans, shame God by refusing to listen to God’s Word at all?  I pray that none of those things sounds appealing to you, because God has so much more to say.

Moses called to the people, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  It sounds so simple, yet it hardly makes sense to fallen man.  However, the truth is this: only God could and did create the world and everything in it, only God continues to keep the universe moving in its assigned course, only God continues to bless the earth with seasons and showers, with sun, rain, wind and everything we could possibly need to survive, only God can keep the forces of evil at bay, and even though mankind has rebelled against Him, and even though the forces of evil strive daily to thwart God’s plan, and even though this world must operate under the curse of sin, God is working all things for our eternal good. (Romans 8:28)

When God created this world, it was perfect.  Family life was always easy.  Work was always pleasant and never burdensome.  No one ever got hurt feelings because it couldn’t enter man’s mind to be selfish or hurtful.  That was before the devil decided to rebel and lead all of us away from our loving Creator.  Still today, this old news continues to haunt us.  You see, it is sin, and the curse of sin on the world, that causes everything that displeases us, worries us, and makes our living a challenge.  It is because of sin that life isn’t perfect, and no people are either. 

However, even though no one deserved God’s love, He didn’t withhold it.  Instead, on top of the daily blessings He continually pours on both the good and the evil, God did something so much greater, He worked out a plan to save us and take us out of this struggle. 

The one true God Moses was pointing the people to is the same God who in baptism has washed you and me clean of all our rebellion, worry, and complaint.  The name Moses used to call the people to listen is the name God used for Himself as He described His mercy for sinners and His love for the faithful: “The LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD.  And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:5-7)

“The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—without any one of those three persons, you don’t have the One True God.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work as One God to rescue you and me.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” 

God the Father shows us His love by richly and daily providing all we need for body and life.  More than that, He sent His Son to live in the flesh so that perfect righteousness could be credited to us by faith.  The second person of the Trinity willingly loved His Father, and you and me, by leaving the mansions of God’s glory in order to enter our humble, troubled, broken world.  He took on our flesh and blood so that He could walk among us, suffer the ordinary torments and trials of life, then receive a torturous, humiliating death for sins He didn’t commit but we did.  Jesus suffered death instead of letting you and me be tormented in hell.

The Father and Son together send the third person of the God-head.  The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word of our God, cleansing us by the Sacraments from everything that would be a stench in God’s nostrils, and building the faith in each of the followers of Christ Jesus, so that we hear His voice and follow Him. 

Yes, dear friends, sometimes we have crosses to bear for our faith in Christ.  Sometimes, the trials of life in a sinful world weigh heavy on our shoulders, but not because God doesn’t love us.  Rather, because God loves us, He is doing everything needed to bring us the ultimate satisfaction which is forgiveness of all sins and an eternity in the glories of God’s mansions in the heavens.

Moses told the people, These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  Why does God want you to hold His instructions near to your heart and to teach them to your children every moment of your life?  It isn’t to burden you.  It isn’t to be just another task in a dreary life of toil.  No, God commands us to hold to His instructions because His Word gives life.  The law shows us our sin and our need for the Savior.  Then the Gospel brings us perfect relief. 

No longer do we need to control the wheels of fate.  No longer do we need to fix our relationship with our Creator and Judge.  With His life, death, and resurrection, Christ has done everything needed to perfect us before His Father.  Still today, the Spirit puts Christ’s perfect righteousness over your frail flesh, and the gates of heaven are opened, so that sinners like you and me who believe in Jesus have free access to a worry-free existence that will never end.  The promises are true, because God is always true.  He has kept every promise He made so far.  Never doubt His Word yet to be fulfilled.  Fully trust the One True God.  Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore.  Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Cleansed by Christ we give glory to God!


Sermon for Trinity 14, September 2, 2018

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen

Luke 17:11-19  11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"  14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests."  And as they went, they were cleansed.  15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"  19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

Cleansed by Christ we give glory to God!

Dear friends in Christ,

            How much is enough?  We could take that question two ways, I suppose.  The lepers in our text may have wondered if they hadn’t suffered enough.  People facing that much trouble and pain often wonder how much they must endure and how long they will have to bear their sorrow and pain.  Really, it seems to be a way of saying, “Why me, Lord, why me?” 

The lepers of Jesus’ day certainly knew suffering.  Over time, leprosy became seriously disfiguring and painful as it gradually ate away at the nerves, skin, and other body parts in its unstopping march to death.  But, the leper’s worst pain may have been the isolation from all family and friends, banishment from temple worship, and the humiliation of having to shout “unclean, unclean” wherever they walked.  Lepers were usually reduced to begging for their survival, banned from their homes and towns, forced away from any comfort from family, friends, or custom. 

            The question, “How much is enough?” though, comes to mind in another way, as well.  When we want to show our appreciation, as when we give a tip for service rendered, we often wonder, “How much is enough?”  Should I do 10%, 15%, 20% or what?  When someone is kind or helpful, is saying “thank you” enough, or do we need to show our appreciation in some more material way?  Now, of course, this sermon isn’t about how much to tip a friendly waitress, your favorite hairdresser, or even how to say thank you for a kindness.  Our sermon text urges us to consider two questions: Do we recognize what God has done for us?  And, how will we thank Him?  Therefore, we are led to the theme: Cleansed by Christ we give glory to God!

Have you spent much time thinking about those wretched lepers?  Chances are good that we usually try to avoid thinking about such pitiable people.  Does it surprise you to notice that they all believed in Jesus?  That’s right; every one of those men came to Jesus crying for His mercy, begging for His healing power.  Like us, every one of them recognized that Jesus was someone special.  Those stricken men had heard the stories of all the miracles Jesus was performing.  Now, as He was passing nearby their isolated hovels, every one of these men cried out with as much power as their diseased voices could muster, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 

Lepers were outcasts, members of the living dead just waiting for the final death to set in, but here, they saw their one chance for divine help and healing.  Those ten lepers wanted to make sure they didn’t miss that opportunity.

And, Jesus was merciful.  As soon as He saw them and heard their cry, He said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests."  Wait a minute.  That’s all He said?  Do you suppose they wondered about His words?  Jesus didn’t say a prayer over them.  He didn’t command the disease to leave them.  He didn’t ask them to do anything.  He didn’t even rub any mud on them or anything.  He just told them "Go, show yourselves to the priests." 

Those ten suffering men had to be wondering why they should go to the priests when they were still so hideously afflicted by their disease.  Yet, they turned to go, so again, they show that they believed Jesus.  They trusted Him, at least enough, to take Him at His word.  And, what happened?   “As they went, they were cleansed!”  Funny thing is, though, nine of the ten never returned to Jesus.

How much are you and I like the nine lepers?  How much like the unthankful ones are all the people who have lived in this world since Jesus died to take away their sins?  Every one of us had a disease that was even more deadly than leprosy.  Leprosy only kills the physical life.  But, all of us were afflicted by sin, and sin cursed us to eternal death in hell.  It condemned us to the torment that is described as unending fire, as a lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 20:10).  Yet, we are here in church, so we recognize our disease.  We come before God in our worship services crying out, “Lord, have mercy on us!"  Like the ten lepers, we have seen that we need to have someone help us.  We need to be saved from the disease of sin that would kill us for all eternity.  Now, do we recognize the cure?

As those ten lepers were trudging off to the priests, somewhere along the way their disease was removed, and their bodies made whole.  You can say the same for all of us.  Somewhere along our way our disease of sin was taken away, and our eternal life was restored by Jesus’ powerful words.  For many of us it was the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  For others, it was a friend or neighbor telling you of the salvation won for you by Jesus on the cross.  Either way, it was God’s Word that gave you faith and healed the disease of sin that had kept you exiled from God.  Therefore, I ask again, do we always remember that our worst affliction has been cured?  And, do we always recognize the source of our spiritual healing?  Having been Cleansed by Christ, do we give glory to God?

Sometimes, it seems, we forget that we have the cure.  Sometimes, guilt begins to weigh so heavily on us that we start to ask: “Am I really forgiven?”  We wonder, would God really forgive someone who has messed up as badly as me?  When times get tough, do you ever ask, “Is God punishing me for my sin?” 

Well, my friends, we have the cure.  The cure effected a change in our souls.  Our sin disease has been taken away.  Jesus died on that cross taking all of God’s wrath for sin so that we don’t have to be punished.  Jesus suffered the humiliation and the disfiguration of the punishment for sin so that we can live with Him forever without blemish or shame.  Jesus suffered the banishment to hell on the cross so that we no longer have to be exiled from God.  Then, after Jesus was raised from the dead, He gave us the promise, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  The awful, disfiguring disease of sin that afflicted the whole world was put on Jesus, and He earned the cure on the cross.  Everyone who believes that promise has a home in heaven waiting for them.  Hang on to that cure!  Believe that you have been Cleansed by Christ!

One of those ten lepers certainly recognized the cure.  He also understood that he hadn’t cured himself.  Luke doesn’t even report that he made it all the way to the priests before returning to Jesus, but whether he made it there, or not, that one leper recognized where his healing had come from.  He came back shouting with a loud voice about the glories of God and the wonderful miracle that had just been done for him.  He wanted everyone who could hear him to know what had happened.  That leper had been suffering, and now his shame was gone.  He wanted to share that good news with everyone around him.  Do we remember to shout the good news of our healing?

The leper didn’t just praise God for a few minutes and then go home.  He didn’t just tell a few people and then forget all about it.  No, this one leper came back and threw himself on the ground before Jesus in absolute thankfulness.  Just as that leper had been physically healed, his trust in Jesus had saved his soul.  There is some symbolism there.  When that man threw himself on the ground, he was demonstrating that he recognized Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and he was devoting himself to serve his Lord.

Now, this gets into the area of sanctification, but like that restored and thankful man, we also recognize that Jesus has saved our souls.  We too want to bow down to serve Him.  So, how will we do that?  Will we come to church on Sunday and then forget about Jesus the rest of the week?  Or, will we devote our whole lives to living faithfully for, and serving, our Lord Jesus who saved us from the horrible disease that was killing us? 

If you’re feeling a little guilty right now, I want you to know that I feel it too.  We don’t always serve Jesus as we ought to.  But remember, Jesus already has cured our sin disease.  He already paid the price for all our sins.  Our sanctification is not yet complete, but our justification has been fully accomplished in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, we will come before God completely forgiven for all sin. 

Those nine lepers who never returned were a source of sadness for Jesus.  These were His own people, members of the nation who had the promise of the Messiah.  Most assuredly, they went to the temple and offered the sacrifices commanded by Moses.  Yet, they didn’t recognize Jesus as the source of their healing.  Even after the priests declared the nine healed, they went their merry way, ignoring the Savior, Son of God, who gave them new life.

Jesus said, "Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"  But, isn’t that the common way among men?  In our times, more and more people scoff at the events of the Bible as nothing more than myths.  More and more people around us show no respect for the Lord of Life who gave His life so that all people might be declared innocent and be saved.  How about you and me.  Do we remember Jesus only when things stop going well?  In the ordinary course of our days, do we forget about God and all that He has done for us?  Do we turn to Jesus, only when we have nowhere else to turn?

Jesus told the returning leper, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."  Jesus used the word Σωςω.  It is the same word the Bible uses to say we are saved.  Jesus promised that thankful man that, not only had his body been healed, but his faith in Christ had received salvation for his soul.  This healed man had faith in Jesus and now he could go and henceforth serve God, not in bondage, but in hope and thankfulness.  That thankful man could go and live his life for Jesus.  His thankful response, after coming to faith, was to live for Jesus, not because he had to, but because he could.

You and I also now have the opportunity to live for Jesus.  Now that we have been cleansed of sin, we can live our praise to God.  Before coming to faith, we had no song of praise.  But, after our cleansing, the Holy Spirit fills us with joy that bubbles out of us and overflows onto those around us.  It’s that power of the Holy Spirit that brings us to church to sing our hymns; that leads us to bow before Jesus in awe and wonder and thanksgiving.  Cleansed by Christ we give glory to God!  It is to God’s glory that He has healed us.  All that’s left for us is to say thank you with our lives.

Dear friends, you and I can say thanks in many ways.  Perhaps it’s as simple as remembering the grace we have been given.  It can be as little as holding on with all our strength to the promise that Jesus died to take all your sins away.  You and I can tell the wonderful Gospel message to everyone we know, letting our joy pour out on them as well.  What an awesome honor, and opportunity we have been given, to be able to tell the world that our eternal lives have been restored.  To share His salvation with those around us, that is the greatest praise we can ever give to God.  Cleansed by Christ we give glory to God!  Alleluia!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Trust the promise; righteousness comes by faith.


Sermon for Trinity 13, August 26, 2018

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen. 

Galatians 3:15-22  15 Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life.  Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.  16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.  17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.  19 What, then, was the purpose of the law?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.  21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?  Absolutely not!  For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Trust the promise; righteousness comes by faith.

Dear friends in Christ,

            Over the years, I have had several people ask me the troubling question, “How can I know that I am good enough to be saved?”  My answer is always the same: You can’t!  None of us are!  The truth is, that question is flawed from the start.  Like the question of the lawyer in our Gospel lesson, it assumes there is something you and I can do to make ourselves acceptable to God in His heavenly home.  Since God has said, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) our consciences, when instructed by the law, naturally remind us how far we fall short.

            Perhaps, this is why the Galatians were in such grave danger before Paul wrote this letter.  They had received the Gospel from Paul with great joy, but soon after Paul had left them, other teachers moved in claiming that those new believers in Christ needed something more.  They were being led to believe that what Jesus has done for them wasn’t enough.  They were told that you had to obey the Mosaic law as well as believe in Jesus if you would hope to be saved and enter heaven.

That same confusion of law and gospel reigns yet in our day.  I think it is may be even worse in our times, because there is so much confusion concerning the law.  At least the Galatian Christians all agreed on what the Mosaic law said, even though they were being misled as to its purpose.  Today, though, what one part of society would call righteous, another part would call sin, and vice versa.  The Christian believer today still recognizes God’s law as instructive for our lives, but others around us are continually pushing a different agenda in which the morality given by God is mocked, and it is only human feelings that rule one’s behavior.  Thus, we have court battles over whether one person’s free speech can determine his actions in every day commerce.  And, some murders are accepted, even applauded by popular culture, while others are considered a gross travesty as a hate crime.  Wisdom has been turned upside down in our times, so how can anyone know salvation?

As complicated as all this might seem, it really isn’t so hard.  As Paul explains here, though both come from God, the law and the gospel serve differently.  The law was given to defend God’s people from the world, and to guide them to seek His love, but only the gospel can bring righteousness, life, and salvation.  Therefore, Trust the promise; righteousness comes by faith.

In our text, Paul used an example from ordinary life: a covenant, or last will and testament.  Everybody knows that it is impossible to change a will after the person making that promise dies.  No honest court would ever approve a change or an addition.  That is an accepted norm in every society. 

The question is, does righteousness and salvation come to us by works or by grace?  Paul answers that it is by grace.  He points back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race, and the person in whom the judaizers then troubling the Galatians thought they were something special.  Abraham wasn’t saved by his works, but by faith. (Genesis 15:6)  Furthermore, the promises given to Abraham had nothing to do with the Mosaic law which didn’t exist until four hundred and thirty years after Abraham died.  So, if salvation depended upon obeying the commands given through Moses, then no one living before that, not even Abraham, could be saved.  Furthermore, the law, when it was given, could not nullify the promises God had been making since Adam and Eve fell into sin. 

Paul wrote,What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”  It’s an either-or situation—either salvation comes as a gift, or we must earn it.  The two can’t be mixed without confounding one or both.  If it truly is a gift, it comes with no strings attached.  If righteousness must be earned by works of law, then all of us are justly condemned to hell for our failures, as Abraham would be, which no Jewish believer would ever accept, and rightly not, for “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

While it is widely evident that no one can perfectly obey the law, experience also shows that a lawless society is indeed also a very dangerous, violent, and godless culture.  After the Lord rescued the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt, it was soon apparent that, in a lawless vacuum, those people would quickly turn to the godless ways of their neighbors.  Therefore, God gave His law from Mt. Sinai, so that the Savior of the world would be born among a people chosen by God to believe in Him, as Paul wrote, What, then, was the purpose of the law?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” 

Paul wrote, “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?  Absolutely not!  For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”  Thus, even though the law condemns and can never save, yet it was also given to serve. 

Literally, God enclosed us by means of the law.  God did that not to cause us harm, but to protect His people, and more than that, so He could make our forgiveness and salvation sure.  If you and I had to obey God perfectly, trust Him continually without ever a doubt or waver, and never once question His motives or actions, no person could ever know whether he or she could be saved.  Life would be a constant struggle of doubt and uncertainty.  In fact, we would be driven to our graves never knowing the love of God who gave His own dear Son so that you and I could be free of doubt and sin and death and the devil and damnation.

Because sin had corrupted mankind to our very core, no ordinary human could ever be perfect before the Lord.  However, we have a Champion, One from before time began who willingly lived for us and died for us, so that God would be satisfied with the justice carried out and His love for us could be complete.  That’s what Jesus is all about.

The perfect righteousness that mankind had lost in sin could only be returned to us through a gift, an inheritance.  “If the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”  The inheritance, the promise given to Abraham, was a Savior from sin.  It was Jesus, the Word made flesh.

This letter to the Galatians is a sure explanation of the utter foolishness of requiring anything to be added to God’s promise.  Trying to earn any part of that inheritance leaves one outside of the gift, because that lack of faith in God’s promise rejects the free gift.  But, the inheritance God freely offers through faith in His unadulterated grace is forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. 

Dear friends, our Gospel lesson tells us of a Good Samaritan who picked up the abused, naked, near dead neighbor he found along the road.  That figurative Rescuer represents Jesus.  Jesus came along in our lives and found us mortally wounded, unable to rise and return home.  Jesus picked us up through the preaching of the Word and the power of baptism, and He mended our spiritual wounds that would have kept us from receiving our eternal inheritance.  But, that wasn’t all Jesus did for us.  You see, Jesus earned the great treasure store of righteousness that is our inheritance, and His death and resurrection is your proof that God’s covenant of grace has been duly established.”

When Christ Jesus died for you, He opened up His treasure store of holiness to credit you as pure and righteous in God’s heavenly court.  Nothing more is needed to make you right with God, for there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)  The price your holy Brother paid on the cross has given you an eternal inheritance of righteousness, life, and salvation.  Believe it!  Trust the promise; righteousness comes by faith.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.