Sunday, October 22, 2017

Jesus has authority to forgive, as do we.


Sermon for Trinity 19, October 22, 2017

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

Matthew 9:1-8  Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town.  2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."  3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"  4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?  5 Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?  6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home."  7 And the man got up and went home.  8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.


Dear forgiven friends,

            To a man so afflicted by the curse of the world that he couldn’t rise from his bed, couldn’t walk on his own, or even try to find help for himself, the surprising announcement came, “Son; your sins are forgiven."  That was a shocking statement to everyone present except, of course, to Jesus.  Still, the ordinary folk were gladdened to hear such news, and certainly, the afflicted man must have been uplifted.  But, the teachers of the law were actually offended.  So, where do we fit in this picture?  How do we react when we hear the joyous Good News, “Take heart…; your sins are forgiven."?

            As anyone who has ever prayed in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” should understand, forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us.  To our sinful nature, forgiving others seems impossible, and to the self-righteous individual, it feels like forgiveness should be earned.  However, for faithful Christians, forgiveness is a gift, and for Jesus, forgiveness is His purpose.  Thus, we learn in this text that Jesus has authority to forgive, as do we.

            Some might question why Jesus declared this man’s sins forgiven when he had come to Jesus for healing of his physical ailment.  I would give you two reasons.  First, sin is the root cause of every ailment known to man.  If sin had not entered our world, there would be no need for forgiveness, nor for healing, for in the beginning everything was good.  But, part of the curse of sin, which is death, is that illness and troubles will abound in our lives until our time on earth is ended.  Therefore, that poor man’s paralysis was clear evidence that he was a sinner, and thus, a man in need of forgiveness.

            But, there was a more immediate reason for Jesus’ prompt declaration of forgiveness.  Did you ever wonder why something bad happened to you?  Well, that’s not a new phenomenon.  Mankind has always struggled with the question of why one person must suffer when others, sometimes even very wicked others, seem to go through life without much affliction.  Many people of Jesus’ day were convinced that a serious condition like paralysis was ample proof of God’s anger being poured out upon that person for some grave sin, so it is very likely that because of his affliction, that paralyzed man thought himself being hated and punished by God for his sin.  He therefore came to Jesus convinced of his wretched sinfulness, and sure that Jesus was his only hope for a cure.

            Now, dear friends, I want you to consider two scenarios.  In the first, search your heart and truthfully answer the question, do you ever wonder if you are completely forgiven?  For the second scenario, answer whether you have always been able to fully forgive everyone who has hurt you?

            I suspect that if we are honest with ourselves, we will be troubled in either case.  The scribes present when Jesus healed this man questioned whether any man could forgive sins.  You and I might wonder, who are we to speak on God’s behalf?  How do we know for sure that we have been forgiven?  That takes on even more significance when we near our own demise.  I have met several strong believers who still wondered whether they were truly cleared of all the sin they have done. 

            For the answer to this, listen to Jesus’ response: Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home."  And the man got up and went home. 

            Did you ever imagine that when you doubt whether you have been truly, completely forgiven, you are thinking evil thoughts?  It is evil to doubt God’s forgiveness.  It is the devil’s way of trying to destroy our trust in Jesus; Satan’s way of trying to destroy our confidence in God’s promise.  Yet, here in that paralytic, we are shown, without a doubt, that Jesus has authority to forgive.

And, here’s the deal with forgiveness: God sent His own dear Son into this world for one purpose only, not to heal our bodies, not to feed the poor, not to lead a rebellion against selfish rulers, not even to give everyone an equal chance at a pleasant life on earth, but God sent His Son to take away all the guilt of all people.  God sent Jesus to suffer every last bit of righteous anger God had for the sins of the whole human race.  Jesus’ purpose in life was to bear the full wrath of God on our behalf so that there would be nothing left for us to pay.  Therefore, Jesus has forgiven you just as easily and completely as He healed that paralytic with the simple command, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 

On top of His gracious willingness and ability to forgive, Jesus is the one Man who lived so perfectly that God could rightly credit His holiness to those of us who had none of our own.  And, to that One holy, innocent, sacrificial Son, God gave the authority to judge all things, to forgive all sins, to reconcile the world with His Father in heaven, and to grant to you, dear friends, forgiveness full and free.

The prophet Daniel was given a vision concerning God’s kingdom.  He reported: "I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!  He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.  Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

At the end of His days with the disciples, Jesus told them, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20)  Earlier, Jesus had taught them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

Forgiveness is the entrance to the kingdom of God.  Forgiveness is what sets us free from the world.  Forgiveness was given to most of us first at our baptisms when the Lord above washed us clean and raised up in us a new life of faith.  Forgiveness is the reason there is a Church on earth.  God keeps us here to share that good news of forgiveness for Jesus’ sake with those still struggling with the devil’s lies.  Forgiveness is renewed to us, again, every time we hear the absolution spoken over us, and every time the body and blood of our Savior is laid upon our lips in His Holy Supper.  Why does God give us this assurance again and again?  Because we are frail and weak; because the devil still tries to mislead and hurt us; because the Father loves us with an everlasting love based on the Sacrifice of His Son to take away all our sins. 

To prove to the crowds that He did have the authority to forgive sin, Jesus told the paralytic to get up and go home.  And the man got up and went home.  When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”  Here was the proof that Jesus truly forgives.  And the response of the people proves prophetic.  They recognized that God has given this authority to forgive also to us.  Jesus declared to His disciples: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19)  Jesus has authority to forgive, as do we.

Jesus has given us the gift of forgiveness.  And, not only are our sins forgiven full and free, but we have the right and authority to grant His mercy upon others too.  For added confidence in our gift, we can look to Jesus’ response to Peter’s question of how often we should forgive.  Peter thought perhaps seven times was enough, but Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22) 

Near the beginning of this sermon, I asked whether you have always been able to fully forgive everyone who has hurt you?  Truth be told, likely every one of us has struggled with this.  To sinners, it feels wrong to forgive without retribution.  We want to get our pound of flesh as Shakespeare wrote in his play, The Merchant of Venice.  We want people to pay for the pain they caused.  The good news for us, and for those who have hurt us, is that God doesn’t demand that we pay to be forgiven.  Rather, in forgiving us freely, God shines His pure love on us through Jesus. 

God didn’t want any of us to have to pay the just penalty for sin, but rather, that they turn from their wicked ways and live.  That’s why He sent Jesus.  Jesus, true God and true Man, has the authority to forgive all sins based on the sacrifice He made to pay for the sins of the world.  And, in love for sinners like you and me, Jesus forgives us of every sin, and likewise, He forgives also those sinners who have hurt us. 

Whenever it feels too hard to forgive another person, return to Jesus for healing for your soul, and hear Jesus declare to you again, "Take heart,…your sins are forgiven."  That Good News is the power that opens the gates of heaven for us in spite of our weaknesses, and it is the power that helps us forgive others even when we don’t feel like it is possible.  "Take heart,…your sins are forgiven."  Then always remember, Jesus has authority to forgive, as do we.  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Enriched in everything in Christ Jesus.


Sermon for Trinity 18, October 15, 2017

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

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (NKJ)  I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Enriched in everything in Christ Jesus.

Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus,

            One could say that the church at Corinth was one of Paul’s greatest successes.  In that city, his work had thrived as the church expanded rapidly in the first year and a half Paul was there.  Certainly, he had much to be glad about as he thought about his friends in Corinth, but it is also true that, after Paul continued his work elsewhere, great problems developed in that Corinthian congregation.  Thus, Paul had to write this very difficult letter to correct his friends. 

In this letter, Paul needed to be rather harsh at times.  He would need to be very firm and demanding as he corrected situations that were getting totally out of hand.  This Christian church was in danger of being anything but Christian.  But, they were not yet lost to the Lord, and therefore, Paul addressed them first with this reminder of the blessings that are the possession of all Christians.  He reminded the Corinthian church that they are Enriched in everything in Christ Jesus.

One of the sad facts of life in this world is that people don’t always view things as they really are.  In our day and age, this comes out in foolish ideas that there are different truths, different ways of judging good and evil, different measures of success, and different ways to get to heaven, and immoral behavior and idol worship are alive and thriving all around us.  In fact, our times aren’t so different than the state of affairs in Corinth when Paul wrote the words of our text, for many times, rich people are actually quite poor in spiritual accounts, and poor Christians often forget how rich they are in the kingdom of God.  So Paul’s words give much help to us for living in our troubled world.

We could not possibly cover the whole letter in one sermon, but the few verses we have here give us plenty to chew on.  Paul wrote, I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus.”  Now, we might expect that Paul would be frustrated with the Corinthians, even angry that they had so quickly succumbed to the temptations of the world, yet, Paul was continually thanking God for the fact that the Lord had brought His gifts of grace to these people.  This is a good reminder for us that God doesn’t change.  No matter how great the sin is, God remains true to His gift of forgiveness and salvation.  The merciful love that God showed to you on your baptismal day hasn’t changed.  God’s grace is a constant, and it is well worth our thanks and praise.

Paul wrote, I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift.”  Paul would be reprimanding the Corinthians about how we are saved, about gifts of the Spirit, and class differences.  Here already, we can see where Paul is headed, and we are reminded that through faith in Jesus, God also blesses us immensely.  He gives us knowledge that no man could find on his own, and the gospel of Christ Jesus transforms us from dead unbelief to a living faith that will be richly rewarded. 

Controversy had arisen in Corinth over the gifts of the Spirit, but immediately, Paul lets the congregation know that no one there lacked any necessary gift.  The Lord never promised that everyone would have everything on earth.  Gifts of the Holy Spirit varied from one person to the next: some had the gift of speaking in tongues, others of healing, still others the gift of interpreting, but the key fact is this: the most important gift of the Spirit for anyone is the gift of faith in Christ Jesus.  That is the gift by which the gates of the kingdom of God are opened to anyone and everyone who believes.  The testimony of Christ is confirmed in Christians by the fact that they believe in Jesus as their Savior.  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

Paul said, I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you in Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul recognized what the believers in Corinth, and all Christians, should be doing in their lives—looking forward to the return of Christ Jesus personally. 

One most important fact about Christianity is that it really is not a religion for making this life perfect.  The main point of Jesus’ work was to rescue us from the troubles of life in this sin-damaged place.  Therefore, in all things, we eagerly look forward to a better outcome in the end.  Against those who promise earthly prosperity for believing in Jesus, the words of our Savior to His disciples are educational: Jesus said, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.” (Matthew 24:9)  And He said, Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.'  If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also.…They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me. (John 15:20-21)  Therefore, people who truly know and trust in Jesus understand that this world won’t always be pleasant, and in fact, may often be cruel to those who follow the Lord Jesus. 

At the same time, people who truly know and trust in Jesus have full confidence that our Savior will be with us all through this life and when we must face judgment.  Plus, His verdict for us is predicated not on how perfectly we did anything, but on the reality that Jesus has redeemed us by His blood and cleansed us of all sin by His sacrifice on the cross.  This letter of the Bible also says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)  Thus, your faith in Jesus confirms that His promises are true for you. 

The fact that you know Jesus, and believe in Him, shows that the Spirit has blessed you with every good thing, and I can confidently tell you that, because of one more thing Paul noted: because of your faith, you are kept blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  When you and I have to stand before the Almighty in judgment, we will be found blameless because of Jesus.  In other words, through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, in good times or bad, Christ Jesus has made us the beneficiaries of His love.  Though we may stumble and fall, Jesus never has and never will.  Therefore, if your flesh should overwhelm you and sin trap you, find your relief not in hiding from God, nor in the dulling pleasures of this world, but in Jesus, your heavenly Bridegroom, your Savior and Redeemer.  Trust Him for forgiveness, and because believers are counted as the Bride of Christ, you will be Enriched in everything in Christ Jesus.

Dear Christian friends, the powers of darkness and the trials of this world work overtime to try to get you to doubt what the Lord has done for you.  Along with those evils, are own flesh tempts us to rebel against God’s Word, trying to convince us to go our own way, make our own path, fight our own battles, and make our way to heaven in whatever way feels good.  None of this is for our benefit, but rather, is a sad attempt of the devil and his cohorts to steal us away from Jesus. 

But never fear, the Savior is here.  Paul wrote, God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  What comforting promises are ours: God is faithful, God forgives all our sins, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Jesus will not leave us, and He declared that Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.(Matthew 24:35)  All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

            God’s promises to His children are unfathomable; His deeds of love uncountable.  You and I are the recipients of His amazing mercy and grace, for the Lord has called us out of darkness into His light.  He has restored us from the dead by giving us believing hearts that live for the Lord of Life.  Whether we face peace or persecution, perfect weather of a rain-delayed harvest, health or affliction, we have peace with God.  Whether the bank account is empty or overflowing with riches, whether we live or die, our true wealth is found in the fact that we have a home in heaven, bought and paid for, in full, by the blood of the Lamb of God, who gave His life so that we could live with Him forever in the mansions of His Father above.  Truly indeed, we are Enriched in everything in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

We rejoice for the gift of the Son. 


The Church has long recognized Sermon for Trinity 17, October 8, 2017

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

1 Samuel 2:1-10  Then Hannah prayed and said: "My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high.  My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.  2 "There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.  3 "Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.  4 "The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.  5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more.  She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.  6 "The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.  7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.  8 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.  "For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's; upon them he has set the world.  9 He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.  "It is not by strength that one prevails;  10 those who oppose the LORD will be shattered.  He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.  "He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed."

We rejoice for the gift of the Son.

Dear friends in Christ,

            The Church has long recognized Samuel as a type, or foreshadow, of Christ, but how many of us have recognized Hannah as a type of the Church?  In other words, she has some semblance to the Church as a whole. 

            Samuel was just a man, but he functioned in the roles of prophet, priest, and king.  Thus, like Moses, Samuel had some characteristics that pointed toward the promised Savior and Redeemer, who is our true and eternal Prophet, Priest, and King. 

            Likewise, Hannah was an ordinary woman, yet she resembles the true Church, the Bride of Christ of our day, in that she was mocked and tormented, even persecuted by her rival.  She lived in a place and time when her people were under threat and attack from enemies both within and outside the borders of their land.  Furthermore, the priesthood of her day had become corrupt and mostly acted as wolves preying upon the helpless believers looking to worship in faith and truth.

            Now, with any prophetic type, the resemblance isn’t perfect.  Thus, we see that Hannah’s prayers were answered by God with the gift of a son who she, faithfully to her vow, gave into a lifetime of service to God.  On the other hand, God the Father answered our need for a Savior by faithfully giving His Son into eternal service of His Father on our behalf—but long before we could have learned of our need, or prayed to Him for an answer.  Therefore, just as Hannah praised God for His gift and rejoiced for the son God gave her, so may We rejoice for the gift of the Son.

            As we look at the way Hannah praised God for His answer to her prayer, I pray that we emulate her faithfulness.  She said, "My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high.  My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in Your deliverance.  There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides You; there is no Rock like our God.”  What a song of joy and strengthened faith!  Much like a well-known virgin would sing many centuries later, Hannah praised God for so much more than just a baby boy.  Hannah had learned of her Savior God.  The answer to her prayers for a son made Hannah realize that God is faithful in all He promises.

            Likewise, you and I can have absolute confidence in the gift of a Savior.  The promise of a Savior have been known to mankind for thousands upon thousands of years, but until the angels sang the good news at the birth of Jesus, many wondered if God would deliver.  No more can anyone legitimately wonder.  Now, we have the proof in the birth of the Living Son. 

            But, some still argue that the wonderful event is only recorded in this book of the Jewish people that we call the Bible.  Maybe it didn’t really happen, they say.  Maybe it is just a morality tale designed to make us behave better.  Such are the lies of Satan—always trying to put doubts in the minds of God’s children.  However, there has never been even the slightest evidence that anything the Bible says is not true.  Furthermore, there have been uncountable proofs that Jesus is who He claimed to be, because He fulfilled the hundreds of prophecies God had given so that we could recognize His Son as our Redeemer and Savior.  Thus, like Hannah, we can confidently rejoice before the Lord Jesus saying, “My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in Your deliverance.”

            Deliverance—that’s what God is all about.  Though our Creator has every right to judge us, and to condemn us for our sins, that isn’t His desire.  Not that God won’t condemn those who reject Him.  His Word is clear on that and to remain the holy God He is, God must be faithful to His Word.  Yet, God wants to save; wants to reconcile us with Himself.  That’s a bit mindboggling, isn’t it?  That the holy, Almighty God wants to be reconciled to us, so much so that He made it happen.  The psalmist wrote, If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. (Psalm 130:3-4)  God’s enemies don’t believe He wants to save or don’t believe that He can.  Yet, by faith, Hannah sang, "There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides You; there is no Rock like our God.”

            As we look around our world, today, what do you see?  Violence?  Willful disobedience?  Arrogant mockery of all that is good?  Loveless people seeking to serve only themselves?  That actually is the history of man.  Before God destroyed the world in the great flood, He looked down from heaven and was appalled at the violence He saw.  The book of Genesis reports: The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:5-6)  As much as mankind grieved Him, though, God didn’t destroy all people.  He preserved some through the destruction, so that He could make His promise to send a Savior come true.  Still, at the time of the judges in which Hannah lived, we learn that man hasn’t improved himself, for the writer reports, In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25)

            Do we like to think our hearts are any better?  Can anyone of our day really think he has progressed in personal righteousness?  Hannah says, "Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed.”  When you face the last day of your life on this earth, do you want to be judged by God according to what you have said, thought, and done?  Jesus told His followers, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)  Our deeds will, indeed, be judged by the perfect Creator of all that is.  The standard He uses isn’t found among us; it is found in Him who is holy and pure.

            In the middle of Hannah’s song, she praised God for the goodness that He is, for the rightness of His decisions in lifting up and striking down, of giving and taking away, of humbling and exalting.  There is no thought of judging God for that would be a fool’s game of unbelief.  Each of us has to struggle with the idea that our times are in God’s hands, and we are His to do with as He pleases.  Our inner man doesn’t like that very much.  We want to judge God by how He pleases us, rather than the other way around.  Therefore, if we have to face our Creator according to what He would see in us, we should be terrified.  Yet, my dear friends, that isn’t where God has left us.

            Hannah sang,He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.  For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's; upon them He has set the world.  He will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness.  It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the LORD will be shattered.  He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.  He will give strength to His king and exalt the horn of His anointed."  And here, we see our salvation.  Our hope is not in us, but in the Lord of all things and His Anointed Son.

            My friends, We rejoice for the gift of the Son.  Is it too soon to be looking forward to Christmas?  We think of that season as the celebration of God’s gift of His Son—our Savior; do we remember that every day is a to be a celebration of the gift of God’s Son?  That really is the way Hannah saw it and the way of true, everlasting life—that we live in the faith the Holy Spirit brings to us in Word and Sacrament, just as the Lord God Almighty planned, that we live in the righteousness and sacrifice of God’s holy Son. 

            Winning the game of life by ourselves, leads only to death and destruction.  Yet, Jesus came into our world to win the victory for us, to destroy the foe that led us away from our Creator, to live on our behalf in perfect obedience to our heavenly Father, to die the death we deserved, to rise again in victory that will never end.  All of this so that we could celebrate throughout the everlasting ages in the loving flood of God’s grace.

            Yes, the wicked will be silenced in darkness.”  Yes, “those who oppose the LORD will be shattered.”  And yes, “the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.”  That awful Judgement Day draws closer every moment.  It will not be pretty for those who walk this life apart from God’s Son.  They will be sentenced to eternal separation and pain.

            But, in those whom God has called, in His elect of every age, God has exalted His Son.  God made us believers by the power of His Spirit in the Word and Sacrament.  God alone lifted us from the sentence of destruction and despair.  He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.”  God didn’t ask if we wanted Him; rather, He found us poor and needy and saved us for His eternal glory. 

            Martin Luther wrote, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  This is the true Christian faith, the gift of the Son long-promised finally given to us in Jesus, and that’s the faith Hannah professed as she sang her song of praise.  May it ever be our song of praise as well.  We rejoice for the gift of the Son.  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. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Lord has done what He promised.



O Lord, we are gathered in sorrow, yet not as those who have no hope.  We thank You for all the blessings bestowed on our brother, now fallen asleep, and for all the blessings You have given us through him.  But most of all, we thank You for making him Your dear child by faith in Jesus Christ.  Give us also to have that saving trust in Jesus all our days.  We ask this all in Christ’s holy name.  Amen.

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

For our words of comfort this afternoon, we read in the name of our dear Savior, Jesus, from,

Genesis 28:12-13a & 15b-17  He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  13 There above it stood the LORD, and He said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.…I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."  16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it."  17 He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."

The Lord has done what He promised.

Dear friends of Rodney Boyum, and especially you members of his family,

            I wasn’t sure what to expect when Shawn asked me to visit his dad a little over two years ago, but once I got to his home, it didn’t take long to realize that I had found a new friend, and a fellow believer.  I can truthfully tell you that after than first time, I looked forward to every visit I had with your dad and grandfather.

            Now, when I would visit, I usually asked Rodney how he was doing, and he would often reply with something like, “I fell down the stairs this morning to see if I could get back up again so I must be okay.”  To be honest, I still don’t know exactly what that meant, but as I was considering what to say this afternoon, Rodney’s expression reminded me of this account of Jacob’s experience.  In his dream, Jacob saw a ladder, or stairway, to heaven with angels going up and down.  At the top of the stairs, the Almighty Lord was present, and He swore an oath to Jacob, I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."  Today, I can confidently assure you that for Rodney, The Lord has done what He promised.

            Now, that statement may leave some of you a little perplexed, but I ask you to bear with me as I explain.  In Jacob’s dream, we see the true God reveal Himself.  Most of the people in Jacob’s day were pagan idol worshippers.  Like many people of our times, the pagans viewed their gods as angry, vindictive, judgmental beings just waiting to pounce and take revenge for any real or imagined slights.  Today, people might call that karma—the idea that the gods will pay you back good for your good deeds and evil for the bad things we do.  However, the God who reveals Himself through the Scriptures, the God Rodney believed in, is not like that.  Instead, God reveals Himself as love.

            Lest you think that God was rewarding Jacob for being good, consider the circumstances under which this dream was given.  Jacob was running away from home, fleeing for his life, not as a child but as a full-grown man, because he had lied to and deceived his father so that he could cheat and swindle his brother out of his birthright inheritance.  Thus, Jacob was on the run because his brother had vowed to kill him.  Jacob didn’t deserve anything but retribution from an angry God, but that isn’t the God of the Bible.

            Dear friends, the only way we will escape the cruelty of this world, and the judgment our sins deserve, is if God rescues us.  That’s the reason He has preachers like me telling you about Jesus.  What I want you all to take home with you this afternoon is that God did this for Rodney, and He will gladly do the same for you.

            Now, to be fair, Jacob was no better, and likely no worse, than any of us.  In fact, our dear friend, Rodney, admitted many times that he didn’t deserve what God has done for him.  Only four days before the Lord called him home, Rodney confessed his sins to me one last time, and I assured him that God’s promises are true and his sins are all forgiven. 

Rodney knew what Jacob learned in that dream.  Jacob saw a ladder between earth and heaven.  In the New Testament, it is revealed to us that the ladder between earth and heaven is Jesus. (John 1:51)  As we read in our Gospel lesson a few moments ago, Jesus is the one and only way between God and men.  He “is the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6), and Jesus has enabled us to rejoice this afternoon even through our tears.

            The God of the Bible, the God in whom Christians put their faith, doesn’t interact with this world looking to catch us doing wrong so He can hurt us.  Rather, the Lord God has loved us from the beginning, before He even created the world, and it is His true desire is to take us home to heaven where we can enjoy the peace and joy that was God’s original plan for all of us.  Furthermore, we are considering this work of God today, because for Rodney, The Lord has done what He promised.

            On June 28, 1940, Rodney was baptized into the Christian faith, and on June 5, 1955, he confirmed that he believed what God had done for him.  That might sound unimportant to some, but Baptism is the means God uses to claim you as His own child. In the water and Word of Baptism, God gives the rebirth from above that Jesus told Nicodemus was necessary for our salvation. (John 3:3)  In Baptism, the Lord washes away our sins, drowns our old sinful nature, and raises up a new living faith in us with the promise of a heavenly home for the new, dear child He has made His own.  In Baptism, God graces us with forgiveness and salvation.  And there, He promises that He will never leave us until His rescue mission is complete. (Matthew 28:20)

            Now, of course, even though God will never leave us, He doesn’t guarantee that we will never leave Him, and sadly many do.  However, God promises that He will never take away His mercy and grace.  In fact, if we stray, He remains faithful, and like the father of the prodigal son, God remains ever willing to forgive and ever willing to welcome us back into His loving embrace when we repent.

            When we met Saturday afternoon, some of you told me that for many years Rodney didn’t attend church very often, so many might assume that his faith in Jesus wasn’t all that strong.  Now, certainly, God wants us to make use of every grace He provides to keep our faith strong.  That’s why He offers the medicine of His love through the Word and Sacrament.  But, the Lord has promised that He will never snuff out even the smallest ember of faith, (Matthew 12:20) and that I can assure you is what was fanned into full, confident faith in Rodney’s last years. 

As I visited him these past two years, Rodney confessed his trust in Jesus numerous times.  He eagerly looked forward to the healing power of Jesus’ body and blood—not to fix his damaged heart or take away his diabetes, but to receive again and again the sure, saving promise God had given at his Baptism—that all his sins are forgiven and God has a home in the mansions of heaven ready and waiting for our dear brother in the faith.  Early this past Friday morning, The Lord finished what He promised Rodney that long-ago morning at the baptismal font.  God took him home to heaven.

            Dear friends, God’s love for you is unending.  His mercy is so great that He had His Son, Jesus live for you and then die for you on a cross.  The retribution God should have demanded of you and me was put on Jesus as He suffered and died in our place.  Therefore, Jesus’ sacrifice opened the gates of heaven so that you, and I, and Rodney could enter in.  Along with that, Jesus rose from the grave alive again on the third day, proving that all His promises are true, and showing that He will raise us also from the dead at the appointed time, just as He promised. (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)

In the gospels, we read about one of the Lord’s suffering children, by the name of Lazarus, being carried home to heaven by God’s angels when the man died.  The angels have carried Rodney up that stairway to be home with his Lord forever as well.  That same grace is available for you.  Furthermore, the Bible promises that we will see Rodney again, but this time fully restored, and living where there is no more pain, or sorrow, no heart disease, or diabetes, or death.  That is the promise God made when He gave rebirth to Rodney on his baptismal day, and the assurance the Holy Spirit gave with every bit of bread and wine, the body and blood of our Savior, that I served to Rodney these last two years.

Dear friends, today, we shed some tears remembering the beloved man we have seen God take away.  Let us not grieve, though, as those without hope, for Rodney had the sure hope that is Jesus, a Savior who took away His sins and has given him a home of everlasting glory.  For our good friend, Rodney, and for you, The Lord has done what He promised.  Amen.

The peace of God, established and won for you, and for all, by the sacrifice of God’s own precious Son be with you always to the very end of the age.  Amen.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Jesus changed the funeral. 



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

Luke 7:11-17  Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.  12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."  14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.  He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!"  15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  16 They were all filled with awe and praised God.  "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said.  "God has come to help his people."  17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

Jesus changed the funeral.


            We have come to the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.  The Christian church has traditionally used this Sunday to talk about death and burial.  Does that seem a bit strange to you?  Most people don’t come to church because they want to hear about such a downer of a subject.  Most people don’t like to talk about death, or even think about it.  The truth is, most people are afraid of death.  Do you disagree?  Well, think about it.  Why do you suppose that disaster and death regularly headline the news?  Is it because we are deeply concerned about the pain others feel?  No, not really.  More likely, it is because death stirs up our hearts and gets out attentions, mostly because people are terrified of dying.

            Now, that terror is nothing new.  Death entered the world because of sin, and because death is the absolute reminder that we have sinned against God and deserve His wrath, death scares us right down to our toes.  Because death is so terrifying to the human race, we need rituals to help those left behind.  So, every society, and every religion, has developed certain rites that deal with death.  We call ours funerals.  Some call them celebration of life services.  Other cultures may have other names for their death rituals.

            In our sermon text, we are presented with one of those rituals, a Jewish funeral procession.  The people of Jesus’ day also had funeral ceremonies.  Each locality probably had its own particular variation, but generally, the Jewish funeral involved a lot a wailing and weeping.  This one was no different.  However, that poor widow probably didn’t have to hire any mourners, as was sometimes the case in their day.  The Greek text says tells us that the crowd that made up this funeral procession was “appropriate.”  In other words, the people of that little village of Nain recognized the widow’s tragic loss and the great grief she was experiencing, so most of the people from that little community were rightly mourning along with her and were making sure that they carried out all the traditions of mourning to help ease the pain for their friend, this grieving, widowed mother.

            The loss of any child is a horrible thing.  We all expect our children to outlive us, but in this world of sin and death, we know that isn’t always the case.  Yet for a Jewish mother, especially for a widow, the loss of an only child had to feel like cruel punishment from God.  You could legitimately wonder is she would survive the loss.  Therefore, all who knew this widow were doing whatever they could to share in her burden and ease her grief. 

            Now, to change gears just a bit, have you ever found yourself upset when a tradition is changed?  Societies and families tend to have certain ways of doing things, and when somebody changes those patterns, it can, at first, be quite upsetting.  Yet, sometimes, we soon discover that the change is a good thing, and this morning, you and I will concentrate on a change Jesus carried out for our good.  You see, Jesus changed the funeral.

            Funerals are intended to let grieving people know that they are not alone, and that they are not forgotten in their loss.  Sometimes funerals get focused on how good the person was, or they might get caught up in the idea that the death isn’t fair and in doing so, even if unintentionally, a finger of accusation is wagged against God.  Those issues aren’t touched upon much in our text.  However, in just a few minutes and with a few words, Jesus changed everything.  Our sermon text isn’t focused on the man who died or on his mother.  Rather, it focuses our attention on Jesus, on His compassion for the suffering, and on His power to change our weeping into gladness.  Jesus changed the funeral, both for that widow and her son, and for you and me.

            I want you to notice that this grieving mother didn’t come looking for Jesus.  Rather, He went out of His way to come to her.  Luke reports, Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.”  It just so happens that the day before this incident, Jesus was in Capernaum, but just one day later, He had travelled over twenty miles on foot to that little village of Nain.  I don’t think it was accidental that Jesus was in that out of the way place where He could perform a miracle that will be remembered forever.  Nothing escapes Jesus’ notice.  Instead, we should understand that our Lord is well aware of what we need, and He cares deeply about our hurts. 

            As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."  Jesus’ heart was stirred up for that grieving widow.  Certainly, it already had, yet the Holy Spirit wants us to know that as a man, Jesus wasn’t immune to our feelings of grief.  As he saw the outpouring of sadness around the death of this young man, Jesus was touched.  So He went to this sorrowful lady to comfort her with the gentle words, "Don’t cry."  Notice, Jesus wasn’t giving her an order to buck up and take the loss.  He wasn’t belittling her grief.  Jesus fully understood the pain we each feel at the loss of a loved one.  He also understood the tremendous fear that this widow was likely experiencing about her future.  More importantly, Jesus knew what He had already planned to do for her.

            Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.”  Jesus didn’t have to say a word to those bearing the dead body.  All He had to do was touch the funeral pallet and the carriers halted.  This was something unusual.  For the Jews, touching a dead body or anything associated with it would make one ceremonially unclean, so only close family and those most touched by the loss were likely to do so.  It also may be true that in that light touch, Jesus caused the men to stop in their tracks.

            But then, Jesus did something that I guarantee was out of ordinary for a funeral.  Even more so, the result of His words was exceedingly extraordinary.  He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up."  Now, if you or I or anyone else said that, we all know nothing would happen—nothing.  So here, we have proof that Jesus isn’t an ordinary man.  Young man, I say to you, get up!” Jesus said, and  “The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.”  We aren’t told what caused the young man’s death.  It simply doesn’t matter.  Jesus had the power to give him life, and at Jesus’ command, the young man sat up alive, and perfectly healed.  He didn’t come back in a vegetative state.  He didn’t have to go through a long healing process.  He simply sat up at the command of the one true God, and was given back to his mother—fully alive and well.

            Thus, Jesus changed the funeral.  Immediately, that procession of grief became a celebration of joy.  You can imagine the astonishment this grieving mother felt.  Luke reports her neighbors’ amazement: They were all filled with awe and praised God.  ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said.  ‘God has come to help his people.’"  The people of that region didn’t really yet know who they were seeing.  They understood that only God could restore life, but who this Jesus is they weren’t quite sure.  But still, they had it right when they said, "God has come to help His people."  Whether they truly understood their own words, we cannot say, but they are nonetheless true.  On the outskirts of that little village, Jesus gave the world proof positive that He is the Savior God had promised to send to heal this world of sin and death.

            Immediately, there was tremendous joy for the widow of Nain.  Her happiness was restored.  But, what does it mean for me and you?  Especially, if Jesus doesn’t immediately give us back our loved one?

This resurrection is a foreshadowing of what was to come.  Jesus performed this awesome miracle for several reasons.  First, of course, was His compassion for a grieving daughter of God; second, was to demonstrate His almighty power to a world of skeptics; and finally, most important, to give us a picture of what He had come to do for you and me and every other person in the world. 

            That’s right, just as He did for that widow and her son, Jesus changed our funeral. How?  Well, let me elaborate.  In the eyes of the world, death is the end of anything good, the end of our chance to make something of ourselves.  For the world, there is nothing to look forward to at death, but a hole in the ground into which what’s left of us gets dumped, and that’s why the whole world is afraid of death.  Now some may think death is simply the end of all things, but for most people, death brings the realization that in death God’s judgment and punishment is now at hand, and actually, my friends, that fear of God’s wrath inhabits every heart to one extent or another. 

            Now, certainly, we all deserve the wrath of God that we fear deep down inside.  Every person who has ever lived has sinned against the almighty, everlasting God who created us.  His righteous law is written in our hearts, so no matter how hard we try to beat down our consciences, we can’t avoid knowing that we have failed to obey God perfectly.  By nature, we all fear what is coming after this life, because we know we deserve to be punished, and we inherently understand that the punishment will be eternal.  And, if that doesn’t terrify the sinner, nothing ever will.  Yet, for the Christian, Jesus changed the funeral. 

            St. Paul wrote, “Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5) 

Outside of the city of Nain, Jesus gave us a foreshadowing of what He came to do.  The young man that was raised to life would someday die again, but Jesus was pleased to help that family and to give each of us the knowledge of what He would soon do for our lives.  No, we can’t count on being physically raised from the dead at our funeral—in fact, that would be too late.  Rather, Jesus changed our funeral from being an entrance into death, to an entrance into our eternal life.  By living in perfect obedience to His Father, to our Creator, all for us and then dying the death we each deserved, Jesus changed our funeral.  Not willing to just command eternal death to disappear, Jesus died our death so that perfect justice was served upon all our sins.  Jesus took the eternal punishment of God’s wrath that we each have earned, so that we don’t have to suffer that final eternal death. 

Jesus changed the funeral.  Without Jesus’ life and death, our funerals would be no different than any others; they would still be the entrance into eternal punishment—the entrance into eternal banishment from the love of God.  But as St. Paul reminded us, through baptism into Jesus’ death, we have been united with Jesus to live forever in heaven.  Remember, my friends, Jesus didn’t stay dead.  Just as He had promised beforehand, Jesus rose again on the third day after they laid His cold dead body in the tomb.  As true God, Jesus had, and continues to have, power over death.  He said, “I lay down My life for the sheep…No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:15-18) 

Satan tried to defeat Jesus, just as he had succeeded in defeating mankind in the Garden of Eden, but there was no way that created angel, who had rebelled against the true God, could ever overcome his Creator.  Satan’s evil plans were destroyed as Jesus destroyed the power of death for those who are connected with Him.  Through faith in Christ, given to us through Baptism and the power of His Gospel, you and I have been rescued from death.  It can no longer harm us.  Yes, someday, our bodies will be laid down in the grave, but we have nothing to fear, because we have already died once and for all time with Jesus at our baptisms.  Eternal death can no longer touch the believer in Christ.  We live with Him forever.  Now, we are just waiting for the day we get to meet Him again face to face, either at our physical death, or at His return in glory over this world of sin and pain. 

Dear Christian friends, thanks be to Jesus, He changed our funeral.  St. Paul wrote, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)  That’s what we should take away from the raising of this young man at Nain, that we, likewise, will be raised to life again.  Though in our case, it won’t be for just a little while here on earth, but rather for eternity in heaven, because we are now united with Christ Jesus through faith in Him as our Lord and Savior, and He already lives and reigns in glory. 

Will there be weeping at your funeral?  Perhaps.  But, for those who know Christ and know your faith in Him, those tears will also be tears of joy, for Jesus changed your funeral.  As believing Christians, your funeral will no longer celebrate an entrance into death and punishment and separation from God, but rather, into the glory of heaven and life everlasting in the presence of your Almighty Savior and Friend.  Glory be to Jesus.  Amen.

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