Death & Beauty – Sermon on Luke 7:11-17 for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Luke 7:11-17

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. The Resurrection of the Widow's Son at Nain12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Funeral processions – you see them from time to time. A hearse drives down the road followed by a line of cars driving from a church or funeral home on their way to a cemetery. Car after car follows the dead body of the husband or wife, brother or sister, father or mother, child or friend. You see death, and out of respect you pause for the mourners. You yield the right-of-way and let death pass.

Contrast a funeral procession with a parade.

Parades are also long lines of people and vehicles. Parades are also given the right-of-way. Out of respect for the people in the parade you smile and wave no matter how silly the costume no matter how poorly the band is marching and playing, no matter how vehemently you disagree with the political candidate. It is a parade. Parades are happy.

Well, what happens when a parade – a line of celebration, happiness, and glee –  meets a funeral procession – a line of despair, mourning, and death? That is precisely what happens in our text today, and Luke gives beautiful details.

Jesus is at the height of His popularity; a great crowd follows Him – people who have been healed or were witnesses of Jesus giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the diseased, and good news to all. Jesus is bringing the reign of God to earth, and a parade follows Him.

But as this parade following Jesus reaches the gate of Nain (which means ‘Beautiful’), they meet something ugly – the funeral procession for a young man. Luke tells us that this young man was the only begotten son of his mother. Death has reared its ugly head to the town called ‘Beautiful.’

This mother is familiar with funeral processions. She had walked out of that same gate following the same path to the same cemetery to bury her husband. Even though the road was familiar, the procession has lost none of its bite or pain. In fact, this procession is more bitter, more final because, now, this widow is truly alone (1 Tim. 5:3-5).

You would think that, out of compassion for this widow, Jesus would respectfully turn His parade aside in quiet respect for the dead. You would think that happiness and joy would pause and defer to mourning and death. But you would be wrong. Jesus and His parade simply will not yield. And what Jesus does is so foreign to our thinking.

If you saw a hearse leading a line of cars to a cemetery, you would not swerve in front of the hearse blocking the road. You would not demand that the driver get out of the vehicle and throw the keys into the ditch. You would not go to the back of the hearse and pull out the casket. And you certainly wouldn’t open the casket revealing the body and start speaking to it. But that is what Jesus does.

There’s no question that Jesus has compassion on this woman, but it doesn’t pass for what we would call compassion. Jesus speaks only two words to this woman, “Weep not.”Imagine telling a parent who is mourning the death of a child, “Quit crying.” But as shocking as that is, Jesus goes even further – He stops the procession, touches the bier, and speaks to that dead flesh, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

The dead boy sits up and is given back to his mother. He is put back where he belonged.

Jesus does not yield to death. Instead, death yielded to Jesus. This account reminds us of another time when Jesus and death marched toward each other.

Then, the funeral procession began long before death stuck its blow. Jesus Carries His Own CrossThe funeral procession began at the sentencing as crowds shouted out, “Crucify, crucify Him.” In that funeral procession, Jesus carried His own bier, His own cross, until He could carry it no more. A great crowd of people followed Jesus mourning and lamenting for Him. But even in the midst of that funeral procession, Jesus’ words are the same, “Weep not”(Lk. 23:26-28).

At that confrontation between Jesus and death, Jesus’ own widowed mother mourned the loss of her Son. In that epic meeting between Jesus and death, by all appearances, death had won. The Man who had raised the dead was now dead. His corpse buried, and for three days it rested in the ground from which it was taken.

But, once again, death gave way to Jesus.

Funeral processions can get ugly. The weeping and mourning and wailing can make us uncomfortable. Even though death is in your future, you deny or ignore it. Be honest, you see everything around you rotting, decaying, and dying. You have grown so accustomed to sin and being around death that you don’t notice it very often.

This morning, you were part of a funeral procession. You are guilty of sin, so the stink of death hangs around you. You are part of your own, constant funeral procession. Young and old – man, woman, and child – you all dragged some dead thing here with you today.

Is it your relationship with your spouse that is slowly dying, and yet you stand idly by?

Is it the cadaver of disobedience to parents or others in authority over you? You only do what you need to get by, even though you know you could do more.

What dead thing have you brought with you?

Is it the dying remains of your finances that cause you to worry and doubt, or simply discontentment with what God has given you?

Is it the carcass of lust that flames within you?

Is it the rottenness of pride that is so focused inward that you do not see the needs of others? A pride that boasts in your own accomplishments and belittles others?

What dead thing have you brought here with you?

Maybe, it is not even your fault. Maybe, it is just the fear of what will happen in the future. Maybe, it Is the worry and concern you have for others. Maybe it is anger for how your neighbor has wronged you. Maybe, your dead thing is your own sick, crumbling body. What dead thing have you brought here with you?

You are in your own funeral procession. Yes, maybe it will be months, years, or decades before you are finally lowered into the ground, but from the time you were born you have been marching toward your grave. Just admit it.

Jesus approaches your funeral procession, and He does not stop; Jesus does not yield.  Jesus does not give way or defer to death; He doesn’t have time for it.

Cross and CommunionInstead, Jesus defeats death, each and every time He meets it.

Jesus is here today. Jesus meets you as you plod along in your personal funeral procession and gives you life. Jesus meets you at this altar, this beautiful gate, to give you His living Body and His life-giving Blood. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

This sermon was reworked from 2014.

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Dispelling the Myth: “My Kids Know about Jesus Because I Take Them to Church”

Parents, it’s time for a wake-up call:

Ask yourself “How much time do I spend each day teaching my kids about Christ and the Scriptures?” Take some time. Think seriously about it. And answer honestly.

Does your family regularly have devotions together, and if so, how long does it take?
An hour? I seriously doubt it.
Half an hour? Yeah, unlikely.
Fifteen minutes? Maybe.

How often do your conversations with your kids reflect upon Scripture as it intersects with everything going on in your and their lives? As you eat together and talk about the day, do you remind them of Christ’s love for them when they are upset about the kid who said something nasty or hurtful to them? As you drive them to school, do you pray for and with them for their day?

Time is the great equalizer. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, urban or suburban or rural – EVERYONE has the same amount of time.

Hours per Year in Ping Pong Balls

Photo used from FaceBook user Cory Austin

Look at the picture. That tall tube of orange balls represents the time you have with your kids each year. Three-thousand hours or about 8.22 hours per day. That sounds fairly accurate. The little vase of orange balls represents the average amount of time kids spend in church (I’m not sure where they got that number, but go ahead and double it if you think it’s a fair assessment for your kids). That vase of balls, even if you double it, would easily fit into the tube.

Now, let’s color those balls. Orange for the time spent rushing them to whatever sports practice and games, for the time spent doing homework and studying for tests and quizzes, for watching television, for when you just want a break and go on your mobile device and send them off to be on theirs. And white for the time spent in God’s Word and prayer.

Now, take those 3,000+ balls, mix them together, and pour them back into the tube. How much white do you see? Maybe, you’ll get lucky and a majority of those white balls will land on the outside of the tube. Maybe, the white balls will all land in the middle and all you see is orange.

Bringing your kids to church, Sunday School, and youth group isn’t enough. You, (yes, you) need to be bringing Christ and faith in Him into every part of your kid’s day.

And I can already hear the objections, “But our schedule is full already.” “But they have so much homework, and they have to learn.” “But sports teach them important life skills – what it means to be a team, a good work ethic, how to be healthy, etc.” “But the house isn’t going to clean itself. They need to do their chores or the house will be chaos.” “But I need a break from a hard day at work.”

You are right. Absolutely right. I’m a parent too. I know.

Let’s try something else with those pesky balls and their color. What if you do the little things? What if you do actually pray with your kids when they bring up something made their day difficult? What if you take the time to thank God for something good that happened? What if you point them to Scripture that fits with each joy and disappointment in their lives? And each time you do one of those things, that orange ball gets a white dot on it. It’s still mostly orange. But little specks of white land on a lot more balls. At least you see a peppering of white speckling in that sea of orange. This is all well and good.

This is how God designed parents to teach their children the faith. Deuteronomy 6:6–7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

But, remember parents, you can’t teach what you don’t know. You can’t connect the events of your kid’s life to the Bible and faith if you don’t know what the Bible says.

Parents, you have 8,760 hours in a year. How many of your ping pong balls are completely white? Are you at church hearing the Word of God? Are you attending Bible Study? Are you in Bible class while your kids are at Sunday School? Are you reading your Scriptures and praying daily? When was the last time you read something in the Bible and went to ask your pastor about it? (You’d make his day if you did that! I can speak from personal experience [Gal. 6:6]). If you aren’t doing those things, start.

Yes, those orange balls are important. God wants us to work and learn and enjoy creation and take care of ourselves and the things He has given us. But, in the end, everything orange pales in comparison to the white.

Parents, do your job. Teach your children the faith. Your pastor and your church are here to help you every step of the way. But it needs to come from you. Feed them and be fed for them.

Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Php. 3:8).

Anxious – Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34 for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 6:24–34

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In 1988, Bobby McFerrin offered us “a little song [he] wrote.” He thought we “might want to sing it note for note. Don’t worry; be happy. In every life we have some trouble. hakuna-matata-don-t-worry-be-happy-1But when you worry, you make it double. Don’t worry; be happy. Woo, ooh.”

As chipper as Mr. McFerrin’s song was, apparently the ditty didn’t work because in 1994 the lovable characters, Timon and Pumbaa, came along to teach us a “wonderful phrase.” Hakuna Matata. In case you didn’t know, “it means no worries for the rest of your days. It’s [their] problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata.”

As catchy as those jingles are, their philosophy and approach to anxiety is terribly simplistic, and we still find ourselves getting worried.

Mothers worry when their children wander off and get lost. Fathers worry when an unexpected expense comes up and the bills pile up. Children get anxious about the first day of school with new teachers and higher expectations. The evening news and papers get your attention by reporting on the worst stories first. Television shows will end with foreboding cliffhangers to make you anxious about what will happen next week. And to get your vote, politicians have become masters at creating worry and anxiety then telling us that they are the ones who can save us. “If we don’t ban straws, the turtles are going to die.” “If we don’t reduce carbon emissions, the planet is going to die.” And both political parties are guilty of this. Years ago, it was, “If Obamacare gets passed, people will die.” Today, it’s, “If Brett Kavanaugh gets a seat on the Supreme Court, people are going to die.” Or, “If we don’t do something about the border, people are going to die. If we don’t do something about ISIS, people are going to die. If we don’t do something about taxes and the economy, people are going to die. Our country is divided, people are going to die.”

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” and “Hakuna Matata”? These seem to be nothing more than trite, naïve dismissals of the anxious world in which we live. But here, Jesus seems to be just as dismissive. He tells us, “Don’t be anxious about your life. Don’t be anxious about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Don’t be anxious about tomorrow.”Maybe Jesus lives in the same fantasy land as Bobby, Timon, and Pumbaa.

Well, there is a significant difference between Jesus’, “Don’t be anxious,”and Bobby, Timon, and Pumbaa. Jesus recognizes how serious of a sin worry and anxiety are. You see that in how this whole text is related.

First, Jesus points out that your anxiety is evidence of idolatry. He says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

When you have two masters, you are always going to be torn between the two because they will never fully agree on the service they require of you. FranticAnd Jesus addresses the most common master that you and I serve – possessions and stuff.

The word translated as ‘money’ here is the word ‘mammon’ which means more than ‘money.’ But since you get your stuff with money, ‘money’ is a fine translation. Jesus here is addressing your most common idol. You worship your stuff. Idolatry isn’t simply bowing down to statues. Idolatry is fearing, loving, or trusting in anything that isn’t God.

The God who created you, gives you everything you need to live, and sustains it all isn’t seen. But you can see how much money in your wallet or purse. You can look at your balance in your bank account and investments. You spend lots of time at your job. You probably know your boss and the person who signs your checks. And so, you are tempted to you trust those things rather than God who is hidden behind them all. And anxiety is the liturgy and worship that your possessions demand.

We think if we have enough we are secure, so we worry when we think we are running short. Or we think that if we have a little more money, then we’ll be happy. So, we get anxious to accrue a little more. But this is sinful idolatry, and these words from Jesus expose our lack of faith. Scripture says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Repent.

Repent and then laugh at yourself. I think that is what Jesus wants us to do with our sin.

Don’t laugh because your sin doesn’t matter or isn’t serious. Your sin is deadly serious. Serious enough that Jesus will go to the cross, suffer, and die for that sin. But He also wants us to see how foolish and downright silly it is when He tells us to look at the birds and the lilies. He asks, “Do you trust God as much as a crow trusts God? Do you trust God as much as a lily trusts God?”

Birds in a nestWhen was the last time you saw a bird driving a tractor or operating a combine? A bird cannot plant and harvest like we can. But God didn’t design them to do that. He designed us to do that. Birds simply do what God designed them to do: have chicks and raise them and sing.

A bird wakes up, finds a branch, and sings the song God put into its beak. While that little bird sings, it isn’t worried about food even though it has more reason to be worried about food than we have because it doesn’t know where its food is going to come from. It can’t go into the store and buy food. The bird just sits there and sings for a while. Then, when it is hungry, it flies off and finds the food God has set out for it. Jesus says, “Those birds don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

Did you notice that? Jesus doesn’t say, “Their heavenly Father feeds them.” He says, “Your heavenly Father feeds them.”Your Father cares enough about the birds to feed them. Jesus wasn’t born to save birds. Jesus wasn’t crucified to save birds. He did all of that for you. You are the peculiar object of God’s saving love. If He feeds birds, He is going to feed you.

Same with the lilies of the field. God hasn’t given them anything more to do than to grow and look and smell nice. God provides everything they need even though they are alive today and tomorrow are shriveled up and burned. If God clothes the grass like that, how much more will He clothe you?

Worry is useless. It doesn’t help at all. In fact, it makes things worse. Jesus hasn’t given you permission to worry. Worry is the worship that money demands. So, what should you do when you have worry and anxiety?

Philippians 4[:6]says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Take your worry and turn it around don’t let it be the slavish worship you offer to your idol, money. Instead, when you are worried about anything, make it your prayer. Pray, Open Prayer Hands“God You have told me not to be anxious. You have told me not to worry. Well, I’m worried about ______. You take care of that. Help me. Protect me. Etc.” Then your worry becomes a true service to God.

God loves you. He has provided you with everything you need for eternity. In His mercy, He sent His only-begotten Son to shed His blood on the cross to make you His own so that you will live forever in His kingdom. So, there is no reason to doubt that He will take care of the things you need today or tomorrow.

And then, be free. Free to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness – the righteousness He delivers to you in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus has promised that all these things will be added to you. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The One Who Shows You Mercy – Sermon on Luke 10:23-37 for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Luke 10:23-37

23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. Jesus Good Samaritan Icon32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This parable is arguably the most well-known parable Jesus ever told. That being said, it is also one of the most misinterpreted and misused parables. Today, may your eyes and ears be blessed as Jesus tells you what many prophets and kings desired to see and hear but did not. Holy Spirit, open our eyes and unplug our ears to Christ’s mercy.

This lawyer, this guy who knows the Old Testament forwards and backwards, asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a stupid question. You don’t do something to gain an inheritance.

All Scripture shows that God’s people do not inherit eternal life by doing something. As our Epistle Text (Gal. 3:15-22) said, the inheritance of eternal life has always and will always come through the promise of God.

The lawyer knew exactly what he must do to have eternal life. He must do the Law, and his understanding of the Law is correct. Love God perfectly; love your neighbor perfectly. It’s exactly how Jesus sums up the Law elsewhere (Mt. 22:34-40). Jesus tells the lawyer, “Bingo! Do this, and you will live.”But Jesus might just as well have said, “Yup. Go to hell.”

And the lawyer gets it. He is stuck in his own death. The Law has exposed him for the wretched sinner that he is. The Law has left him scared and confused because he doesn’t know the Gospel; it’s completely foreign to him. He wants an out and clamors for a loophole. He asks, “Well, who is my neighbor? Whom should I love?”

But every Sunday school student knows the answer. “Who is my neighbor?” Everyone. “Whom should I love?” Everyone and without fail. But Jesus doesn’t tell the parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the parable to change the question to get the answer He wants. The point of the parable is not to teach us to love everyone. Scripture teaches that all over the place but not in this parable.

Instead, Jesus tells the parable because He wants to show the lawyer and you hope. Jesus wants to show you what God mercifully does for you. He wants your eyes to see and your ears to hear the Gospel.

With all that in mind, consider the parable: The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is downhill the whole way. The man in the parable is constantly going down. And as he goes down, he falls among thieves who rob, strip, beat, and leave him for dead.

A priest happens to come across him, but when he sees the poor sap, he moves to the other side of the road. A Levite spots him as well and does the same. They don’t bind up his wounds. They don’t offer to find someone else to help. They don’t even stand a safe distance and speak comforting words to him as he dies. Instead, the two most respected religious people in Jesus’ day are unwilling to give a second look to the wretch in the ditch.

They know God’s Word, but they are able to justify leaving the guy in the mud and blood. “If God allowed this to happen to him, it must have been for a reason.” Or, “He must have been hanging out with the wrong crowd.” Or, “If I help this guy, I’ll be unclean and won’t be able to perform my duties in the Temple and people won’t have their spiritual needs met.” They won’t let this looser distract them from their calling.

This beaten, bloodied man is despised and rejected by his own people who turn their faces from him (Is. 52:14; 53:2-4).

But then comes the hero – the man of the hour. But he is a Samaritan. He’s a looser and outcast just like the man in the ditch. And this looser ministers to his fellow looser.

He goes down into the ditch. He binds up the wounds. He puts ointment, oil, and wine on the lacerations. He hefts the guy onto his own animal, giving up his own comfort. He is delayed and intruded upon. Whatever appointment or meeting he was journeying to doesn’t matter anymore. The only thing that matters is the stripped, bleeding man.

The Samaritan brings the guy to a hotel and watches over him through the night. In the morning, he makes his way to the front desk and books the room indefinitely.

He tells the staff, “Bill everything to my room. That bloodied guy I brought in here last night, whatever he needs Is on my tab. If he needs doctors or nurses, I’ll cover it. If he needs a ride, get an Uber on me. If he consumes the mini bar fifteen times, I’m good for it. I’ll be back to pay for it all.”

The parable completed, Jesus looks at the lawyer and asks, “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Again, if this parable is teaching us to love everyone, then Jesus is a bad teacher and is asking the wrong question. “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Jesus is setting the lawyer up. Christ is not calling the lawyer to be like the Samaritan. Jesus wants the lawyer to see that he is the man in the ditch. Jesus wants the lawyer to desire the care, compassion, reckless love, and mercy that the Samaritan shows in the parable because that is exactly what Jesus has come to do for him and for you. Jesus is the one who shows mercy.

Good Samaritan Jesus IconChrist has come to find you. He has bound up your wounds. Jesus has poured out His healing, life-giving blood for you. Jesus nurses you in your brokenness. He has ascended into heaven and has promised to come back and pay for everything you need.

In order to be saved, you don’t need to be merciful; you need mercy. You don’t need to love your neighbor; you need to be loved. You need to receive the Jesus who has come to give you every last bit of His mercy.

That is what the parable means. Our text ends with Jesus saying, “You, go and do likewise.”And Jesus means that too. What Jesus has poured into you, let it spill out and bless others. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sigh – Sermon for the 12th Sunday of Trinity on Mark 7:31-37

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Mark 7:31-37

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,”that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Most of Jesus’ miracles recorded in the Gospels are fairly sterile (if you will allow me to use that term). Christ tells a bunch of servants to fill jars with water, take some to the master of the feast, and the master wonders why the best wine was served so late. Jesus tells a paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home,”and the man does. And Jesus takes bread and fish, gives thanks, hands it to His disciples, and thousands are fed. Clean, neat, tidy miracles.

Little Girl Meme GrossThis miracle, on the other hand, is odd. It’s dirty. Maybe, you even find it disgusting. Jesus takes a deaf man who has a speech impediment off to the side. He sticks His fingers into wax-filled ears. God in the flesh spits (apparently, Jesus wasn’t taught how to give a proper wet-Willy). Christ literally seizes, not just ‘touches,’ the man’s tongue. And then, Jesus looks up to heaven. Sighs. And says, “Ephphatha,” which means,“Be opened.”

Scripture says that Jesus did more miracles than are recorded for us in the Gospels (Jn. 20:30; 21:25). It could be – maybe it isn’t, but it could be – that most of Jesus’ miracles were crazy and odd like this one rather than the ‘normal’ ones God has recorded for us in the Scriptures. That might explain why in Mt. 8[:5-13]the centurion who had a paralyzed servant tells Jesus to not bother about coming into his home, but to just speak the word.

Now, imagine how it was for this man. He had lived his life in a world of silence. He wasn’t able to communicate with others. Imagine his friends and family who have brought him to Jesus. They have wanted so desperately for him to hear and rejoice in God’s Word. They wanted him to be able to hear them say that they loved him. They have wanted to sing God’s praise with his voice added to their chorus. And now, here is Jesus. A man who can do the miraculous. So, they bring him to Jesus and beg and plead Jesus to heal him. And Jesus does this?

As unconventional as it is, the man is healed. His ears are opened. He is able to speak clearly. Though the man has a new-found voice, Jesus commands this man and his family and friends to tell no one what has happened. But they don’t listen. They disobey.

The Jesus who opens deaf ears has one simple command for to their ears to hear. The command comes from the Jesus who loosened the man’s tongue, “Don’t use your tongues to tell others about this.”But they shut their ears to His command, and they open their tongues in disobedience.

They were telling people that Jesus was a miracle worker who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. They weren’t spreading lies about Jesus, but what they were proclaiming was misleading. It seemed like a victimless crime. But here is the problem – the people who heard their message got the wrong impression of who Jesus is and what He had come to do.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the wolrdJesus had come to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not to be the audiologist who takes away the deafness of the world. Jesus had come to give eternal life through His death and resurrection, not to give a voice to the voiceless.

Jesus had a reason for telling them to keep silent about the miracle even if we don’t know exactly what that reason was. And their disobedience had consequences.

When Jesus was on trial before His crucifixion, Pilate sent Him to Herod, and Herod wanted Jesus to do some sign for him (Lk 23:6-11). When Jesus didn’t answer any of Herod’s questions or do a miracle, Herod had his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked Him. It might be that the report of these people fueled Herod’s curiosity to see Jesus the miracle worker and not Jesus the Savior.

You too, refuse to listen to God’s words and commands. Whenever you sin, you are refusing to hear God’s Word. You are choosing your own wisdom over God’s. Even when God’s command seems contrary to what is good, we must repent of our lunacy thinking that we know better than God.

But see Jesus’ grace despite their sin. Jesus knew that they would disobey Him. He knew that they would sinfully use His gifts as tools for their transgressions. Jesus looks to heaven and sighs.

Why does Jesus sigh? Well, Jesus sighs in sorrow over our sins against Him. He sighs when we act in self-righteousness. Jesus sighs grieving over our self-inflicted pain. He sighs in anger over what has been done to us by the devil, our neighbors, and even those who should love us. Jesus sighs, and yet, He acts in love and mercy.

Jesus is the friend of sinners, and He has compassion on all who suffer – no matter what that suffering is. He knows you are a transgressor and worker of iniquity, but He also knows that you are a victim.

Jesus takes and becomes sinYes, Jesus sighs and acts. He gets involved with us even though it hurts Him. He cannot help Himself. In His love and mercy, He gets bound up in the mess we make and that others have made for us. He gets entangled in our sin. In fact, He becomes sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

What Jesus did for this man, He has done for you as well. Jesus has miraculously opened your ears to hear His word of Law and Gospel. Listen to them intently. Believe what Jesus tells you in His Word because Jesus has borne your griefs. He has carried your sorrows. And even by the stripes you inflict upon Him, He heals you (Is. 53:3-5). Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Messiah Complex – Sermon for the 11th Sunday of Trinity on Genesis 4:1-15

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Genesis 4:1-15

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man [with the help of] the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As long as there have been siblings, there have been sibling rivalries because sin came into the world before siblings did. After Adam and Eve fell and brought the curse of sin and death upon all of humanity, God made several promises. To the serpent, God promised that He would send an offspring of the woman to crush his head. To Eve, God promised that He would greatly multiply her pain in childbirth. And to Adam, God promised that He would have to get his food by the sweat of his brow. There were several other important promises, but keep those specific promises in your mind as we consider this text today.

As life went on after the Fall, Adam and Eve experienced the reality of God’s promises. Adam had to labor, toil, and sweat among thorns and thistles to provide food for himself and his wife. Time passed, and Eve conceived. Nine months and a lot of pain later, she gave birth to her first offspring, a son whom she named Cain. Because those two promises of God were so evident and in their faces every day, Adam and Eve also believed God’s deliverance from the serpent was just as imminent. Adam, Eve, and CainThey thought, wrongly, that Cain was the promised offspring who would crush the serpent’s head.

What Eve says after Cain’s birth is not translated well in any English version. All the popular translations add words to it because the translators don’t think Eve is actually saying what she is saying. So, I added brackets around the extra words on your bulletin. Eve literally said, “I have gotten a man, the Lord” (no “with the help of”). Eve was certain that Cain was the God-promised Messiah. Adam and Eve raised Cain teaching him about the promises God had made, and over time, Cain grew to believe as his parents did that he would crush Satan’s head and deliver his family from the curse of sin. Cain had a messiah complex.

Now, somewhere in there, Adam and Eve had another son Abel. I’m sure Adam and Eve loved Abel, but they didn’t treat him the same as they treated Cain. This is seen even in Abel’s name which means ‘breath’ or ‘vapor.’ But, beyond that, Adam and Eve gave Cain the important job of working the field, but Abel was tasked with being a shepherd. This is significant because God had not yet allowed people to eat meat. So, Cain was the provider of their daily sustenance. Abel was sent into the fields to keep his eye on sheep.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. Both brothers bring offerings to God. Abel brings offerings from the firstborn of the flocks, and Cain brings offerings from his crops. God has regard for Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. Why is that? Some might say it was because Cain didn’t bring best portions of his crops. That could be, but there is probably something else going on here.

Who made the first sacrifice in the Bible? It wasn’t Adam and Eve or Cain and Abel. It was God. Remember, the first thing Adam and Eve realized after they ate the forbidden fruit was that they were naked. So, they tried to cover themselves with plants – fig leaves. It didn’t work so well. But God came and covered their nakedness and shame by slaughtering an animal and covering them with skins. Plants weren’t enough to cover Adam and Eve’s sin. Blood was needed. In fact, Scripture says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).

Long story short, Abel followed God’s order of offering animals for a sacrifice. But Cain, who has been raised with a Messiah complex, is doing something different. He figures he can offer God the works of his hands. But then Cain recognizes God’s rejection of his offering, gets jealous, gets warned, gets mad, gets violent, and gets punished.

You probably don’t feel too sorry for Cain. He killed his brother without remorse. Cain refused to keep Abel, the keeper of sheep. When God announces Cain’s punishment that the ground Cain works will be cursed and that Cain will be a fugitive and a homeless wanderer, you think that it is just and right. I would guess that you are not sympathetic to Cain’s statement, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” If that is you, repent.

In every sinful heart is the same Messiah complex that Cain had. We heard another example of it in the Gospel lesson (Lk. 18:9-14). The Pharisee comes to the Temple thanking God that he isn’t like other men. The essence of his prayer is, “God, thanks for making me someone whose sins are little and whose good works are big.” This Pharisee wants God to take a good look at him and give him a high-five because he is a full bottle of Awesome Sauce. Like Cain, the Pharisee offers God a sacrifice, but God had no regard for it.

pharisee-tax-collectorYou see, the only way to approach God is through an offering, a sacrifice. Examine your life and ask yourself why you believe God will hear your prayers, why God will notice you, why God will have regard for you. But remember, you don’t get to pick which sacrifices are pleasing to God. Your good works are not enough, and your perceived lack of sin is nothing but an illusion of your own fallen mind. If you think and believe otherwise, sin isn’t just crouching at your door. Sin is your master. Repent.

Psalm 51:17says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for vengeance upon Cain’s sin. But there is a better blood that cries out to God. The blood of Jesus was shed for you upon the cross. Jesus’ nail-pierced heel has crushed the head of the devil. Jesus, the promised Messiah, offered His own body for the condemnation of your sin in place of your body. Christ’s shed blood flowed down the ground, and His blood even now cries out not for vengeance but for your forgiveness. The earth has opened its mouth to receive Jesus’ blood, and because it has, the earth now cries out to God for your forgiveness.

When you sin, when your spirit is broken, when you are crushed under the weight of your transgression, you can plead, “God be merciful to me, the sinner” (more accurate translation of Lk. 18:13). And He is. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The City of Peace – Sermon for the 10th Sunday of Trinity on Luke 19:41-48

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Luke 19:41-48

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’
but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Palm Sunday, King Jesus rode toward Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey as shouts of, “Hosanna,” filled the air. When you ponder that event, you probably imagine smiles on the faces of the people as they wave their palms, children holding out their hands in joy and praise, the disciples proudly walking close to Jesus as part of His royal entourage, and Jesus’ face happy and pleasant as He takes it all in. But it wasn’t all joy for Jesus.

Luke tells us here that before He enters the City of Peace (which is what ‘Jerusalem’ means), Jesus weeps and laments because her residents, by and large, do not live up to their home town’s name. They do not know the things that make for peace. In a tragic twist of irony, the citizens of the City of Peace had no idea where true peace is found.

Jesus had come in the flesh to be their Immanuel, their Savior, their Messiah who would purchase and redeem them with His holy and precious blood. Christ had come to be the King from David’s line who would sit upon the throne forever. He came to remove the curse of death. But they thought He was there to release them from the Roman occupation. While that would have been delivering them, it would have been of no eternal consequence. Jesus was there to do more. However, most of the people of Jerusalem didn’t believe this. They did not know the things that make for peace.

Jesus had come to be the High Priest who offered Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away their sin and the sin of the world. He had come to be the fulfillment of all the sacrifices that pointed the people to Him. Jesus had come to be the true Temple where God met with His people with His mercy and love. But the majority of Jerusalem chose instead to make an idol out of the building of the Temple with its gold and precious stones. The chief priests, scribes, and leaders of the people didn’t want Jesus to die for their sins. They just wanted Him to die, and they wanted to be the ones who destroyed Him. They did not know the things that make for peace.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament offices: prophet, priest, and king. But because they had rejected their true Priest and King, Jesus weeps over the city as the true Prophet predicting destruction. He prophesizes that the City of Peace would be demolished, but His words were ignored, and His warning went unheeded. The majority of the people of Jerusalem did not know the things that make for peace.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' RobertiAbout 40 years later, the Roman armies would come to the City of Peace and fulfill Jesus’ prophecy. In one of the most horrific events in all of history, God would send the Roman general Titus to demolish Jerusalem. The Romans would kill around one million of its residents, take enough gold from the Temple to fund the building of the Coliseum, tear the Temple down to the ground brick-by-brick and stone-by-stone, burn the city, and leave it a smoldering pile of charred rubble.

The Scriptures record this prophecy of Jesus as a warning to us. God is not mocked. Sin does not go unpunished. And because God has freely and graciously given us the things that make for peace, we must recognize and embrace them when He sends them.

Don’t fall into the devil’s temptation to embrace a peace that cannot and will not last. Don’t grow comfortable and complacent in your sin. When God doesn’t send immediate judgement upon our sin, the devil whispers in our ear that God either doesn’t really mind our sin all that much or that God won’t actually judge us.

This is what had happened to the people of Jerusalem. God’s house was to be a house of prayer. But when Jesus enters the Temple that day, He sees nothing but a Wal-Mart of religious items. So, He drives out the money changers and merchants with a whip.

Today, some churches aim to be little more than places of cheap entertainment. But even here in our congregation, how often is this sanctuary considered to be a place to come for a free cup of coffee, sit in a comfortable chair, sing a few songs, and catch up with friends?

Christ Returns in Power and GloryRepent. This isn’t a social club or just a nice place to spend a Sunday morning. This is where God comes to meet you. This is where God delivers His gifts of Word and Sacrament. This is a place of wonder as you hear the Gospel, a place of joy as you receive forgiveness, and a place of shelter in God’s presence. Here and now, God is delivering to you all the things that make for peace. Receive them. Rejoice in them. Live in them.

Eliza, today you are baptized. Today, God has connected His Word to water and washed you clean of all your sins – now and forever. Eliza, today God has joined you to Jesus’ death and resurrection and clothed you in Christ. And Eliza, God will continue to pour out upon you the things that make for peace through His holy and precious Word. Receive them and be at peace because of them.

All you saints, remember this: The things that make for peace are not always the things that feel pleasant. Because you are a sinner, the things that make for peace come through God’s Law and Gospel. When you hear God’s Law, don’t be like the people of Jeremiah’s day who hardened their hearts and didn’t know how to blush (from our OT lesson Jer. 8:4-12[esp. v. 12]).

Blush, faint, weep, and die to your sin. Repent. Stop your wickedness. Turn. Hang on Jesus’ words. Jesus has come. He has given Himself unto death to be your Savior. He has shed His holy and precious blood for you which He now gives to you who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Come. Receive. Be at peace now, and look forward to the eternal City of Peace, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22), which will never fall, never fade, and never be destroyed. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.