Filled with Joy & Peace – Sermon on Romans 15:4-13 for the Second Sunday of Advent

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Romans 15:4-13

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”

10 And again it is said,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Romans 15_13 - Joy Peace and HopeOur texts today seem to have conflicting messages. This text from Romans 15 has a lot to say about endurance, encouragement, hope, harmony, joy, and peace. It’s nice. But in our Gospel lesson, when Jesus talks about the day of His return, He speaks of signs in the sun and moon and stars. He mentions the distress of nations in perplexity, the roaring of the sea and waves, and people fainting with fear and foreboding because of what is coming on the world. Our Lord declares that the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Come on, Jesus. We don’t like that imagery, and it doesn’t fill us with joy or peace or hope. We don’t like to hear about the world coming apart at the seams. But then, we turn on the news or scroll through our social media accounts and see evidence of creation collapsing and society crumbling, and we get anxious. Our fear of the end of the world probably lies in the fact that this world is all we have experienced and known. Repent and remember this world is not all there is.

Jesus tells us about all these distressing things so that when they happen, we can be filled with all joy and peace so that we abound in hope in the midst of it all. Similar to when a patient has been physically suffering for months while the doctors only scratch their heads, once the doctors can give a diagnosis there is a sense of relief even if it is a devastating diagnosis. Jesus, the God of hope, has diagnosed the situation and tells us exactly what is going on.

Jesus told us that it would happen so when we see it we wouldn’t be afraid. Dear saints, we don’t need to be worried when we see the world collapsing. It’s like Jesus is saying, “When it looks like everything is falling apart, when all creation seems to be disintegrating, it is. It is, but don’t worry about it because nothing bad is going to happen to you. Instead, be glad because all of it means that your redemption is drawing near.”

Christ warns us so we can straighten up, raise our heads, and stand before Him when He returns. These words of Christ are exactly what we need to endure and be encouraged so that we have hope and strive to live in harmony with one another.

I’ve used this picture before, but I think it is so helpful. Imagine you are in a castle at night, and suddenly all the guards and soldiers start running to their battle stations because an army is marching to attack the fortress. The boots of that attacking force stop tramping, and you hear the shouts of commanders telling the troops to load the catapults and start banging the gates with the battering ram.Castle Besieged The castle doors and the walls are shaking. Boulders are hurled against the fortress. Windows are shattering and dust is falling from the ceiling. The floor you are standing on is rocked by the sounds of battle all around you.

Normally, you would be terrified in that situation. But not now. Not now because you are a captive in the prison of that castle. And the commander leading the invading army is Jesus coming to rescue you and all your prison mates, all your brothers and sisters in Christ. Knowing that, every crash, every clang, every shout of battle, and every wall that crumbles around you means that your release is that much closer. And as the morning sunlight peeks through the cracks of the walls, you and your fellow prisoners all know that a new day is dawning, and it is the day of your deliverance.

This world is often a beautiful place full of the good gifts of God. But remember that this world is broken and incomplete. This world is fallen and there is so much wrong with where we are. And much of what is broken, incomplete, fallen, and wrong is your own doing and my own doing. And all of this has been going on so long that you get used to it. You and I get used to sin, and we start to think that it is normal. Like a pig farmer who doesn’t notice the stink of the barn, the stench of our sin starts to not bother us anymore. Repent, but don’t despair.

The Jesus who will come again in glory has come already to bring the beginning of hope. His words and works and deeds were written for our instruction. In the Scriptures we learn that when Jesus ministered in this fallen world what was broken was made whole. What was sick was cured. Romans 15_4 What was written peace joy hope.jpgWhat was defiled was made holy. What was dead was raised. Where there were sinners, Christ brought forgiveness. And all of that was just the beginning. All of this was written to give us encouragement to endure in the hope that the healing Christ brought to the broken of this world would be ushered into the entire creation – into the new creation.

The God of hope encourages you. He wants you to endure. And He wants you to have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you that hope because it is certain and true. The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings (Mal. 4:2). Straighten up. Raise your heads because your redemption draws near. May that same God, Jesus, the God of hope, fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you abound in hope. Amen.

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

The Holy One Makes Us Holy – Sermon for Midweek Advent 1 2019

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The texts for tonight’s service were Exodus 3:1-5; 1 Timothy 4:1-10; and John 15:1-5.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

For a little over two years, I have been mulling over those words we heard from 1 Timothy 4[:4-5], “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer.” These words have a profound impact on how we, as God’s holy people, go about our daily lives and interact with the world.

Every home, every marriage, every relationship, every gift, every possession, every day, every night, all our work, all our sleep, all our joys, and all our sorrows: everything is made holy and sacred by God’s Word.

Tonight, we are going to begin a year-long journey considering God’s holiness: how that holiness comes to us, and the implications of what it means to live as God’s sacred people. Now, I know that a year sounds like a long time. It probably is. But when I was at a conference in the beginning of October, one of the pastors who was presenting mentioned that people have to hear something eight times before they begin to latch on to it. (For me, it is probably more like sixteen times.)

So, these mid-week Advent services will serve as an introduction to that theme: Sacred. And through this Church year I will repeatedly draw on this idea. Hopefully, by the end of it all, I will have touched on this theme often enough that we will have a better understanding of how God’s holiness is given to us in our Baptism, maintained by His Word, sustained in us through ongoing faith, and changes the way we interact with everyone and everything around us.

Now, it’s tempting for me to throw everything at you all at once, but I’m going to try to resist that temptation and remind myself that I have a whole year. So, tonight, we will begin by briefly considering how our holy God makes us holy.

God alone is holy, and, apart from Him, nothing is ever holy. We fallen, sinful humans can only be holy if we receive God’s holiness. Just as a flashlight has no energy to shine unless it has batteries, our holiness is completely dependent to being connected with the holiness of God. Our holiness is never our achievement; it is always a gift from God. And, yes, God wants to give us this holiness.

Exodus 3_14 - Burning BushIn our Old Testament lesson tonight (Ex. 3:1-5), Moses found himself standing on holy ground when God appeared in a bush. That bush was burning because of God’s holy presence, and Moses’ curiosity was piqued when he noticed that though the bush was aflame it was not consumed; it didn’t burn up. In the same way, when God’s holiness comes to us, it burns but God does not want us to be consumed by the fire of His holiness. Instead, He wants us to be changed by it.

Consider when Isaiah found himself in God’s presence (Is. 6:1-7). Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, seated on the throne, the train of His robe filled the Temple, and the seraphim called out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah knew this put him in a bad place. He cried out, “Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” God’s holiness does two things to Isaiah.

First, God’s holiness revealed and unmasked Isaiah’s sin, and it wasn’t only Isaiah’s defilement that troubled him. Isaiah knew that because he lived among other sinners, their sinfulness and defilement had rubbed off on him making him more unclean and unholy. And God’s holiness was a fire that would reduce Isaiah to ashes. But God would not have it be this way.

Isaiah 6 - Holy Holy Holy Lips CoalSo, the second thing God’s holiness does to Isaiah is rub off on him. God sent one of the seraphs to fetch a burning coal, take it to Isaiah, and touch his lips with it and give a word of promise, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

God didn’t appear in His holiness to undo Isaiah and destroy him. Instead, God brings Isaiah into fellowship with Him as He forgave and reconciled Isaiah to Himself making Isaiah holy and sacred to go and proclaim God’s Word.

Like Isaiah, we do not ever possess God’s holiness as our own. It isn’t something we can bottle up and store for later. We continually receive and borrow holiness from God, and God isn’t stingy in sharing His holiness with us. He happily and readily gives us His holiness through His Word making us sacred.

We heard this in the Gospel lesson (Jn. 15:1-5) where Jesus tells us that He is the Vine and we are the branches. There, Jesus gives us a beautiful picture of the holy lives we lead. As we abide in Him, who is the Vine, we bear sacred fruit. And God the Father prunes us so what we may bear more of that fruit. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells us that already we are clean (it’s the same word Jesus used which was translated ‘pruned’). And what is the instrument that prunes us and makes us clean? It is His Word.

This means that Jesus doesn’t make us holy and then leave us to continue being holy on our own. Instead, He meets us where we are, calls us through His Word, and by that Word He joins us to Himself. As we abide in Jesus’ Word, He does everything for us and gives everything to us. Jesus invites us to safely approach our holy heavenly Father in faith with Him. Apart from Him, we cannot accomplish anything spiritually. But with Jesus, we stand on holy ground before God the Father in the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus brings heaven to earth for us so that we can live heavenly lives with Him here on earth.

God’s will for us as His children is to be holy as He Himself is holy (1 Pet. 1:14-16). The good news is that God doesn’t expect us to generate our own holiness. Jesus continually doles out His holiness upon us through His Word which makes us and all we do sacred.

More on that in the weeks to come. Amen.

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

The Humble King – Sermon on Matthew 21:1-9 for the First Sunday of Advent

Due to a winter storm, our service was cancelled 12/1. This recording includes an abbreviated service for use in lieu of gathering together.

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Matthew 21:1-9

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion,

‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest!”

In the name Jesus. Amen.

Happy New Year! Today is the beginning of Advent and the dawning of a new year in the Church. If you’ve been listening today, you can hear Christmas steadily approaching. And even though this Gospel lesson sounds like we are getting ready for Easter, since these events occurred on Palm Sunday, this Gospel lesson is intended to prepare us for Jesus’ coming. That’s what Advent means, by the way, “coming.”

The Church has always centered its life around Jesus – so much so that Christians have a unique way of telling time that is different from the rest of the world. The Church year is designed to retell the entire life of Jesus, but we don’t begin at Christmas – at His birth. Instead, we begin with Advent – four weeks of patiently waiting for and anticipating what happened in Bethlehem nearly two-thousand years ago.

Ever since the Fall into sin (Gen. 3), believers were expecting God to come and rescue us from sin. Adam, Eve, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and all believers in the Old Testament were waiting for the deliverance that Jesus brought when He was born, died, and rose again. Just like them we are waiting but with a difference. Since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Christians like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, Augustine, Luther, and us have been waiting for Christ to come back as He promised (Act. 1:6-11).

Advent isn’t a time for us to prepare for Christ’s birth. He’s already been born; we know the story. It isn’t as though we don’t pretend that He wasn’t born so that we are surprised when we come to church on Christmas Eve and hear the passage from Luke 2 about His birth. Instead, we are patiently preparing our hearts to celebrate His birth while we also anticipate His future return in glory. Advent is also a time to rejoice in His coming repeatedly to us as we gather together and receive the Lord’s Supper where He comes to us here and now.

Since Advent is about how Jesus came to us in His birth, how He comes now in these last days, and how He will come again on the Last Day, we want to consider why He comes. What is He coming to do?

If we take a step back and think about it, the coming of God into our midst is not necessarily good news. If you were a pagan Greek and heard that Zeus is coming, it isn’t good news. Or of you are a Muslim and heard that Allah was coming, it wouldn’t be comforting. Instead, it would be frightful. Even the prophets in the Old Testament, when they would preach about God’s coming, it would often be a warning (Jer. 7:8-15).

Listen to these words from Amos 7:18-20 talking about God’s coming, “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” Or think of Isaiah’s response when he found himself in God’s presence in the Temple (Is. 6:1-5), “Woe is me! For I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” When you consider God’s holiness and purity, God showing up is bad news for all of us who are unholy, unclean, defiled, and sinful. God’s holiness and our unholiness cannot exist together.

Think about the last time you had to fix something that had been turned into a complete mess by someone else. Think about the time your brother or sister messed up your room. Or the time your kid, who really should know better, made the kitchen or bathroom explode in a flour-ery or fingernail-polishy mess. Or your co-worker undid days of your work on that task and messed up the whole project. You see that disaster, and you know that you are the one who has to clean it up, straighten it out, and restore everything to its proper place.

You’re upset. You’re angry. You’re mumbling or thinking like a sailor because now you have to spend hours of effort fixing that catastrophe when your time could have been better used elsewhere. Too often, we think God is the same. Because our reaction is to be angry and upset, we believe God’s only reaction is to be angry and upset. Well, He is. We provoke His anger because of our sin. Our sins have broken His creation and create havoc and chaos. Our iniquities harm our neighbor and others. Our transgressions break our fellowship with Him. All of this means that the coming of God into our midst should be terrifying for us.

This is why we need the Scriptures. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem the first day of Holy Week, He is coming to fix the mess we have made of this world by our sin. But He doesn’t come riding a war horse and leading an army. He doesn’t come to annihilate everyone. He comes on a rescue mission. He comes to save and deliver you from sin, death, and the devil. To show that this is why He comes, He comes as the humble king in meekness. “Behold your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). He comes to be rejected. He comes to take your sin. He comes to be spit upon, beaten, mocked, and scorned. He comes to be led outside Jerusalem. He comes to be crucified. He comes to suffer the wrath of God against your sin.

Dear saints, the Gospel is not the news that God is here. The Gospel is that God is here to save, and He is here to save you. In fact, that is what Jesus’ name means, “Yahweh saves.”

Here comes Jesus, right now, into our midst. He’s not riding on a donkey but on bread and wine to come and bless us. He comes to meet us with His salvation, mercy, and forgiveness. Amen.

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

Thankful & Waiting – Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13 for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

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Matthew 25:1-13

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. The Ten Virgins Riojas6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I promise we’ll get to the parable; it’ll be in a roundabout way. But first…

Four days from now, our nation will pause and dedicate a day to giving thanks. Friends and families will gather. Tables will be set. Turkeys will be cooked. (By the way, if you’re in charge of the turkey, make sure you brine it first – use kosher salt, 24 hours. Talk to me after the service.) Potatoes will be mashed. Stuffing will be fluffed. Pies will be baked. Cream will be whipped. Football will be watched. And couches and recliners will be tested for structural integrity.

Having a day for Thanksgiving is good, right, and important – probably more important than we could ever realize. Even though it is in the name – “Thanksgiving” – most people probably miss the whole meaning of the day. Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks, and that means there must be a recipient of our thanks – someone to whom we give thanks. And, dear Christian, I hope Thanksgiving Day is different for you than it is for many in our country because you know to Whom you give thanks. Let me parse that out.

Many people today will talk about gratitude. Some people finish each day by crawling into bed and thinking of five things for which they can be grateful. That is a good exercise, but it only goes so far. While there are similarities between the two, gratitude is not always the same as thanksgiving.

Let me try this on you, and you can tell me what you think. Gratitude tends to look at the goodness of the thing received. 1 Thessalonians 5 18But thanksgiving, yes it recognizes the goodness of the thing, but it looks past that and sees the goodness of the giver of the thing. This is why Christians can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Th. 5:18). Even in the tough stuff, even in difficult times, in sorrow, and in afflictions that come to us in this broken world, you can know that everything comes to you from the very same hands that were nailed to the cross for you.

Christians give thanks. Scripture even goes so far as to say that not giving thanks is one of the marks of the unbeliever. Romans 1:21-23 says of idolators, “Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” (see there a connection to the parable), “and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and creeping things.” In other words, people fall into idolatry because they foolishly do not give thanks to God.

Think back to Eden and the Fall when sin was being born: Eve rightly told the serpent that they could eat of any tree in the garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Nothing was forbidden to Adam and Eve except learning what evil is. But the devil awakened the desire to become more. Remember, the devil lied, “You will not surely die. God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Instead of being content and thankful for everything God had given, the desire for something more was awakened. Then, those fateful words, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6).

In the account of the Fall, we can see how thanklessness is the root of every sin. When we aren’t giving thanks, we are lured and enticed by misguided and false desires. The Epistle of James warns us about this (1:14-15), “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

All of this is to say that one of the most important things for us to do to fight against sin is to give thanks. When we are giving thanks, we are looking at the goodness of our God and fighting against the false desires that lead to sin which grows and matures into death. So, again, as Scripture says, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Th. 5:18). For many in our community – you farmers especially – this is important. Many of you have to leave your crops in the ground, and not only that you have to pay to do so. Lord, have mercy. It is awful and horrible.

Yet, in the midst of this suffering, God is giving you a chance to grow in your faith. Remember when Job had his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, children, and his health taken away? His wife tells him to curse God and die. But Job responds, “You speak as one of the foolish women. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9-10).

You farmers who are suffering now, everyone else who is suffering in other ways, and those of you who will suffer in the future, remember that God is your Heavenly Father. He will never withhold anything good from you. Psalm 84:11, “The Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 34:9–10, “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Any suffering you experience is an opportunity for your faith in God’s goodness to grow and mature (1 Pet. 1:7, 4:12-16). He will not fail you.

Parable of the Ten VirginsNow, to the parable. Honestly, it is very difficult, and the difficulty mainly lies in the fact that we don’t know enough about Jewish wedding customs in Jesus’ day to know why it was so important that these virgins have lit lamps when the groom arrived.

I would love to be able to tell you exactly what the oil represents, but Jesus doesn’t tell us. Is it the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7)? Since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom do we need to also add God’s Word, faith, grace, the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments, or thanksgiving? The safest answer is that it is probably all of them, because they are all tied together to make a sinner ready for the Day of the Lord. There are two things we can say for sure – the first is about the oil and the second about the lamps.

First, the oil is not something that can be shared. When the foolish ask the wise to share their oil, they say, “No,” because, even though the groom is around the corner, they will not have enough for both themselves and the foolish. The second thing we can say is about the lamps that no one can walk by the light of another’s lamp, each must have their own.

Also, we know for sure that all of these girls are failures. They all sleep. They all need to be awakened. They all need to quickly trim their lamps to be ready to meet the groom, but not all are able. Five are wise and get into the feast. And five are foolish and are left outside like strangers. We also know the purpose of the parable. Jesus wants us to be wise as we watch for His return. We need to have faith that God’s promises are sure and certain. He will return. He will come back. And He wants you at the feast.

Dear saints, the One who was born for you; the One who lived a life of perfect obedience for you; the One who suffered, bled, and died for you is the same One who is coming for you. Jesus will return and take you to be with Himself.

So, be wise. Continue even now to be where your Lord has promised to be. Be in His Word. Be here where He gives you His mercy and grace in the Supper. Be in the fellowship of your fellow believers. Be fed by His promises because those promises will never fail you. And be fighting against the foolishness of sin. Your Lord and Savior is coming. Amen.

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

Attentive Ears – Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35 for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. H-76 Trinity 22 (Mt 18.21-35)28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today, our Lord Jesus wants us to consider forgiveness – both the forgiveness we receive and the forgiveness we extend. Slow down and consider the first four verses of the parable (v. 23-26).

A king wishes to settle accounts with his servants. In other words, the king wants his books to be clean, so all the servants who owe him money are brought in. Picture them standing in a line to appear before the king one-by-one. In this line is a particular servant. Let’s give him a name, shall we? We’ll call him Owen (pun intended). Owen knows why he is there. He patiently awaits his turn and slowly moves forward as the other servants have their audience with the king. Finally, it’s Owen’s turn. The bookkeeper asks for his name, turns a few pages, and announces, “Your highness, this is Owen who owes you ten thousand talents.”

Now this is an absurd amount of debt. One talent is equivalent to twenty-years’ pay. Owen owes two-hundred-thousand years’ wages. “Your highness, this is Owen who owes you ten thousand talents.” All eyes turn to him, but Owen doesn’t fall to his knees to beg or plead yet. The picture Jesus gives in the parable is that Owen simply says, “Yeah, I don’t have it.” The parable simply states, “he could not pay.” No kidding! He couldn’t pay? Of course he couldn’t pay!

So, the king orders that Owen be sold. He will no longer be the king’s problem. Sell off Owen, his wife, his children, and everything that Owen has will belong to the king. Then, and only then, does Owen fall to his knees and beg.

Why wasn’t Owen begging from the moment he was brought into the room? Did he think that the king didn’t mind about all that debt? Was Owen unaware of how much he owed the king? If this parable were about money, there is no question that Owen would have at least had an idea about the enormity of his debt. But remember, dear saints, this parable is about forgiveness. In the end, this debt of Owen isn’t about money; it is about sin.

Stop and consider this. When we remember the fact that the debt in this parable is sin, we can see how this kind of debt is possible, and we start to get a bit of a handle on our own sinful condition and indebtedness before God. So, buckle up and consider this for a moment:

Children are a gift from God, but we daily take them for granted, ignore them, and snap at them out of irritation. God does not want it to be that way.

Ponder how you spend your time at work. When you aren’t concentrated on your tasks, you aren’t just robbing your boss or the company. Your coworkers know that you are a Christian, and they see how you dishonor God’s name by loafing.

Think about the number of times you have come into this sanctuary and dropped a $20 bill into the offering plate.  God knows your income. He knows your priorities and how you have spent what He has given you on vehicles, clothes, cell phones, and travel to kids’ sporting tournaments.

Kids, listen up. Think about how you act at school. Do you give your best effort on your assignments? Do you say hurtful things to your classmates? Do you not help and befriend the kids who are being bullied? Do you try to get attention by using language or jokes that you wouldn’t dare use in front of your parents? Think about how rudely and disrespectfully you talk to your parents or your attitude toward them when they ask you to do something. Think about how you don’t recognize or acknowledge how much they have done and sacrificed for you.

Everyone, think about the times you have told your friends about the mistakes of others. Or, maybe you have been hurt by someone, and you think it will make you feel better to tell other people about it. You see something on Facebook or Twitter, and your response there will do nothing more than stir up strife. But you do it anyway.

Remember the times you were on vacation and you thought it wouldn’t hurt to skip church that Sunday morning. It did hurt. It hurt God. He wanted you to hear again how He loves you and sent Jesus to pay the price for your soul. When you aren’t in church, you lose something, your children lose something, and God loses something.

Jesus takes and becomes sinThink about the other night. You were watching that show. Men, that woman wasn’t your wife; she was sitting next to you. But God knew your lusts. Women, that handsome, considerate, compassionate character wasn’t your husband. You know what? That’s lust too.

Or think about the time you had sex outside of marriage. Nothing came of it – no pregnancy, no infections or diseases – you weren’t “caught.” But you did get caught. God knew about it. And it hurt the other person.

Think about all the times God has given you a golden opportunity to invite someone to church and receive the forgiveness of sins in the Absolution and Lord’s Supper. They are hurting and lonely because of their sins, and we have the fellowship and community here to heal them. But you were too embarrassed to bring them with you.

Think about that little comment that embarrassed your spouse or your friend. Or think about that time you got something new for your house, but you didn’t thank God for it. Think of how you lost your temper watching the game or the news. Your kids saw that, but even if they didn’t, God did.

Think too, about how each of these sins harms your neighbor. Your neighbor, hurt by that sin, goes and harms someone else. While you aren’t directly responsible for their actions, you end up being an accomplice to their sin.

We could go on and on all day like this. And, maybe, you think this is all nit-picking. The point of all this is to recognize that it isn’t just those particular sins that bother your conscience that rack up a debt of sin. All these little things count toward your debt. It all accumulates. Your sin grows and multiplies and expands. Yet, we go on day after day blissfully unaware of the debt we have racked up.

Remember David? After his sin with Bathsheba – Uriah is dead, his child doesn’t survive, his kingdom is torn to pieces, and there is all sorts of carnage left in the wake of that sin – David rightly confesses to God in Ps. 51:4, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight.” Repent. Repent, and see the mercy of God.

Back to the parable. Maybe Owen was so casual about his audit because he figured the king didn’t mind the debt. Or that there aren’t jailors or punishment or a day of reckoning or that his family isn’t harmed by his debt. He only begs after the sentence is read. Owen’s debt has cost him and those closest to him. Only when he sees that does Owen plead with the king.

But, to see the greatness of God’s mercy, notice what Owen begs for. He doesn’t beg for mercy. He begs for time. “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” But the king, God, out of pity doesn’t give Owen what he asks for. No, the king is more merciful than that. He releases Owen and forgives him the debt.

The first verses of Scripture in our service today from Ps. 130[:3-4, 1-2, 7-8] are so beautiful. Hear them again, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. O Lord, hear my voice! Isaiah 53_6 - Sin BearerLet your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! [W]ith the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

Dear saints, God’s ears are more attentive in mercy to forgive your sins than your tongue is willing to confess. Because of Christ and what He has done for you on the cross, God erases your entire debt, completely and absolutely. Today, come to this altar and receive Christ’s forgiveness in this Sacrament. Then, go from here as God’s children ready to forgive the inexcusable in others because He has forgiven the inexcusable in you. Amen.

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

When Gifts Become Idols – Sermon on John 4:46-54 for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity

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John 4:46-54

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

God loves to give us gifts. He has given us life. He has given us our families, our homes, our jobs, our cars, our money, our talents, everything. God graciously and happily gives us these things because He loves us and wants us to have good things.

Where Your Treasure IsHowever, because we are sinful and corrupt to our core, we have a tendency to turn God’s good gifts into idols. This happens all over in the Scriptures. God has given beautiful trees and precious metals and stones, but people would take those things and make images out of them into false gods and bow down and worship them. In Isaiah 44[:9-20], God mocks the people for the foolishness of idols. God says, “You foolish people will cut down a tree and take some of the wood and make a bonfire to warm yourself and bake bread. Then, you take other parts of that same tree and carve it into an idol, bow down to it, and worship it saying, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’” What folly to say to a hunk of wood, “You are my god.”

Well, we fallen, sinful humans do this with more than just wood and gold and jewels. We do this with our careers, our homes, our bank accounts. And – I’m going to step on some toes here – we can even do this with our family and children. That is what seems to be going on in this text before us today.

To set this all up, I need to give a summary of what has been going on from John 2 up to our text, so please stay with me (I promise it’ll be quick). This text ends with John telling us that this is the second sign recorded for us in his Gospel. The first sign was Jesus turning water into wine. After that miracle, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover, and while He was there, Jesus did other signs. But John doesn’t tell us what those miracles were. John simply says that many people believed in Jesus’ name when they saw those signs (Jn. 2:23). While He is in Jerusalem, Jesus talks with Nicodemus (Jn. 3:1-21). Then, He goes out to where John had been baptizing (Jn. 3:22-36). Jesus travels into Samaria where He talks with the woman at the well, and she believes in Him because of what He says to her (Jn. 4:26, 29). And, even though Jesus doesn’t do any miracles there, the Samaritans also believe in Jesus because they heard His teaching and believed that He is the Savior of the world (Jn. 4:42). They heard Jesus teach and believed in Him as the Messiah without seeing any miracles.

Finally, in the three verses leading up to our text, John tells us that Jesus returns to Galilee, and the people welcome Him because they had seen the signs that He had done in Jerusalem. Through all of this, John is setting up two different responses to the miracles Jesus is doing. On the one hand, you have people who see the signs and recognize that those miracles of Jesus point to the fact that He is the Savior of the world. And, on the other hand, you have people who see the signs but just want the miracle worker to do something for them. For this second group, Jesus is nothing more than a good luck charm. That context is the only way Jesus’ response to this official makes sense. Now, to our text.

Jesus returns to Cana in Galilee and an official, a nobleman – he is likely some higher-up bureaucrat in Herod’s court – he comes to Jesus because his son is desperately sick and at the point of death. The official asks Jesus to come and heal his son. But, again, John’s Gospel has set us up to see that this official is part of that second group. The official sees Jesus only as a means to an end – a way to save his son from death. This official has taken God’s good gift of a child and turned that gift into an idol. The official doesn’t care one lick about Jesus except that Christ might be able to heal his son. Once Jesus heals his son, sure he might be thankful, but that’s all. His son is everything and Jesus is nothing more than a magic pill to preserve his son’s life.

Again, I think that’s the only way Jesus’ response there in v. 48 makes any sense. Our Lord says, “Unless you people,” the pronoun there is plural. It’s directed to this nobleman, but also to the other people there who want a miracle worker instead of a Savior from their sins. Jesus says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

The conversation gets more heated and confrontational from there. The official isn’t happy with what Jesus said. He commands Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” His words don’t appear to be begging and pleading; instead, they are firm and demanding. Stop and ponder that for a minute. This official was used to giving orders and having people obey. And here he has the audacity, pride, and hubris to give Jesus, God in the flesh, a command.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve done this too. Most of you, maybe all of you, know that I was born blind in my left eye. Two years ago, I needed cataract surgery for my right eye which meant the only vision I had left was in jeopardy. When I was praying for a successful cataract surgery, my prayers were just as demanding as this official’s request. They were basically, “God, You’ve taken half my sight, and I still trust You. Now, I’m having this procedure done, and You’d better guide the surgeon so I can watch my children grow up because if I lose my sight completely…” And I’d guess you have made similar demands of God as well. Repent.

Jesus doesn’t bow to our idols and demands. If He did, it would do nothing more than reinforce our false faith in those idols. Our heart would keep going after something that can’t save us and is, in fact, harming us. God wants us to have good things, but when His gifts become idols, God has no other course of action than to bash those idols into dust to turn us back to Him. C.S. Lewis Pain QuoteThere is a quote from C. S. Lewis in your Scripture insert from his book The Problem of Pain, which I’d encourage you to read. Here’s the quote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; [pain] is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In other words, in His mercy, God gets our attention by allowing pain to bring us back to Him for mercy and grace.

And that is precisely what Jesus does here. He doesn’t obey or meet the official’s demands. Instead, Jesus commands him, “Go.” It’s not quite so harsh as though Jesus is saying, “Get outa here,” but Jesus makes it clear that He isn’t going to be ordered around by this man. Jesus is saying, “Listen, I’m not going to bow to your commands. You, go. Your son lives,” present tense, and it is intentionally ambiguous. Jesus says, “Your son is living; he is alive right now.” The official could interpret this as though Jesus is saying, “Go home and spend the final hours of your son’s life with him.” But John tells us that the official interprets this in a different way. He sees this as a promise. He believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way (Jn. 4:50).

Here’s the point: the official initially had his son, his own flesh and blood, as an idol. And Jesus won’t and can’t condone that official’s worship of his son. But Jesus deeply loves both the official and his son. Christ will be crucified and shed His blood for the official and that boy. So, Jesus doesn’t endorse the idolatry that the official has for his son, but neither does Jesus take away the good gift of his son. Instead, Jesus restores all things.

He heals the official’s son without bowing to the official’s demands to protect his idol. Christ removes the idol, gives a promise for faith to the official. This promise even gives the official’s entire family faith that Jesus is the Messiah. In other words, Jesus removes the idol even as He restores His gift of the son. The official has his family in a new and better way than the he had ever had before. Jesus gives the official his son as a good gift and as a brother in faith.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, a few things to take note of today:

First, always remember that Jesus can help from a distance. Yes, Christ has ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand with all authority in heaven and on earth given to Him. And Scripture promises that all things work together for good for those who love Him (Ro. 8:28). Christ knows your troubles and trials, and He sends His love, mercy, and forgiveness. He still saves you, forgives you, and gives you His mercy. And on the last day, He will give you everlasting life.

easte-jesus-brings-us-out-of-deathSecond, God will not leave you alone with your idols. Know that, even when you make an idol of God’s good gifts, God wants you to have what He has given you in a way that is better than you deserve or know. Even in those moments when your pain is acute and severe, God is good and is working all things together for good for those who love and trust Him. So, trust Him because He is completely worthy of your trust.

Finally, the son lives. This official’s son lives today, because his Savior, Jesus, the Son of God, lives. Dear saints, Jesus, the Son, lives, and because He lives, you do to – now and forever. Amen.

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

Saints – Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17 for the Observation of All Saints’ Day

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Revelation 7:9-17

All Saints gathered around the throne9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice,

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb!”

11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me,

“These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.
They have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Dear saints, the Apostle John wants you to see what he saw. The text says, “Behold,” so, get this picture in your mind. You see a huge crowd, so many people that you can’t begin count them. Even though there are too many to count, you can see thousands of faces and notice that they are not all the same. They have different skin colors and facial features. They come from all the different tribes and peoples and languages. You want diversity? This is diversity.

Yet, despite their different upbringings every member of that throng is doing the same thing. They are all standing before the throne of God and the Lamb. They are all clothed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. And they are all crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”

The myriads of angels are there, and they cry out with that multitude, “Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

The elder asks John, “Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” John simply responds, “Sir, you know.” It doesn’t seem as though John had no idea who the crowd was. It isn’t as though he throws up his hands and responds, “I have no idea.” Instead, it’s as though John is so overcome with wonder and amazement that he can’t put words together to answer the question. You know how you want your grandpa or one of your friends to tell a story that you were involved in because they can tell it so well? It might be something like that.

The angel, the elder, says, “These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” There is no question or debate that John here is seeing the saints, Christians who have died and are with God. But people will debate if John is seeing the Christians who have died during his time or if John was transported into the future and given a glimpse of all the saints after the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead.

Well, we have a clue to answer this debate in the text. (But I would like to note that, even if the interpretation of this particular phrase of v. 14 is incorrect, everything else I will preach could be shown from a variety of other Scripture passages.) The elder there says, “These are the ones who are coming,” present tense and there is a sense that this is a continual thing, “the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation.” The picture is that there is a constant, steady stream of people continually being added to this great multitude. Of all the things that could be said about these saints, the elder mentions they are coming out of the great tribulation.

Imagine the comfort that this must have been for John. At this point in his life, he is likely the last living apostle of Jesus when he sees this vision. John was the bishop of the entire region of Asia. He has been exiled to the island of Patmos because there was a persecution of Christians at that time. He had at least heard of – and, more likely, had seen with his own eyes – all sorts of men, women, and children who died for their confession of faith in Christ. Like you, John saw and experienced the fact that Christians leave earth. They breathe their last and are buried. And John knows the sadness and mourning that comes along with that.

But here John gets a glimpse of the heavenly view of what happens when Christians depart this earth. He sees the same ones who leave this earth filled with sorrow, difficulty, and tears now entering heaven in victory and glory. Stop and consider this for a minute:

When Christians die and leave this world, it is grievous, sudden, and often unexpected. Even if someone has been sick for a long time and you know they are going to die, there is an abruptness to death – like running into a wall. But that is how it is for us from the perspective of earth. Here, we get the picture of the same thing from the perspective of heaven.

All SaintsWhile death may come suddenly and abruptly here, those who die in the faith are not surprise arrivals in heaven. The company in heaven is not startled or shocked by those who show up at the doors of glory. The gates are open, and the believers who arrive there have been anticipated and are welcomed into the great multitude to be with the Lamb who shepherds them. Their arrival into glory is no shock to the residents of heaven. It is perfectly ordinary and on time.

Consider as well that this multitude has come out of the great tribulation. They have come out of corrupted cultures and depraved societies. They endured the same disappointments and failures that you do.Like you, they struggled to balance their faith with their experiences. Like you, their families were hurt and torn apart because of sin. Like you, they wept for family and friends who abandoned faith in Christ. Like you, they served and supported others in ways that went unrecognized and unthanked. Like you, they were ridiculed and mocked for their faith. Like you, they knew the sorrow of pain, sickness, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and dementia. Like you, they worried about the future. Like you, they feared as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Like you, they sinned and fell short of the glory of God. And like you, they pressed on in the midst of it all.

They pressed on and persisted in the faith while Jesus held them in His hand, just as He even now holds you. Jesus, their Shepherd, tenderly spoke to them as He speaks to you right now in His Word. Jesus gave them eternal life, and they will never perish (Jn. 10:28), just as He has given you eternal life and you will never perish.

Here is the point of all of this; here is the comfort for you: No one who believes in Jesus dies. This is a promise directly from the mouth of Jesus. Christ says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26).

This year, as a congregation, we have mourned the deaths of Sonia Link, Ken Malm, and Verdie Pederson. You can add the names of others as well – friends and family members who either weren’t known to our congregation or who died years ago. These brothers and sisters in Christ have safely passed through death into life because whoever believes in Jesus lives. You can find comfort and solace in the fact that whoever believes in Jesus is of eternal significance and that person’s faith is of eternal consequence.

All Saints 1Because of this, we can have joy in the midst of sorrow. Here and now, as we are gathered together in God’s house and are invited to God’s table, we come to what is described in Hebrews 12(:22-24). This very morning in a small church on the north end of East Grand Forks, MN, we have come, “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”

There are more here with us today than we can see or count. The saints of all time – those who are famous and known, those whom we don’t know yet, and our loved ones who preceded us in faith – they are all here with us as we gather together at the Lord’s Table.

Those who have departed this world with faith in Jesus are still united to us in Jesus because they are redeemed in the same Blood of Christ. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb. And, dear saints, you who have been made holy, so have you. Amen.

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