From Commandment to Creed – Sermon on Matthew 22:34-46 for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 22:34-46

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying,“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

Psalm 110_1 Footstool44 “The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’?

45 “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

In the name Jesus. Amen.

This Gospel text drops us right into the middle of a conversation that Jesus had in the Temple on the Tuesday of Holy Week with the very people who want to destroy Him. The Pharisees and Sadducees are all trying to trap Jesus and entangle Him in His words. Their purpose is to make either the crowds or the authorities (they don’t care which) turn against Him so they can kill Him and be rid of Him and His preaching.

The first two questions they put to Jesus are about paying taxes and about the resurrection. Both of these questions are designed to take one part of God’s Word and make it contradict another part. And both questions appear to have no good answer. The leaders think that no matter how Jesus answers their question, they will have Him. But they are wrong. Jesus answers both questions leaving them dumbfounded.

Our text begins with the third question. One of the Pharisees, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, again to test and to trap Jesus in His words.“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” The purpose of this question is to figure out which Commandment Jesus thinks is most important so that they can find a commandment set against it.

But again, this is absolutely foolish because Jesus knows there is no contradiction in the Law. He is the one who wrote the Law.

Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and prophets.”

Now, it is interesting in Mark’s account of this same event, the same questioning, that Jesus says there’s no other commandment (singular) greater than these (plural). Perfect love of God and perfect love of your neighbor go together. It is one commandment. The two are inseparably tied together. Love for God is demonstrated by love for the neighbor.

1 John 4_20-21 Love God and Neighbor


1 John 4:20 
says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”And Jesus says in Matthew 25(:40) that the acts of love that you do toward your neighbor you do toward God. “As you did to the least of these, you did also to Me.”In other words, when you love your neighbor, you are loving God.

So, think about that for a moment. When you are helping, supporting, encouraging your spouse, you are serving both God and your spouse. You are loving both God and neighbor. When you feed your kids, when you obey your parents, when you do your homework, you are serving your neighbor and thereby serving God. Telling the truth, living a caste life, returning a lost wallet or purse instead of stealing, being content with what you have instead of coveting – all of these actions are service to God and your neighbor. Whoever is your neighbor, whoever God puts in your life at any given moment, that is the one whom God wants you to love. And when you love that neighbor, whoever it may be, you are loving God.

While that is so very beautiful, if we stop to think about it, this command to love God and neighbor demands everything of us. And we realize how fallen and sinful we are. This command shows us our desperate need for God to come and rescue us.

With His answer, with His preaching of the Law to love both God and neighbor, Jesus cuts down these people who are trying to trap Him, and He cuts you and I down as well because our sin is exposed. We do not love enough. We never have, and we never will.

But notice Jesus doesn’t take the conversation in that direction. He doesn’t ask them, “How are you doing with loving God and your neighbor?” Jesus doesn’t continue to have a conversation about the Law.

Instead, Jesus moves away from questions about the Law to the Creed. The Law is good and important. It shows us the nature and will of God, but the Law always shows us our sin. The Law tells us what we must do, but it always tells us what we have failed to do.

But the Creed shows us how God is toward us. The Creed isn’t about what we must do, it is the Gospel. It is what God has done for us. In the Creed, we confess that God is the Father who created us sent His Son who redeemed us and gives us the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us and makes us holy.

So, Jesus moves away from the Law to the Creed. He asks them, “The Messiah, whose son is he?”And they were right when they say, “David’s son.”God had promised to send David a son who would sit on David’s throne forever (1 Sam. 7). But David also wrote in Psalm 110:1, which is the verse that Jesus quotes, that this Son is also David’s Lord. So, Jesus’ question is, “How can the Messiah, David’s son, also be David’s Lord?”because a father would never call his descendent, “Lord.”

Now stay with me here: The reason Jesus asks this is that He is teaching the Pharisees, the crowds, and you that the Messiah is both God and man.

Because the Messiah is both God and man, He has kept the Law for you. Jesus perfectly loved God and your neighbor for you. And through faith, Jesus declares that what He has done perfectly, you have done as well (2 Cor. 5:21).

The Law says, “Honor thy father and mother. Love them as yourself.” And you are left saying, “God, I haven’t done that. I need Your help.” If it weren’t for the Creed, if the Messiah weren’t man, God would have to say, “Well, I’m God. I don’t have a father or mother, so I can’t help you. You have to do that yourself.” But God did become a man. Jesus had a mom and a dad. He did love and honor them perfectly. So, He can and does help you. And you can apply this to each and every one of the Commandments.

But most importantly, when you hear the law and know that you have sinned, you know that you deserve death. You deserve the eternal wrath and judgment of God. So, you pray, “God I’m lost. I deserve only death, could You die for me?” Because God has taken up your nature, God says, “Sure. I already have.”

Communion Cross with JesusStop playing games with the Law, there is no contradiction in it. Instead, believe. Believe that Christ has come for you. He has given His life for you. God has purchased you with His own blood (Act. 20:28). He has removed the curse of the Law from you because He has perfectly kept the Law for you. And He gives you His perfection, His righteousness, His holiness.

And, now, He invites you to have your faith strengthened. He invites you to receive His perfect Body and His holy Blood in Bread and Wine. He invites you to come and taste that He is good. Amen.

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

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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.

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.