Good & Bad – Sermon on Matthew 22:1-14 for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 22:1-14

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Invite as many as you find to the wedding feastGo therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

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

When Jesus tells a parable, you want to watch for something unexpected, something weird because that is usually the important clue to understanding the whole parable. But this parable is almost entirely unexpected.

The parable starts out great. A king is throwing a wedding feast for his son. So far, so good. A nice king, a nice event, good food. Let’s get this party started. The king sends out his servants to call the invited guests to come. So, notice this is the second invitation. The first one came in the mail, and now the king’s servants are out to let everyone know that it’s time to party. But nobody comes. Normally, people would fight and clamor to be at such an event, but not in this parable. The people don’t come. The parable is already getting weird.

The king issues a third invitation. He again sends out his servants to tell the guests, “Come to the wedding feast. The food is ready. The meat is laid out. The table is set. Come to the wedding feast.” But some pay no attention to the servants. One heads off to his farm, another walks off to his business. But it’s about to get more shocking.

The rest of the people seize the king’s servants, treat them shamefully, and kill them. Some way to treat the king. Ignore his letters, brush off his messengers, and then grab his servants, beat them up, treat them shamefully, and murder them. Usually, a murderer has some motive. Rarely, there are random murders – just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this goes beyond that – it makes no sense.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti

Word of the murderous mob gets back to the king, and he is angry. (Ya think?) Yes, he’s angry – righteously so. The king is done sending his servants. Now, he sends in the troops. Justice falls swiftly. His army invades the city, destroys the murderers, and burns everything to the ground.

A day that began with the anticipation of the king for his party has turned into a day of blood, ruin, smoke, and ashes. You would think the king would be sitting in a tower of his castle looking over the smoldering ruins and just give up on his party. But the surprises keep coming because this king’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9).

The king turns around, almost as though nothing has happened, and says to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” (Notice that. Those who were invited were not worthy.) “Go to the main roads and invite to the feast as many as you can find.”

This is the fourth invitation from the king and the third time the king sends out his servants to bring people into the wedding feast. And I bet those servants go out a little timidly, but they don’t dare refuse to go. They find people here and there. And you can almost imagine the first time the servants start to tell random people about the feast they are hesitant. “Excuse me. Yeah, um, hi. The king is throwing a wedding feast. What’s that? Yeah, ignore the smoke. The king would like you to come to his banquet. Um, there’s like a lot of good food. And, um, yeah. You should come.”

And they do. People start to come. In fact, now everyone these servants meet is eager to go to the feast. Good people, respectable people, and average Joes come. And bad people, ugly and smelly people, loosers, and even shady characters come. Everyone this third group of servants meet is invited to the banquet hall, and every seat is taken.

Finally, the king has what he wanted – a party, a hall full of guests celebrating the wedding of his son.

Now, the parable isn’t done, but we have to pause briefly here. The guests who were invited first, the guests who didn’t come and now lie on the ground dead, the king has called ‘unworthy.’ And the guests who finally fill the king’s hall are ‘both good and bad.’ This is an important detail, so don’t miss it.

This parable is about being worthy to be at the feast. But that worthiness has nothing to do with being good or bad. Nothing whatsoever.

The rest of the parable drives this home. The king’s hall is filled. The music is playing. The food is being distributed. The guests are having a good time. And, now, the king comes into the banquet room. He looks over the crowd smiling at the guests who have come to his feast. The Marriage Feast published 1864 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896But there over at table 72 is a man who has no wedding garment. He is there in his smelly, sweat-stained cloths with dusty, dirty feet.

The king makes his way through the crowd, dodges waiters with trays, and bumps the backs of a few chairs. He stands before the man with no wedding garment and says, “Hey pal, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?”

Remember, all these guests had been pulled off the street, so none of them would have had the proper attire to be at such a fancy feast. The wedding garments the king expected everyone to have would have been paid for by the king and given out by his servants at the door.

So, when the king addresses this rascal, “Hey buster, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” the man is speechless. The man had no excuse because he knows that he has been caught refusing and rejecting the king’s gift.

So, the king says to his servants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Fellow sinners, the Jesus who tells this parable is not soft. He isn’t a Precious Moments Jesus. Jesus tells this parable today to shake us up and remind us who He is – He is the Lord, the King of all Creation, the Holy Ruler of all things. And Jesus tells this parable to remind you who you are – unworthy beggars brought in from the street. Yet, He has graciously, lovingly, carefully made you worthy to be at His feast by His grace and His provision.

Bride of Christ Full of EyesYour God is into feasts and parties and merry-making. His feast goes on, and He wants you there. He wants you to celebrate with Him, so He has provided you with everything you need to be at the feast. Don’t reject His invitation. Don’t reject His robe of righteousness.

On the cross, Jesus provided everything for you. He gave everything so you could have it all. His poured out His own blood for you. He gives His perfect righteousness to you. In Christ, you are washed. In Christ, you are clothed. In Christ, you have no spot or wrinkle. In Christ, you are holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:26-27).

So repent. Be dressed in the holiness and perfection of Jesus. Come to the wedding feast. Hear His invitation that your soul may live. And don’t be afraid to invite others to this feast no matter who they are.Amen.

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

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What’s Wrong with You? – Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic Lowered from the RoofAnd behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic – a “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

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

What’s wrong with you? Self-diagnosis is one thing. But if someone were to follow you for a week, see everywhere you went, hear everything you say, and know your every thought, what would they say is your biggest problem?

Maybe, they would say you spent too much time on your phone and not enough time paying attention to your kids. Maybe, they would say that you spread rumors about people when you don’t really know the facts. Maybe, they would sayyou get angry too easily and quickly.Maybe, they would say that you are lazy and waste time at your job. Or maybe, they would say that your schedule is too full and you are neglecting more important things.

Getting an outside, impartial observer can be helpful in diagnosing your problem. But even people who have total access to your life might not correctly diagnose your biggest, most central flaw.

Now, imagine the scene in this house. Jesus is in His hometown. Mark tells us (Mk. 2:1-12) that Jesus is in His own house preaching the Word of God to the people gathered there. So many people come to hear Him that there isn’t any more room inside the house. But imagine that you are one of the people who are blessed to be inside.

As Jesus preaches, you notice sounds of footsteps coming from the roof. Then you start to hear faint sounds of scraping and pounding making the walls shake slightly. Some sprinkles of dust fall from the ceiling. A few blows later, and a thin beam of light hits the floor. You look up toward that hole and you can just barely make out the shape of fingers reaching through the hole. Suddenly,the hole expands as a bunch of rubble falls to the floor. Dust and straw fill the room. You turn your head away for a moment so that the dust doesn’t fall into your eyes. And then, when it sounds as though the debris has settled, you look up once again and notice a huge bundle being slowly lowered by four ropes.

The bundle finally reaches the floor, and the sheets fall flat revealing a man. He lies there. One arm is bent over his chest and the other lies motionless stretched out at his side. His legs are crossed, but in the most unnatural way. You wait to see him maneuver himself into a more comfortable position, but he doesn’t. In fact, the only sign of life is his eyes darting back and forth and his chest rising as he breathes a little frantically. You diagnose the problem: this man is paralyzed. And you think to yourself, “Well, whoever brought him here did the right thing. If anyone can help this man, it’s Jesus.”

Jesus looks up at the hole in the roof. He sees the faces of the people who have safely lowered their friend down. Then, Christ looks at the man and says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Think about this for a moment. This man’s biggest problem seems to be apparent to everyone but Jesus. The friends are probably up on the roof thinking to themselves, “Wait, what? We didn’t lug him up here, rip off the roof knowing that we’ll have to fix it ourselves, and lower him down to get forgiveness. What gives?”

But Jesus knows what this man’s biggest problem is. Christ knows what this man needs most. But don’t run too quickly with this either. Yes, the forgiveness of sins is what we need for our eternal welfare. Forgiveness is more important than food, clothes, shelter, and the ability to walk. But Jesus doesn’t always forgive people before He heals them.

In fact, in all the previous healings in Matthew, Jesus doesn’t follow this order. Chapter 8 contains Jesus’ first healing in Matthew. Jesus heals a leper and doesn’t absolve him. Then, He heals the centurion’s servant, but Jesus doesn’t announce forgiveness there. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law and large crowds with no mention of forgiveness. He casts out demons from two men, no absolution. And as chapter 9 continues, Jesus keeps healing, but He’ll tell people that they are healed because of their faith in Him. And we can’t (at least we shouldn’t) conclude that in those instances Jesus cared more about their physical well-being than forgiveness.

Put that on the back-burner for a moment because Jesus isn’t done diagnosing people’s problems.

Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Keys IconAfter telling the paralytic, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,”Jesus diagnoses the scribes’ problem. They were grumbling in their minds thinking, “Just who does this guy think he is? Forgiving sins is God’s job.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

Notice that. Jesus says that doubting that He, a man, has the authority to forgive sins is evil. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Jesus calls out their evil. And He proves that He has the authority to forgive sins. He tells the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home,”and the paralytic does, which proves that Jesus does indeed have the authority to forgive sins.

What’s your problem? I hope you see that it doesn’t matter so much what your problem is when you see that Jesus knows what it is (He does), and Jesus fixes the problem (whatever it is).

See Jesus’ pastoral heart. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and ‘shepherd’ is what ‘pastor’ means. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows the needs of His flock, His sheep. Answering the question, “What’s your problem?” isn’t so important because Jesus knows what your problem is. He correctly diagnoses it and fixes it.

While everyone in that house – the listeners, the scribes, and the friends who lowered that man down from the roof – might have been scratching their heads when Jesus tells this paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the paralytic lying there heard the exact words he needed to hear. He needed to hear that his sins had been removed from him as far as the east is from the west, so that is precisely what Jesus gave him.

The scribes needed to hear Jesus call out their evil. And the crowds needed to see that God had given men (plural [foreshadowing Jesus giving the authority to forgive sins to all Christians]) the authority to forgive sins on earth (Mk. 2:10). Jesus gives each person exactly what they needed.

So, you here today, what’s your problem? Well, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is here today. Surely, the Lord is in this place even if you, like Jacob in our Old Testament text, didn’t know it. This is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:10-17), right here in this sanctuary. Jesus is here to give you exactly what you need. Jesus is here to give you His Word, Law and Gospel. Jesus has called you to put off your old sinful self, to put away your sin, and to be renewed in your minds (Eph. 4:22-28).

Communion Cross with JesusJesus is here, here to give you exactly what you need. He comes to give you His Body which was hung on a cross to endure the wrath of God for your sins. He comes to give you His Blood which He shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Whatever your problem is – even if you are unclear what it is – Jesus is here to deliver you from it. Amen.

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

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.

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.

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.