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.

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

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Genesis 4:1-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Luke 19:41-48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruit Inspector – Sermon for the 8th Sunday of Trinity on Matthew 7:15-23

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Matthew 7:15-23

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

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

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Scripture matters. God’s Word is important. “The B-i-b-l-e, yes that’s the book for [you and] me,” because the Word of God is how God delivers Jesus’ work to us. The Word of God is what gives us life and salvation.

Today, Jesus gives you the most important work a Christian can do.To neglect this work is the most dangerous thing in this life – more dangerous than fake news, ISIS, and bears roaming the streets of our town.[1] Jesus says that you must be on guard against false teachers and their teaching. You must sort out true doctrine from false doctrine. Youmust do this because you can’t have someone else do it for you.

As your pastor, I love you all. And I can honestly say that I want nothing more for each of you than for you to hear, read, study, believe, and grow in the true, clear, inerrant, infallible words of Scripture. You don’t need to do this so that you can become expert theologians. You need to do this because you are Christians, and this is what Christians do. Christians grow in the faith (Heb. 5:12; 1 Cor. 3:2).

You need to remember that I am not immune from the deadly effects of false teaching and doctrine. I could start preferring the fruits of false teaching over the life-giving and life-nourishing fruit of Jesus’ Words. The Apostle Paul warned the believers in Galatia about the possibility of him failing to remain faithful to the Gospel. He says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9). So, pray for me.

Pray that I, as your pastor and shepherd, would be defended against wolves. And if you hear me preach something that is not in accord with the Scriptures, let me know. Show me from God’s Word that I am not in step with what the Bible teaches. Rebuke me. Call me to repentance. And, if I refuse to repent, throw me out of this church. And if that doesn’t work, find a church and pastor who is true to the Word because your salvation depends on it.

Wolf in the Church with SheepThe false teachers that Jesus warns about are cleverly disguised. Under their soft, wooly exterior are teeth filled with the blood of sheep. The devil always disguises himself and his lies. He doesn’t wear a t-shirt that says, “Caution: I’m the devil.” Instead, he comes and offers you the things that you want, things that seem good and right. In our Old Testament lesson (Jer. 23:16-29), God says that the prophets of the devil say to those who despise God’s Word, “It will be well with you.” And to those who follow their own heart, the devil says, “No disaster will come upon you.”

The devil is smarter than you and I are. Satan has been watching you for a long time, and all he wants is to draw and lure you away from Jesus. He will tell you what you want to hear and try to convince you that he is offering you good fruit. The devil is always urging you to justify yourself and your sinful actions rather than receiving God’s rebuke, confessing that sin, and being justified by Christ’s forgiveness won on the cross.

Dear sheep, the devil and all false prophets see us, this flock of Christians, and try to pick us off one by one.

To the greedy, the devil says, “You aren’t greedy. You are thrifty. You’re economical and a good steward.” In this way, the devil slowly and surly nudges you to hold more tightly to your stuff. So, you grow more selfish and less generous. And this changes your view on God. You hold good things back from the one who needs it, and you start to believe that God holds back good things from you. And you use your treasures to pursue the things of this world rather than eternal things.

To the one who holds grudges and refuses to forgive, Satan whispers, “You aren’t unforgiving. You are in the right and just want justice. He isn’t really sorry anyway. When he sincerely asks for forgiveness, then you can let it go.” As you listen to the devil’s words, you grow more self-righteous. But do you see what happens? You get a warped view of forgiveness. You start to see forgiveness as something that is earned and deserved. This will crush your faith.

While the devil and false prophets try to pick off individual sheep, they also run in packs and try to destroy the whole flock.

In John 17just before He was arrested, Jesus prays for all believers, “May they be perfectly one”(Jn. 17:22-23). The devil and false prophets take these words of Jesus and say, “It is so horrible that Christians are divided. God isn’t happy with all these denominations. We need to unite. Let’s get rid of our differences. Let’s stop being Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, and Baptists. Let’s just be Christians. We shouldn’t let silly things like ‘doctrines’ divide us.” And to our ears, that sounds good. It sounds like what Jesus wants.

Romans 16_17Beware. Do the Scriptures teach, as Roman Catholics believe, that when the pope speaks officially, his words have the same authority as the Scriptures? No. Does the Bible say, as Methodists teach, that Christians reach a point where they no longer sin? No. Does God’s Word say, as many churches say today, that baptism is the first act of obedience of a Christian? No.

Even though ‘doctrine’ has become a dirty word, it isn’t. ‘Doctrine’ simply means ‘teaching.’ If we go along with others who say that doctrine shouldn’t divide us, what we are really saying is one of two things:

Either we say that Scripture isn’t clear and one person’s opinion about what the Bible teaches is as valid as another’s. But if the Scripture isn’t clear, how can you know the clearest teaching of Scripture, that God forgives you? Here’s the thing, and this is going to sound harsh (are you ready?): Your opinion of what Scripture teaches doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what the Bible actually says and teaches.

Or, the other thing we say if ‘doctrine’ is a dirty word, is that what Scripture says doesn’t matter. And this is false. The Bible matters because it is God’s clear, inerrant, infallible Word. When God says something, it is true whether you believe it or not, whether you understand it or not. You’ve probably heard the expression, “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.” The order there is wrong and dangerous. Your belief doesn’t settle the matter. Instead try this, “God said it. That settles it. I believe it.” It’s much better.

At Jesus’ command, we need to be on guard against false doctrine and teaching because that is the thorny, rotten, diseased fruit of false prophets. And it isn’t fun work. It is sad, and we have no pleasure in pointing out false teaching. But we must do it because Jesus says we must. So, judge the fruits of every preacher you hear. The fruit of a preacher is his words. Compare the words of every preacher to what Jesus has given you.

Jesus has given you His saving blood. Christ has given you peace with God. Jesus gives you the assurance your sins have been forever erased by His death and resurrection. And Jesus gives you eternal life in His resurrection.

If a preacher points you to yourself, he is giving you nothing but thorns, thistles, and rotten fruit. If a preacher won’t declare to you that your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, he is no sheep. If a preacher says that the sins you feel in your conscience are no big deal and don’t need to be forgiven, he’s a wolf. Run.

Blessings from the CrossYou need the good fruit of God’s Word. It is your source of life. It is your nourishment that sustains you in this life and the next. Pluck that good fruit from the cross which has become the tree of life.

Nourished by Jesus’ forgiving blood, may we all eat and live at His table. Amen.

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

[1]A bear was roaming through Grand Forks this week.

Table for 4,000, Please? – Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Trinity on Mark 8:1-9

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Mark 8:1-9

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

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

The last food you ate came from God even though it didn’t come directly from God. An exception will be made if you gathered up manna in your yard this morning. If you did, let me know. I’d like to come over this afternoon, so I can have a taste before it goes bad tomorrow. Talk to me after the service.

Your food comes from God, but God in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to give you that food through a long food-pipeline. Through farmers and ranchers who grow and raise the food. Through factories and workers that process, grind, and package. Through truckers and train engineers who haul. Through construction workers who build and maintain the roads and buildings. Through plumbers, electricians, engineers, and mechanics who design, make, and keep the roads, railways, machines, and buildings working. And even through insurance agents, accountants, and computer programmers who make all the work efficient and organized.

In fact, I bet if you and I sat down and put our minds together, we could figure out how every wholesome task performed in the world ends up putting food in our mouth. (Maybe we can do that while we enjoy that manna of yours.)

Now, God doesn’t have to use this massive, intricate food-pipeline. He could feed us directly as Jesus does in this text. God is the author of all good work and a master at it all.

This crowd has been with Jesus in a desolate place for three days hearing Him teach. They were so excited to follow Him that these silly people didn’t bring any food with them. Jesus tells the disciples that He has compassion on the people because if He sends them away, they won’t make it home. Some of them will faint and die of hunger. The disciples ask, “How can one feed these people (4,000 men plus women and children [see Mt. 15:32-39]) with bread here in this desolate place?” Their question is legitimate. Even if you had the means to pay for it, I bet you’d have a hard time buying enough bread for a crowd that size if you went to Hugo’s right after the service.

But watch what Jesus does in slow motion. He becomes the master of many trades all at once. He plows, plants, harvests, threshes, grinds, and bakes bread in a moment. Then, He sails, fishes, processes, cleans, and cooks fish to give the crowd a second course.

Yes, Jesus does this with what the disciples have among themselves. So, in a small way, He works within His creation and preserves the food-pipeline. But He certainly didn’t need to use what the disciples had because when it is all said and done, there are seven baskets of leftovers. The disciples end up with more than they had at the beginning.

This is a miracle. No one can feed such a large crowd, but Jesus can and does. But this miracle of feeding the 4,000 pales in comparison to the miracle of food that will be on your plate at lunch. The same Jesus is working through hundreds if not millions of people to make sure you have a bite later when He could simply make the food appear on your plate without any of them.

You are constantly surrounded by miracles. But you have gotten so used to seeing them that you don’t see the splendor and glory of God’s provision for you.

Do you realize how miraculous farming and gardening is? You take a seed – a tiny part of something, put it in the ground, and you get more of that same thing. How many thousands and even millions of tomatoes are in a single tomato seed when God uses His creation to nurture and grow that seed? We hardly give tomato seeds a second thought. But in each of those seeds is a lifetime supply of tomatoes for you and your family. But it is a lot less work for you to simply go to the store and purchase more tomatoes.

We are too easily bored with God’s miracles. And worse, we even grow to despise God’s work among us.

We get excited when a child takes her first steps. Her body has miraculously formed and developed the muscles, bones, and tendons needed to support her frame. Her mind has learned to control all those parts of her body so she can keep her balance. But how many weeks pass before her parents are tired of keeping her from walking to the garbage can, tipping it over, and rummaging through the contents? They wish she were still stationary.

Think for a moment of the miracle of life. Your body is made up of somewhere around 35 trillion individual cells that serve various functions. If the DNA in those cells were laid out end to end, it would travel from here to the sun and back 100 times. From the moment you were conceived, the information in your DNA would fill 600,000 pages. And right now, in each of the 35 trillion cells of your body, biological “machines” are copying volumes of information into amino acids which are taken by other machines and folded in very specific ways into proteins. So, don’t let anyone tell you that you are lazy.

These miracles are going on all around you and inside of you. And as we are able to learn even more about how this all works, it will simply get more intricate and amazing. You are fearfully, wonderfully, and miraculously made. And the fact that all of this is done because of your Creator should cause you to fall on your knees in reverence and praise.

From a seed producing a plant that produces more fruit and more seeds to a child learning to walk to your cells writing and rewriting the information that keeps you alive, God keeps this creation working. But because all of this happens every day, it doesn’t capture our wonder and amazement as much as if it only happened once.[1]

The feeding of this crowd does show us that Jesus is God in the flesh. But that is not Jesus’ purpose in feeding the crowd. Jesus did not do this miracle to show the crowd that He is divine. Rather Jesus’ purpose in feeding and providing for them is His own compassion.

If Jesus provides so richly and abundantly for a crowd who got themselves into trouble by something so simply as forgetting to bring their lunch, how much more compassion will He have for you, sinner? You who are rightful recipients of death – the wages of sin – will Jesus not have compassion on you?

He does have that compassion and He has given that compassion. He has come in your flesh after your likeness. He died on the cross and shed His blood for you to give you His forgiveness and righteousness. And this same Jesus will provide for your needs in this body and life as well.

To this hungry and dying crowd of 4,000 in a desolate place, Jesus brings life on the third day. Just as He fed the people on the third day, He has risen on the third day for your justification.

So, rejoice and trust your Savior. When Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things…,”your food, drink, clothing, shelter, and everything you need for life, “all these things will be added to you,”He meant it. Amen.

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

[1]Revised from a quote by John Donne, “There is nothing that God has established in the constant course of nature, and which therefore is done everyday, but would seem a miracle, and exercise of our admiration, if it were done but once.”

The Law Fulfilled – Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Trinity on Exodus 20:1-17 & Matthew 5:17-26

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Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words, saying,

God Gives the Ten Commandments“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

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

administration american flag country daylight

Wednesday, the United States of America, turned 242 years old, and she doesn’t look a day over 220. In the midst of the heat, barbeques, mosquitoes, and fireworks, I hope you took time to thank God your Father for His good gift of the nation that you live in. God has blessed us with a country that allows her citizens the freedom to use their God-given talents and abilities to better their own lives and the lives of others. Our nation, in many ways, is the envy of people throughout the history of the world.

Yet, our nation is not without major flaws. A former US Senate Chaplain, Peter Marshall, said, “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do what we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” Sadly, too many people and politicians in our country believe freedom means we can do whatever we want, and then, use those freedoms as a cover for evil.

In this country, we have the freedom of speech. But a current US senator has advocated and promoted violence against those who disagree with her politics. In our country, parents have the freedom to educate their children in the way they think is best. But slowly and steadily, parents are losing freedom to even know how their children are being educated in school. Marriage has been eroding in our nation for decades, and it is now being proactively attacked. Our Declaration of Independence says that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But some states allow ‘physician-assisted suicide.’ In other words, it is now legal to be an accomplice to murder if you are a doctor, and when that happens, euthanasia is never far behind. And our country has made it legal to murder over 60 million babies through abortion.

The first verse of our national anthem closes with a question, “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Yes, the flag still flies over this land, and for that, we can thank God. But can we still be considered the land of the free when the lives of the most vulnerable are not protected?

Abraham Lincoln supposedly said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Lincoln might be wrong. We may still be destroyed by another nation. But at the rate the culture in our nation is disintegrating, Lincoln’s words appear to be accurate.

If a nation wants to destroy itself, all it has to do is ignore, undermine, or explain away the Ten Commandments. And that is precisely what is happening in our country, and it has been happening for a long time.

America needs to repent. Nations that have gone down the path our country is marching on don’t last long. God destroys them. America needs to repent.

But nations don’t repent. Individuals do. Americans need repentance, and it needs to start with you.

You are not what you should be. Do you hear these Ten Commandments and think, “Well, I’m way better than the society, culture, and people around me”? Then, you are the problem. The Law does not and cannot save you.

That is what Jesus was getting at in our Gospel lesson (Mt. 5:17-26). The Pharisees took the 5thCommandment, “You shall not murder,” and figured they must be pretty good. They were busy patting themselves on the back thinking they had impressed God. The Commandment was enough by itself. Jesus isn’t adding to the Commandment when He says that your anger makes you a murderer; instead, He is reminding you and I that we haven’t begun to be the people God created and wants us to be.

You need a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the best person you know or have heard of or you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. It is a righteousness you cannot attain or achieve by your works and efforts. Repent.

Small Catechism - Ten Commandments Cross IconRepent and know that there is righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus came and kept the Law. Jesus did everything the Commandments demanded and did not do anything the Law forbade. Jesus does not get angry with someone without cause. Jesus does not look upon a woman with lust. Jesus does not chase after or desire things that are not given to Him. Instead, Jesus gladly accepts what the Father gives and then waits with perfect trust that the Father is good and will provide.

Jesus kept that faith even when He was forsaken by His Father as He hung on the cross shedding His holy, perfect, sinless blood for you. He endured an eternity of Hell for all of humanity. And as He breathed His last, He cried, “It is finished.”

There, the Law was fulfilled, and all the holy Commandments were perfectly kept. The last penny was paid, and there is nothing left for you to do to make God happy with you.

Because now, Jesus gives His righteousness away for free to all who believe in Him. He joins you to Himself through His word of promise, through your Baptism, and through His holy Supper. God looks at you and sees Jesus, and He delights in you.

Christian, you have died to sin. Live in it no longer. Rejoice in God’s will for you revealed in the Commandments.

Because Jesus will come back. When He does, sin and death and hell will die as well. And you will rise, free from your bondage to sin and free to bask in the grace of your Savior who loves you now and forever. Amen.

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

Scary Success – Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Trinity on Luke 5:1-11

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Luke 5:1-11

Jesus Teaches from Peter's BoatOn one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

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

God gives better than you ask, and His promises exceed everything that you desire.

Peter was tired. He had spent the whole night fishing. Well, ‘fishing’ is too strong of a word. He caught nothing. If he had been using a pole and hook, he would have been up all night drowning worms, but Peter and his partners used nets to catch fish. Through the dark hours of the night, they cast their nets again and again and again only to bring them up empty each and every time.

You can imagine their frustration as they pulled the boats to shore while the sun broke on the horizon. They probably talked with each other about what went wrong. Maybe, they wondered how they would provide for their families and where their money would come from the next week. Now, they simply wanted to clean their nets, go home, and sleep.

But while they clean their nets, Jesus is there on the shore teaching God’s Word to a massive crowd. Everyone is trying to get close to hear Him. So, Jesus says, “Hey Peter, why don’t you row Me out a bit so I can keep preaching?”Peter obliges, and the boat becomes a pulpit.

Jesus’ sermon ends. Unlike me, Jesus doesn’t, apparently, slip into what I call a ‘post-liturgical coma.’ Instead, Jesus has an idea. “Hey Peter, why don’t we row out a bit further and catch some fish?”

Now, Peter knew fishing. There was a reason he and his partners had been out all night and not during the day – that’s when you catch fish. He had just finished cleaning his nets so they would be ready for their next excursion. Peter just wanted to go home and find his pillow.

Peter could have said, “Listen here, Jesus. Sure, You can teach the Scriptures like nobody else. But listen, Mr. Carpenter, fishing is my game. Why don’t You stick to teaching and woodworking?” But he doesn’t. Peter responds, “At Your word, I will let down the nets.” This statement is as good as faith gets on this side of eternity.

Now, imagine this. Peter and Andrew put down the nets and sail around a bit, knowing this isn’t the time to do this. They reach down to draw the net into the boat. That night, they had gotten used to lifting nothing but the weight of the net, but this time they feel resistance. They pull and tug and heft. The nets start creaking and breaking because of all the weight. They signal to their partners to come and help. All of them together can’t lift the net into the boat, so they start scooping fish into both boats as fast as they can. They are wet, slimy, and breathless as both boats become so full of fish that they begin to sink.

Pause here for a minute. Peter and his partners, apparently, had quite an operation going for themselves. They weren’t simply recreational fishermen. This was a business – several professionals operating several boats. They had never had a catch like this. You would think the first thing to go through Peter’s mind would be to sign Jesus as their navigator and guide. He could tell them when and where to cast their nets. They could buy a fleet of boats, hire more fishermen, and find a crew to clean and mend the nets. How slick would this be? Peter could retire early and live on easy street. But none of that enters his mind.

Catch of Fish from Luke 5Getting a catch like that would be the dream any fisherman. But it is too much of a good thing. This catch is threatening their livelihood, nearly breaking the nets and causing the boats to sink; it is killing them. And these fish – which had been their life and livelihood – could not save them. This fishing expedition is a massive success. Surrounded by what would provide for his life for months if not years, Peter can only see his sin.

Consider your life. What do you do each and every day? Where do you spend your time and effort? What are you focused on? What are your goals and dreams? What do you pray for and ask God to give you? Do you ever get frustrated with God when He does not answer? And when God does give you what you ask, how long are you satisfied?

Repent. Your goals and dreams are not what they should be. God knows what is good for you even better than you do. God is still good when He doesn’t give you what you what you ask for. God was good when He allowed the disciples to catch nothing that night. And Jesus is good by denying Peter’s request to depart.

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” is a stupid prayer. If Jesus answered that prayer, Peter would not only drown, he would go to hell because hell is where God is not present in His mercy for sinners.

Jesus knows how to answer better than Peter knows how to ask. Jesus answers Peter’s prayer in a way that exceeded anything sinful Peter could have desired. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Two weeks ago, we heard the scribes and Pharisees grumbling about Jesus, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” What they meant as mocking and jest is your faithful and holy confession.

Yes, Jesus does receive sinners. In fact, Jesus has this in mind when He gives Peter his new calling, “From now on, Peter, you will be catching men alive.”Jesus uses a particular word here. It doesn’t simply mean to catch, it means to catch alive.

Jesus does not depart. Instead, He draws closer to Peter so that Peter and the other apostles can have a new calling – to catch men alive with the net of the life-giving Gospel.

Cross and CommunionJesus’ will is that you be caught by the net of the Gospel, that you be brought into the boat of the church, and that you have fellowship with Him now and forever. It is Jesus’ will that He not depart from you but that He draw you to Himself.

Jesus says to you, “Fear not. I give to you My Body which was crucified but lives. I give to you My shed Blood which is the source of your life and forgiveness.”Jesus says, “Come and receive what you wouldn’t dare ask for, but I freely and happily give to you.”And you? You say, “At Your word, Lord, I will do as You say.” Amen.

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