Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sermon for 7/24/16: Ninth Sunday After Trinity

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Often Christians question what the Lord’s holy will is, as if the Lord is hiding His good and gracious will, as if one can only guess what the Lord wants from His people. But that’s not how it is with our Lord. He doesn’t treat His people the way we treat each other. He takes no pleasure in playing games. The kingdom of heaven is not found by solving divine riddles and puzzles, for “who has known the mind of the Lord?” And beside that, He is a kind, gracious, loving, merciful God “who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.”

There are no guessing games. The Lord’s holy will is very clearly laid out for you. It is found throughout Scripture: in the Ten Commandments, in the Psalms, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Epistles. The Lord Jesus summarizes the will of the Father numerous times. And in today’s parable He says it again. The will of the Father is this: live not for yourself; live for the Father through His Son in the Spirit, and live for your neighbor. Do not love what the world gives. Do not chase after the riches the world promises. Do not feed your passions or addictions. Do not think and do for yourself. Do not first get yours, and then help someone else. Do not live in the fear that God won’t or can’t or doesn’t take care of you. Instead, live in the confidence, boldness, and certainty that the Lord is merciful. Live not in fear, but in the love, the kindness, the compassion and the grace of Christ, which the Spirit generously pours over and into you by the Holy Sacraments.

The dishonest steward lived for himself. He liked the power and prestige of his position. And when the man was discovered for his misdeeds, he didn’t care any more for his neighbor than he did for his master. His entire thought was how he could buy friends that would take care of him. He only cared for himself. Still, the man was very shrewd—so much so that you should admire him, as, in fact, the master admired the man and praised him precisely “because he had dealt shrewdly.” And Jesus praised this clever, calculating, quick-thinking, self-serving character. He said, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”

The Lord’s will is that you no longer live for yourself, that you live for God by living for your neighbor. The Lord’s will is that you trust not in your cleverness or plans. The Lord’s will is that you rely completely on Him alone. The Lord’s will is that you not only say, but also believe, that you are nothing but a beggar before Him. And so the Lord’s will is that you hunger only for the food He gives at His altar; that you long only to live His Word; that you strive for nothing except the kingdom of heaven; that you seek nothing except doing what pleases Him. The steward was considered shrewd because he used what belonged to his master. What prevents you, the sons of light, from doing the same? You have rich gifts from God. You have the earthly blessings He has given you. More than that, you have the forgiveness Christ won for you, which He gives you freely. What keeps you from shrewdly sharing those gifts with your neighbor? What keeps you from shrewdly forgiving your neighbor when he sins against you? What keeps you from shrewdly sharing the bounty with which the Lord has filled you?

Let your prayer be, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” He is gracious to answer that prayer to your good. The Father sends you the Holy Spirit, who uses the waters of Holy Baptism to apply to you the salvation Christ died to win; who shows you the truth about yourself and the empty promises of the world; who sets you on the right way; who rescues you from your fears and self-serving ways; who fills you with the earthly blessings which fade and with the heavenly blessings which endure. And in doing these things, He shows you how to love and serve your neighbor.

This is the will of the Father: that all He has made and placed in the hands of Jesus would come into the kingdom of heaven, to live intimately and wondrously in Him. That includes you, the crown of His creation. The will of the Father is ultimately lived here on earth in only one place: in the holy Church, where you do not make false friends for yourself by unrighteous mammon. Here in Christ’s Church, you are made friends by the righteous wealth of Our Lord’s holy gifts—made brothers and sisters in the waters of Holy Baptism, united in Christ’s body and blood. These gifts bind you together in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2016

GUEST POST: Sermon for 7/17/16--Eighth Sunday After Trinity

I'm back from the Synod convention, but I was too lazy to write a sermon after I got home late on Thursday. Fortunately, Pastor Timothy Landskroener from Chester once again graciously filled the pulpits at St. Peter in Campbell Hill and Bethel Lutheran in Du Quoin, Illinois. With his permission, here is his sermon. Again, thank you, Pastor Landskroener.
Beware of Wool-Covered Wolves

"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." (Matthew 7:15-16 ESV)

In the Name of Jesus, the only Savior of the world...

The Lord Jesus loved us enough to bear the sins of the world and give up His life for all on the cross of Calvary. He loved us enough to come to us and apply that forgiveness He earned on the cross so that we might enjoy life with Him now and forever. In Holy Baptism, He has washed away our sins, snatched us from the clutches of death and the devil, and made us His own dear children. In Holy Absolution, He forgives our sins through the voice of the pastor He’s given us. In Holy Communion, He gives Himself, His very Body and Blood, into our mouths that we would have forgiveness, life, and salvation - even now. And because Jesus loves us so much and doesn’t want us to be seduced away from Him, He warns us today to, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing.”

Now Jesus is not here warning us about the open and blatant false teachers in this world, though we most certainly should beware of them and avoid them and their teaching. He is not warning us here of the many false religions with which we’re surrounded - Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, paganism, and a host of others. And these don’t include the dangers of the current cultural climate such as atheism, human secularism, and New Ageism. Nonetheless, we must be careful that we not give place to them or their teaching in our lives.

Rather, Jesus is warning us today about false teachers within the Church, that is, “false sons within her pale” (TLH 473.3). And this warning is nothing new. Listen again as the Lord God speaks through His prophet Jeremiah, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” (Jer. 23:16). Indeed, these false prophets spout their own opinion, their “vision,” as though it were from God Himself and it’s not. They preach and promote their own vain ideas, and their false teaching leads people away from God and His saving Word. Certainly they lead away from Christ and His saving work.

So while false prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing, we can recognize them by their fruits, that is, by what they preach and teach. You see, you can't always tell by someone's looks or behavior whether or not he's a false prophet because false prophets might well live very pious lives and might perform many works that seem outwardly good. They may even quote the Bible to give their false teaching legitimacy. But even the devil can do that! Yes, false prophets come "in sheep's clothing," and when we remember that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light, we see that all false prophets are servants of Satan whether they realize it or not. And instead of delivering life and salvation, they end up fleecing the flock for their own purposes.

True prophets, on the other hand, make people uncomfortable because they tell you what you need to hear and not just what you want to hear. They don’t scratch your itching ears. So it is that today's Old Testament reading says, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29). Sometimes God's Word breaks you down, and crushes all your idols and all your self-worship, so that God can build you back up again the right way. You aren't always going to like everything God's Word has to say, but it truly is all for your own good.

But false prophets don’t care for the truth of God’s Word because they’re always trying to gather people and please them. They scratch itching ears by telling them what they want to hear - and that’s often that their sin is okay or that they simply need to do something to be a better Christian, and thus make their life better. They appeal to man’s pride and self-delusion. That’s why there’s seldom a word of condemnation for sin, any sin, and therefore, no call to repentance. Rather, there may be great emphasis on “the mission,” whatever that is. But be assured it usually has to do with increasing the bottom line. That’s why there’s an over-emphasis on what we’re supposed to do. If only we do and say all the right things, then certainly numerical growth will happen. Thus Jesus is usually held up as a good example and not as the only Savior from sin, death, and the devil. False teachers appeal to man’s desires, and that’s why they so often attract larger crowds than the true preachers of God's Word. And that’s why we need to get over the silly notion that what makes a good preacher is that he attracts all kinds of people and generates income. That's a sure fire way to fall victim to a false prophet.

You see, what a preacher teaches is what matters, and not how many people or how much cash he rakes in. After all, most of the time Christ only had 12 followers and when He was crucified even they abandoned him. According to most people's thinking, Christ was a very unsuccessful prophet, when in reality, He was the truest prophet of all. That's why all true prophets, all true preachers, ultimately point you to Christ alone for your salvation. The true prophets preach only God's Word, the very Word which became incarnate in the flesh of the man Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son. True prophets aren't ashamed of God's Word no matter how unpopular it may be to others. Forgiveness of sins and eternal life are found only in the Truth of God's Word and never in the lying mouths of the false prophets.

“By their fruits you will know them.” True prophets lead people to Christ, false prophets lead people away from Christ and His Word and work. That's the ultimate test. The bad fruit is all the false teaching that centers on sinful perverted man, and the good fruit is all the true teaching that centers on Christ and what He's done for us. The good tree that produces good fruit is the only tree that lasts. After all, Jesus says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” That means that false prophets go to hell, and tragically they take their followers with them. So if you think your sin isn’t that big a deal, if you think God's Word changes with times, if you think the warnings about false prophets aren't important, then you need to repent right now or you’ll share the fate of the false prophets. Repent, and receive the mercy and forgiveness that God generously gives to you in Christ.

For no matter how sincere false prophets are, no matter how much they actually think they're doing God's will, they will still be thrown into the fire. According to the Gospel reading many false prophets actually think they're doing God's work. Christ tells us, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” False prophets claim to do the work of the Lord, just as in our Old Testament reading they claimed to speak for the Lord, but they are condemned for declaring lies in the Lord's name.

That’s why Christ Jesus issues us His solemn warning. He wants you to be with Him forever so He wants you to be aware of false teachers within the Church, those wolves in sheep’s clothing, who would lead you away from Him. Do not cling to your own works, intentions, self-delusions, or idols, but cling only to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He alone gave up His life and shed His blood on the good tree of the cross, so that you could have the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life. Christ alone is the tree that produces good fruit, and all his true prophets proclaim this. These prophets are sent by God to give you the good fruit of His Word and Sacraments. Whenever you hear the Word preached in its truth and purity, whenever you receive the Body and Blood of Christ in repentant faith, you receive the good fruit that gives nourishment unto eternal life. And here our Lord gives you more than enough good fruit to fill you for eternity. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Monday, July 11, 2016

GUEST POST: Sermon for 7/10/16: Seventh Sunday After Trinity

Since I'm at the Synod convention, Pastor Timothy Landskroener from Chester graciously filled the pulpits at St. Peter in Campbell Hill and Bethel in Du Quoin, Illinois. With his permission, here is his sermon. Thank you, Pastor Landskroener.

Christ's Compassion
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,  2 "I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.  3 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." (Mark 8:1-3 ESV)

In the name of Jesus, the only Savior of the world...

    In these grey and later days, what we need most our dear Lord Jesus gives in great abundance for He is patient with us beyond imagination. He desires that we give up all trust in ourselves and our abilities and works, and that we learn evermore to trust in Him - most certainly for forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, and also for everything we need to support *this* body and life.

    In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [that is, earthly necessities like food, drink and clothing] shall be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). In today’s Gospel we see that play out. A large crowd had followed Jesus away from the cities and villages and out into the wilderness, the deserted place, a place of scarcity, danger and death. They had evidently given no thought as to how long they would be there and had not brought adequate provisions. And we have no record of Jesus telling them to come prepared for a lengthy stay.

    So, why would those people give up the comforts of home to follow Jesus out into the wilderness? Quite simply, because they wanted to hear what He had to say. The One who feeds the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, had purposely drawn them out and opened the glories of heaven and the wonders of God’s love to them like they had never heard before, or even imagined. And His gracious words caused them to forget all other things.

    So now was the third day of their listening to Him preach. Imagine that! Listening to a sermon for three days. Who would do that? Those people did, because they wanted to hear the gracious words which flowed from Jesus’ lips. They had left all, and now they were hungry, though it’s important to notice that they don’t say anything. They were intent on listening to Jesus and hearing everything He had to say. They kept their eyes on Him. After all, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3). His Word was their life.

    So, they don’t say anything about their hunger, but Jesus does. “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.” Yes, Jesus has compassion on them. He knows what they need even before they ask, and He’s ready to provide. You see, His compassion is a real concern for the ongoing reality and eternal fate of mankind. His compassion brought these people out and put them into such dire straits. He has them right where He wants them. For the reality is that they would be just as helpless if they were home snuggly tucked away in their beds with full bellies and full cupboards - but they might well not know it. They might think they were in control. But there in the desert with growling bellies and too far to return, they’re helpless. The hunger that gnaws at the 4,000 is the mark of death, the wages of sin. They must eat or they will die. There is no place for them to turn. They cannot provide for themselves. They are helpless.

    And what was the result of their helplessness? Jesus provides all that they need. He fed them with the Bread of Life, and now He would provide earthly bread as well. As on the earlier occasion when He miraculously fed 5,000 people, He consults with His disciples. He declares His compassion and concern for the crowd. But the disciples seemed to have forgotten that other event. They ask, “How can one feed [or satisfy] these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Once again, they looked at the situation with the eyes of reason and concluded that it was impossible to provide food for all these people.

    Once again, Jesus demonstrates His great love and compassion for the people and for His disciples. He has the people sit down. Then He takes the seven loaves from the disciples, gave thanks, broke them, gave them to the disciples “to set before the people.” Then He did the same with the fish. Again, the people ate and were satisfied. They had no more hunger. Their needs were fully met. Furthermore, the disciples gathered seven large baskets of leftovers. Jesus didn’t simply meet the need, He provided an abundance. With Jesus, there is always more.

    Now, most certainly, this Gospel is for us as well. Jesus would have us follow Him and listen to Him. He would have us leave everything to hunger and thirst for righteousness. For we too need to see our helplessness, even as we feel the hunger pangs of sin and death. We need to realize the fullness and the depth of our sin. We too must give up control, and learn that we have nothing to give, and that there is nothing we can do to change our sorry state. We too must learn to hang on Jesus’ every Word so that we may live.

    Indeed, this is what we learn from the crowd – to live from Jesus’ compassion. And this, not because we have earned it or deserve it, but only because Jesus Himself declares, "I have compassion." Only in the gifts Christ freely gives can we be filled and have genuine satisfaction. Everything else we seek and lust for in this world leaves us cold, empty, full of regret. Our efforts in this world end in futility. This is what lies behind the disciples' words of unbelief: "How can one satisfy these people?"

    Yet, in Jesus’ great compassion, He doesn’t scold them for their unbelief. He uses them to serve the crowd. From their hands Jesus feeds the crowd with bread and fish.

    Now, of course, this miracle points toward a greater miracle, where our Lord again takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives it to His disciples, the Holy Apostles, those first ministers of the Gospel. Still today they give out the Gifts to you, that multitude that has come to the realization that the things of the world cannot, by themselves, satisfy.

    Yes, Jesus does have compassion on you. For you, the very Son of God was made Man. He had compassion on you and for you suffered rebuke, humiliation, and hatred. He had compassion on you and endured the lash, the spear, the thorny crown. He had compassion on you and suffered the bitter agonies of death and the Father's wrath. He had compassion on you and allowed His side to be opened by the thrust of the spear. He had compassion on you and brought your flesh out of the grave triumphantly. He had compassion on you and entered into the heavenly places with your flesh, my flesh, human flesh. Know then that your Lord still has compassion on you, forgives your selfish pride, forgets what you have done and been, and invites you yet again to simply receive His gifts, all by grace. So let these words of your Lord sink down deep into your ears: "I have compassion on the crowd." To Him be the glory now and forever.    Amen.

The peace of God, which passing all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Sermon for 7/3/16: Sixth Sunday After Trinity

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A Spirit of Righteousness

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Righteous scribes and Pharisees studied and immersed themselves in and lived according to the letter of the Law. That’s not evil in and of itself, for it shows great respect for our Lord and His Word. It shows a desire to live not as you prefer, but as the Lord requires. That’s the righteousness of the scribe and Pharisees—and we wish we could attain even that! But today our Lord tells you that, by His Spirit, you reach for a greater righteousness: a righteousness that desires not simply to learn the letters and words of God, but also to inquire after the Spirit. This is a righteousness that does what is right not only because God said so, but also because it is the way of Life, because there’s no other way for Christians to live. This is a righteousness that lives not from the fear of missing the goal, but from a Spirit-given love for God and a desire to live like His redeemed children. This righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees because it lives not just by the words of God, but in Christ Jesus, who is the Word of God in the flesh, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Our holy Lord gives you a glimpse of the Way that He is when He describes some of the commandments. He says, “You have heard that is was said to those of old…” But our Lord is not denigrating or setting aside or negating or abolishing what was said. Instead, Our Lord wishes you to look through the letters to hear the Spirit. And in each instance, the Spirit shows you that the Way of the Lord ought to be your way—not just then, when you reach the goal, but now as you strive and struggle—for the Way of the Lord is not just the way to the kingdom, but also the way our Lord desires to live in you and through you, now and forever.

So what stands in your way? What blocks your path? What gets you off track so that you turn away from Christ and choose your own path? You are turned from the narrow way by love of self; love of getting even; love of having your rights met; love of revenge; love of holding grudges; love of hiding; love of material pleasures; love of being in control; and ultimately, love of what you deem worthy of your love and attention.

Yet by His Spirit, our Lord keeps calling you away from your self-chosen loves, calling you to Himself, the beloved Son of the Father. By His Spirit, our Lord persists in calling you away from your love of holding something over someone, and to the love of growing and maturing in intimate union with Him and with all men. By His Spirit, our Lord determinedly calls you away from your false loves which drive you into the darkness. And by His Spirit, our Lord gives you the courage to embrace Him as your true Love, to live only for Him.

So this is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees? It is not resisting, but submitting in trust and confidence to the Lord Jesus whose love for you knows no limits, whose love for you transforms and transfigures your whole way of life, whose love for you brings you the superabundant mercy of God, whose love for you allows you to bury your meanness and pettiness, and whose love for you teaches you to fear nothing except the fear of losing Him.

Such love has been poured into you by the Holy Spirit. He has, in a wondrous and miraculous mystery, bound you to our Lord Jesus. And just as wondrously, He has bound you to each other and to all Christians living and departed. By this Holy Spirit you have the Righteous One as your righteousness. And by the Spirit you get to live as one who is loved by God and to live as one who shares the love of God. May that Spirit strengthen, feed, and grow this love of exceeding righteousness within you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Sermon for 6/26/16: Fifth Sunday After Trinity

Sorry for the delay. Life intervened.

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Christ in the Boat

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are a good number of boats in Scripture. The disciples found themselves inside a boat on stormy water with Jesus, and He spoke and calmed the storm. Jesus met His disciples in a boat when He came walking to them on the water, and He spoke and calmed their fears. In the Old Testament, God saved the Church—eight souls in all—by closing Noah and his family in an ark, a ship. It is no wonder, then, that the Church is called the Ship of Faith—the Ark of God—into which we sinners are baptized and by which Christ keeps us safe. Jesus is in the boat, and He speaks across the water: Word and water to save sinners. What a lovely image of the Church! It's why this room is called a nave. In Latin, “Navis” means ship. If you sail a ship, you navigate. If you go to war on ships, you're in the Navy. The Church gathers around Jesus, preaching, teaching, serving us His Word, and we are safe inside His Ship.

From a boat, Christ sends His Word across the water to the ears of those who set aside their seeking after earthly things to press Him for the Word of God. When He'd finished, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” The Lord is doing two things here. First, He shows those who pursue His Word that He will take care of them. You have work to do: God-given vocations. Do those to the glory of God and the good of your neighbor. But “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…” Live in and from the Gospel.

And He is also showing the Church and Her preachers that His Word does what He says it will do. He promised through the Prophet Isaiah: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Simon had fished all night and caught nothing. Now Emmanuel, God in flesh, was telling him to put into the deep. But every fisherman knows that fish are caught in shallow waters at night. Still, the Word made flesh had spoken, and now He was teaching how His Word bears fruit.

Simon did as he was told, and they caught so many fish the nets began to break and the boat began to sink. That is what the Lord is doing in His Church even now. You who fish for a living—you who are engaged in the labors and vocations which the Lord uses to care for people—you are hearing that the Word of God bears fruit. Christ Himself is speaking, calling you forgiven; saying that your lives are things He cares about. He cares enough to impose Himself on exhausted fishermen so you receive His Kingdom and His Righteousness. The Lord has let down the net of His Word and Water and caught you by the Gospel, and He gathers you into His boat. In this place He keeps you safe and makes your whole life holy.

As you go about your daily tasks, you do them in Jesus, at His Word. And the Word of God makes your daily labor fruitful. So, when the Lord imposes Himself on you through His preachers to serve your neighbor; when He bids you try again; when He sends you places you’d rather not go to do work you’d rather not do—do you ask what some preacher knows about real living? My brothers and sisters in Christ, “seek first the kingdom and His righteousness.” Trust His Word. Live in the Gospel. He knows you've been at it all night long. He knows it doesn't seem to bear fruit. He knows you're tired of trying. Find your rest in God's Word, for He will do His work through that Word.

Take comfort in this: Christ has taken into Himself all your sins—all of your frustrations, distractions, dissatisfactions with the life and work God gives you. Though you pursue many things, the Lord has only you in mind. He seeks you and promised you that, at His Word, His kingdom bears much fruit. It bears you up, lifting you out of the deep and bringing you safely in His Ship that does not sink. He  places you into His Church, and there, the One Who died and rose to save you keeps you safe.

That sustains you as you tend whatever nets He gives you. Live from the Gospel in the Liturgy each Sunday. Eat and drink the Body and the Blood of Christ each week. Set aside your labor to be served by Christ and His forgiveness in His Word. “Seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness,” and then be certain that He will daily add whatever else you need. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.