Sunday, July 03, 2022

Sermon for 7/3/22: Third Sunday After Trinity


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Faith and the Narrow Way

I Peter 5:6-11

 

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

It is the common theme among the unchurched—and even among those who claim to be Christians but refuse to attend worship—that the Church is full of hypocrites. “Yeah, you Christians talk a good game, but when the rubber hits the road, you don’t live your lives according to the Bible.” The accusation is that we don’t live up to the standard set before us in the Ten Commandments; that we don’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things; that we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. And if we examine ourselves according to the Law of God, we have to admit the truth of the accusation. We are poor, miserable sinners. We sin in thought, word, and deed, by what we do and by what we fail to do. And sinners, even with the best of intentions, cannot perfectly live what we believe.

In the epistle, Peter is telling you that you must walk the walk of faith, that you must strive to live as the redeemed children of God, not as a spoiled child who takes advantage of a doting and doddering Father who allegedly refuses to show the discipline you deserve. No, the good works you do will not save you, nor will your refusal to do the evil works that tempt you. Nevertheless, you are supposed to live your faith in your daily life. You are supposed to display the love of God in Christ to your neighbors.

Jesus describes the way a Christian walks as a narrow and difficult path. Even the most gifted gymnast has difficulty walking on a balance beam. Anyone who has tried walking on a curb knows how difficult it can be to stay on a narrow path. Sometimes I can’t even stay on a sidewalk. And the daily walk with Christ is even more perilous because of the dangers on the way. St. Peter says that you must walk humbly, that you must remain alert, because Satan is always lurking about, ready to push you off the road and snatch you away. The writer of Proverbs says, Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. God has made you in His own image, and He wants to keep shaping you in His image, while the Old Adam wants you to be proud of your sin. If you are not constantly aware of that Old Adam, you will be so busy looking at a god who looks like what you see in a mirror that you will wander from the path God has set before you.

These dangers are real, and they may come when you least expect them. There are many who call themselves Christians, but they have stepped away from this narrow path, many without even realizing it. They may even continue to worship and do good works. But they no longer order their lives according to the Word of God. They have deceived themselves into believing they can serve both God and their own agenda. They have believed the lies and distractions Satan has set before them. They have looked at the Word of God and have tossed away those teachings that don’t harmonize with their own ideas and goals.

Do you hear those words and wonder if St. Peter is talking about you? For me, it would be a joy to toss away what the Bible teaches about gluttony. Paul wrote to the Philippians, Many…are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly…” The Old Adam wants me to believe that I can fill my plate as many times as I want. Satan even tells me that I am honoring God’s First Article blessings by overindulging in the gifts of daily bread. But in reality, I am destroying the body God has given me, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. What idol, what false god, is trying to lead you from the narrow path?

Standing firm in the faith and resisting Satan and your Old Adam will be uncomfortable. Peter acknowledges that as he says, “…The same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” It is true that such suffering is unpleasant on the narrow way, and your wisdom and power are never enough to perfectly resist the trial or endure the suffering. But your suffering is not permanent. God will end it in His good time. Meanwhile, He has given you the power of Christ. He has placed your feet on the path. He has prepared you for the journey by washing you clean and covering you with the robe of baptismal righteousness. And Christ has even become the Way for you.

And when you stray from the path, when you fail to live as you believe, He seeks you out and brings you back. He says to you, “Cast all your cares upon me, because you belong to me. I have won the victory. For the sake of My own suffering and death, I forgive you all your sins. I will always welcome you back to the path, and I will see you through that narrow gate. I give you new life, eternal life.” The God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, washes you with the bloody water from our Savior’s side and feeds you with His own body and blood to perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.Through these gifts, and with His Holy Spirit who has been given to each believer, God will guide and strengthen and bless and keep you unto that final exaltation on the Last Day. In thanksgiving we pray, “To Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever.” 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. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sermon for 6/26/22: Second Sunday After Trinity


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Wisdom

Proverbs 9:1-10

 

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

 

God’s wisdom is unlike the wisdom of this world. God’s wisdom is higher and deeper; it is pure and undefiled. The book of Proverbs focuses on godly wisdom as the proper pursuit of every child of God. There are two “characters” portrayed consistently throughout the book“Wisdom” and “Folly”and the book describes their words and their works. In this reading, Wisdom builds a house and throws a feast. It is an invitation for all to hear and to learn the wisdom of God. St. Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, refers to Jesus Himself as our Wisdom. No doubt, the apostle has this text from Proverbs in mind. What can be wiser than knowing and believing in Him? What can be better than being fed by His Word and Sacraments? True wisdom, and the key to understanding the Proverbs, is found in Jesus Christ.

But this text reveals that the wisdom of God is sometimes a word of correction. In other words, true wisdom takes God’s Law seriously in all its severity. And a truly wise Christian will heed the Law. That doesn’t mean we do what it says, for we are sinners, rotten to the core. But the Law shows us our sin and drives us to despair; we recognize that we are lost and dead in sin. The Law tears down the walls of self-righteousness, burns down our flimsy house of excuses, exposes us as frauds, and drives us to our knees.

It is then that the Gospel does its work. Only when we are stinging from the Law does the balm of the Gospel soothe and heal. Only when we have tasted the bitterness of our own sins can we savor the sweetness of forgiveness. Jesus through His death and resurrection rescues us from the fires of hell and carries us on the wings of His mercy to our eternal home with Him. The Gospel, the wisdom of God, begins with faith in Jesus Christ; or as Proverbs puts it: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” True wisdom is to fear the Lord; true wisdom is to know the Holy One.

In John’s Gospel, there is an account that illustrates the difficulty of this divine wisdom. Jesus spoke hard words to a crowd of increasingly skeptical followers; these words were so hard, in fact, that many deserted Him. By the way, this ought to be of some comfort as we attempt to share the Gospel; even Jesus couldn’t convince everyone. Then He asked the twelve if they wanted to leave Him, too. But Peter confessed: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Wisdom starts with Jesus. Do you want to be truly wise unto salvation? Then fear, love, and trust in Jesus Christ, the One whose wisdom flows in the face of common sense. You don’t think so? Think on this: Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Forgive your brother when he sins against you, even 70 times 7. Take up your cross and follow. This is foolishness to human wisdom. When Jesus started talking about His cross, Peter rebuked Jesus and tried to talk Him out of it. But Jesus rebuked Peter, even calling him Satan. The wisdom of this world says we should avoid suffering at all costs. This is not the talk of faith; it is the language of unbelief!

It is hard to hear those wise words of correction without becoming scoffers ourselves, without hating the message or the messenger. The Lord calls me to be the messenger, and there are times I don’t want to hear or deliver the message. But true wisdom accepts the discipline of God’s Word; true wisdom humbly confesses our sins and seeks to do better. This is wisdom: to know the Holy One of God who took our punishment and guilt and shame, and who now gives us the new life of the child of God.

Such wisdom and instruction can be found only in God’s Word. We will, of course, be tempted to look for wisdom elsewhere. We will make all sorts of appeals to all sorts of other things. We will rationalize and excuse; we will listen to the advice of learned men; we will give ear to the tune the world around us is singing. As someone once said, “The gray areas are the devil’s playground.” We tell ourselves, “I know God’s Word says this, but...” And so the devil sows his seeds of doubt and destruction.

God warns us for good reason. The easy way is so appealing. Hearing the correction of God’s Word and knowing true wisdom is the hard way. It is all too tempting to do what you want instead of what God’s Word commands. The truth is, the Old Adam in you hates to turn away from sin. He has no desire to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. But the Holy Spirit calls and enlightens you to do just that. And while there may be no sinful fun, there is great blessing: the blessing of a clear conscience; the blessing of God’s approval because Jesus claims you as His own; the blessing of knowing God’s promises that, while life is often full of suffering and misery, you have a mansion in heaven that bears your name; the blessing of serving your neighbor with the love of Christ; the blessing of receiving His gifts of peace and certainty. And you have the greatest blessing of all: knowing the true Wisdom of God in Jesus Christ, who gives you the words of eternal life. Remain in Him and with Him always. 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.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sermon for 6/19/22: First Sunday After Trinity


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Temptation and Faith

Genesis 15:1-6

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

 

Several times, St. Paul uses this story of Abraham, his faith, and the promises God made to him, as a proof that we are justified, put right with God, through faith in Jesus Christ. But more than that, these words unpack an important chapter in the spiritual history of the patriarch Abraham, the “father of many nations.” Even after his call from God to leave his homeland and go to the land that would be his inheritance, his life was full of severe temptation. And Abraham, unfortunately, failed often before those temptations. But by the help of God, he was eventually able to overcome them. And now, even as Abraham’s call to faith is a picture of our own call into the kingdom of God, so we also find here great truths which still hold firm in the life of those whom God has called by faith into His kingdom.

Abraham faced temptation. We, too, face temptation. Facing temptation is not sin. We can’t avoid facing it in a world that is so corrupt and evil. The question is, what do we do? How do we respond in the face of temptation? The Church is the free-born daughter of heaven; the New Testament makes that abundantly clear. And yet, she was hated and abused in those early days, and still is, though, perhaps, less overtly so. She is a source of blessing for the whole world, but, to this day, she must submit to oppression and persecution. Just consider the attempts being made to curtail the religious freedom of Christians to live their faith in the daily lives. Consider the many ways, and how rapidly, the societal norms of morality have changed, and how “in your face” many of the practitioners of such evil are. Oppression and persecution, and the temptations that follow, don’t have to be physically violent to be effective. Mental and emotional persecution, the oppression of the mind and heart, can be equally devastating.

And what is true of the Church as a body is also true of Christians individually. The Christian and the cross belong together. Jesus said it: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Whatever form temptation takes, ultimately it is an attack on our faith in the faithfulness of God. Luther called this “anfechtung,” being attacked by the devil! When blinded by temptation, our confidence in the truthfulness of God begins to waver. God’s promises do not harmonize with our present condition—at least, not as we see it. And that is where sin breaks in to steal away our hope and our joy.

There is a pastor’s prayer in which the pastor prays, “Lord, You know that I am not the strong man of God my people think I am...” Every honest pastor must admit this is true. I deal daily with demons which you know nothing about. They try to lead me to give in to doubt and despair; and, more than I care to admit, these demonic temptations are successful. You, too, are afflicted by temptations that lead you into sin. You, too, have sinful thoughts and desires that eat away at your soul. Perhaps they have not become sins of action, but they are sin nonetheless. And Satan keeps throwing it in your face, trying to convince you that God will forsake you. What do you do? What did Abraham do? He appealed to God. “Lord, what will you give me?” Or, as the father of an ill child said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”  

Why do temptations come? As contrary to reason as it may seem, temptations come so that we might see the loving purposes of God that are hidden within them, and that we, by the grace of God, might overcome them. As odd as it might seem, temptation comes so that we might learn of the comfort God promises us in the midst of temptation. So it was with Abraham. The Lord took Abraham outside and pointed to the stars in the sky and promised that Abraham’s descendants would be like those unnumbered stars.

And so it is with us. When we are surrounded by our own doubts and fears, the Lord comes to us in His Word and says, “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” He opens our eyes of faith so that we may see the great things He has already given us: countless spiritual blessings as well as daily bread. And then the Lord admonishes us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is written: “[Abraham] believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” What is the nature of faith? Faith is not something we do; faith is a gift, something that comes from outside ourselves. It is a gift of God which allows us cling solely to the almighty and gracious God who offers Himself to us in His Word. This is just what Abraham did. All he had was the promise of God. But Abraham believed that promise and, by faith, he had the consolation and comfort of God and the strength to overcome temptation. And, more importantly, He had the promise of the forgiveness of God when he was defeated by temptation. And so it is for us. Faith expects all help to come from God alone. Faith relies only on His Word. And in this way, your heart is filled with comfort; rest returns to your soul; temptation is overcome. You can joyfully say, “If God is for me, who can be against me?” 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.


Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sermon for 6/12/22: The Feast of the Holy Trinity


My apologies. It seems I forgot how to speak words this week, if these recordings are any indication.

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Understanding
Romans 11:33-36

 

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

 The God with whom we deal, the One in whom we believe—the blessed Holy Trinity—not only surpasses understanding; He defies understanding. He fits into none of those pre-conceived notions we may have about who or what kind of God He is. We like to think that we are sophisticated people—that, with all of our technology and our ability to find and retrieve information almost instantaneously, there is nothing we cannot know, nothing we cannot do, nothing we cannot manipulate, if we just have the proper information and the right equipment. But how do you stop a massive earthquake? How do you halt seemingly inevitable flood waters? And, more difficult still, how do you explain such things? For what precise reason do they happen? And why do they happen over and over again?

Who has known the mind of the Lord?” Do you know it? Of course, you don’t. Oh, there is much you can know about God. This wonderful creation all around us reveals many things about Him. As David joyfully confessed in the Psalms: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” Creation reveals a marvelous order, and the genius behind it, that tells us a good deal about God. But, do you know the mind of God? Are you able to search into the deep recesses of the divine mind to see what is there and to evaluate not only what He thinks, but also the way He thinks?

Who has been His counselor?” God has never talked things over with me. Does He consult you before He does what He does? But you think He should, don’t you? Don’t you think that, given the things that have happened to you, He must not really understand what is going on with you? The Psalmist wrote: “He that keeps Israel neither slumbers not sleeps.” But don’t you wonder sometimes how true that is? There have been plenty of times when He must have been asleep—or, at least, wasn’t paying attention. Things have happened to you that brought pain and suffering, sorrow and grief. Many have been the troubles that could have been avoided if God had only talked to you first.

Who has given a gift to him that it might be repaid?” Have you ever tried to make a bargain with God? How did that work for you? But God who gives to all life and breath and all things, without whom we can do nothing; we cannot place Him under obligation to us. There is no possibility for the human mind to search out the mind of God, to understand God’s ways and judgments. And so, we really are helpless; we are completely dependent on the goodness and the mercy of God. Left to our own devices, we will only make things worse than they were. But are we hopeless? That is another matter altogether. St. Paul’s words that close out this reading speak of the hope we have: “For from him and to him and through him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”

Who has known the mind of the Lord?” We certainly haven’t, but our Lord Jesus Christ came for that very purpose. Philip said to Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” And Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” All that we need to know of the mind of God has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ and in all that He has done for us. His willingness to suffer and die, to lay down His life for us that we might be redeemed from sin and death—these reveal the mind of God to be one of love and mercy and goodness toward us.

Who has been his Counselor?” God certainly has no need of our advice on how to take care of His world. What advice could we even give? What He has given us is the privilege of prayer, and the promise to hear and answer us when we pray. This is one of the great mysteries of our faith. Holy Scripture teaches us that, in His infallible foreknowledge, God knows all that will happen before it happens. But as the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah: “Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” It is not for us to understand how these things can all be reconciled. That is in the mind of God! It is only for us to believe that, as irreconcilable as this may seem to us, it is true.

Who has given a gift to him that it might be repaid?” This is the way our world works, isn’t it? One good turn deserves another. It’s called “reciprocity.” But while we have God to thank for all that we are and have, He requires nothing from us! Instead, He has received the payment in blood by His own Son. The justice required by God was offered up by His Son in our place. And now, in faith, out of love and gratitude, we are able to return to the Lord praise and thanksgiving, together with all the gifts He has given us, that they might be used to serve Him.

And still, God remains the One who not only cannot be understood, but defies being understood. But we don’t need to understand. In Jesus Christ, the Triune God revealed all that we need to know, and all we need to believe for life now and life forever with Him. Truly, as Paul said: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out! 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.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Sermon for 6/5/22: The Feast of Pentecost


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Pride and Pentecost

Genesis 11:1-9

 

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

 

The Tower of Babel was raised as a monument to man’s unbelief and spiritual arrogance. The godless purpose of its builders is quite clear: “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” They wanted to build a tower that would reach into the sky as far as the eye could see. They desired fame and a reputation of their own making. Like Adam and Eve, they wanted to be comparable to their Creator. They were very much like the great King Nebuchadnezzar, who looked around himself with an ungodly pride and said: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

When such pride possesses man, we see no need for a Divine Provider, no need for a gracious Savior from sin. And we still haven’t learned this lesson all these centuries later. Leaders and rulers of every description, even some within the church, still try to build their own kingdoms around themselves, as if this is the answer to every need. We continue to be surrounded every day with claims that not only must we save the world, but that we can do just that if we only apply our strength and intelligence. We can even create heaven on earth, if that is what we desire, if only we put our minds to it and put in the work to make it happen. We may be fooling ourselves, but we cannot fool God.

The people of Babel were defying the will of God, and they knew it. They knew the will of God had been expressed in the command God had given to Noah following the flood to fill the earth again with a righteous, God-fearing people. Until now, God had been exceedingly patient with them. He had allowed them to go on in their sin, hoping they would turn from their folly. But now the time had come for Him to intervene. The Lord, who is always merciful, even in judgment, could see that their efforts would only strengthen them in their defiance. But if their prideful unity was destroyed, then their ability to carry out any further ungodly plans would be permanently crippled.

And as is always the case when God decides to intervene in those plans of men that would defy His will, He was completely effective. They were compelled to carry out His will, even though that was what they were trying to prevent. It takes only a little imagination to picture the hopeless confusion that resulted.

Pride is often touted as a good thing. But when it comes to matters of the spirit—and how many matters in life aren’t spiritual in nature—pride is ultimately destructive. We are proud, even arrogant, in our rebellion against God. We mock and reject His gifts of life. That was certainly the case with those building the tower. The higher they went, the farther they took themselves away from the God of grace. In order to be rescued by God from their spiritual ignorance and arrogance, they had to be put in a condition where they were absolutely helpless. And so it is with us. We refuse to see the rescuing hand of God’s mercy until we realize that we can do nothing for ourselves.

So at Pentecost, God did something only He could do. He turned what had been a curse into a great blessing. The confusion of languages now became an instrument of God’s grace. The God who confused the language of the builders now overcame that confusion by His gracious power. He took unlettered disciples and made them instruments of salvation. He gave them the ability to speak in other human languages so that they could proclaim the Gospel to those who had come from all around the known world.

And this was, indeed, a rescue of the most extraordinary kind. These people heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon in a language they could understand: that the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ is the Savior and Lord of all. He who was so shamefully treated by the authorities had actually given His own life as the redemption price for the sins of the world. Unlike the tower builders of old, those who heard Peter that day were led to repentance. They were led to see the seriousness of their sin. And they could see that God’s judgment would ultimately deal with those who refused to believe in the Savior He had sent.

And this rescue offered for their salvation made no appeal to their wisdom, to their goodness, or to their strength. The burden was placed where it must be placed: on the grace and goodness of God. Peter later told them: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”  This remains God’s method of rescue. As extraordinary as it may seem, God has taken the salvation of the world upon Himself. He has met His own righteous demands for us. And we are blessed with a rescue that spares us from the grip of spiritual arrogance, from unbelief, and from everlasting bondage in hell. For this, we thank and praise our gracious God. 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.   

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sermon for 5/29/22: The Ascension of Our Lord (observed)


CLICK HERE for sermon audio.

No video this week. My apologies.


Not Alone

Acts 1:1-11


 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

 As Jesus was received into the clouds, it was clear to the disciples that they had seen Him for the last time on this side of eternity. This was the end of His appearing among them, speaking to them, keeping company with them. They were left alone, and it was apparent from the way they were gazing up into the heavens that they knew He was gone from their sight for good. Scripture rarely gives us psychological insight into those who inhabit its pages, but surely they must have felt an almost indescribable loneliness. And haven’t we all had moments like that?—moments when we felt alone, bereft of comfort, with no understanding company to reassure us. Moments like that can come upon us at unexpected times and places. Who among His disciples gathered there that day expected Jesus to suddenly be taken from them?

Their loneliness, however, was compounded by a question that must have risen in their minds, once they had taken their eyes off the clouds: “What do we do now?” It was bad enough to be left alone, but to be left alone without any real sense of purpose had to be a startling experience. Jesus had spoken many times about the things of the kingdom of God, but what their task was in relationship to that kingdom was not clear to them. So what now?

It was true, of course, that Jesus had promised them that they would, in His words, “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” But what did that mean? Then, just as suddenly, eleven became thirteen as “two men stood by them in white robes,” asking them why they were looking into heaven, as though the disciples could bring Jesus back into their midst again. And the implication of their words was this: “Do what He told you to do. Don’t leave Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father to be fulfilled. Just wait.” Waiting is hard, though, isn’t it?

There is an almost inescapable sense among Christians in our day that we must do something if the Kingdom of God is to be established among us. And that is what is so hard about waiting: waiting is so terribly passive! We wait for the action of another, and our own actions do nothing to end the waiting. In fact, our actions may get in the way. We can become so intent on “building the Kingdom” that we fervently devote ourselves to our own human devices at the expense of those means by which the Holy Spirit actually builds the Kingdom. The faithful proclamation of the Word of the Lord, the water poured, and the bread and wine distributed: these are the means by which the Holy Spirit moves. We can be so eager to prod the Kingdom into being through our worldly ways, convincing ourselves that success and faithfulness must be the same thing.

So, what do we do as we wait for the Holy Spirit to do His thing? In other words, how do we overcome the loneliness of feeling left alone and waiting for something to happen? We gather as those who believe and trust in this mighty Lord who subjected Himself to suffering and death, and who ascended to the right hand of the Father, to His power and glory. Through Him, forgiveness of sins is offered and given—forgiveness that bridges the gap between the Father and our lives. Through this we are comforted and assured, in spite of appearances, that we are not really alone, even when we feel so alone.

And so we are to wait…but not as people who are alone. In His own mysterious way, our Lord’s absence actually became the mode of His presence everywhere and for all time. Wherever His people are present, He is present in their midst: present in the Word proclaimed; present in the water of Baptism administered; present in the bread and wine, the body and blood, distributed and received. He is present in these powerful means: present in and through you and me and the whole Church on earth.

At times we feel so terribly alone, for this world presses in on us at every turn. At times we feel as though we have been left like orphans in a world that beats at us with messages and opportunities that are considerably different than the message and opportunity the Holy Spirit would have us seize upon. In that very moment, two men in white robes stand by us in spirit, saying: “Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” And we, like those disciples, “worship Him with great joy, continually being in the temple, blessing God.” Here, in this temple, we hear Him say to us: “Behold, I am with you to the end of the age.” And we realize that what has been given us to do is to continue all that Jesus had begun to do and teach.

Alone is never really alone when we are accompanied by the ascended Lord. He is both a marvelous Comforter walking beside us in the midst of the turmoil of this life, and the One who bids us be His voice, His hands, His heart, into the world around us. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sermon for 5/22/22: Sixth Sunday of Easter


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Testing God

Numbers 21:4-9

 

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

 

For over 400 years, the people of Israel had lived in Egypt, much of that time in a bitter slavery. But that was over. In a unique and remarkable way, God revealed His presence to them in the pillar of cloud that led them by day and the pillar of fire to light up their night. And all along the way, the Lord provided for them. He fed them with manna. He protected them against the many perils of their journey. Still, their courage failed them frequently. They became disheartened and put God to the test. Why this change of heart toward God? Why did they begin to question God’s wisdom, mistrust His guidance, and discourage one another? Why did they become despondent and test God?

Why do we do the same? We, too, are God’s people. By the grace of God, we are making our journey from this earthly home, which seems so often like a kind of bondage, to our eternal home. God is gracious to us for the sake of Jesus. He daily and richly forgives all our sins; He guides and protects us and provides for us. In many perils, even some we don’t recognize as perils, He graciously preserves us. Through His holy Word and blessed Sacraments, He preserves and strengthens our faith. As we weekly gather here where His Word is proclaimed and taught to us, we also pray for grace and for guidance. As the Small Catechism says, “For all this…we thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”

But at the same time, there is no day in our journey to heaven in which we are not confronted with the danger of testing God. There is no experience in life—no joy or sorrow, no success or failure—that does not lead us to put God to the test. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh frequently entice us to test God. However disguised and clever the sin of testing God may be, however timid or bold it may be, however learned and courageous it may even appear to be, its consequences bring only ruin. The result described in our text is as certain as it is sudden.

The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” This response of God reminds us of the words of the apostle Paul: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked.” It clearly shows that God is jealous and protective of His honor, and that this unusual way of dealing with the sin of testing Him is to be a warning, even to the end of days. But God, who warns us in His Word against testing Him, also graciously provides the necessary tools against testing Him. We can and should use these tools daily.

The people of Israel said to Moses: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you.” The children of Israel repented of their sins. True repentance is a tool in our struggle against testing God. When we sincerely repent of the sin of testing God and seek His mercy and forgiveness—which He gladly and freely gives—there is also the implication that we intend to amend our sinful lives, to carefully watch over our hearts in regard to this sin. Repentance is responding to the pleading of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God. It must not simply be put off.

Again, our text says: “And Moses prayed for his people.” Moses did this at the urging of those people that he pray to the Lord to remove the serpents. As He anticipated their need, God had told Moses to make a fiery serpent and lift it up on a pole, and promised healing and life to all that were bitten if they would but look at the uplifted serpent. Prayer is another tool in our struggle against the sin of testing God. In our prayers, we ask God for help and strength. In times of severe affliction or trouble, we ask Him for a special measure of His grace. And we also pray for others, knowing that others, too, are in danger of testing God.

Just as Moses’ proclamation to Israel was to look to the serpent on the pole and receive healing, so too we are to look up in faith to the Christ lifted up on the cross. Faith is the only way to lay hold of the blessings of our Lord’s work of salvation: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Faith grabs hold of these promises as a blessed possession. Faith in God’s mercy was what Israel needed then; it is what we need now so that we may have the peace and the strength to resist the sin of testing God.

In our present age, the mockery of things holy and righteous, the ridicule of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, reaches new heights almost daily, it seems. And it is fearfully easy to succumb to the feeling that God is abandoning His world, and us, as well. Resisting the sin of testing God is, therefore, increasingly more difficult. The only answer, the only hope that we have, is to look to Jesus, to behold again what He has done to redeem us from sin and death, to know that the only way to resist the sin of testing God is to acknowledge that sin. Our only hope is to receive again the forgiveness Jesus has provided through His cross and His glorious resurrection. Thanks be to God for this priceless gift! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

HYMN: The World Is Full of Torments


As I said, I’ve drafted two texts for the Easter Vigil project while I’ve been on vacation. I head back to Faith and the kids tomorrow, so I’ll get the second one posted before I go. 

I’ve worried about what I’m going to do with the Job 19 text in the Vigil for a while. I mean, one doesn’t just rewrite “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” Some texts are just too iconic to mess with. So I didn’t try. I went for a nail-on-the-head paraphrase of Job 19. I’ll leave it to my readers to determine if they think I’ve succeeded. As always, feedback is love.


The World Is Full of Torments

1. The world is full of torments.
My allies seek my shame.
The hand of God has touched me;
My flesh sticks to my frame.
Have mercy! Oh, have mercy!
From sorrow do I flee.
Like God, their words pursue me;
Why do they follow me?

2. Pay heed to my confession.
With confidence I cry:
He lives, my great Redeemer!
And even when I die,
I know that I shall see Him.
Yes, I myself shall see!
On earth He will be standing.
How yearns my heart in me!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

HYMN: The Evil Seek the Downfall


At the urging of my wife—and because I really needed it and needed to do it—I’ve taken some vacation time and have returned to my childhood home to spend time with my mom. Between my father’s death in February and my father-in-law’s death this past August, it had been about a year since I’d taken a real vacation. So Faith sent me off on my own, and I’ve enjoyed my time back in Western New York so far, hanging out with Mom, spending time with friends, and enjoying not having to think very hard for a few days.

I’ve also been somewhat productive. I won’t be posting a sermon this week, but I’ve drafted another two hymn texts for the Easter Vigil project. I’m not quite ready to debut the second one, but the first is one I’ve been working on since the Southern Illinois District Convention in February, where I wrote the first verse. Life happened, and so the progress stopped for a while. Then I wrote the second verse during the Southern Illinois District Pastors Conference (funny how that works!), and I thought maybe it would work better as a short stand-alone hymn text instead of part of the Vigil project  Then I decided that it needed more than just the two verses (even if I divided the two verses into four verses), and I reverted back to the original idea, a hymn based on the Daniel 3 text in the Easter Vigil. If you look at verses 1 and 10, you can probably see what made me think they might stand along as a text, especially considering the virulent protests for the right to murder infants in the womb after the leak of the Supreme Court document which could undo Roe v. Wade. And with events like the supermarket shooting in Buffalo yesterday, we see evil manifested clearly in the acts of sinful mankind. 

Because this is a project I’m working on with another writer, I haven’t done anything about tunes yet. That’s something that can be worked on when the texts are all completed. Anyway, here it is. Feedback is love.

The Evil Seek the Downfall

1. The evil seek the downfall 
Of all who will not kneel 
Before the golden idols
Of silicon and steel.
Man’s sin-perverted reason 
Confuses wrong from right. 
God’s children must be faithful 
To walk within the light. 

2. The king produced an idol,
An image formed of gold.
He ordered his officials
This idol to behold.
The king said, ”O my peoples,
Bow down at my command
And praise the golden image
Commissioned by my hand.”

3. The people knelt in worship.
But three did not pay heed.
Three Jews refused the order
The king himself decreed.
Chaldeans then came forward.
“O king,” they said with zeal, 
“These Jews refused to listen.
These men refused to kneel.”

4. The king called out with fury,
“Young men, now answer me.
You saw my god, all golden;
Did you not bend the knee?
What other god could save you?”
The king commanded, stern:
“Now kneel before my idol,
Or you will surely burn.”

5. “O king,” the young men answered,
“Our God is strong to save. 
The flames will not consume us.
We shall not face the grave.
Our God will guard and keep us;
His might He shall reveal. 
We will not bow to idols.
O king, we will not kneel.”

6. The king became indignant. 
The men he ordered tied. 
The soldiers stoked the furnace
And threw the men inside.
Those soldiers died in torment,
By heat and flame were doomed;
The Jews, instead of burning,
By grace were not consumed. 

7. The king was thus astonished.
“Did we condemn just three?
Behold the great inferno:
Now four men do I see.
The flames have failed to harm them. 
What is this awesome sign? 
My people, see this wonder:
The fourth man looks divine!

8. “Come forth, young men, I pray you,
Who serve the Lord Most High.”
The governors, the prefects
And council gathered by.
They saw, unburnt, the clothing.
They smelled no smoke or flame.
The hair, not singed, bore witness
Unto the young men’s claim.

9. “My people, hear my order. 
Pay heed to my decree:
The Jews in flesh gave service
To God most faithfully.
The Lord has sent His angel
To spare them from the rod.
 Give honor to their master; 
Blest be their mighty God.”

10. The day is surely coming 
When truth will be a crime. 
The Gospel, still a scandal, 
Remains our light sublime.
God grant that we be faithful 
To face the fiery test,
To stand in bold confession 
When faith is sore oppressed.