Sunday, June 09, 2024

Sermon for 6/9/24: Third Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 5b)


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the service video.

The Stronger Man
Mark 3:20-35

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

 

It was early in our Lord’s public ministry. He had been traveling from place to place, proclaiming the Gospel, and miraculous signs accompanied His teaching. The news about Him had gone before Him, and He had become quite popular. But with popularity came criticism. The religious powers sent their representatives to keep an eye on Jesus. They wanted to know if He was going to be a problem. It didn’t take long for them to figure out that Jesus wasn’t their ally. Last week we heard that the Pharisees held counsel with the Herodians, seeking to destroy Him.

Today it’s the scribes who opposed Jesus. They claimed, “He is possessed by Beelzebul;” “by the prince of demons He casts out the demons.” The miracles of Jesus are so public, so well known, that His enemies cannot deny them. Instead, they try to discredit these wonders. They accuse Jesus of working His miracles in league with demons. They claim that Jesus is able to cast out demons because He Himself is demon possessed. But their accusations make no sense. Demons are surely evil, but they are not stupid. Why would they fight against themselves? Jesus said as much: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.”

Jesus went on to teach about what it takes to defeat Satan. “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” Satan is, indeed, very strong. Only the One who is stronger than Satan can plunder Satan’s household and rescue those held captive by him and his demons. That One is Jesus.

The plundering of Satan’s stronghold is important to each of us. As we hear in the rite of Holy Baptism: “The Word of God teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.” Sinners by nature belong to Satan. But the rite goes on: “But the Father of all mercy and grace has sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sin of the whole world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus Himself is the stronger One who binds Satan and delivers us from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.

But how were we already under God’s condemnation even at conception? This morning we heard about Adam and Eve, about the results of their fall into sin. In tempting Eve to doubt God’s Word, Satan made sin look pleasurable. And then after the sin, he had laid on the burden of guilt. Adam and Eve now saw God differently. Before, God had been their beloved Creator. Now, He was the terrifying Judge. Adam and Eve had not merely cursed themselves with their sin; they had cursed all of creation.

Nevertheless, even as God announced the result of sin on the serpent, He also announced the hope of salvation. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” With these words, God promised a Savior: a strong Man who would bind Satan and free us from our captivity. This promise of the head-crushing Seed was passed on from generation to generation: from Adam and Eve to Seth, down through the generations for thousands of years. And when the time was exactly right, God kept His promise by taking on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the One who bruised the serpent’s head, a prophecy our Savior fulfilled on the cross. It seemed that Satan had the victory. When Jesus died, it appeared that the tempter had defeated the promised Seed. But then Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He won the victory, that He has crushed Satan forever. Jesus is the stronger Man who binds Satan in order to set us free. Jesus now plunders Satan’s stronghold in order to carry off those who belonged to God the first place, His own creatures. These sinners—you and me and all people of all times and places—He once again claims us as His own.

Sadly, there are slaves in the house of Satan who do not want to leave. They reject our Lord’s gift of eternal freedom. When Jesus binds Satan and offers to carry them to safety and freedom, they turn away from Him. For reasons that we cannot understand, they reject the work of the Holy Spirit. They reject the forgiveness that Jesus won for them. Some people wonder, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” But that’s the wrong question. The question should be, “Why would anyone reject God’s gift of eternal life? Why would anyone choose eternity in hell rather than eternity with a God who loves them?” The Bible does not tell us why some people reject God’s love, why some people reject God’s forgiveness, why some people choose eternal death when the Holy Spirit wants to give them eternal life.

But that condemnation is not for you. When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He bound Satan for you. Now He plunders Satan’s stronghold in order to free you, to release all those who were enslaved to sin. He sends the Holy Spirit to work faith and to give you the forgiveness of sins. With the forgiveness of sins comes salvation and eternal life. You are redeemed! You belong to God in Christ. Our Lord Jesus has conquered Satan, and He freely shares His victory with 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.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Sermon for 5/19/21: The Feast of Pentecost (series B)


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

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The Miracle of Hearing
Acts 2:1-21

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

“I have spoken; I will do it,” says the Lord. What a wonderful promise from the Lord. It points us to the Gospel text, where our Lord promises that He will send the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. And that promise leads us to Pentecost. Pentecost was accompanied by marvelous signs: the sound from heaven like a powerful wind; the tongues of fire that came to rest on the apostles; and, of course, the apostles speaking the languages of the world as the Holy Spirit gave that ability. Those signs were the indication that God was at work. Too often, however, the signs have gathered more attention than the thing to which they were pointing: the Word of God spoken and heard. Jesus often told His disciples to not speak of the signs they had seen Him do. Jesus didn’t want people to come to Him merely because of signs, but by the Word to which those signs pointed. This is the heart of Pentecost: the Word is meant to be heard and believed. The great miracle in all of this is the miracle of hearing, because it is hearing that receives saving faith.

Apart from receiving the Ten Commandments, what we likely remember most about Moses is signs God worked through him in Egypt, the plagues that eventually moved Pharaoh to let Israel go. But those signs pointed to the Word which Moses was given by God to speak. When God called Moses from the burning bush and told Him to go to Egypt, He gave Moses this promise: “I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you shall say.” The all-important thing was what Moses would say to the people and what they would hear. The signs that accompanied the Word could only bear witness to the judgment God would bring to bear on Egypt. It was the Word that would bear the promise of God to save and care for His people. Yes, signs and wonders were often part of prophetic work, but the signs did not save Israel. The signs confirmed the prophetic Word. God’s Word was to be heard, and from the Word comes life and salvation. Pentecost gathers all of this together. The marvelous signs were surely there. But they were there to bear witness to the message of salvation. The real miracle of Pentecost is that the people heard the Word.

Ever since that first Pentecost, many have tried to claim that salvation is something of their own doing. Even some who heard the Gospel preached in their own language that day sought an answer apart from the work of God: they claimed the disciples were drunk. But Peter’s sermon turned away any such explanation. He boldly proclaimed that everything that had been done to Jesus, all that He had endured, was God’s doing, and all of it done for the salvation of the world. And when Peter’s sermon was ended, many were so moved by his words that they asked in desperation what could be done. Peter answered: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It was all due to hearing the Word of God.

The miracle of salvation is that it is God who speaks; it is God who makes us able to hear; it is God who saves us. The signs and wonders only confirm that it is God who speaks and saves! You may remember these words from Luther: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel...” The miracle of Pentecost, the miracle of hearing, is that it is God who speaks and saves. It is God who offered up His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It is God who sent His Holy Spirit to preach this Word through men so that those who hear would be saved from sin, death, and hell.

This miracle of hearing continues even today. Immediately after Peter urged those believers to be baptized, Luke tells us: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The miracle of hearing continues today in the Church’s worship: in the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, in the faithful administration of the Sacraments, and in the prayers of the Church.

If you carefully examine the Acts of the Apostles, the growth of the Church was always initiated and fed by worship and prayer, a work always ascribed to the Holy Spirit, and never merely to the efforts of men. “I planted,” St. Paul says, “Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” We can’t know how or when God will make a congregation grow, but you can be sure that, without faithful preaching and hearing of the Word, a congregation will die in sin, even if it grows in numbers. If we believe that God answers prayer, then we can surely trust that He will provide opportunities to hear His Word. He will surely provide opportunities to confess Jesus and His saving Word in our various callings in life. Whether it is in our families, among friends, in the workplace—wherever it might be, God has placed us there so that the miracle of hearing the Word would occur. He will give you chances to “...give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in you.”

God will continue to bless His Word as it enters our ears. God will continue to bless His Word as He speaks forgiveness to us and as He feeds it to us in Christ’s body and blood for the remission of sins. His Word will not return to Him empty; it will do exactly what He sends it to do. This is truly a miraculous Word: a Word to lead us from the death and despair of this world to life and salvation in the world to come. “I have spoken; I will do it,” says the Lord. Indeed, He has spoken; truly He has done it. 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 12, 2024

Sermon for 5/12/24: Ascension of Our Lord (observed) (series B)


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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. It seems 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 that day expected Jesus to be taken from them suddenly?

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 true understanding of what Jesus had in store for them or 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 “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?

And 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, through programs and pamphlets and schemes, convincing ourselves that numerical 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...” And we, like those disciples, “worship Him with great joy, continually being in the temple, blessing God.” Here, gathered together, gathered in the presence of God, 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 05, 2024

Sermon for 5/5/24: Sixth Sunday of Easter (series B)


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the service video.

True Love in Obedience

John 15:9-17

 

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

 

 

Is there any word more misused and more confused than the word “love?” “Love” is used to describe everything from promiscuous bed-hopping, to those first emotional stirrings in the adolescent heart, to the same sex relationships which Scripture describe as abomination. And what often characterizes this “love” is that it is selfish and self-centered; it is more interested in what it can get than in what it will give.

There is, however, no confusion about how Jesus defines love. To love is to keep the commandments of God. Jesus showed His love for the heavenly Father by keeping His commandments, and His disciples will show their love for Him by doing the same: especially by keeping the commandment to love one another. Love is obedient action: taking responsibility for the way you care for others. You may have heard love defined this way: “Love means never having to say you are sorry.” This displays the worldly attitude that love is all about me. But true love is all about others.

There is some confusion, even among Christians, about where we can find the strength and power to love one another in this way. Genuine love is not something we can stir up in our minds or emotions. It is, like grace, a gift of God, a gift that first comes to us that we might also love one another. Of course, God is love. It is not just that God loves; He is love. Love is His nature, and everything He says and does is an expression of that nature.

The world teaches that anything done in the name of love is okay—even things God, who Himself is love, calls sin. Love is never free to do what it pleases. Love means obedience; it means commitment. And here, in the love of the Son for the Father, is perfect love. The commandment of the Father to the Son is found in these words of Jesus: “I know that His commandment is eternal life...” The commandment of the Father to His Son meant humiliation and the cross; it meant affliction and suffering; it meant physical and emotional pain beyond anything we can understand. This love had a terrible price, but the obedient love of Christ means salvation for us all.

And now, the love that the Son has for His Father is turned toward His disciples. To them Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus, of course, lives this greater love. He is the One who determines how the relationship between them will go. The disciples did not and could not choose Him; He chose them. This relationship to Him was one of pure grace; without Him they could do nothing. And yet, He calls them friends. By calling His disciples “friends,” Jesus does not remove that distinction between them. He is still their Master, and they His disciples. He simply means that He is prepared to favor them with His gifts of grace, to which they are to remain faithful. And then He does what no one would reasonably expect the Son of God to do: He chooses to serve them rather than be served by them. There is no greater or finer love than this: Jesus lays down His life for them.

We said earlier that love is obedient action; it is taking responsibility for the way you care for others. And that is just what Jesus did. He purposely and deliberately laid down His life and then, just as purposely and deliberately, took up His life again in the resurrection, all for the sake of redeeming His world. Jesus serves those who, under all normal circumstances, should be serving Him. He serves them—and us—with the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, with joy and hope, with peace and certainty. And through this service to us, His friends, He makes us able to faithfully love Him and our friends.

How will we love the Master and the “friends” He has given us to love? We will do so by abiding in His love. To do that, we need to acknowledge our need for that love and then acknowledge that Jesus has met this need for us. There is no greater love than what He has done for us: giving His life for those who should rightly give our lives for Him. That is a love of such compelling power that it draws us deeper and deeper into its joy and peace.

Where is the fruit of this love to be found? It is found in the gifts of life and salvation Jesus has given to His Church. It is found in the Word of the Gospel that is preached through our ears and into our hearts, creating and sustaining faith in Jesus Christ. It is found in the water and Word of Holy Baptism and its cleansing from sin and death. It is found in the Word of Holy Absolution that answers our repentance with the promise of the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation. It is found, as it will be offered and received again this day, in the holy body and blood of our Savior, served by Him in His Holy Supper for the remission of our sins.

Fed with this love from God to us, we can, and truly will, love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And then will come to pass the words of the Savior: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” 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.   

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

HYMN: As Incense Let My Prayer Before You Rise


Once again I find myself being productive at an official Synodical event, this time the Spring Professional Church Workers’ Conference of the Iowa East District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Our presenter, the Reverend Mark Braden of Zion Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan, has been a compelling speaker on the divine liturgy. Nevertheless, a hymn text idea popped into my head, and it wouldn’t leave me alone. 

After completing the Phos Hilaron text, my mind moved on to the Psalm 141:1-4, 8 canticle in the Evening Prayer service. I will need a new tune for this text, though my brain already has a sort of a tune idea going. Anyway, here it is. Feedback is love.


As Incense Let My Prayer Before You Rise


(Refrain) As incense let my prayer before You rise,

Hands lifted as the evening sacrifice.


1. I call to You, O Lord; make haste to me!

Give ear unto my voice and hear my plea,

Oh, set a guard before my mouth, O Lord,

And keep upon my lips Your holy Word. (Refrain)


2. Keep me from evil deeds and guide my heart,

And from the wicked set Your child apart.

My eyes, O Lord my God, to You are turned.

I seek Your refuge; let me not be spurned. (Refrain)



10 10 10 10 Refrain

Working on a tune

Psalm 141; Evening Prayer; liturgical canticle


Monday, April 29, 2024

HYMN: O Glory of the Father’s Light


One of my favorite liturgies in Lutheran Service Book is the service of Evening Prayer (p.243 in LSB). I don’t think I really discovered it until seminary. I might have heard it in the college chapel at some point, though we didn’t have regular evening services at Bronxville. It’s a beautiful liturgy, beginning with what is called the Service of Light. In my practice, I walk down the aisle, carrying a lit candle, as the congregation and I chant responsively:

Leader: Jesus Christ is the Light of the world,
Congregation: The light no darkness can overcome.
L: Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening,
C: And the day is almost over.
L: Let Your light scatter the darkness
C: And illumine Your Church.

And then, once the lit candle is placed before the altar, we chant a beautiful canticle called the Phos Hilaron, perhaps the oldest song sung by the Church which does not appear in the Bible. It’s a beautiful text:

L: Joyous light of glory
C: Of the immortal Father,
Heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ,
We have come to the setting of the Sun
And we look to the evening light.
We sing to God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy of being praised with pure voices forever.
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
The universe proclaims your glory.

If you get the chance to see this service in person, do so. Here is a link to the Evening Prayer service as it appeared at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Marion, Iowa. There are some differences from what is in the hymnal, and you can’t see the whole of the candlelit procession, but you’ll get the idea.

It is a great desire of mine to write a hymn text for the many canticles contained in LSB. I’ve done a few, but I had not yet gotten to the Phos Hilaron. That has now changed. I don’t think it will ever replace the beautiful setting in Evening Prayer—it certainly won’t for me—but I certainly wasn’t going to pass up making the attempt. As always, feedback is love.


O Glory of the Father’s Light


O glory of the Father’s light

Eternal, joyous, holy, bright:

O holy Jesus, radiant Son,

The sun is set and day is done.


The light of evening now we see.

bless├Ęd holy Trinity,

Your praise we sing, for praise is due,

Dear Father, Son, and Ghost to You.


Lord Jesus Christ, our Life, our Light,

As we progress from day to night, 

We sing, O Lord, with cheerful voice,

And in your glory we rejoice.



LM (88 88)

O HEILIGE DRESFALTIGKEIT (LSB 876)

Evening (Phos Hilaron), Liturgical Music


Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sermon for 4/21/24: Fourth Sunday of Easter (series B)


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the service video.

Hear and Follow

John 10:11-18

 

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

 

 

On this side of glory, our faith lives alongside of doubt. The devil doesn’t need to plant it in us. He just needs to water it. Jesus says, “My sheep know My voice. They follow Me.” But it doesn’t take much to get us thinking: “Do I really know His voice? Am I really following Him?” Doubt wants proof. How much have we done? Can we be recognized in this world by our love? The truth is, we can’t. Sinners that we are, we have blended all too well into the ways of the world. After all, it seems much easier to get forgiveness from a seemingly distant God rather than deal with the mockery and hatred of the world around you. You have not been good enough. Your life does not show your faith so much as it shows your sin. So repent. Turn away from your sin.

Yes, repent…but then tell doubt and the devil to shut up. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays downs His life for His sheep. He has met His Father’s wrath. He pays for your sins, your doubts. There is no one left to accuse you. You are righteous because Jesus has declared you to be so. He has substituted His life for yours. He has risen from the dead for your justification. He is the Good Shepherd. He didn’t only defeat death by His death; He also rose again to usher you into the green pastures of heaven, to bring you home. He loves you. You know His voice. You hear it now. You love it.

It seems strange to us, but doubt is actually evidence of faith. Your doubts are the pinpricks of conscience. As your faith in Christ grows, you become ever more aware of your sins and the weakness of your faith. Doubt is evidence that the state of your soul means something to you. Doubt is evidence that you are engaging the enemy inside yourself. If you were not engaging the enemy, you would not care. You would feel no worry about it.

If this is a hard word for lay people to hear, it is torture for pastors. No faithful pastor in Christendom can hear our Lord’s words about hirelings and not squirm. Every faithful pastor knows he does not live up to his own preaching. Every pastor has counted the cost. Every pastor has considered how we might package the message to be successful and make the people like us. The spirit indeed is willing. But the flesh? The flesh knows who writes the checks, and the pastor likes to be able to feed his family. As a pastor who has been forced to leave a congregation, I can tell you that it can be a challenge for me to say the things that are hard for you to hear; even so, that is what I am Called to do—both by God, and by you. It is no easy task, and it is only by the grace of God that any sinful man can serve in this overwhelming office.

But of course, this doesn’t hard saying apply only to the clergy. You have all stood up here at the front of the sanctuary and have made promises you haven’t kept. You have promised to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the one true faith. Imagine that! You’ve made huge, impossible promises at Confirmation, at your weddings, at the baptism of your children. This hireling bit applies in the first place to pastors, to be sure, but it doesn’t stop there. When the wolf comes, baring his teeth at terrified sheep, the hirelings also run away from their wives, children, and neighbors, and the Church. It’s not just the pastors who squirm at these hard words.

But when we recognize that our faith is challenged and tested; when we recognize that Satan is seeking to devour us like the sheep we are; when we recognize that we have failed to live and believe as we should; it is especially then that we cling to the powerful grace of God. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. The promises of God are not dependent on perfect sheep, but a Good Shepherd who is faithful, a Good Shepherd who has made a promise that cannot and will not be broken, a Good Shepherd who cleanses you in Himself. Nothing can separate you from the love of God—not your sins, your failures, your imperfect faith, your broken vows, nor even your doubts. He has placed His promise upon you, baptizing you into His Name, placing that name on your forehead and your heart. He would have you be part of His flock. Death has no claim upon you. Hell has no way to hold you. You are His sheep, clean and pure by grace. He loves you. He laid down His life you. He comes to you in His Holy Supper. He feeds you with Bread from heaven in His very Body; He washes you anew in His Blood, which He pours out for you.

You are His sheep. You hear His Voice. You love it. You love Him. You desire to be with Him. Even in the midst of your doubts, amidst your struggles against the fallen flesh, you love Jesus. You rejoice in this forgiveness because you know your Shepherd and He knows you. That is why you are here. You are His sheep. And you need fear no evil, for He is Your Good Shepherd. 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.   

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sermon for 4/14/24: The Third Sunday of Easter (series B)


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the service video.

Believe with Your Ears, Confess with Your Lips
Luke 24:36-49

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

Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures: how He Himself was the fulfillment of everything written in the Law and the Prophets; how He must suffer and die, and then He must rise again, so that the forgiveness He died and rose to win would be proclaimed to all nations. And then He told the disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.” To be a witness is a big deal. It’s a big deal because you had to be where something happened to be a witness. You had to see and hear the event for yourself. Only then can you reliably testify about what happened, about what you saw and heard. A witness doesn’t have second-hand information; in fact, a court of law will not accept second-hand information, because a witness sees for himself, and he testifies about what he has seen and heard. Only then may all who hear him know what truly happened. That’s also how it works when it comes to the Truth about Jesus. The Holy Spirit inspired the men who saw with their own eyes the life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to share with the world what they had heard and seen.

The truth is, you have not received the charge from Jesus to be a witness of what He did and taught. You can’t be a witness; you weren’t there. You didn’t see Jesus with your own eyes or hear Him with your own ears as He taught in the Temple, as He shone on the mountain, as He hung on the cross. You can only receive from the apostles what they saw and heard. With that being said, while you have not witnessed with your own eyes the events in the Holy Land 2000 years ago, you are no less blessed than those who did witness these events, for you are blessed to receive their eyewitness accounts. In fact, as Jesus reminded us last week, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus attaches a special blessing to faith without sight.

One special blessing you have received because you believe without being an eyewitness is that our Lord has made you a confessor. The Truth which the disciples heard directly from the mouth of Jesus, you have heard it from them; now you repeat what you have heard. You make a confession of the Truth. You confess what you believe on the basis of eyewitness testimony. This is what we will do here in the Creed this morning. Everything our Savior taught the disciples; everything the disciples have passed on to the Church from what they have heard and seen; we, the people of God, His Church, are privileged to confess all of it. We confess with first-century Christians who were martyred in the Coliseum; we confess with St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Athanasius—and a whole bunch of other saints whose name don’t begin with the letter A; we confess with Martin Luther; we confess with CFW Walther; we confess with all the people who have been members of St. Paul’s over its 100-year history; we confess with all the Christians of all times and places. We confess that Jesus is Lord. We confess that our Lord Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. We confess that He suffered the wrath of God which we deserve in our sin. We confess that He died our death. We confess that He rose from the dead on the third day. We confess that He ascended to sit at the Father’s right hand. We confess that He is coming again. We stand where God has placed us; we stand before the world; we spit in the face of Satan himself and confess the Truth as we have received it. “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me!”

As important as it is for us to receive the testimony of faithful witnesses, it’s just as important to confess faithfully what we have received. We confess because people need to hear the message of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. That was true in the days after Jesus rose, and it is still true today. You don’t come to the Divine Service to fulfill some obligation to God. You don’t even come to praise God, although that is certainly a fruit of what happens here. You come because you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, in need of nourishment for your faith. You come to church to hear the message of life and peace in Christ. You come because you need that message as desperately as you need air to breathe. And so do your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your world. Have you shared the message with them? How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

 

The question is often asked: “How will the Church grow?” That certainly ought to concern us all. But there are no fancy tricks, no nifty advertising that will do that job. Leave the slick marketing to the world. In order for the Church to grow, the Church must be centered in Jesus Christ and the good news of forgiveness, life, and salvation. So if you believe that Jesus is your only true source of hope in this life of heartache and pain, you cannot help but tell others about Him. You confess the Truth as you have received it. And once you confess the Truth, then you, too, can be a witness. You can tell everyone about the hope that is within you because of how Jesus has worked in your life. You can tell your friends that Jesus has forgiven your sins. You can tell your neighbors that Jesus has made you His own child in the waters of Holy Baptism. You can tell the world that Jesus is present with you as you deal with the heartaches and tragedies of your life. You can tell them all that Jesus has come to dwell in you by feeding you with His own body and blood. As you receive His holy Supper, He will lead you to remember with joy and gratitude everything He has done for you. This is what will overcome all doubt and fear so that you can open your lips to confess His name and sing His praise, no matter what the world throws at you.

You don’t see Jesus in front of you like those disciples. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s a blessing, because it means you don’t have to see to believe. You can trust that, wherever the Word of God is preached and His Sacraments are given out, He is surely there. He is right here, right now, in our midst; He comes to give you life and hope and peace. Believe this, and then confess it: for the sake of His holy name, for your sake, and for the sake of all who need to hear this wonderful good news. 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.   

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Sermon for 3/31/24: The Resurrection of Our Lord (series B)


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the service video.

Looking for Jesus

Mark 16:1-8

 

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

 

 

Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. The young man in the white robe told the ladies at the grave the Good News! Death is defeated; Jesus is alive. Yes, He was crucified for sinners. But it would all have been for nothing if He hadn’t risen from the dead! The Apostle Paul tells us, If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.Jesus is alive! His resurrection means that He really did pay for your sins. It is true that “the wages of sin is death.” Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died because He had your sins on His shoulders. Now He is alive. Your sins are gone, left buried in the tomb. Jesus has accomplished your salvation. He paid the price for your sins. He has defeated death. Jesus, who was crucified, is risen. You won’t find Him in the grave. He is alive forevermore.

“Go and tell His disciples and Peter”—yes, tell Peter, who of all the disciples especially needs to hear this Good News—”that [Jesus] is going to Galilee and they will see Him there, just as He said.” What about you? Where are you looking for Jesus? Where shall you find Him? Look no further. He is right here, present in His church. Don’t go looking in His empty tomb. Don’t go looking in the Holy Land. Instead, look in the places where He has promised to be. Look here at the font, where His water and Word washes sinners, making us spotless, covering us with the sparkling robe of His own perfect righteousness. Listen for His voice in the Word of Holy Absolution and the preaching of your pastors. See Him raised from the dead in His own body and blood, given and shed for you to eat and drink at His holy altar. Right here, in His Church, “where two or three are gathered in His name,” Jesus is present. And right here—present in His Church: present in the preaching of His Word; present in water, bread, and wine combined with His Word—He is delivering His forgiveness for all your sins. He is giving you His victory over sin and death.

So the angel tells the women to go tell the disciples. They run off and do it, right? Not quite. St. Mark says they were frightened and didn’t tell anyone because they were afraid. Oh, sure, later it all came out. But right away, they were still overcome by fear. That’s us. Today we just heard that Jesus is alive! He was dead and now He’s risen. So what? Do we go back to business as usual? Do we go back to arguing with and hating others? Do we go back to cursing the government and those the Lord has given to keep us safe? Do we go back to lusting and fornication and coveting and stealing? Do we go back to doing the things we do as if Jesus isn’t alive at all? The greatest triumph the world has seen, and we will yawn and go our merry way, with the same sins at work in us. Jesus rose from the dead. Does that mean anything? Does it make a difference? Or do we do what we’ve always done? A Lutheran pastor named Ken Korby once wrote, Nobody is going to go to hell because of his sin. Nobody. Those who are in hell—God have mercy that none of us is there—will be there because they don’t believe the Lamb. Simple as that. And it’s hard to go to hell, because you have to get over the dead body of God’s Son to get there. So repent! Repent of living as if the stone still holds the grave closed. Repent of living as if Jesus was still dead!

St. Paul calls us to eat “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” That’s why you are here today: to be purged of your old leaven of sin and to have new life. That’s exactly what your Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper give you. Your Baptism has raised you from the death of sin, and you are a new creation. You hear your pastor say with our Lord’s command, “I forgive you all your sins,” and you are returned to your Baptism, your sins taken away, removed from you as far as East is from West. In the Holy Supper, the very body and blood of Christ casts out from you all that is sinful and selfish, and you are fed and nourished in the faith. Christ’s body and blood are the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Your sins, whatever they are, are buried in that tomb forever. There is no need to go and drag them back out! In His death and resurrection, Jesus has taken care of them once and for all.

The Good News, which eventually overcame the women’s fear and sent them shouting what they had heard, is the same Good News by which the Spirit works in you to love God and your neighbor. Your sins have been put away by our Lord’s death. They were buried with Him, and only Jesus came out of the tomb. Our Lord Jesus Christ is alive! Your sins are done and gone. And Jesus, who has defeated death, promises that sin and death have been defeated for you forever. 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.