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Thanksgiving Eve: November 23, 2006 – “Be Thankful”

Text: Philippians 4:6-20

Be Thankful

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our sermon this evening is the Epistle which was just read.

            Tonight is Thanksgiving Eve.  In approximately 12 hours or less, Tom Turkey will be making his entry to the oven.  The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year.  Everyone will be out at the wee hours of the morning trying to get the best deal on all the items on their Christmas list.  But what does all of that have to do with our text for this evening?  Absolutely nothing!  In Paul’s day, they didn’t have Thanksgiving as we have it.  But he does write something to the church at Philippi that could be seen as his way of giving thanks.

            Paul had a special bond with the congregation in Philippi.  His letter to them is filled with joy.  Paul had not written because there were major problems in the congregation.  Rather, he wrote to encourage them in their faith—not to be discouraged by his chains, to show Christ’s humility to one another, to receive Epaphroditus back with honor, to place no confidence in their own works but to cling to the Savior and His gift of eternal life. 

            Two verses earlier in verse four, Paul gives us these words.  Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!  At the seminary, there is a beloved professor who teaches New Testament classes.  When he gets to Philippians 4, he tells us that we need to continually rejoice in the Lord, and if we don’t, we should pack our bags and leave the seminary.  After that class, he would always walk into the classroom and before he could remove his coat and hat, he would ask us if we were rejoicing in the Lord.  Our answer would always be yes, but were we really rejoicing in the Lord?  Do you always rejoice in the Lord?  Do you give thanks when your car dies in the middle of the road or when your power goes out in a storm?  Of course not!  And why is that?  It’s because of our sinful nature.  The “Old Adam” in us keeps popping up and causing us to be human, to be sinful.  Our sin keeps us from rejoicing in the Lord, regardless of what it is that we have or do not have.  But through Christ, we can be thankful and we can rejoice in the Lord.  

            The advice he gives to the Philippians then is just as valid to us.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Christians are never to worry about a single thing.  Unless we can constantly get rid of our worries before they worry us, joy would cease, and that noble, gracious yieldingness would disappear.  We are to pray and not to shrink from petitioning and to let the actual things asked for be always made known to God.  Then no worry will ever be able to arise.  In what better hands can any trouble of ours rest than in God’s hands?

            It is hard to be anxious when you’re thanking God.  If we review all of the blessings which God has already given us, both physical and spiritual, the evidence is overwhelming that our God loves us and is able to care for us.  Even the poorest believer has riches in heaven because of our Savior, forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross for all of mankind.  The grace of free forgiveness is enough proof that our future is in good hands?  So why worry?

            Ultimately, God’s forgiveness is what drives away our worry by giving us peace.  Is it a wonder why when the sermon is over, you almost always hear Paul’s words: “And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  They are words of assurance for us that God has given us His peace and that by that peace, we have received the free gift of God through His Son, Jesus Christ: forgiveness. 

            Where does true peace come from?  Does it come from us?  Our military?  We cannot produce peace with God or peace with ourselves.  True peace is God’s work and God’s gift to us.  With hands and hearts and minds centered on what is excellent and praiseworthy, all done by the power of the Spirit living in us, the God of peace will be with us, filling us with peace.

            In looking at this text, verses 11-13 stick out as a prime example of what we should be saying, regardless of the circumstances. 

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

            Did you hear what Paul just said?  Paul is saying he is lacking something, but that’s ok because he can live with that.  He’s been in need and he’s had it all.  Regardless of the situation, Paul is content with what he has.  The same goes for us today.  We’re content because we have a loving Savior who promises to take care of all our needs, not because we’re helpless to change our situation.

            A popular song from several years ago has a line in it that says, “it’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you got.”  How true is that!  I’ll give you an example.  At the seminary, the food wasn’t the greatest but it wasn’t the worst.  There was always something to eat.  You may not like what is served, but at least there was food.  What about the person who will be sitting at the Salvation Army tomorrow trying to warm themself up while eating some turkey that someone donated?  Do you think that person will complain because they got dark meat instead of light meat or that they ran out of gravy for the mashed potatoes?  They will be happy that they have something to eat.

            We’re not always happy that we’re in the situations that we’re in or liking the idea of eating Easy-Mac several nights a week until the next paycheck comes but we make due.  And why do we make due?  I can do all things through him who gives me strength.  You see, God never gives us anything that we cannot handle.  He will bring us right up to that line and push us to our limit, but will never push us over that line.  Paul has learned and has taught us that whether he has more than he needs or goes hungry, his God will care for him by giving him strength to do all things. 

            It is interesting that Paul says he “learned” how to be content.  Contentment is not an attitude we’re born with.  It is a lesson we learn, as the Holy Spirit works trust in our hearts through the Means of Grace.  Our society is growing more and more materialistic and dissatisfied with its possessions.  We act as though we were drinking salt water: the more we drink, the thirstier we become.  We need to proclaim boldly to our fellow Christians that the secret to being content is not what we have but whom we have: Jesus Christ.  True contentment comes only through trust that Jesus loved me enough to die for me, that He lives, and that He will continue to care for me in every situation.

            And what better way for this text to end.  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.  Amen.

            And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until life everlasting.  Amen.

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Reformation Sunday: October 29, 2006 – Free at Last

Text: John 8:31-36/Psalm 46

Free at Last

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.  The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Gospel and Psalm 46 which were read earlier.

            In one of his earliest Reformation writings, Martin Luther wrote On the Freedom of a Christian Man.  The Reformation was about the question “What does it mean for man to be free?”  In our culture and society, freedom is usually associated with choice; a person is free who has the right and power to choose as he wills.  We often hear of the freedom of choice.  However, such freedom arises from the idea that man is free by way of detachment from persons and things; such freedom arises from the idea of the person as independent and autonomous.  The Bible knows of no such freedom of man.  The Bible rather reveals man as entrapped, dead in sin, and destined to death.  That man can live only if he is freed from that slavery and is reborn to the servanthood of love.

            The date is October 31, 1517.  A young professor at Wittenberg is struggling with his faith.  He has the faith which he has been taught by the Roman Catholic Church, yet he has the faith of his own heart and conscience which says that there is something wrong with the Roman Catholic Church.  That is when this young monk decided to do something.  He wrote up a document for discussion and nailed it to the town bulletin board, the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  That document, known as the 95 Theses, led Luther and many others to freedom.

            In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus tells “the Jews who had believed him” what is needed to be set free: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  For Martin Luther, he wanted to be free: free from the false errors that were being taught by the Roman Catholic Church.  He criticized what was unbiblical, but at the time, he had no intention of splitting the Church.  His goal was to reform the Church, to correct the abuses and make straight what had gone crooked over the past few centuries.  At least, that’s how it began.

            Luther looked at the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and found flaws in them because they are teachings of man.  He was a learned man with regards to the Scriptures and saw nothing in there about the practice of indulgences.  Indulgences, as you may know, were the documents purchased from the Church that would take away the punishments for sin people thought they had to suffer after death in a place called purgatory.

            In the following years, Luther saw that the problems ran much deeper than just indulgences.  The problems dealt with the liturgy, they dealt with leadership in the Church, and, even more central, they dealt with the certainty of salvation.  They dealt essentially with these two questions: “Who rules the Church?” and “How can I find a gracious God?”  That is, the questions were about God’s Word and God’s grace.  Luther’s goal was to return authority in the Church to the Word of God.  His goal was to return to the Word of God and find therein the grace of God.

            That was and still is the heart of the Reformation.  It wasn’t about starting a new church.  It was about going back to the Word of God.  Only in the teachings of Christ will we know the truth and be set free. 

            If John’s account would have stopped there, all would have been well, but it didn’t stop there.  “They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?’”

            They looked at what Jesus had said only in an earthly manner; they failed to look at it in a spiritual manner.  They knew the one true God.  They had the truth.  They were heirs of the covenant of Abraham.  They were free.  So if you are free already, how can you be free again?

            We look at Jesus’ words in a worldly manner also.  We are not slaves to anyone so how can we be set free?  We are slaves and we are not free.  As Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  We are slaves.  We are slaves because we are sinful.  We are slaves because of the sinful world that we live in.  We are slaves and there is nothing that we can do about it.  The Bible shows that once a person sins, he is no longer free to serve God, only sin.  In fact, he is now compelled to sin, because sin is personified as a harsh, domineering master that has a stranglehold on us.  Every sin only serves to bind us tighter in its lock.  And once we are slaves to sin, we cannot free ourselves.

            Jesus Christ has indeed set us free.  If the Son frees us, we are really free; free from the compulsion and bondage of sin, free to serve God as He originally intended us to do and as Jesus did.

            Martin Luther, the great reformer, relied solely upon Jesus Christ and His teaching to free us, not the false teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  In looking at Scripture, He saw that outside practices, while they may be good, do not bring about salvation.  Salvation has been won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.  Where did Luther get this?  He got it from Scripture, namely Psalm 46, which is the basis for his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” 

            For Luther, this is what he needed to hear.  He entered the monastery because he thought by doing this, he would be able to escape the world and its sin.  Unfortunately, he discovered that even in the monastery, sin was still present.  There was nowhere that he could go to where sin would not be present.  But when Luther read Psalm 46, he was put to ease.  It didn’t matter what happened, God would be the ever-present help in trouble. A mighty fortress is our God,/A trusty shield and weapon;/He helps us free from ev’ry need/That hath us now o’er-taken.”  Where did Luther find the trusty shield and weapon?  He found it in Jesus Christ and Him alone: “But for us fights the valiant One,/Whom God Himself elected./Ask ye, Who is this?/Jesus Christ it is,/Of Sabaoth Lord,/And there’s none other God.” 

            Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ.  He knew from what Scripture taught that one could not find salvation in an indulgence.  He knew from what Scripture taught that one could not find salvation by praying “Hail Mary’s” and “Our Father’s.”  Salvation has been won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.  There and only there can be forgiven.  It was here that Luther found freedom at last: freedom from sin, death, and the devil.  Salvation came by faith, not by what we did, but by the grace of God.  By grace alone, by faith alone, and by Scripture alone are we free at last.  In the name of Jesus, amen.

            Now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.

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Pentecost 19B: October 15, 2006 – Submission to God

Text: James 4:7-12 (13-5:6)

Submission to God

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.  The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Epistle which was read earlier.

            Habits are a good thing to have.  They can be a very good thing.  For instance, it is a good habit to set aside money into a savings account for those unexpected circumstances.  It is a good habit to pay your bills on time so as not to incur late fees.  It is also a good habit to attend church regularly for the edification of one’s spiritual well-being.   However, it is just as easy to have bad habits as well.  For instance, it is a bad habit to neglect your spouse and children.  It is a bad habit to speak ill of others.  It is a bad habit to eat too much.  However, it is often too easy for us to fall into bad habits than it is for us to have habits that are good.

            In looking at our text for today, James is writing to the churches about something that was not only difficult for them to follow, but it is also difficult for us to follow today: “Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  By our very nature, we do not submit to God, we do not resist the devil and we do not come near to God.  We don’t know how to submit ourselves to God.  We don’t know how to resist the devil and we don’t know how to come near to God.  All of this is alien and foreign to our sinful natures.

            The same was true for the churches to which James is writing.  They had decided to give in to their habits of in-fighting and the like.  They had begun to turn their backs on God, to begin to deny who and what God has done for them and to follow the ways of the world.  It was very easy for them to do what they were doing.  It is a lot easier to give into the things of this world which you can see rather than in the mystery of God which one cannot see. 

            James is encouraging Christians to place themselves under God—to place themselves in His ranks, under His leadership and His direction, under His will and His word.  Such submission means giving oneself completely and totally, without hesitation or condition.  It means denying self and taking one’s will and desires and thoughts and words and actions and gifts and abilities—one’s entire being—and placing all of it at the disposal of God.  And, of course, that sort of self-submission will express itself in the way the Christian relates to his God and to his fellowman.

            Submission to God means resisting the devil, and vice-versa, for every evil working of Satan in his fight against Christ and the church, and every temptation which he throws like a snare before the feet of the Christian constitute nothing less than an attack on the lordship of God.  Satan would like nothing better than to have Christians arrogantly throw off that lordship and claim it for themselves.  He would like nothing better than to see God’s people refusing to submit to the Lord. 

            There are two options for the world: turn to God or turn to the ways of the world.  If we turn to the ways of the world, then what is there for you?  What comfort do you have in the world when a loved one dies?  Can the world promise you that your loved one has now been united with Christ forever?  If, however, we turn to God, we will find comfort in a loved ones death.  We will find life everlasting.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  We can not come to God ourselves, but we can come to God by the Holy Spirit.  James is speaking to the Christian, encouraging him to submit himself by the power of the Holy Spirit to God by coming near in sincere repentance.  He calls for them to acknowledge the fact that, although they claim to be the Lord’s, they have turned away from Him time and again, going their own way, trying to live without the Lord in this world.

            We live in a world where the prevailing attitudes are “Be your own man, or woman!”, “Don’t let anyone tell you what to do!”, or taking an old commercial a little out of context, “Have it your way!”  The problem with these attitudes and ideas is that they’ve led us away from God.  We no longer look to Him for guidance, or for that matter even acknowledge that He has something to say about our lives.  We live our lives as if we are an island that answers to no one, nor has any effect on any of the other "islands" which exist around us.  James, in language that is fairly strong, reminds us that the truth is quite to the contrary.  He tells us to “Submit yourselves, then, to God” and “Humble yourselves before the Lord.”  Oh, but we don’t do that either do we?  Nobody likes the idea of submission or humbleness, after all, these words imply weakness, and in this world you can’t appear weak.  But we are weak and we can’t do it alone, although we often try.

            That is our Old Adam at work in us.  We somehow think that we can do it all ourselves, that we don’t need God, that we don’t need the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  In today’s world of people telling you that you can do it yourself, that you can make the decision for Jesus, it’s no wonder many people try to go it on their own.  However much we try to live without God, it is all the more apparent that we do need God. 

            At the start of our reading James records one of God’s many promises that are found in the Bible.  He tells us, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you, come near to God and he will come near to you.”  Now we need to remember something.  This verse does not say that we choose God; we do not make the decision to follow Him.  But He has chosen us and He has given us the faith that we need to follow Him.  We, however, are capable of choosing not to anger our Lord by our repeated, an often blatant sins. Listen to these words from Romans 8 “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  James gives us God’s promise to lift us up.  By our submission and humbleness before God, He will exalt us in heaven and earth.  The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 149, “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.”  Those of us who turn to Him, those of us who humbly trust in Him to direct our lives, in all aspects, will be saved from the terrors of hell.  He loves us, He wants to be part of our everyday lives, and He will bless us.

            It is very hard to deny the world, especially when we are so much a part of the world.  We accept the dictates of the world for our lives rather than the Word of God.  That’s not the shocking part of it all.  The shocking part is that we don’t really care that we follow the world and not God.  It is much easier to accept what you can see over the things that you cannot.  When we follow the world, we will ultimately move away from God.  But thanks be to God, we can come back to Him and He will accept us with open arms.  That is what a loving God does.  “But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            As His redeemed children, we have been given the gift of His unfailing love, love that came at the expense of His Son, Jesus Christ.  When we turn our backs to God, He will still be there to accept us back in His loving arms.  That is what grace is all about.  We have a God of grace and mercy, who exalts the humblest of man, not by anything that we have done, but by what has been done for us through His Son.  By sending His Son, who took our failures upon Himself, we are no longer under submission to Satan, but we are lifted up by God above sin, death, and the misery of our sinful lives.  What better reason to submit to God can there be than this?  In the name of Jesus, amen.

            Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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LWML Sunday: October 1, 2006 – From Darkness to Light

Text: Ephesians 5:8-14

From Darkness to Light

           Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.  The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Epistle which was read earlier.

            “I have seen the light!”  That’s a familiar phrase which I’m sure everyone has heard before.  But ask yourself this question: if you have seen the light, what did you see before?  Before seeing the light, you saw darkness.  In the beginning of creation, there was darkness until God created the light.  To be in darkness is not a pleasant situation.  Already in infancy, most children are afraid of the dark.  The thought of a criminal lurking in the dark evokes feelings of terror.  Metaphorically, one is “in the dark” when he lacks understanding.

            The spiritual darkness which once characterized the Ephesians was far worse than any physical or mental darkness.  They were directed by the darkening power of sin into religious and moral darkness.  Spiritually they were dead.  They were totally ignorant of divine truth.  Their spiritual ignorance guided them into acts of ungodliness and immorality, together with the consequent misery.  Paul’s words “you were once darkness” imply that the Ephesians were once instruments of darkness.  They were people whose “darkness” was evident in their behavior and speech.

            The same is true for all of us today.  From the moment that we were conceived, we were sinners.  David writes in the Psalms, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  We are sinners.  We are in the dark.  We know sin and that is what we are comfortable with; that’s what we like.  Because of our sin, we are very much like the Ephesians, doing acts of ungodliness and immorality. 

            For some strange reason, we try to classify or rate sins, thinking that a sin like gossip isn’t as bad as killing someone.  The fact of the matter is that a sin is a sin is a sin.  It doesn’t matter what the sin is, it is still a sin and offensive to God. 

            Our lives are full of sins, regardless of how good of a life we lead, according to ourselves.  You’re a good person if you don’t kill a person right?  You’re not like all the murderers that are sitting on death row serving time for the murders they committed.  But what about that person you can’t stand, the one you just despise?  According to God, you are guilty of murder.  St. John writes “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”  Our sins are as black as night and reflect who we are, sinners in a fallen world.

            The effects from the fall into sin are very great.  We break God’s laws, we disobey Him, and we despise Him because of our sin.  That is the way that Satan wants it.  As far as he is concerned, that’s the way it should be.  But fortunately for us, God intended it to be different.  He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to restore creation to its rightful place, as children of God.  No longer are we darkness.  For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” 

            We have seen a brilliant light.  As a light switch brings illumination to the eye, so the light of the Gospel brings illumination to the heart.  The light which has shined upon you is Jesus, the “Light of the World.”  “Those who sat in darkness have seen a great Light.”  The Holy Spirit has brought you to faith in Jesus as your Savior.  He led you to a recognition of your sins, your depravity, your need for forgiveness and the source of it.  As a “light shining in a dark place,” the Spirit used the Word of God as a bright torch to direct you in the way of truth.

            Because we were once darkness but are now light, we should “live as children of light” because that is what we are.  We have gone from being sons and daughters of darkness, children of Satan, to being sons and daughters of light, children of God through the merits of Jesus Christ.  And because of that, it means that our lives should reflect that light and not the darkness.  You belong to the household of God, individually and communally, because Jesus has redeemed you through His blood.

            Paul writes this same thing to the Corinthian Church: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”  When we were children of Satan, we did what came naturally to us: we sinned.  We continue to sin today because we are still sinners.  But while we are still sinners, we are also saints, made clean by the blood of the Lamb on Calvary’s cross.  Because we have been made saints, our lives should reflect that nature as one redeemed by Jesus Christ.

            We are to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”  The works of darkness are totally unfruitful.  What farmer would want to spend his time in a field which produces no grain?  He would want no part of it.  In the same way, the child of light will have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.  Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

            The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, one of the auxiliary organizations of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, helps to expose the “fruitless deeds of darkness” while pointing unbelievers and those in need toward the illuminating love of Christ through the good deeds they do in supporting the Church’s missionary efforts at home and abroad.  The glorious light of the Gospel shines in a sin-darkened world by the faithful teachings and confessions of the LWML, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who brought light to the world and through that light, gave to us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

            This forgiveness of sins, life and salvation has been given to us freely by God through Jesus Christ at His expense.  We need God to come to us, because we cannot come to Him.  God is unapproachable for sinners.  He is beyond the reach of mortal man. There are those who think we have to first approach God and accept Him.  But if you are righteous enough to approach God, then why do you need a Savior?  Our Lord did not come for those who do not need Him.  He came to seek and save the lost.  He came to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, make the lame walk, and raise the dead.

            We as sinners need Jesus, whether we think we do or not.  When we were in darkness, we were separated eternally from God.  There was no way to bridge the gap between God and His creation.  Try and see if you can bridge the gap.  It’s obvious that you can’t.  No one can, or at least not of this world.  Only Jesus Christ could bridge the gap.  Only Jesus Christ could turn us from darkness into light.  To make it even more clear what happens, we are made light in the Lord.

            We are not made light in ourselves.  Nothing in us reflects light until the Holy Spirit works faith in us and brings us to Jesus Christ.  The only thing that is reflected in us is our sin and our darkness.  What God should see when He looks at us is a person covered in the blackness of their sins.  However, that is not what He sees.  He sees us clothed in the righteousness of His Son, who took away our sins and made us clean by the blood of the Lamb.

            The saving Light of the Gospel shined upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, as they did this morning.  As your sins were washed away in that heavenly flood, your heart and soul were filled with heavenly light.  The Holy Spirit has illuminated your soul with faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  The light of the Gospel that shines with you comes from your gracious heavenly Father who has claimed you as His own dear child.  He has redeemed you through the blood of Jesus that you may be His servant as His instrument of light in the world; not to glorify yourself, but that through you He may be glorified.  And on the Last Day, He will raise you up to His marvelous light for all eternity.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.

            Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.

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Pentecost 15B: September 17, 2006 – Be Strong

Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

Be Strong

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.  The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Epistle which was read earlier.

            War seems to be on people’s minds today.  We’re fighting the war on terrorism.  We’re wondering if things could escalate to World War III.  We’re fighting the war on drugs.  I remember fighting this war when former first lady Nancy Reagan promoted the “Just say no to drugs” campaign back in the ‘80’s, a war we’re still fighting today.  War is something that is constantly around us.

            There’s another war not many people realize is going on, because the enemy is largely unseen.  This war is more critical than any our nation has ever fought, and the casualties are much heavier.  This time the enemy is no pushover.  Every ounce of our energy, every weapon we can bring to bear, and every defense we can raise will not be enough.  IN THIS WAR, WE NEED THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD!

            You do know which war I’m talking about now, don’t you?  You do know the enemy.  No, I’m not talking about the war against terrorism that began five years ago this past Monday, September 11, 2001, that war against a nearly invisible enemy who nevertheless seems to be operating in the shadows everywhere.  No, we’re at war against a different unseen enemy, far more dangerous: we are at war with Satan.

            In our text for today, Paul writes to the Ephesians: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.”  We are at war with none other than Satan himself, and truth be told, Satan likes the way that the war is going.  When Satan started the war back in the Garden of Eden, it was the shot heard around the cosmos because at that very moment, Satan started and ended a war with a single piece of fruit.  He rejoiced in his victory because he forever separated man from God.  As far as Satan was concerned, this was a well-fought war; however, God was ready to begin His own war to regain His creation back.

            Many people think that the Old Testament is only Law and that the New Testament is only Gospel.  However, the very first Gospel message is not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; it is found in Genesis 3:15 – “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  Let me dissect this verse for you.

            The serpent brought death into the world.  Therefore, “your offspring” refers to all of mankind because we are all born as children of Satan because of our fallen nature.  “Her offspring” is Jesus Christ Himself, who will be the one to crush the head of Satan.  This could only happen at the expense of Christ Himself, hence the serpent striking Christ’s heel, ultimately ending in Christ’s death. 

            While the war has ultimately ended with Satan being defeated by Jesus’ death and resurrection, the battles still rages on today in all of our lives.  That is why Paul tells us to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”  We continue to be assaulted by Satan and his evil ways every day.  It can be very easy to surrender in our daily battle, but that is why Paul tells us why we need the full armor of God and not just bits of pieces of it.  As General Sherman said, “War is hell!”

            First, we put on the belt of truth.  Every soldier in every war needs to feel convinced that the cause for which he’s fighting is true.  Our cause is true.  We see first hand what the affects of this war have caused: it causes separation from God, all the evils in the world that we see and hear about and ultimately it all ends in death.  We stand firmly in our faith against Satan and against the world because God has opened our eyes to see him as he truly is.  Next we place on us the breastplate of righteousness.  The key to this is that it is not our righteousness.  If it were, our righteousness could never stand against Satan because our righteousness, our works, the best we can do, is as filthy rags.  We cannot rely upon ourselves; we must rely solely upon Christ.  Christ’s death upon the cross and His laying down of His life and His ultimate resurrection gives us that protection from whatever Satan can throw at us because we are no longer children of Satan but made children of God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

            Our feet are fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”  We are able to follow Jesus who came to bring peace with the saving message of the Gospel.  The shield of faith which we take up is able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  These flaming arrows are constantly around us.  They are in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds.  The shield of faith is God’s gift which apprehends salvation, effects the forgiveness of past sins, affords access to God, assures eternal life by the deposit of the Holy Spirit, rendering us holy and without blame.  Again, this is not our shield, but the shield that is given to us by God.  No shield that we bring to the battlefield can defend us.  Every flaming arrow that Satan shoots at us will penetrate the shield.   

            The helmet of salvation that we wear is salvation won for us.  In the ultimate battle of the cross and the grave, Jesus defeated the devil and broke Satan’s power.  Satan fired all his arrows and spent all his weapons; he has nothing left.  Christ has given us the victory by His death and resurrection. 

            Our armor against Satan is complete, minus one thing: a weapon, the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  Again, this is not our weapon, nothing that we bring to the war.  Even if we did bring something to fight with, it would not be able to stand up to the arsenal that Satan has.  Only the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ made flesh, could defeat Satan.  It was He would come into this world, not at our asking, but of the Father’s will.  It was Jesus Christ who lived a life without sin for all of us who are sinful.  It was Jesus Christ who died a death that no one else could die on our behalf.  It was Jesus Christ, by His resurrection from the grave that defeated Satan, not us. 

            We as Christians and blood-bought children of God need to remain strong.  We should not be strong in ourselves because if we put our strength in ourselves, we will only find weakness.  While it would be easy to be strong and to put our strength in this world, we will only find destruction and the devil.  Instead, we need only to be strong and find strength in the Lord and His power: for it is there that we are given the victory in Jesus Christ.

            Satan once ruled the world, and even today, working in the shadows, always lurking, he’s no pushover.  But he is pushed-over!  Christ has defeated Satan.  We’re still at war with Satan, fighting battles until the day that we die.  But in Christ, we are armed for victory and have ultimately won the war through Jesus Christ.  In the name of Jesus, amen.

            Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.

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Pentecost 13B: September 3, 2006 – The Bread of Life

Text: John 6:24-35

 The Bread of Life

Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes
from the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Most of us
have heard the saying, “A cat has nine lives.” It’s not true. A cat has only one
life. Only human beings have, or are
meant to have
, more than one life. God intends that you and I have lives, plural. God intends that we have bodily life,
characterized by breathing, thinking, and muscular activity. He gives us this life through our
parents. God also intends that we have
spiritual life as well; the life of God Himself, characterized by loving God
with everything we’ve got and loving our neighbor as ourself. This life God gives us, and nourishes,
through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Gospel message of salvation. In God’s design, we are to be born and then
be born again. In fact, unless the
second birth occurs, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus once told
Nicodemus.

Logically
then, designed for two kinds of life, bodily and spiritual, a human being needs
two kinds of bread, or food, bodily food and spiritual food. Today, we hear Jesus impress upon us this
truth: JESUS, THE BREAD OF LIFE, IS THE FOOD THAT ENDURES TO ETERNAL LIFE.

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Pentecost 13B: August 20, 2006 – The Living Bread

**Due to a clerical error, our Gospel readings for Pentecost 11 and Pentecost 13 got switched.**

Text: John 6:51-58

The Living Bread

Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes
from the Gospel which was read earlier.

If you ask
my wife, she will tell you that I like food, maybe even a little too much. While food is good, good food is even better. Give me a nice steak and I’ll call that good food. I can live off of sandwiches if I had to, but
I can live a lot better off of a good piece of steak.

In our text
for today, Jesus makes a statement that is a hard statement for the disciples
and other listeners in the Capernaum synagogue to swallow: “I am the living
bread that came down from heaven. If
anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
Their attitude toward Jesus of Nazareth had
undergone a dramatic change since only the previous evening. Just a few miles away and only a few hours
before, Christ had fed five thousand men with five small barley loaves and two
small fish. At that time He filled the
role of Messiah much to the liking of the Jews. They wanted an earthly king. They
wanted a leader who would feed them by miraculous means every day. So when Jesus withdrew from the crowds and
returned to Capernaum,
many followed Him.

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Pentecost 8B: July 30, 2006 – Blessings in Christ

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

                                                                                    Blessings in Christ

        Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes
from the Epistle, which was read earlier.

        In our
modern age of today, letter writing has gone out the window. Now, we send an email to a person, using
Internet lingo that if you didn’t use it, you would have no idea what it was
you were reading. Our life stories are
now on our blogs for everyone to read. Most of our emails or blog entries are short, disconnected pieces that
make little or no sense to those who don’t know us. In our Epistle reading for this morning, Paul
does the complete opposite. His letter
to the church at Ephesus is concise, it has a purpose. Paul sees
life from a cosmic perspective, giving us a God’s-eye view of things. He begins by seeing the individual
Christian’s life in the light of eternity. Our present faith has an eternal cause, God’s gracious choice of us in
Christ before the foundation of the world. It leads us to an eternal goal; that we may live forever to the praise
of His glorious grace.

        Paul
clearly wants to teach the readers of this letter to look beneath the surface
of life and understand its true nature. Life’s true nature is known only to God, summed up in Christ, and revealed
to us through the apostolic Word. The
impressive depth and breathtaking vision of the letter is all the more
remarkable in view of Paul’s confinement while writing it. Only faith in the promised love of God can
soar to such heights or sound such depths.

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Pentecost 5B: July 9, 2006 – The Great Exchange

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

The Great Exchange

        Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes
from the Epistle which was read earlier.

        It’s
hard being a pastor. We get up each
Sunday, stand before our congregations and we preach about sin. We preach about the sin that first came
through Adam and Eve, we preach about the sin that we have, we preach about the
sin that Jesus doesn’t have. In our
ministry, people don’t like to hear about sin. If a couple comes for marriage counseling and we ask if they are living
together, the answer has a strong possibility of being yes. When we tell them that living together before
or without marriage is a sin, we become the bad guy. Who are we to judge them? What right do we have to judge their
behavior?

        When
people are unhappy about not being able to take communion because they are not
a Lutheran, we tell them that we are not a “members only” club, that we are
following the words of Scripture. We do
not commune them for their benefit, not because you have to be a card-carrying
member of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

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Pentecost 2B: June 18, 2006 – “Jars of Clay”

Text: 2 Corinthinans 4:5-12

        Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes
from the Epistle which was read earlier.

        Have
you ever thought about what all it means to be a pastor, one who defends the
ministry of the Gospel? It’s a very easy
job because we only work one day a week. The other six days are just vacation I guess. But for that one day a week that we do work,
it takes a great deal of preparation. Sermons do not write themselves. Just
about anyone could sit down and write a sermon, but it takes great effort to
write a sermon where the Gospel is properly preached and Law and Gospel are
rightly divided. 

        When
a pastor preaches, it has nothing to do with him personally. It is the Holy Spirit, working through a
pastor who preaches. If we ourselves do
the preaching, we can preach about whatever we want to preach, however we want
to preach. But that isn’t what Paul
says. Paul says that we preach “Jesus Christ as Lord.”