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Lent 5C: March 25, 2007 – “The Prize for All”

Philippians 3: (4b-7) 8-14

The Prize for All

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

            Do you know what you want?  I mean, do you know what you want most of all?  Is there something about which you really can say, “I’d give anything…?”  Until we know what we want most, we can’t really get our lives together.  Until then, we are likely to go off in many directions, many of which will be pleasurable but not necessarily satisfying.  Until then, we’re likely to spin our wheels quite a bit and waste a lot of energy as well as a lot of life.  Detours, dead ends and despair can get to be the order of the day.  We want so many things, but what should we want most?  What desire is fit to measure all other desires, to draw them together and to give them their proper place?

            Looking at Paul before his conversion, the best that his former state could yield was righteousness on the basis of human achievement.  He had been circumcised on the eighth day just as the Old Testament law required, which many of the Judaizers and Jewish proselytes could not claim for themselves.  He was of pure Jewish stock from the tribe of Benjamin.  As a member of the Pharisees he had strictly and faultlessly kept the law.  He had even persecuted the Christians, which every Pharisee considered to be a most God-pleasing thing.  He had far outclassed even the best of the Judaizers.  If salvation were by works, Paul would have been guaranteed clear entrance to heaven.  And at one time Paul considered all that to his profit; they were all advantages that would have helped him gain an eternal reward.

            But since that blinding experience on the road to Damascus, Paul’s eyes of faith were opened, and he now realized that all those things were to his disadvantage.  They stood in the way of his having a right relationship with the Lord and kept the gates of heaven shut up tight for him.  They did not gain any righteousness for him but only led him away from the true righteousness in Christ.  They were now all to his “loss.”  Those old ideas needed to be abandoned as totally useless and worthless.  We, however, cannot always say the same about ourselves. 

            Wouldn’t it be nice to say with Paul, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”  Wouldn’t it be nice to say with Paul that regardless of what I have, it means nothing because I have Jesus Christ.  Our culture today puts everything before church.  Our jobs require more and more work out of us, often requiring us to work more and more hours.  Working Sundays is not unheard of; in fact, it is probably the norm.  Athletics require practice after practice, regardless of the day of the week.  Tournaments are scheduled from Friday through Sunday.  We put thing after thing ahead of God, just as Paul did.  We take our eyes off of the prize: of Christ Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection, and put them on the things of this world.  But on that Damascus Road, he saw that these were nothing but rubbish.

            Everything he had formally put his confidence in—his heritage, his zealous keeping of the law, his persecution of the church—Paul now considered as nothing more than rubbish.  Not only were they not for his profit, they stood to cost him everything; they were a loss.  Jesus Christ and the righteousness that comes through faith in His life, His cross and His empty grave was far superior and the only thing worth keeping.  That was the real profit.  That was where his salvation would come from.

            It is important to realize that some of the things that we often regard as a real advantage and to our “profit” can actually be to our disadvantage if we regard them as a meritorious work.  Boasting over the fact that one has been baptized and confirmed, that one has received a Christian education through a Lutheran elementary or high school, taking pride in one’s church attendance and “all that I’ve done” for the church—this stands in the way of relying on Jesus Christ alone for salvation.  The sad thing is: it’s very easy to do.  It’s so easy, most of the time, we don’t even think about it.  By our thoughtless actions like that, we distort what Christianity is.  We take the focus off of what Christ did for us and put the focus on what it is that we did for ourselves.  That was exactly what Paul was trying to end: “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

            During this Lenten season, everything revolves around Christ and knowing who Christ is, according to the Scriptures.  It is not about whom authors say that Christ is.  It’s not about who other denominations say that Christ is.  It is about who the Scriptures say that Christ is.  For Paul, knowing who Christ is was more important than anything.

            That should be our focus as well, especially during this penitential season.  In just a matter of weeks, we will celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  We focus not on the things of this world, the things which we have done or have not done, but instead focus on what it is that we have received: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

            Through the persecutions that Paul had endured, Paul shared in Christ’s sufferings.  Time and again Jesus’ enemies directed their hate for the Lord at Paul because he was connected with Jesus.  Death was always at Paul’s side; even as he wrote these words, he was in prison and could have been condemned and executed.  While all these things did not earn Paul his forgiveness and righteousness, they did show that Paul was connected with Christ and that Christ was being formed in him.

            Even today, we share in Christ’s sufferings.  Christians suffer and are persecuted for their beliefs.  As we put up with the ridicule and persecutions the world hurls our way and as we daily put to death our sinful nature with all its desires, we share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and become more like Him in His death.  The final goal is our own resurrection to glory. 

            Our death is not, nor could it be, like that of Christ.  Paul means that as Christ died unto sin, having no more to do with it, so likewise is his will.  He doesn’t want to be captive to his sins anymore.  He realized that the only way that he could be free from his sins is because Jesus Christ died for his sins.

            One might think that Paul was the outstanding, perfect, model Christian.  However, he was the first to say that he was not.  The Christian’s maturing and growth is never complete.  It is a constant, ongoing process while we live here in this world.  The Christian can never say, “I’m done; I’ve got it made.”  The Christian’s life is the constant struggle of the new man against the Old Adam and its sinful desires.  Everyday is a struggle, but because of Christ, we have won the battle.  Everyday we, like Paul, “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

            We are far from perfect, no matter how close to being perfect we say we are.  But Christ took our imperfect being into His perfect being and the result was forgiveness.  He has brought us into Him and we receive life everlasting.  God has set before every Christian that prize of eternal life and the perfect glory of heaven, won through Christ’s perfect life of righteousness, paid for with His blood and guaranteed by His empty tomb.  This is the prize which God has given to you.  In Jesus’ name, 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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Posted by on March 24, 2007 in Religion, Sermons


Lent 3C: March 11, 2007 – “Good Fruit”

Luke 13:1-9

Good Fruit

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.

            Back in Indiana, we have
something very special.  Actually, we
have a whole lot of them.  Some are good
and some aren’t so good.  Some are big
and some are small.  They come in all
shapes and sizes.  What I’m talking about
are trees. 

begins His parable this morning saying, “A
man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard…”
  As He tells us the story, Jesus expects us to
understand that god is the one with the vineyard and you—the believer in
Jesus—are the fig tree in the vineyard of God’s grace.  God planted you in His vineyard on the day of
your baptism, which St. Paul
describes as being “planted together in
the likeness of [Jesus’] death,”
that we may be raised “in the likeness of his resurrection.”

            God plants
with the expectation of a harvest.  More
valuable than figs, the fruit God is looking for in the life of the Christian
is the fruit of repentance—the fruit that humbly acknowledges my own sinfulness
and asks God for forgiveness for no other reason than the Father’s love for us
through His Son, Jesus Christ.

            Not every
plant bears fruit.  There are many open
spots in the pews, spots which were occupied by someone whom God planted in His
vineyard.  When did the vacancies in the
pews appear?  Some just a week, some
months, some maybe even years.  How many
have noticed?  Did we fail these living
trees which God has planted in the likeness of Christ’s death in the hope that
they would share in the likeness of His resurrection?  Did we do something to cause their fruit not
to grow?  It is our hope that all bear
fruit, because as we see in today’s text, the tree of Jesus’ innocent death now
bears the fruit of life in all who believe.

            You were
all planted in the soil of God’s vineyard, the Church.  You were planted in God’s vineyard when you
were brought to the waters of Holy Baptism. 
God planted you in His vineyard so that you might mature and grow and
bear fruit in His kingdom.  That was the
plan anyways.  However, it didn’t last
like that for long.  Once Satan entered
the Garden, once Eve ate from the fruit, once Adam ate from the fruit, the
vineyard which God planted His children in, the fruit became tainted and
polluted.  The vineyard became
unfruitful.  It wasn’t the vineyard which
God had created.  How would God restore
the vineyard to its fruitful state again?

            God tried
to let nature take its course and right itself, but that didn’t work.  God sent the flood to destroy all that God
had created, with the exception of Noah and his family, eight souls in
all.  In order to make His vineyard
fruitful again, God sent His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, into the
world.  It is through His life, death,
and resurrection that God’s vineyard has been restored.

            We were
planted into God’s vineyard at our baptism, when the water with God’s Word,
touched our foreheads.  As baptized
believers planted in the vineyard of God’s kingdom, we know that we have
received life and salvation from God because of Jesus Christ and His actions,
not because there is something that we have done.  

            Now that we
have the vineyard of God established, we must look at the fruit that the
vineyard yields.  Sometimes the vineyard
produces fruit while sometimes it doesn’t produce fruit.  And some of the fruit that the vineyard does
produce, it may not be good fruit. 
Listen to the words of Jesus: “A
man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and
found none.  And he said to the
vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig
tree, and I find none.’”

good isn’t good the same as good fruit. 
Just because fruit is in season and the tree looks mature, but sadly, there is no actual fruit on the tree!  All too often we say in Christianity, people
who call themselves Christian, but in their life, there is nothing that reflects
Christ in their life.  They are
hard-pressed to be seen in church.  They
think that just by being a member of a church or calling themselves “Christian”
is all that they need to be saved.  They
do exactly what Luther speaks against in the Third Commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do
not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and
learn it.”
  We see the same thing
with the Jews who gathered around Jesus—even His own disciples—think that
giving up everything and following Him is good enough.  However, Jesus says that they too, will
perish unless they repent. 

            That is the
message for us today.  Repent.  The message is so important that Jesus says
it twice in our text: “No, I tell you;
but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

            How are we
to repent?  Have we really done that bad
that we need to repent?  If we take stock
of ourselves I think we’ll often find that we’ve been careless at some point or
other in our lives—that we’ve lived as if God doesn’t matter, or allowed a
cynical attitude to develop, or conformed to the mood and mindset of the age in
which we live.  In short, instead of
living our lives according to God’s commandments and His ways, we live our
lives in the way which makes us happy, regardless if it’s contrary to the Word
of God.

            How do we
live then?  The standard is too high, and
we don’t even measure up to the “not good enough” of which Paul and Ezekiel
speak of in our other readings.  But God
is on your side and wants you to flourish! 
Ezekiel writes, “I have no
pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and
  Jesus intervenes and
intercedes on your behalf.  Through the Law, Jesus digs down to your
roots and exposes your sin.  Through the
Gospel of forgiveness, in all of its forms: verbal, written, spoken, poured
out, eaten and drank – Jesus provides spiritual growth and enables you to bear
the fruit of repentance. 

            Golgotha’s dead tree bears the only life-giving fruit
that is able to save you from being cut down. 
Baptism alone will not save you if you refuse that precious means by
which God intends to keep you alive, His Word and His Sacraments.  That goes back to just calling yourself a
Christian and not doing anything to strengthen that faith.  If you don’t come to hear the Word of God,
how will you know what it is that Jesus has done for you?  How will you be able to safeguard yourself
against the attacks of the evil one?  If
you do not receive Christ’s body and blood, then you will have nothing to strengthen
your faith.  Try as we might, we cannot
do it on our own.  Try as we might, we
are only a fig tree that bears no fruit. 

            Today and
everyday, God provides everything needed for your escape from the burn pile
outside the vineyard.  Escape from sin
and evil in this life through participation in the communion of saints,
regularly receiving God’s saving Word and Sacraments.  Escape from eternal judgment, delivering you
instead into the eternal joys of life everlasting through the forgiveness and
new life of righteousness offered in these same means of grace.

Himself does everything possible so that baptized believers like you and I may
bear the fruit of repentance and live. 
Jesus gets His hands dirty; He digs down beneath the topsoil and exposes
the root of your sin.  Proclaiming the
Law through the Scriptures and from the pulpit, Jesus lays bare your innermost
soul so that He may apply the divine potting soil of the Gospel: His Word of
life that alone is able to produce fruit acceptable to God.

            Sadly, some
Christians may eventually leave an empty space in the pew.  But for those who remain in Jesus’ gift of
Word and Sacrament, bearing the fruit of humble repentance that trusts in Jesus
alone for salvation, for you Jesus has made the way of escape from the sin and
evil of this life, “and by his glorious resurrection opened to us the way of
everlasting life.”  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

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Posted by on March 10, 2007 in LCMS, Religion, Sermons


Lent 1C: February 25, 2007 – The Three Temptations of Us All

Text: Luke 4:1-13

The Three Temptations
of Us All

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.

            A few years
ago in southern California,
in the span of a few days, a biker was killed by a mountain lion and another
man was mauled in a separate lion attack. 
The stories were all over the news, and people were terrified of these
aggressive lions.  A few days later, the
lions were killed; people went back to talking or thinking about mountain lions
only rarely.  However, during that same
time, and even today, there are lion attacks taking place all around you of
which many people are unaware.  The Bible
tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone
to devour.  He is always ready to pounce
and tempt people into all kinds of sin. 
Fortunately, this ferocious lion has done battle with another lion, the
Lion of Judah, and he could not overcome Him. 
At the very beginning of Christ’s ministry, the devil attacked Jesus,
but our Lord defeated him by resisting all of his temptations, and He did this
in order to save us.

            In our
Gospel reading for today, we see our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, facing
various forms of temptation.  This text
begins the account of Christ’s ministry in Galilee which follows immediately
after Christ’s baptism and which brings Christ face-to-face with Satan, the
enemy whom He has come to destroy.  Thus
at the very beginning of His work as well as at its close “when darkness reigns,” Jesus does not hesitate to fight against
the power of the Evil One on behalf of all people.

            Luke begins our text for today
with these words:“And Jesus, full of the
Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by
the devil.”
  Temptation faces
everyone, including Jesus Christ.  He is
no different than any other person throughout history.  Everyone faces temptation at some point in
their life.  It was no different for
Jesus.  The temptation of Jesus was
continuous over the entire period of forty days.  Our text gives us but three examples of the
many ways in which Satan attacked Christ. 
We have no way of knowing just how Jesus was continually tempted.  To tempt means to put to the test, here with
an evil intent, that is, to cause someone to sin.  Satan knew very well that Jesus had come to
crush his power.  If he could succeed
just once in getting Jesus to sin, he would win the victory.  And this was no sham or pretended
temptation.  According to his human
nature, Jesus was “tempted in every way,
just as we are,”
yet He remained sinless.

            All too
often, the devil tempts us to sin for our own comfort—and we give in!  We don’t see it as a problem if we get so far
in debt that we can never get out of it, just as long as my house has all the
“necessities” in it: a huge flat-screen plasma television, a sound system that
would make the sound in a movie theatre look like nothing, and everything else
that we need to survive.  This is our
“daily bread” as far as we are concerned. 
But that is not the daily bread which Jesus taught us to pray for.  Daily bread is what we need to sustain our
body and soul, NOT what makes us

            It would be
very easy for Jesus to give in to the temptations of Satan, just like it is
easy for us to give in to temptations. 
Jesus trampled the devil’s real temptation with Scripture.  Christ, who has taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” had
Himself been led by the Spirit to go where temptation was.  He knew its strength and danger.  His own temptation, all three of His
temptations, stretching over a period of 40 days, were wholly concerned with
the choice between right and wrong, between higher and lower means of carrying
out the mission on which His heavenly Father had sent Him.

            Can we
doubt the seriousness of those forty days of decisive conflict?  On the outcome hung the whole issue of His
mission on earth and every hope of salvation of mankind.

            Our Lord
was setting out upon the mission of His heavenly Father.  His mission was to bring all mankind into the
kingdom of God, free from Satan.  For that mission, He possessed gifts and
powers that were brought to light in fullness at His baptism by John the
Baptist when the voice declared from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

temptations which Jesus faced were great temptations indeed.  They were meant for our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ to give up His divinity, to renounce who He is and to worship
Satan.  Christ knew what was at stake:
us.  We were at stake.  Our salvation was at risk.  Had Jesus given in, there would be no
salvation for us.  When God looks at us,
He would continue to sin our utter filth. 
That is not what God sees because Christ refused to give in to Satan’s
temptations for the sake of the Father’s will: that all men be brought to Him
so that we might be saved.

            The first
temptation in our text is the temptation of the flesh.  It starts with a big “If.”  “If you are the Son of God” is the devil’s central plea.  It is designed to undercut the completeness
of the loyalty and Christ’s acceptance of the necessary limitations on Him in
His redemptive mission as the Son of Man. 
He was never to use His divine power for self gratification or for
fulfillment of His merely human needs. 
Satan lured Jesus to preoccupation with His physical needs.  He was hungry, very hungry.  The appeal was tricky; it was a deep-seated
lure and allure which the miraculous tends often to hold for human beings.  What Satan was telling Jesus was this:
your sonship, your messiahship!  Perform
a miracle!”  By performing such a
miracle according to the will of Satan, Jesus would show Himself to be a false
son.  He would show a lack of trust in
His heavenly Father to provide for Him. 
It would also be evidence of a desire to avoid suffering and pain, for
which He had come into the world.  The
true Son of God was also being tested by the Father through this
temptation.  Would He stand up to this
test?  Not if He would try to escape it
by performing a miracle.

            Jesus shows
his trust as the true Son of God by His reply. 
In this case as in each of Satan’s other attacks, Jesus answers with
Scripture.  God wanted His people to know
that He was feeding them manna by the power of His word.  Israel often complained against
God’s gracious care in the wilderness. 
They were not satisfied with the food that God provided.  However, Jesus does not complain.  His trust in God’s providence remains
firm.  It is that Word which continues to
strengthen us when we are tempted by Satan and all of his attacks against us.  The words which we sang just a few moments
ago echo the power which the Word has: “Though hordes of devils fill the
land/All threat’ning to devour us,/We tremble not, unmoved we stand;/They
cannot over pow’r us./Let this world’s tyrant rage;/In battle we’ll engage./His might is doomed to fail;/God’s judgment
must prevail!/One little word subdues him.

            The second
temptation of Jesus was to be a bargain sale of sorts.  Jesus is to choose between a whole unrestrained
display of power as second in command to the prince of this world now and the promise of future glory
after suffering by way of the cross and death would not be necessary.  The view was big.  The view was beautiful and alluring.  We have those same temptations in our lives,
to give in and exchange our beliefs for the things of this world.  We give up going to church from September
through February in exchange for the NFL season.  We give up going to church because of family
vacations.  “If we’re not in church for a
week or two, or maybe for months on end, it’s not going to hurt us.  Besides, I’ve heard it all before; you’re not
going to tell me anything new.”  It’s
true, you have heard it all before.  But
you need to hear it again: that you are a sinner and deserve nothing but
eternal damnation.  Jesus Christ came
into this world so that you might have everlasting life.  All of your sins have been forgiven.  We have that promise in His Word and in His
body and blood, which strengthens and nourishes our faith. 

            The third
temptation recorded for us in our text was the temptation of the spirit.  To tempt God is the highest spiritual
enticement.  “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is
written, “
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “ ‘On
their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’

            Those who
want to argue that Satan doesn’t know Scripture do not really know the full
deception which Satan is capable of. 
Satan is quoting directly from Psalm 91. 

Since Jesus has used Scripture to resist Satan’s
temptations, Satan himself uses Scripture in his argument.  In his use of Scripture, however, Satan seems
to omit a few words to try to make God’s Word say what it really does not
say.  Nowhere does God say that we can
test His protecting care by exposing ourselves recklessly to danger.  By using this same kind of logic any child of
God could, for example, throw himself into the path of a railroad train and say
that he wanted to prove his trust in God’s power to protect him. However, this
is not the most important feature of this temptation.  Here the devil challenges Christ to test
whether the Word of God is as reliable as Jesus seems to think. He asks Jesus
to put the promise of God to a test to see if it is true.

            So often in
our own lives are we tested, to put the promise of God to a test to see if it
is true or not.  Do we put or trust in
the things of this world or do we put our trust in the Word of God?  The temptations of our Lord are the
temptations of all mankind.  The
temptations of Lord are the temptations of His church.  The temptations of our Lord are repeated in
the temptations that come to you in your daily vocation.

            When we are
attacked and accused, we trust in Christ, who saved us by His perfect
obedience, suffering, and death.  When
the devil tempts us to sin, we trust in Christ and His Word of truth.  When the Law accuses us of sin, we trust in
Christ and His perfect obedience.  When
death demands our life, we trust in Christ and His innocent suffering and

            Our Savior
knows what it is to be tempted.  He
willingly faced temptation by our enemy, the prowling lion, and He did it for
our salvation.  He won the battle, and
His victory belongs to all who trust in Him. 
In the name of Jesus, amen.

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

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Posted by on February 26, 2007 in LCMS, Sermons


Epiphany 4C: January 28, 2007 – “By Whose Authority”

Text: Luke 4:31-44

By Whose Authority

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.

In today’s society, authority is something which can be taken advantage of or something which can be given up. A perfect example is the show Super Nanny. It centers around a family who has problems with their children. The parents’ authority is missing or not taken seriously. That’s where Super Nanny comes in. Her job is to try to restore order to the household and to help the parents regain their authority.

In our lives, it’s not always easy to keep or properly exercise ones authority. Anyone who has ever “borrowed” their parent’s car without asking knows this lesson. Who said you could borrow the car? Who gave you the authority to make that decision? Even in the Church, there is constant discussion about who has the authority to do this or that, and discussions can at times become quite contentious.

In our liturgy on Sunday mornings, the absolution has been clarified with what the pastor says: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority….” Note that it is not on my authority that I forgive you your sins; it is the authority of Christ. God has called me to be a pastor and to distribute His means of grace. Trinity Lutheran Church in Gillette, Wyoming has called me to be their Assistant Pastor to distribute God’s means of grace. I am not acting on my own. I’m under the authority of Christ and called by the congregation.

The question was even asked about Jesus. By whose authority did He say and do things He said and did? What was His authority all about? He was frequently challenged about both the things He said the things He did. But by His Word, Jesus showed His divine authority to heal all men.

In our text for today, there are three instances where Jesus exercises His authority. The first instance was in the synagogue. Jesus did what He normally did on the Sabbath; He preached. Notice what Luke records for us. “And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” The people listened to Jesus’ Words, even though they may not have fully understood what He was saying. They didn’t need to know everything that Jesus was saying because they knew that what Jesus was saying had authority behind it. He wasn’t like any other teacher in the synagogue. No other teacher could stand before them and tell them what He did: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He just quoted the prophet Isaiah, just like any other teacher did. But what Jesus added could only be said by Him, one who has authority: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Where did this authority come from? When the man with the unclean demon came before Jesus, he knew exactly where that authority came from: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The people stood in amazement, not because the demon left the man, but because how the demon left the man: by Jesus telling the demon to leave. It was by Jesus’ authority that the demon left. Had anyone else tried to tell or force the demon to leave, the demon would have probably just laughed in their face. But with Jesus, the demon couldn’t laugh because it was the Holy One of God who spoke.

The second instance of Jesus’ authority was in Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever. With a simple request of Jesus, the fever left her and she began to serve those in her house, probably as she normally would. The people saw what Jesus had done and other people with illnesses began to show up desiring to be healed. Jesus exercised His healing authority to heal those who were infirmed. By His powerful Word, He rebuked the fever and by His personal loving care with His hand of compassion, He healed them.

Jesus heals us still today, just as He did then. He heals us by His Word. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” He heals us still with His body and blood, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of all of our sins. Why does He do this? What did you do to earn this gracious act of Christ? “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me…that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom…” You didn’t do anything to deserve Christ’s forgiveness. On the contrary, you only deserve His eternal damnation. Thanks be to God, you do not receive eternal damnation. You receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. You receive full membership in the family of God.

Finally, Jesus showed authority in His message. Jesus’ authority over demons and illnesses of all kinds is only part of His broader authority: His message, His teaching, and His mission for coming to earth.

What is this message that Jesus gives to us? “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The message is forgiveness. The message is the cross. The message is that you are a sinner. You are filthy. You are disgusting. You have no part of God. Jesus comes to us and He tells us that while you are a sinner, you are a saint. While you are filthy, your Heavenly Father sees nothing but the righteousness won for you on the cross by Christ’s bloody sacrifice for you. While you are disgusting, you are made new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That is Christ’s message, for you and for me.

What is Christ’s teaching that Jesus gives to us? It was Jesus’ authoritative teaching that first caught the attention of those in Capernaum. It is the very Word of God which leads you to forgiveness in His name. The teaching is of God and what He has done for you, namely forgiven you of all your sins. His teaching is not of anything that you have done because whatever it is that you do, it will never equal the atoning sacrifice which was made on your behalf.

What is Christ’s mission for coming to earth? It is simple: to bring all of mankind to Him, for all of mankind to recognize that without Christ, there is only death. Without Christ, there is nothing. When you die outside of Christ, you die. But when you fall asleep in Christ Jesus, you have eternal life. You have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Christ’s mission is to restore creation to God the Father. Christ’s mission is to restore you as a child of God.

Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, came into our broken world to help us. He came into our sin-filled world that the Holy One of God might bear the iniquity of us all on the cross. He gives us the Good News of personal forgiveness and new life forever with Him in heaven. By whose authority does He does this? It is God’s authority. Thanks be to God for what we have been given, not by our authority, but by God’s: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

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Posted by on February 2, 2007 in Religion, Sermons


Epiphany 3C: January 21, 2007 – “The Body of Christ”

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

The Body of 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.

            Growing up, Sesame Street was a favorite show of mine.  One of the things I learned from Sesame Street was the parts of body.  There was a song that taught me that the hip bone is connected to the leg bone; the leg bone is connected to the knee bone; the knee bone is connected to the foot bone and so on.  The point of the song is to teach you that the body is made up of various parts and that you need all the parts of the body for the body to function.  The same is held true for the body of Christ, as Paul writes to the church at Corinth.

            “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ….  For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”  The human body has many different parts, but they all fit together perfectly and function together perfectly.  Every part of the body is useful.  Just as the human body is united, so is Christ’s body, the church.

            God uses many pictures to describe how the kingdom of God works.  Several of them present the shape, the form the kingdom of God takes when it becomes visible among people here on this earth.  We call it “the church” or we think of it as a congregation.  Scriptures speak of it as a building, a body, or a family.  All these pictures show us to be in a relationship with one another, related in such a way that if any one of us is missing, the body, the building, the family would be incomplete.

            That’s why we confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in one holy Christian and Apostolic Church.”  That’s why in the communion liturgy we stretch ourselves to the far reaches of all time and all places saying, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name.”

            Paul introduces one of the most brilliant and memorable images of the entire Bible, the church as the body of Christ, a body in which the members, though many, are indeed one.  His language is vivid and concrete.  But the clarity of Paul’s words might tempt us to think of this passage as just simple words and a beautiful picture.  However, that’s the opposite of what Paul is telling the Corinthian church. 

            We are made members of one body, the body of Christ.  How did that happen?  Did I sign up to be a member of the body of Christ?  Was I drafted for this?  It was nothing that we did.  It was something that was done to us and for us.  This occurred for us at our baptism. 

            Just recently, two of our members have joined the Church Triumphant.  In each of those sermons, we have been reminded that we have been brought into the body of Christ through our baptism.  It is in our baptism that we are made holy, that we are made heirs of the forgiveness which comes through Christ’s death and resurrection.  It is also in holy baptism that we are made members of the body of Christ.

            We are the body of Christ, Trinity Lutheran Church, Gillette, Wyoming.  We are the body of Christ as various boards and committees, Midweek School classes, Bible study groups.  It is in these forms that the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, becomes visible, touchable, as people reach out to one another, relate to one another in grace and mercy and forgiveness.  In our baptism God has washed us clean and brought us into the body of Christ.

            The church at Corinth was a motley crew to say the least.  Paul talks about Jews and Greeks, about slaves and free people.  There were rich people and there were poor people; people from the inner city and from the suburbs.  There were people having trouble with their marriages; people going to court to sue one another; quarreling and bickering was common.  The point which Paul is making in our text for today is though we are all members of the body of Christ, we are all different members of that body.  “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

            Take a moment and look at the various parts of your body.  You have hands which function in various ways.  They are used for working, for playing, for drawing, for countless functions.  You have your legs.  They help you get from Point A to Point B.  Legs can function to help you work, for playing.  There are other functions that legs serve, but they can’t perform the functions that hands can perform.  The same is true of the parts of the face.  We have eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth.  Each performs certain functions which the others cannot.  No part of the church can cut itself off from the whole.  Each part of the church serves its own function and is needed.  Paul tried to convey that message to the Corinthian church but they didn’t fully understand what it was that Paul was saying.  When we read Paul’s words, we don’t necessarily fully understand what it is that Paul is saying.

            If you look at those people here this morning, you will see different professions.  Some are teachers while some are students.  Some are doctors and nurses, while some are police officers.  You have some who stay at home while some travel so much, they don’t really call any one place home.  Regardless, each of these people makes up the body of Christ.  Each has their own vocation.  Each performs a different role in the body of Christ.  Paul reminds us that “God has appointed” them all, no matter what their gift or office might be.

            To think that we can get along without one another is really rather ridiculous.  We each make up the body of Christ, each with our various vocations and abilities.  This reinforces what Paul tells us.  “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

            Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  Today we take a moment and place a special value on human life.  We remember those unborn children who have been killed by abortion.  We remember the elderly who are no longer able to care for themselves.  Regardless of one’s age or whether or not they are inside or outside of the womb, every person is a child of God and belongs to His family.  Each is an integral part of the body of Christ and Paul makes this point rather clear with his descriptions of the various parts of the body.

      No Christian is an island.  We need Jesus.  We are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  We make up the body of Christ and in turn, Christ is reflected in us and by our actions.  We need the Church.  The Church is made up of the body of Christ.  As Paul says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”  We each have various gifts and talents which make up the body of Christ, the Church.  The Church needs all kinds of people in order to function properly, just as the body needs the various body parts in order to function properly.  We need each other.  “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”  The body of Christ—the Christian church—is to work that same way, spiritually.  When one Christian suffers, all Christians suffer.  When one Christian rejoices, all Christians rejoice.  We are all in this together, all part of Christ’s church.

      We are all united in the body Christ through our baptism.  We remain united through Christ’s body and blood, given for us for the forgiveness of sins.  It is by His Word and Sacraments that we become, we are, and we ever more shall be, the body of Christ.  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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Posted by on February 2, 2007 in Religion, Sermons


New Year’s Eve 2006 – “If God Is For Us”

Text: Romans 8:31-39

If God Is For Us

            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.

            As of tomorrow, this year will be but a fleeting memory.  Radio stations are counting down the biggest songs of the year.  MTV is no doubt playing the biggest video hits of the year.  Everyone is looking at what the best of the year was.

            But with all of the good that has come, bad has come as well.  We have seen war come and go.  We’ve seen destruction, changes in the world, death of loved ones, and the list goes on and on.  For some, this is a year that we are more than ready to get behind us.  People are quick to say, “Where is God during all this?” when things go bad.  Paul says clearly where God is: for us.

            It’s funny how we try to help others.  Some give because they have more than ample.  Others give what seems like a little to us, but it represents a very large portion for those who give. 

            God too gave graciously and without hesitation or second thought.  He gave His Son, His one and only Son, over to the world so that He would die. But this death was no ordinary death – it was for us life, not death.  In our communion liturgy on the Sundays after Pentecost, we hear these words: “…through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who on this day overcame death and the grave and by his glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life.”  Through the giving of His Son, we have received “all things” as Paul says.

            It is because of the death of Christ that we can be brought into the kingdom of God through His body and blood.  We are now a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”  Whatever charges anyone, whether it be death, devil or the world, make against us, they must now go through the Father who has chosen us.

            Through His Son, we now have a shield protecting us.  God stands before us with a shield to protect us.  Does that mean that no one will ever be against us?  Does it mean that no one will ever bring a charge against us?  Of course not.  What that does mean is that no one will ever be successfully against us; no one will ever successfully accuse us.  Even Satan himself, with all of his crafty ways, can try to accuse us, but because of Christ’s death and glorious resurrection, we now stand holy and blameless before God, our heavenly Father.  In order for anything to reach us, it must first go through God and it is God alone who justifies, to declare free of blame. 

            Not only do we have God the Father as our shield, we also have Christ, our advocate, who died the death for all of creation.

            To condemn a person as Paul says here, means to inform them that God condemns them and that God has sentenced the person.  Christ intercedes on our behalf.  No one has ever been accused and condemned as Christ was.  God willingly sacrificed His one and only begotten Son, so that you and I may not die, but have everlasting life.

            Christ went before God, the only one who is able to judge us and pleaded that we have already been acquitted of all charges because He has paid for them with His body and blood.  No one else could do that for us.  Christ intercedes on behalf of all of creation.  His intercession gave us life.  His body and blood, beaten and pierced, opened for us the gates of heaven.  His resurrection and ascension brought with it a permanent advocate that will say, “Sorry, I paid for this person.  You can’t have them.”

            Though the world will try its best to accuse us and beat us up, we cannot be separated from the love of Christ.  Seven different possible choices are listed as a means to separate us.  The enemies of our salvation attempt to separate us from Christ and His love, and so they press hard with all might and power to throw away faith and trust in Christ.  Life is very real and can be very cruel.  But as cruel as trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword can be, Paul reiterates that they do not have the power to pull us away from the love of Christ.

            These seven items are not the only thing that can separate us from God.  Separation from God can also come from ourselves, which manifests itself in various ways.  One such way is by seeking salvation in the things that we do.  This is contrary to what Scripture says.  Salvation is not found in ourselves, but in what God has done for us, namely sending His Son to be payment for our sins.  We also choose to separate us from God when we despise His Word and His Sacraments, by not coming to church to be fed with the means of grace which give to us salvation.

            It is true as the psalmist writes, “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  We suffer and we face death because Christ suffered and faced death.  We are in Christ and therefore we suffer.  It does not mean that Christ withdraws His love; no, it is the opposite.  He suffered for our lives and therefore we suffer for His life because we are in Him.

            Through these tribulations, we become conquerors through Christ who loved us.  We have strength, not only equal and sufficient, but far more than enough to overcome the preceding evils.

            If the list of seven things to separate us from the love of Christ wasn’t enough, now we have a new list of ten things to separate us.  None of these can stop God’s love from reaching and holding us.

            It’s funny that Paul lists the present and the future, but he doesn’t say anything about the things of the past.  None of that is mentioned, not even our sins, because they have all passed away.  They passed away when the water hit our forehead and when the blood of Christ hit the ground as He hung from the cross.

            What Paul tells the church of Rome is also spoken to us: we are fully assured that no condition of our existence, whether death or life; no beings, whether they be angels or principalities among men; nothing in time, whether in the present or in the future; nothing in the way of powers or forces; nothing in space, whether in the heights or the in the depths; in fact, nothing in all creation, no matter what it may be called, not only shall not, but cannot separate us and our fellow Christians from God’s saving love, His Son, by placing a barrier between us and that love so that it cannot reach us.

            It’s easy to think that we’re alone through all this.  But we know that we are not alone, for Christ has gone before us to prepare the way for us.  He, along with God the Father, stands before us to protect us, to ensure that nothing separates us from Christ.  On this New Year’s Eve, as we look for the passing away of 2006 and the ushering in of the 2007, know that God the Father, with the Son, has given us life everlasting.  Regardless of what may happen in the coming year, know that if God is for us, who can be against us?  The answer is no one and nothing, because we cannot be separated from God because of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection.  Amen.

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

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Posted by on January 4, 2007 in Religion, Sermons


Christmas Eve/Day 2006 – “The Promised Savior Comes”

Text: Luke 2:1-20

The Promised Savior Comes

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

            A roaming reporter stopped six people on the sidewalks of New York City and asked, “What is the most important happening in history?”  Five replies from two men and three women were as varied as might be expected.  “The settlement of Jamestown by the Englishmen.”  “The defeat of the Saracens at Tours.”  “The splitting of the atom.”  “The defeat of the Japanese.”  “The invention of the wheel.”  The sixth answer came from a fourteen-year-old school boy, “The birth of Jesus Christ.”  If we have the insight of the fourteen-year-old schoolboy as well as his wisdom, we will know at this moment that we find ourselves celebrating an event that has been called the greatest in human history since the creation of the world.  It is a holy day as well as a holiday.  It is Christmas!

            A number of weeks ago, Pastor Firminhac and I took the confirmation classes to see The Nativity Story.  In the movie, there was a man who was proclaiming the prophecies of the Old Testament, that one day, there would be the arrival of a King, the coming Messiah, who would save the world.  Joseph and the pregnant Mary were walking the streets on their way to Bethlehem for the census and heard this man’s cries of the promised Messiah.  Meanwhile, somewhere in the East, the three wise men embarked on their journey to find the coming Messiah in Bethlehem.  They were learned men who had studied the prophecies of the Old Testament to better understand the Messiah that was promised of old.  They had found the signs pointing them to the Baby in the manger.  The world of the first Christmas was ready for the great birth.

            Some 2000 years later, Christmas is come for us.  But are we ready?  It’s hard to be ready for Christmas when you still have presents to buy, cards to send out, and parties to attend.  That is the whole reason for Christmas, isn’t it?  That is what the world wants you to think. 

            Just this past week, as I was watching Monday Night Football, they showed downtown Indianapolis, namely the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Every year, they string upwards of fifty strands of lights to make it resemble a Christmas tree.  But one of the announcers, when referencing it, called it a “holiday” tree.  Several years ago, Wal-Mart got in trouble for telling people “Merry Christmas” as they left the store.  They had to change it to “Happy Holidays” for fear of getting sued by non-Christians.  More and more, we have taken Christ out of Christmas.  But when looking at our Gospel reading, there are no cards, no parties to attend.  There is only the story of a man and his betrothed wife who is pregnant, on their way to Bethlehem to register for the census.

            As the shepherds are minding their own business, they get a special visitor, one who delivers a wonderful message which they had been waiting for and expecting, if they didn’t know it: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

            This is the message which the people of Israel had been waiting for.  This is the message that we have been waiting for.  From the moment that Adam and Eve were displaced from the Garden of Eden, a promise of a Savior was given to them: “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.”  The book of Isaiah is filled with prophecies of the coming of Christ.  “He was despised and rejected by men…Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

            This is truly what Christmas is all about.  The birth of Jesus gave to us “an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  We now have a way to be forgiven of the sins which we cause.  We now have life everlasting.  We are once again made sons and daughters of God, the Father. 

            At Bethlehem, the best we could ever know became real.  There the great event in history occurred that has changed the face of all of life: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  God has spoken through the prophets stating that salvation was to rest on nothing less than God revealed in human form.  This was the one thing that all men could understand. 

            Unfortunately, this is the one thing that we seem to have forgotten.  The focus goes from the child born in the manger to Christmas cards, parties and gift-giving and receiving.  Jesus has been put on the back-burner, if we even remember Him at all.  The saying that “Jesus is the reason for the season” is true only in so far as it is because of Jesus that we do all the things we do during the month of December.  We all know that Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth, but we do not always keep in mind the meaning of the event.  It was not just the birth of another child.  It was God becoming enfleshed in Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary.

            Following the messenger’s announcement of the great and mighty wonder, suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!”  Now heaven and nature may sing Gloria in Excelsis!  Now angels and archangels and all the company of heaven may laud and magnify His glorious Name, evermore praising Him and singing and confessing and teaching and believing that this Baby is the King of king, the Lord of lords, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of the lost, and the Word who has become flesh and dwelt among us.  By the gracious working of the Holy Spirit through this Word, you and I may believe that this Jesus in an animal’s feeding trough is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you may have life in His Name.

            Let our focus be on what Christmas is all about.  It is not about the commercialization that we have made it to be.  It is not about the gifts and the parties and the like.  It is about a baby who was born.  This baby grew up in stature of a man.  This man willingly gave His life so that you and I should not die, but have everlasting life.  As the hymn says, “Christ, the Savior is born!”  Let us rejoice in the Gift of all gifts which have been given to us, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us, 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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Posted by on January 4, 2007 in Religion, Sermons


Advent 2C: December 10, 2006 – “Make Ready the Way of the Lord”

Text: Luke 3:1-14 (15-20)

Make Ready the Way of the Lord

            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.

            The world gets ready for this season on one level, Christians on another.  The world gets ready for just one great big blockbuster of a day on Christmas, kind of an annual consumer feeding frenzy, indulging itself in stuff and more stuff.  Then when it’s over, it’s over.  All that is left of Christmas on December 26 is a big pile of wrapping paper and trips to the store for after-Christmas sales and returns.

            Fortunately for us, that is not the way it is in the Church.  For us, when Christmas comes, it stays.  It lingers on through Epiphany, and all the way through Lent.  We continue to ponder the great glad news that God has become man to redeem all humankind out from under the iron grip of death and hell.  And we will sing our Christmas praises well into January and beyond.  We make Christmas last.

            But Christmas hasn’t begun yet; we’re still in Advent.  We’re still getting ready.  Yet our readiness is much more than just sending cards and decorating our homes and having parties.  It is a readiness of the heart that God desires at His coming.

            In our Gospel reading for today, we hear about John the Baptist.  John was a herald.  He announced what God told him to preach.  John preached both the Law as well as the Gospel.  He proclaimed “a baptism of repentance.”  John’s baptism was characterized by repentance.  To repent means to change one’s mind.  It involves a turning away from sin and a turning toward that which cleanses from sin.  It is a complete about face.  A man who repents is one who has changed his mind about sin.  He no longer finds pleasure in it, but realizes it is a cause of eternal damnation.  He has also changed his mind about salvation.  He no longer thinks that he will get to heaven by being good.  When we speak of “repentance” in this sense, we include a turning to faith in the Messiah, God’s promised Savior from sin.  Thus John preached the Law, which shows us our sin, and the Gospel, which points the sinner to his only Savior.

            The point of John’s message is not a message of himself, but of Christ.  Advent means “coming.”  Advent is a time where we focus on the coming of Christ.  That is why the words of the prophet Isaiah are so important: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”  Even our Collect for today speaks of the coming: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son.”  Just as a messenger was sent ahead of a king or ruler to get people to repair the road on which he was to travel, so John was sent out ahead of God’s Son to prepare for Christ’s coming.

            Here we are on this road to Bethlehem, to make ready the way of the Lord.  John the Baptist has gone before to make ready the way of the Lord.  What is it that John is making ready?  Is it people?  Is it a place?  Is it a thing?  The answer is all of the above.

            First, John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  He preached this to anyone and everyone.  He didn’t tell this to just Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian.  This was a message that everyone needed to hear and John was fulfilling the words of Isaiah as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”  He went in and laid it all on the line to all who heard him: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  The sad truth is that more often than not, you and I don’t produce the good fruit our Lord expects.  We simply don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength, much less love our neighbor as ourselves.  Despite our best efforts, there are those we have hurt and those we have failed to help.  Our thoughts and desires are soiled with sin.  There is nothing good within us, in our sinful nature.

            That is where preparing the way of the Lord begins.  Through the Law, we hear about our sinful nature and what that means for us.  It means death and damnation.  It means eternal separation from God.  But the message that John is preaching about is the sweet sound of the Gospel which we need to hear; that there is One who is coming to save us from our sins.  There is One who is coming to give us everlasting life.  There is One coming who is forever bridging the gap between God and man, One who will trade His life so that we can have life.  It is in John’s message of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus that we are lifted up and comforted.

            John’s warning was indeed sharp.  When the message of love and grace fails to touch the heart, then the Law’s message of judgment upon sin must be proclaimed.  The purpose of this message is to strike fear in man’s conscience, so that he might stop and realize his lost condition without Christ.  Through the power of the Gospel alone, the Holy Spirit works true faith.  This Gospel turns the sinner to his only Savior through whom he can escape God’s just punishment.  Among his hearers John’s message found those who were troubled in their consciences.

            That is the message of our text today.  Our sin has separated us from God.  We don’t want to hear that.  We don’t like to hear that.  Those whom John was preaching to had an answer to his preaching: “We have Abraham as our father.”  What they failed to realize was that by being a descendant of Abraham did not bring about salvation.  Staking a claim to Abraham did not make anyone less a sinner.  If that were true, then we all would be saved because we all claim to have Abraham as our father.  But where did Abraham come from?  He came from the lineage of Adam and Eve, our first parents and the first sinners.  One can claim Abraham as their father, but ultimately we must claim Adam and Eve as our first parents. 

            The reason why the season of Advent is so important is because it shows us the need of a Savior.  Hearing John’s message can cause great fear in us, knowing that we might be a tree that does not bear good fruit.  Those to whom John is preaching to begin to ask the simple question, “What should we do then?”  John gave simple, straightforward answers.  He told them what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. 

            The message of John seemed very much like the coming message of Christ, the message foretold in prophecies of old.  It was only logical for them to ask if John was the Christ.  John preached with such great power that many people thought that he might be “the Christ,” the promised Messiah.  John answered all such questions concerning himself by making a public announcement.  He points to “one more powerful” than himself, who will soon come.  That One is the Messiah Himself.  John declares that he is not fit even to untie the strings which hold the Messiah’s sandals on His feet.  In other words John was not fit to perform the duty of the lowest slave before this great One.

            So let us ask the great Lutheran question: What does this mean?  It means that John the Baptist is not the Christ, but only the forerunner of Christ, the one who is to preach about His coming and prepare the way of the Lord.  Let this holy Advent season be your comfort and your joy as deep within takes root the reality that Christ has actually come in the flesh and will come again at the end of time.  But He comes this very day in His Word and Sacrament to make you new and whole and free; a new person, made clean by the blood of the Lamb, who has freed you from your sin by His death and resurrection.  So prepare the way for His coming.  Let this be your constant Advent prayer: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son.”  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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Posted by on December 8, 2006 in Religion, Sermons


Last Sunday of the Church Year: November 26, 2006 – “When Christ Returns”

Text: Mark 13:32-37

When Christ Returns

            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.

            The Last Sundays of the Church Year anticipate Christ’s soon return.  While presently suffering tribulation and temptations, the Church prays in godly fear to be kept in faith until that day.  The Last Sunday in the Church Year, the Sunday of the Fulfillment, calls pilgrims traveling through this vale of tears to remain faithful until the day of our salvation.  Today, throughout the whole Christian Church on earth, believers are contemplating the return of Jesus Christ.  Today, the Church looks toward the future – to the consummation of the age.  On this Sunday, the Christian Church talks about preparation – about being ready for the return of Jesus.

            The Lord will return, and we want to know when.  Bookstores are filled with paperbacks interpreting biblical signs through current events, trying to determine when Jesus will return.  Don’t waste your money buying predictions about the Last Day.  This will only lead you astray, since Jesus promised that you will not know when He returns until He returns.

            God’s Word talks much about being ready for the return of Christ. Jesus took the time to prepare his followers.  The Lord provided them with details about what conditions would be like when He returned.  He talked to them about the signs of the end of the age.  And Jesus warned them about the challenges that believers would face as the end of the age approached.

            For your faith’s sake, He warned you of things to come, even things now here, because you will be tempted to drift from faith, to fall away in persecution, to doubt God’s love when suffering, and to doubt when He will return.  Therefore, don’t stumble on these things that you fear, the speculations of the end that are so uncertain, or the troubles of today that seem so threatening, but WATCH FOR THE END BY RECEIVING CHRIST’S PROMISES TODAY.

            It is pointless to try to predict or determine when Christ will come again.  Even Christ Himself tells us that is pointless: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.  The only thing that we need to focus on is not the when, but that He will come again, just as he promised. 

            The parable that Jesus tells to His disciples is one that is very appropriate for the Last Sunday in the Church Year: an owner of a house who goes away, leaving his servants in charge, each with their assigned tasks.  The doorkeeper’s task is simple: watch to alert everyone that the man of the house has returned.

            As end another Church Year and begin a new Church Year, it is a year of watchfulness.  We watch for the return of Christ.  The reason for this watchful attitude is given.  The specific time, the end time that Jesus has been talking about in this entire chapter relating to His second coming, is unknown.  The uncertainty connected with this lack of knowledge is no reason for carelessness or indifference.  The very opposite is true.  Uncertainty calls for increased watchfulness, as Jesus illustrates in the parable.

            The man who has gone away is no other than Jesus Christ.  Christ left this world in His ascension, just as He said He would.  But He also said that He would return again.  In our Gospel text for last week, Jesus told His disciples that “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  Christ Jesus, who once came to save all humanity, who comes to us even now in Word and sacrament, is most certainly coming again.  We do not know when that will be.  It could be at anytime.  The sinful world, which goes on its outwardly merry but purposeless way, is totally oblivious to this fact.  In making predictions and the like of when Christ will return, we try to set a date to which Christ Himself could not determine.  The Scriptures are abundantly clear that only God knows when that is to be.  Not even Jesus, in His humanity, claimed to have that knowledge.  And yet many have attempted to set a date and to lead others into believing and accepting their view.

            All of us are destined to stand before Christ.  It might be one second after this [snap fingers here].  It may happen before Christ returns as we come to the end of our life.  But make no mistake, Christ will return to put an end to all things as we know them and to fulfill the promises made by God in Scripture.
            Well again, what is Jesus’ advice?  Simple, be ready!  Be alert.  Know that Jesus is returning and live in His forgiveness and grace.  Know that the cross was about making us ready to stand before Jesus.  Know that God draws close to keep our hearts ready for that great and awesome day that is coming.  Know that God has more at stake in us being ready for the end of time than we have.  He sacrificed His one and only Son on the Cross to make us ready!

            Jesus tells us to be ready because one day He will return.  This time He will not be the humble Savior who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, only to be killed on a cross. He came then to be our Savior, to give up His life on the Cross.  When Jesus returns next, He will come to judge.  He will come to destroy the present world and to establish the eternal Kingdom where all believers are to live for eternity.  You have a place in that Kingdom as God washes you clean through the forgiveness that Jesus won on the Cross. And if you are a believer, and if when Christ returns you are having a weak moment, it is that same forgiveness that Jesus won on the Cross – once for all believers for all time – that assures you that Jesus will usher you into the Kingdom.

            As this Church Year ends and we look to the coming of a new Church Year, we watch expectantly.  We keep watch because we do not know when Jesus will come back.  Regardless of His return, we do not want Him to find us sleeping.  We stay awake and watch vigilantly by coming to church so we hear the Word of God and receive the gifts which He has given to us in His sacraments.  We watch by attending Bible study where we learn more of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. 

            When we understand the situation that confronted the 12 disciples at this moment, we can appreciate the Lord’s personal concern that they be especially alert.  In short order the Lord was to be anointed by Mary of Bethany for His death and burial; He was to institute His Holy Supper; He was to be arrested, tried, condemned, crucified, and buried; He was to rise triumphantly on the third day; He was to commission His disciples to preach the good news to all creation; He was to ascend into heaven.  Each event fit into the master plan for the salvation of the world, and all was to take place in the light of His second coming, when all the pieces would finally fit together for all eternity! 

            We look to the words of Jude in our Epistle reading for today: “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”  It is in that faith, that we can look to Christ’s return with joy.  It is in that faith that we can look to that return of Christ as a great reunion with all who have gone on ahead into the eternal Kingdom.  It is in that faith that we can look to the return of Christ as our deliverance from this world.

            As we look to the future, let us hear and follow the words of Jesus: “Watch!”  Amen.

            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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Posted by on December 1, 2006 in Religion, Sermons


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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Posted by on December 1, 2006 in Religion, Sermons

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