Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost–“Fellowship” (Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30)

A-78 Proper 20 (Mt 20.1-16)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 is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Christian fellowship is important in the work of the Church. When I say Christian fellowship, I don’t mean sitting around eating cookies and drinking coffee, though that is nice. When I speak of Christian fellowship, I mean the times when the Church is centered around what makes the Church the Church – namely the Word and the Sacraments.

As Paul writes to the Church at Philippi, he is ready, if necessary, to face death, for he knows that because he has been faithful in the declaration of the Gospel, that should this be the end of his life, that Christ would be magnified. It was his concern and his desire that the brothers and sisters at Philippi would also remain faithful to the fellowship that they have in Jesus Christ.

One has to ask themself why Paul would be writing to the Philippians to remain in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. The reason is simple: there were those within the Church who were withdrawing or who had left that fellowship. For some, they left the fellowship of Christ because of suffering they were enduring. If there was anyone who knew suffering, it was Paul. Paul suffered from being imprisoned three different times in his life. Paul suffered from being shipwrecked on the island of Malta for three months on his way from Caesarea to Rome. Needless to say, Paul suffered during his life; this was just the suffering that he faced once he became a Christian following his Damascus Road conversion.

Suffering for the Christian is nothing new. It’s not something that the Christian looks forward to, yet it is something that the Christian will face during their life. Not only is it something that we face, it is nothing short of a gift from God. We know that faith is a gift from God, for Paul says that faith is a gift, “granted” to us “for the sake of Christ.” As hard as it may be to understand, suffering for the sake of Christ is indeed a gift.

Like faith, we see that suffering is a gift, though not a gift like you and I would think of. Faith is something given to us for our benefit; no one would deny that fact. But can we say the same about suffering? Is suffering given to us for our benefit? The answer is yes. It is granted to us, as Paul says.

Most would not consider suffering a gift. When one thinks of a gift, they think of money, jewelry, a new car, but not suffering. If you had the choice between a gift of one-million dollars or suffering, your choice would be a no-brainer: you would take the money.

Following his conversion, Paul suffered many a thing. However, he did not count it as a curse, but rather as a blessing. This conversion left Paul with one simple message: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul’s suffering, while it was difficult at times, furthered the work of the Gospel. Early in our text, Paul makes mention of his imprisonment. It was not punishment for disobeying God, but a result of faithfully speaking the Word of God. That suffering for speaking the Gospel was bearing fruit. The imperial guard and all the rest had heard of Christ as a result of Paul’s suffering. Because of the message of Christ which Paul was preaching, others were becoming confident in speaking of Christ because of Paul’s suffering. Suffering like Paul talks about here is echoed throughout his epistles. We see Paul’s suffering instrumental in the founding, the upbringing, the doctrine, and the chastisement of congregations in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae.

Our text today is Paul’s encouragement to them all of the importance and blessing of remaining in that fellowship. Staying faithful to that fellowship of Jesus Christ may mean good times and it may mean bad times. It may mean a life that is worry free and it may mean a life of suffering. Regardless, more than anything in this life is to be faithful to fellowship that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

We are called to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.” We are called to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” We are called to live out our lives as “little Christs,” that is, a reflection of the love that has been shown to us by God our heavenly Father. Listen again to the words of St. Paul: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” Whether Paul lives or dies, he wants the Philippians to stand fast in the Gospel. His concern also is the fellowship as it stands before the adversary. The adversary, Satan himself, desires to sift the fellowship as wheat. And God has promised that not even the gates of hell can prevail against the fellowship that is in Christ Jesus. That being said, the fellowship of Christ, that is, the Church on earth, the Church Militant, will indeed suffer for the sake of Christ.

Suffering for the sake of the Gospel leads us to one thing and one thing only: trust in Christ and Christ alone. Christ has suffered our same sufferings, as well as sufferings that we can never suffer. He became man and suffered what you and I were meant to suffer. Because of your sins and mine, He was harassed, humiliated, abandoned by friends, and excluded by Jewish leadership. He was arrested, imprisoned, beaten and killed, all for the sins of the world. He was damned, rejected by His Father, and suffered the torments of hell; not for His behalf, but on behalf of you, the people whom God was making His own by the work of His Son. It is by His life, suffering, death, and resurrection that you and I have received a prize: that prize is everlasting life. That is exactly what we hear from the Gospel of John: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Christ has laid down His life so that we would have fellowship in Him and the blessings that He gives – forgiveness, life, and salvation. We do as Paul says, lead a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ, for it is Christ and Christ alone who gives us the greatest gift – the gift of Himself. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Remembrance of 9/11–“In Memory”

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

There are those dates that are forever etched in our minds. We remember where we were and what we were doing. Some may remember where they were on December 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That day sparked for our nation our entry into World War II and our declaring war upon Japan. Most of you remember November 22, 1963 – the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. July 20, 1969, famous words were uttered: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” For those of the younger generation, that is the day that the first American landed and stepped foot on the moon.

As we gather together this morning, we remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001. On that day, we experienced an attack on American soil that we have never experienced before. That day and its events will forever be etched in the minds of Americans for as long as we live. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when our lives came to a screeching halt. For myself, it was the second day of classes at Concordia Theological Seminary. As we left the classroom buildings and made our way to the Chapel hearing of the events for the first time, we were speechless, as was the entire nation. Details were sketchy. All that we knew was a plane had flown into one of the world Trade Center towers. Shortly thereafter, a second plane flew into the other tower. As the morning’s events continued to unfold, we saw two more planes crash into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field and the collapse of both towers.

In the midst of this tragic event, we ask ourselves, “How can this be? How can this happen in our own land?” The events of that day, of all of those tragic events that happen in this world are because we live in a sinful world. This tragedy shows the brokenness of this world, and how this world is truly a culture of death. This was not the way God had intended His creation to be. When God created the world and all that is in it, He created it to be perfect and without sin. Unfortunately, through the work of Satan, the perfection that God had created became infected with sin. Sin brings with it death, sin’s ultimate result.

One thing that we must always remember is that God does not cause evil to occur, He only allows it. The evil that occurs in this world is not by God’s doing, but it is the work of sin, brought into this world by Satan. He is the one who causes such tragedies to occur. He is the one who brings devastation. He is the one who brought death into this world.

Nearly 3000 men, women, and children died as a result of that day. I suspect the images of that day have somewhat faded but certainly have not been lost ten years later. That day, those images wrenched our hearts and subdued our lips and stirred our souls. We were brought to our knees at the days’ events.

Many people asked then and continue to ask today, “Where was God on September 11?” The question itself is age-old and has been asked many a time in moments of crisis. In the Old Testament, great men of faith from Jacob to Joseph and from Job to Jonah asked it. God is where He has always been – the Lord and Giver of Life, who reigns from His heavenly throne. He was with those in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon as they were being rescued; He was with those who perished; He is here with you. He is here this morning with us, gathered around His Word. He is there on the cross – giving His life in order to forgive and redeem His people.

The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” But man can indeed do a lot to us in our earthly lives. All one has to do is read the newspaper to see the wickedness of man: theft, murder, war, and the list goes on. But the Scriptures remind us of the love that God has for us, a love that goes beyond our human understanding. It is the love that God has for us that gives us something to look forward to; looking beyond this veil of tears that we live in and look to the eternal glory that God has prepared for us through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

During our earthly lives, we are called to follow Jesus. The call to follow Jesus is especially meaningful for us today as we remember those events that occurred ten years ago. We know that Satan is at work, doing all that he can to separate us from God, to silence God’s Word to His people. He is working evil in this world to confuse and mislead all people, even the people of God. His goal is to get us to take our eyes off of Jesus, to turn to the world or to turn to anything but God, for Satan knows that through God and His means, we receive forgiveness, life and salvation. He knows that our redemption is made only by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Satan is ever at work because he knows that God is the One who has and who will prevail.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 28, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Our Lord invites us to come to Him. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The Scriptures are filled with passages such as these, passages filled with words of comfort that remind us of the presence and power of our Lord at all times, and especially when we face difficult and perilous times like we did as a nation on September 11, 2001.

Today, as we remember the tragedy and the horror of September 11, we are reminded of Paul’s words to the Romans: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God our heavenly Father does indeed love us and cares for us, providing for all of our earthly needs, as well as sending His Son Jesus Christ, to provide for our heavenly needs.

God’s perfect love for us is just that, it is perfect. It desires the salvation of all of mankind. It desires to have that saving relationship between God and His creation. The power of God’s love sustains us, strengthens us, and supports us, surely as it did throughout the weeks and months following 9/11, and even today. May the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord be with you all. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost–“Greatness” (Matthew 18:1-20)

A-75 Proper 18 (LHP) (Mt 18.1-20)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 is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

If you had a choice of either being the greatest at something or the least at something, which would you choose? Would you want to know everything there is to know about something or know nothing at all? Obviously if you could choose to be either the greatest or the worst at something, you would choose to be the greatest, right?

The Gospel that we just read from Matthew 18 is very rich in a wide variety of topics: the serious nature of sin, the generosity of God’s forgiveness, the love God has for His little ones, and the serious consequences of leading His little ones astray. Of all these topics, the one topic that seems to underlie most of the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 18 is the topic of Christ’s little ones.

Matthew 18 begins with one of those teachable moments in which the disciples plant their feet firmly in their mouths and ask Jesus a question.  At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” This question tells us that the disciples don’t get it. They are still trying to figure out which post they will have in Jesus’ cabinet once He takes over.

We might think that the question that the disciples ask is a rather strange question, because if you really stop and think about it, what does it matter if you are the greatest in the kingdom since you will be in heaven! However, for the disciples, they didn’t see it that way. They knew that someone would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and they wanted to know who; specifically, would it be them.

Jesus’ teaching defuses the thoughts of the disciples. He doesn’t answer, “It will be ‘insert disciple name here.’” He doesn’t come out and say a particular disciple’s name. Instead, he calls a child to Him. Now if you’re a disciple, you’ve got to be on pins and needles wondering what Jesus’ answer is and then out of nowhere, He calls for a child to come to Him. One has to wonder if Jesus is trying to dodge the question. Then, Jesus answers the question: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself likes this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

How can a child be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? If there was going to be anyone who is the greatest in heaven, it would be one of the disciples at the very least. They were the ones who followed Jesus, who did the work of Jesus. How is it that their greatness would be usurped by that of a child?

Yet again, the disciples miss what Jesus says. Look at a child for a moment. Children are often seen as signs of hope for the future and gifts of God. In themselves, however, children are ignorant, unfit to rule, cannot choose between good and evil, are not able to count, cannot defend themselves and are readily deceived. They are needy. They require someone to provide for them. Left to themselves, they will not be able to care for themselves. If you are a disciple, you have to be scratching your head at Jesus’ answer. But if you look deeper into Jesus’ words, then you will see what He means by child.

Regardless of how old you are, you are still a child. That’s right; I said you are a child. I don’t mean because of your attitude or your behavior. You are a child because God has made you a child; a child of God. Why is this so important? Left to our own sinful self, we will never be able to provide for our redemption. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation and so it must be earned for us. In your Baptism, you received God’s name. At that moment, you became His redeemed child and all that God has to offer you became yours.

If you want to know who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, all you have to do is look in the mirror, for you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It might be hard to believe that you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, that surely there must be someone who is greater than you. But you are wrong. You are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, because God the Father has created you, God the Son has redeemed you and God the Holy Spirit has sanctified you. You are God’s beloved creation and God has sent Jesus for you, so that you would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

For the disciples, and unfortunately, for all too many, greatness is something which they think they have earned or accomplished for themselves. In this world, you can achieve greatness; greatness in the eyes of the world. You can be the greatest athlete. You can be the greatest musician. You can be the greatest in your line of work. You can even be the greatest parent and earn the coffee mug that proves it. But all of this is measured in the eyes of the world’s standards. Greatness in the eyes of the world can come and go. You might be remembered after your death for something of greatness that you did during your life, but again that greatness is measured by worldly standards.

Ironically, greatness in God’s eyes is not because you’ve done anything special, because you haven’t. It’s not because you’ve done anything great, because you haven’t. Your greatness is because it is Christ-earned greatness. Jesus Christ, through His atoning death and sacrifice, gave to you what made you great in the eyes of God the Father. He gave you His holiness. He gave you His righteousness. He gave you forgiveness of all of your sins. He gave you everlasting life. He gave all of this to you, and because of Christ and Christ alone, you have been made the greatest in the kingdom of heaven because God has made you His beloved child. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

A Divine Call

Trinity Lutheran, Gillette, WyomingFor the last 6 years, I have served as Assistant Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Gillette, Wyoming. In April, the Senior Pastor received and accepted a Call to another congregation within the District. From mid-April until now, we have been operating with a single pastor. During these last few months, we have looked at and evaluated our needs to see if we wanted to call a second pastor or remain a single-pastor congregation. On August 7, it was decided to be a single-pastor congregation. A special Voter’s Meeting was set up for August 21 to determine who the congregation wanted to extend that Call to.

On the evening of August 21, I received and accepted the Call to serve as Sole Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Gillette, Wyoming, where I have been serving the last 6 years. I am privileged to continue God’s work in this place and minister to His people that He has entrusted to me.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost “Deny Yourself” (Matthew 16:21-28)

A-74 Proper 17 (Mt 16.21-28)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 is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It was in last week’s Gospel lesson that Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”, and it was Peter who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” By the grace and knowledge of God, Peter was right. Before him stood Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh. Imagine the thoughts and reactions of the disciples: their Teacher has gotten off to a humble start, what with this walking from town-to-town and teaching. Nevertheless, He’s the long-awaited Christ. Things are going to get better, aren’t they? He’s only going to grow in popularity and power, and gather the love of the many, right? It’s only a matter of time until He sits on a throne and begins to rule…isn’t it? And how wonderful for the disciples, to be in this on the ground floor and going along for the ride. All of this must appeal greatly to the disciples’ human minds and thoughts.

But then all of a sudden, the mood changes: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus is going to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed? How can that be? How could the Son of God allow Himself to die? Why would He? This doesn’t fit in with the disciples’ preconceived notions.

Ever the spokesman, it’s Peter who pulls Jesus aside. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” How could Peter have said this, given his great confession of who Jesus was just a few verses earlier? Peter’s intentions were good. He could not bear to think of such terrible things happening to his Lord. He spoke without considering what he was saying. The man who had just acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, now presumed to contradict Jesus’ very plain words. Christ came to save lives by losing His.

Christ has come into a dying and broken world with a single goal and purpose: to save it, but our idea of saving lives is usually quite different from what Jesus had in mind. The people of Jesus’ day were looking to Jesus to be a great earthly king who would save them from oppression and restore Jerusalem to glory days of old. Their salvation was merely focused on the here and now.

But no matter whom Peter or anyone else wants Jesus to be, Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God who has become flesh to die on the cross. Peter and everybody else shouldn’t expect any different.

Jesus’ salvation was not focused on the here and now, but it was focused on the people’s eternal salvation. He has something completely different in mind than Peter and the rest of the people. He issues a stern warning to Peter, and in essence, all who would oppose His saving work: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

What does this mean for us? If you’re going to follow Jesus, deny yourselves. Reject who you think Jesus is supposed to be, and submit to His Word. If you think that following Jesus is all about glory and power and an exalted life on earth, you’re not going to follow Jesus. You’re going to abandon Him with the crowds who don’t like His teaching, or you’re going to run away when you see Him arrested, suffering and crucified. If you run away from Jesus to save your life, you’ll lose it. Deny yourself, confess your sin and be His forgiven people, and you’ll live forever. Never forget the reason that Jesus is going to that cross – He is going for you; that’s why He’s going to exchange His holy, precious blood for it, that you might have grace and life forever.

If your primary concern is to save this life, to get the most out of this life in pleasure and satisfaction and enjoyment, you will end up losing everything. But if you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, if you dedicate all to Him, follow His Word, you will live a meaningful life and God-pleasing life in this world and enjoy all the blessings of everlasting life in heaven. That is what Jesus desires for you – life everlasting with Him and the Father.

Jesus had to bear His cross, and all who follow Him have their crosses to bear too. The crosses Christians bear are the hardships and sufferings and persecutions they endure as a consequence of faithfully following Christ. These crosses vary from person to person, but every Christian must expect to bear a cross.

Today, Jesus redefines your life with His own cross. Since you have been redeemed by Jesus’ great sacrifice, you bear His mark. The cross inscribed on your head and heart in Baptism has become the very signature of your life. It marks you as “one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” It places the very name of God on you and says that you belong to Him, that His Son has paid for you with His very body and blood, that wonderful gift that Christ Himself gives to us at His Table.

Because Jesus has made His cross your own, therefore you are forgiven. And you are forgiven for all of your sins. Thus, when you doubt His faithfulness to you in your sufferings, He declares, “Remember how I delivered people from sickness and grief on My way to the cross. As I healed and delivered them, I will also heal and deliver you from all your afflictions. It will be in My time, which is best for you; and in the meantime, you can be certain of My faithfulness because I have already delivered you from sin and death and hell by My own death on the cross.”

Though you will still fall far short of making your life a perfect, living sacrifice to your Lord, you are not forsaken. The living God declares to you this day, “My Son has died your death and made His cross to be yours. Because He has taken your sin away, I do not hold your sin against you. For His sake, I see you wholly acceptable before Me, because all of your sin is taken away.” What joy you have to deny yourself and confess your sins daily, knowing that the Lord sees you perfect and righteous for the sake of His Son.

And so you have joy and glad confidence in this world of suffering and death. By the grace of God, you daily deny yourself and confess your sins before the Lord. Daily, you live with the sure comfort that Jesus has borne His cross for you to take away your sin, and that He makes His cross, your cross. In Him, your life is found, because He has exchanged His own lifeblood to gain your soul for eternity. Because He has done it, you bear His cross: and you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost–“You are the Christ” (Matthew 16:13-20)

A-73 Proper 16 (Mt 16.13-20)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 is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” That is the question that Jesus poses to His disciples. He wanted to ask what they had learned about the people’s attitudes toward Him during their recent travels. Up to this point, Jesus and the disciples had come into contact with a large number of people of varying classes. They’ve encountered the “average Joe”, the sick, the possessed, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the like. Some of the people, like Herod, thought Jesus must be John the Baptist brought back to life. At least they recognized that John and Jesus both proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God and called the people to repentance. Some thought He must be Elijah the prophet brought back to life. They were familiar with the words of the prophet Malachi: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” But Jesus had already declared that John the Baptist was the second Elijah. Others, not so sure of themselves, thought Jesus might be another of the Old Testament prophets, perhaps even Jeremiah.

The opinions of the people showed that they regarded Jesus very highly as a man of God, but they did not regard Him highly enough. They did not know Him as the one and only Son of God, Himself true God with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity. They were not much different from many people of our own day who praise Jesus as a great teacher but don’t know Him as their Savior and the only Savior of the world.

“But who do you say that I am?” That is the question of the day for the disciples. They had been with Jesus constantly for more than two years. They had observed how He lived and had witnessed His mighty works, and they had heard Him teach about the kingdom of God and about Himself. Did they agree with some of the other people, or did they have more understanding by now? Peter, who often spoke first and often acted as spokesman for the rest, was ready with an excellent answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

This is where things get interesting. In Greek, the name “Christ” means “the Anointed.” This would have also been fulfilled in the Old Testament by the name “Messiah.” Peter recognized and confessed Jesus to be the long-awaited Savior of the world. It soon became evident, however, that Peter’s understanding of the person and the work of the Messiah left much to be desired.

For the here and now, Peter recognized Jesus for who He was. That meant that Peter recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah foretold of so long ago. He understood Jesus to be the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Not only was Jesus a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, He would do something that no one else has ever done or would be able to do: give His life so that we would have life. St John writes, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what Jesus has done. He has given His life so that you would have life and have it abundantly. He gave His life so that all of your sins would be forgiven. He gave His life so that you would be able to stand before the Holy God, not as a person condemned by their sins to hell, but rather as one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and now has the holiness and righteousness of Christ.

That same confession of faith that Peter made is the same one that you and I make. Christ empowers us in our confession of Him today to assault the very gates of hell. He hears the promises made in Baptism and confirmation and in every confession, and He empowers us through the gift of His Spirit to assault hell itself and win. On the rock of the confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Christ has built His Church and not even hell’s gates can withstand its onslaught.

It is at the cross that we see what it means to be the Christ. There on the cross is the Christ sacrificing Himself for the sins of the world. There is the Christ, the rock on which the church is built.

With His suffering and death on the cross, Christ has overcome sin. Since death relies on sin, Christ has also defeated death. Resurrection must follow the victory that Christ won for us on the cross. It is with His resurrection from the grave that Jesus finished showing the disciples and us what it means to be the Christ. Through the resurrection, death and hell have been defeated. It is with the complete picture of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection that we have a complete picture of what it means to be the Christ. It is with this complete picture that we begin to understand Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

We cannot make this confession in our own flesh and blood. It is not something we will develop through our own speculation. It must come from outside of us. The Father sends the Holy Spirit to do just that. The Holy Spirit works in us through Word and Sacrament to establish and maintain our faith. It is only by that faith that we can truly make this confession.

The interesting thing is that Peter himself did not understand his own confession. Peter and most of the people who waited for the Messiah were waiting for someone who would

re-establish the Kingdom of Israel as it had once been under King David. They were waiting for a savior from the oppression of the Roman occupation. Even those who looked for a savior from sin were expecting a display of power – a glorious victory over evil. The idea of victory through humility, suffering, and death was not part of their thinking.

A lot of people in our day don’t understand the true meaning of the Christ. Some say Jesus was a great moral teacher, but nothing more. Others see Him as a life coach. Still others see Him as an example. Jesus is more than just a moral teacher, life coach or an example. Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice so that you and I might have everlasting life.

Jesus Christ still asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” There are many who still do not understand the true meaning of the Christ, but the truth never changes. Peter’s confession is still the right answer to that question. It is on that confession that Jesus is building His Church.

Just as Jesus delighted in Peter’s confession, so He delights in our confession as well. We too made a promise and a confession of Christ. On the days of our Baptism and our confirmation, we too got the confession right. We confessed Jesus with the true and sturdy words of the creed. God loved to hear those promises. He delighted in our words that day and still delights when we confess Him as Lord today.

But like Peter, we have not always lived up to those promises that we made. We have fled the embarrassment of being a Christian, the danger to our careers and our popularity. But like Peter, Christ has sought us out and restored the broken relationship. He has poured out His Holy Spirit on us.

We who have this faith in Jesus as the Christ have a relationship with God that will last forever. Jesus promised that He would always dwell with us while we lived on this earth. He has also promised that we who believe will live with Him forever when we leave this world. The blessing of this confession is way better than anything our speculation can provide. And because this confession comes from God the Father Almighty, we know it is the truth. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost–“God’s Mercy” (Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32)

A-72 Proper 15 (Mt 15.21-28)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 is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

What is the number one goal of a pastor? It’s not necessarily to preach the perfect sermon, but that always helps. It’s not to have the pews full every Sunday, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The goal of a pastor is that of God: the pastor “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

In our text for today, it opens with Paul talking to the Gentiles. His goal: to preach and teach to the Gentiles the saving nature of Jesus Christ. Not only does Paul want to see the Gentiles saved, he also wants to see his own people saved as well. That, my friends, is the goal of all pastors: to see their own people saved. And who are a pastor’s own people: all sinners.

For Paul, he too taught his own people, sinners who were Jew and Gentile. The Jews had disregarded Paul’s saving message of Jesus Christ while the Gentiles accepted it. Of the Jews who disregarded Paul’s message of Jesus Christ were members of his own family. It was Paul’s hope that some of the Jews, family or non-family, would take heed to what he was preaching and teaching.

We too have heard the saving message of Jesus Christ, but do not always “listen” to what it says. We turn away from God when something goes horribly wrong, such as the death of a loved one. We would rather be fed with chips and beer on a Sunday rather than Christ’s body and blood. We would prefer to commune with God on the fishing lake rather than in His house. We can insert many other reasons why we hear the saving message of Jesus Christ but don’t always “listen” to what it says.

For Paul, he did whatever he could to bring people to Christ, both Jew and Gentile alike. He preached to both groups, but only one group listened. According to him, he made much of his ministry in the hope that he may somehow arouse his own people to envy and save some of them. What a strange thing to do; to make someone envious so they will come to Christ. Think of what Paul did. He did this in order not only to bring the Gospel to as many Gentiles as possible, but to enlarge that number so that there might be a resulting sense of envy among the Jews. The envy might even then become an occasion for the Jews to rethink their own rejection of the Gospel, since it will have proved its power in the conversion of so many Gentiles.

It’s funny how we are so much like the Jews and the Gentiles. Some have heard and accepted the message while others have rejected the message. What is important to remember is whether we have accepted or rejected the message of Christ which has been proclaimed to us, Christ died for all of us, including those that reject. Christ’s death is not just for believers, but for all of mankind.

As it was for the Jews and Gentiles, it remains for us today: rejection or acceptance. Rejection is of ourselves, our own decision to reject the gift of eternal life which has been freely given to us. Acceptance is not of ourselves; it is strictly alone by the grace of God. This is seen in the teachings of the Lutheran confessors during the time of the Reformation. They taught sola gratia, by grace alone. This wasn’t something that they came up with; this is taken straight from Scripture: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is only through the grace of God that we have faith. This is spoken of again in the Gospel of John: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

This acceptance that Paul speaks of in our text is “life from the dead,” in other words, eternal life. Each believer of Christ is given that as a free gift, paid for by the blood of Christ. We have been given a life that means an end to sin and death, a life where we come face to face with Jesus Christ, who gave us this new life at the cost of His own.

The best part of this is that it is irrevocable; it can never be taken away. God’s grace will not be withdrawn. His grace does not fade away because of our sins. The grace that God extends to His children, He does so out of the love that He has for His creation. Since He created us in His image, He desires us to remain in His image. Since the fall, we lost that image. For the image to be restored, God sent His Son to be the Sacrifice that would be necessary to restore that image. Because of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for God’s creation, the image of God has been restored. We have the image that God had intended for us to have at creation: perfection, holiness, righteousness – all won for us by Jesus Christ. These are the gifts that He gives to all who believe.

All of this is a response to our fall into sin. Had that not occurred, there would be no need for Jesus. Because of our fall into sin, we became disobedient to what God had purposed for us, eternal life in the Garden of Eden. Because of the fall, disobedience was all that we were left with. Only one thing would bring us from our disobedience, God’s mercy. And through this mercy are we given eternal life.

Mercy is what God is all about. All throughout the Old Testament, we see how God showed mercy to His people. God showed mercy to Noah when He destroyed the world in a flood. God showed mercy Abraham mercy by making him the father of many peoples. God showed mercy to Lot by sparing him from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God has shown mercy to us all by sending Jesus to redeem us. God showed mercy to you when He called you by name in the waters of Holy Baptism and made you His beloved child.

The Lord used the rejection of the Jews into the means by which the Gentiles were saved. We too have had the rejection of others used as means to encourage and strengthen our belief in Jesus Christ. This rejection, this disobedience, is turned into mercy which gives salvation to all.

It is God’s will that all men might be saved, both Jew and Gentile alike, those who accept the message of Jesus Christ and those who reject it. His Son died for all, that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth: that Jesus Christ is our Savior and giver of eternal life. All of this God does “that he may have mercy on all.” God indeed has shown mercy on us by giving to us His Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

The Beginning of a Journey

Last Wednesday, my wife and I decided to get ourselves healthier. For us, that means to lose weight. We decided to try Weight Watchers. I did this back in 2003-2004 and I lost about 30 pounds. Hopefully, I’ll be able to lose that again. Since starting, I have yet to reach my point allotment for the day. Look for regular updates (at least weekly) about my journey to a better me.

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