Pentecost 17–“Lost” (Luke 15:1-10)

C-83 Proper 19 (Lu 15.1-10)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

In life, there are some things that elicit a feeling unlike any other: a nice, cold beverage on a lazy summer afternoon; the feeling of laying your head down on a nice, soft pillow after a long day’s work; getting the closest parking spot right outside the doors of Wal-Mart; and if you are a Pharisee, knowing that you are better than someone else.

As Luke begins this account of Jesus, tax collectors and sinners are coming to hear Jesus. The Pharisees grumble to one another: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” You can almost hear the disdain in their voice for these people coming to Jesus. In reality, you can almost hear the disdain in their voice for anyone who is not a Pharisee, since they are the only ones who can keep the Law of God. They knew that they were better than anyone and everyone else. If there was any doubt, all you had to do was ask them and they would be more than happy to tell you that they were going to be saved because they kept God’s Law while you did not keep it. However, the Pharisees and scribes who were gathered there that day were about to receive a different message from Jesus than which they knew and practiced.

Our Lord does what He does best when confronted by large crowds: He tells them a parable to convey His point. This instance is no different. Rather than point out a person’s sins or seek to publically shame someone, Jesus tells them a parable, a way to insert them into the story without using them personally. Here Jesus tells two parables. They both share a commonality: lost items. The first is about a lost sheep and the second a lost coin.

In the first parable, a man has 100 sheep. A shepherd having a flock of 100 sheep was quite normal. It also marked him as being moderately rich. One sheep from the flock goes missing, leaving the man with the remaining 99 sheep. 99 sheep still leaves the man with a nice income, but 99 sheep isn’t what he desires. He desires the 100 sheep that he originally had and so he leaves the 99 to go searching for the 1 that is lost. That such a shepherd would leave his flock in open country in search of one lost sheep seems a bit unrealistic, yet that is what Jesus tells those gathered around Him.

The description Jesus gives of the shepherd joyfully returning home carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders is heartwarming. Everything is made right in the world of the shepherd again. He invites his friends to celebrate with him over the lost sheep being found. There is no mention of the remaining 99 sheep out there in the open country. All attention is focused on the one lost sheep. The point of all of this comes at the end of the parable: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

These are both stinging words to the Pharisees and words of comfort for tax collectors and sinners who were there. These words of Jesus are directed to the Pharisees who thought they were so righteous that they did not need to repent. The Pharisees saw no need of Jesus and the forgiveness that He brings. The sinners in the group, on the other hand, sought out Jesus because of what He brings with Him – forgiveness.

That is exactly what God desires: for the sinner to repent. Our God desires nothing more than to bring all people into His kingdom. That is why Jesus is here. That is why Jesus is often found among the sinners in the towns and cities He visits.

As Jesus launches into the next parable of the lost, the scene changes. The subject is no longer a moderately rich shepherd but a poor woman. The theme is the same: something is lost, this time a coin. The term used for coin here denotes a silver coin worth about a day’s wage. Imagine losing your paycheck for a day and the length that you would go to find it. This woman does the same thing. The result is the same: the lost coin is found and she calls together friends and neighbors to rejoice in finding it. The fact that she would search so diligently for the lost coin is not surprising to us. The fact that she invites people to celebrate that she found it is a bit much. The message of Jesus is the same as before: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The shepherd could have been content with his 99 sheep, just as the woman could have been content with her 9 coins, but both go to great lengths to find what was lost. Our Lord exists in much the same way. He is not content with the handful that is saved, but He desires that all would be saved. Jesus says in Luke 19, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The Pharisees know that these parables must be directed against them, for they have no need of repentance. They know they have rejected God’s plan of salvation in Jesus. But what about us? Who are we? Are we the Pharisee secure in our own salvation or the sinner desiring repentance? If we are the Pharisee, then these parables are for us, to show that our salvation cannot be attained by our adherence to the Law or by anything that we do ourselves to win salvation. If we are the sinner, then the parables are for us as well. In them, we see the lengths that God goes to in order to redeem His creation, going all the way to the cross to redeem those who are lost in their sins. That’s you and me and all of creation. Our Lord goes to the ends of the earth and back, going to the cross and the depths of hell in order to win for us salvation. He took the burden of your guilt on the cross and paid for it with His blood. Then He swept you clean from all your sins by washing you with water and the Spirit. He lit the lamp of His Word to shed His light upon you. For He also sent His Spirit to give life to your dead soul by His spoken Word. So He has found you and has claimed you again as His own.

The whole point of the parables of the ninety-nine sheep and the nine coins is that people who insist that they are not sinners also insist that they do not need Jesus. Those who insist that they are not bad also insist that they do not need Jesus. Those who insist that they are not lost are the most lost of all. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep. The woman leaves the nine coins. The search is for the one that is lost. Jesus searches for sinners. Our Lord comes searching for the lost, searching for you, in order to redeem you. Now is the time for us to rejoice, for we have been found and restored by Jesus. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 16–“Choose Life” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

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

Throughout our lives, we are given opportunities to make choices. We get to choose to wake up or stay in bed a little longer. We get to choose what clothes to wear, what food to eat. We get to choose our spouse, our job, our home, etc. In school, as we take tests, we are often given multiple choices to choose from, with one choice being the right answer and the others being the wrong answer. Life is full of choices; few carry eternal consequences. But today, we see presented to Israel and to us a choice unlike any other choice: do we follow our God or do we go away to follow other gods. In other words: do we choose life or do we choose death?

Trusting the Lord and living life His way isn’t just a way of doing things; it’s the only way of doing things. Israel had a choice to make – to obey God and live or go off and do their own thing and die.

History sometimes presents whole societies with genuine turning points, times when we humans are collectively confronted with a real alternative, moments when crucial decisions can be made which will affect the future for many generations to come. The people of God in the Old Testament repeatedly came to such forks in the road of their journeyings. Our text sets us in the midst of one such critical time when it was urged that God’s faithful ones choose wisely and well, acting from a courage that would permit them to move forward with resolute hope. Here was life at the crossroads. Would they be faithful to the God of their fathers and to His commandments, statutes, and ordinances – would they walk in the ways ordained by God as good and leading to life, or would they choose the dreaded alternative to obedience and reap the curse of death and evil?

Israel was reminded that her future depended on a choice of single-minded loyalty to God, the God who in His covenant had made His offer of the blessing of life, but expected the obedient response of a people who walked in His ways. The theology of Israel was based on the conviction that faithfulness to the Lord would guarantee His protection and blessing, while unfaithfulness would result in hardship and misfortune.

This choice goes all the way back to the Garden, where Adam and Eve were presented with the choice of following God’s commandment of not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and living, or follow the prodding of the serpent to eat, and ultimately die as a result.

The choice is set before you and I today. We can choose life and live in God or choose death and live in God’s condemnation forever. Unfortunately for us, the choice has already been made. Through Adam and Eve’s sin, we sin and continue to sin, ever breaking God’s holy Word and commands, and thus are separated from Him and receive eternal condemnation for our sins. Because of the fall into sin, man has chosen death. We no longer have the opportunity to do as Moses commands: “obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules….”

It is impossible for us to do so. Try as we might, we cannot obey God and His commandments. It is impossible for us to keep the First Commandment that our Lord gives: “You shall have no other gods.” It’s because we do not “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” No human, even God’s specially chosen people, could keep these commands without the power God Himself supplies in His grace. St. Paul writes, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Just as Israel had many false gods they worshiped throughout their history, so we have many other gods that we like to worship, gods that we believe will give to us all that we want instead of what we need. We want the pleasures of this earth, but we need the forgiveness that only the God of the Scriptures can give to us.

Moses gives to the people a warning what will happen should they turn away from God and worship other gods and serve them rather than Yahweh: “you shall surely perish.” It was cut and dry, no other way to interpret it: worship God and follow His commandments and ways and you will live; fall away from God, worship other gods and you will die.

Thanks be to God, that is not how things are left. God in His divine forbearance saw fit to give us a way to defeat death by sending us the gift of life. He has sent to us His Son Jesus, who by His life, death, and resurrection gives to us the gift of life. While Israel was His chosen people, they could not obey God. While Adam and Eve are God’s creation, they could not obey God. Even though you and I are God’s creation, we cannot obey God and so we die as a result of our disobedience. But for you and all of God’s creation, Jesus chose suffering and death to pay the price we owed God because of our sin and disobedience. Jesus chose death to rescue us. We do not have to choose because Jesus has chosen for us. He has chosen us to be a part of Him so that we would have life and have it abundantly in His name.

For us, we have a great assurance, that while we choose death because of our sin, God has chosen life for us through Jesus. Our Lord promises never to leave or forsake us. That means in this life, because of Christ, those who believe will not be forsaken to eternal death. That means for the believer, Jesus’ death and resurrection secure for you eternal life. For us, God has chosen to give us life, though our sinful nature warrants death. We belong to God, for He has placed His name upon us.

Between the choice of life or death, it would seem as if the choice is an obvious one to make. However, because of our sinful nature, the choice is not ours to make. Adam and Eve made the choice for all of creation in the Garden, and it was the wrong choice. As God’s creation, He chose to give to us another choice. This time, the choice was made by His Son and He chose to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. There is no act necessary on our part, because the choice we would make would be death, because we cannot obey God and His commandments, not even one of them. Because of Christ, life has been chosen, and so we and our offspring may live in the bountiful love of God, our Heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 15–“Sacrifices” (Hebrews 13:1-17)

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

What do you think of when you hear the word sacrifice? It might be going without something in order to provide for your children. It might be a person willing to give their own life so that another person may remain alive. It might mean losing a battle in order to win the war. In either case, it means putting the needs of another ahead of your own.

When we look at what a sacrifice was in biblical times, it often meant the giving of an animal or a grain offering. There were sacrifices made to give thanks, sacrifices for peace, sacrifices that went along with prayers, and especially sacrifices to take away sin and guilt. In fact, the most important day in all of Jewish life was a day of sacrifice for sin and guilt called the Day of Atonement. On that day, a person would take a goat and it would be sacrificed and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies in the temple. It was offered to God as a way to atone for, make up for, or bring forgiveness for the people’s sins. This meant a lot of goats being sacrificed with a lot of bloodshed. Finally, the carcass of the goat was burned outside of the city. Lots of blood, lots of fire, lots of smoke. All of this was done as a sacrifice in order to atone for sins.

Sacrifice continued throughout the New Testament era as well. Finally, the day came when a sacrifice was made that would put to end all other sacrifices. That day was Good Friday. The altar was made of wood in the form of a cross. There was no animal brought forward to be sacrificed, but rather it was Jesus Christ Himself that was brought forward for the sacrifice. The blood that was shed was not that of a goat, but rather that of a Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Everything about this sacrifice was the same with regards to other sacrifices, but at the same time everything was different. While blood was shed, it was not the blood of an animal, but rather the blood of man. Instead of the carcass of the offering being burnt, it was laid in a tomb. Instead of having a need to repeat a sacrifice for sins, this sacrifice was intended to be once for all time. No other sacrifice would be necessary, nor would any sacrifice be able to compare to the sacrifice that was made by Jesus Christ.

The sacrifice of Jesus was done to take away the sins of the world. By His blood, unlike the gallons of animal blood shed over the years, people are made holy. Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary’s cross did what those repeated animal sacrifices could never do. It brought people out of a sinful world and into God’s holy family. There, on the altar of the cross, His blood was shed so we would be clean in the eyes of God. If ever there was a sacrifice to be made, this is it. This sacrifice makes all of the sacrifices in the Old Testament mean anything.

The time for sacrificing is not over. As our text says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God….” We continue to make sacrifices to our God – sacrifices of praise with our lips and sacrifices of doing good for our neighbor – praises which our God commands.

Today you have come to make sacrifices. You come and bring sacrifice with your voice as you sing, confess your sins, confess your faith in the Creed, and pray. When you come to the Lord’s Table, you partake in the great sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

As we sacrifice for our neighbor, the author of Hebrews gives us a list of good works we do, ways to sacrifice ourselves for the need of our neighbor. The entire first half of our text is all about sacrifice for our neighbor. The author writes, Let brotherly love continue….Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers….Remember those who are in prison…Let marriage be held in honor among all….” All of these show a sacrifice of love to our neighbor. All of these examples highlight faith in action and love at work. As the family of Christ, we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We give of ourselves sacrificially for the sake of others, or we should do so.

Everything we do flows from the love that has been shown to us by Christ Jesus. Our Lord placed the needs of the world above His very own. Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” On Maundy Thursday, as Jesus was gathered with His disciples, He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

A question that we need to ask ourselves is this: Do we need the reminder? It should be common sense to love our neighbor, to sacrifice of ourselves in order to strengthen and support our neighbor. But we don’t want to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor, do we? If we take care of everyone else, then who is going to take of Number 1? If you need help with the answer, then you need look no further than the cross of Christ. The entire life of Christ was a sacrifice for His neighbor. He wasn’t concerned with Himself, but rather was entirely concerned with His neighbor. He wanted to make sure the needs of all were met. The greatest need of a person would be the forgiveness of their sins and Jesus did all that was necessary to achieve that for all people. He went to the cross, forsaking His own needs, so that His neighbor, so that you, would receive the forgiveness of sins.

The author makes special mention to those who are prison. What a perfect illustration for us, don’t you think? It describes exactly who we are – prisoners, for we are prisoners in our sin. Instead of rotting away in our prison of sin, you and I were shown mercy by Jesus Christ, the One who comes to preach the Gospel to the spirits in prison. We who were captive in sin have received the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

While it is easier to shut our eyes and ears to those in need, and may even appear safer to do so, our Lord encourages us to be brave enough to stand up for Christian principles and support our weaker brother in their time of need. What greater example could we have than that of Jesus doing just that, putting the needs of others ahead of His own. Instead of living a life in the glory of God the Father for eternity, Jesus puts on humanity in order to restore God’s fallen creation to its intended status of being created in the image of God, that is, holy and perfect, made so by the blood of the Lamb.

For our Lord, it is all about sacrifices. It’s about Jesus making the once-for-all sacrifice for us upon the cross of Calvary, forever putting an end to temporary sacrifices of forgiveness, winning for us forgiveness that can come only from Him. Now that Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice has made us holy, we live lives of sacrifice to God in praise of what has been done for us. 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.

Pentecost 14–“Narrow Doors” (Luke 13:22-30)

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

One of the major problems that has affected the Church throughout the ages is the doctrine of predestination and election. It says that God has predestined some to be saved and He has predestined some to be damned. If you are predestined to be saved, then good for you. If you have been predestined to be damned, then that is rather unfortunate for you. All of this has been determined since before the foundation of the world. A person’s election is not based on any good works or act of the elect, but solely on God’s grace.

The problem with the doctrine of predestination as presented here is that it goes contrary to what Scripture says. St. Paul writes to Timothy, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

As Jesus answers the question regarding salvation, Jesus gives an answer involving a narrow door. Narrow doors don’t allow a mad rush of people to enter all at once. Entrance is gained by going through the door one at a time. What does Jesus mean here? The narrow door is a symbol for Jesus Himself. One enters the gates of heaven by Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone. Our Lord emphasizes to the people that they should “strive to enter through the narrow door.”

The reason why He says that is because the people had many doors which they could enter by that would lead to salvation, at least in their own mind. You had the door of the Pharisees that was marked by keeping the Law perfectly. The only problem here was the only people who would enter through this door were the Pharisees themselves because they were the only ones who could keep the Law perfectly, at least in their own eyes. You also had the door marked by works, that somehow, you could do enough to please God and that He would grant you entry into heaven. There is also the door marked by the world. This is the path to heaven that one achieves on account of the things in this world, whatever they might be.

The many doors into heaven at the time of Christ are very much present for the Church today. Somehow, if we are good enough and nice enough, then God will allow us to enter heaven. Somehow, if we do enough to please God, He will have mercy on us and grant us entry in heaven. If we find the right thing in the world, that will be our key into heaven. But instead of being the narrow door into heaven, they all prove to be the wide way to hell. You can never do enough. You can never be good enough. There is nothing in the world that will gain a person entry into heaven. The only means of eternal life is the narrow door of Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the truth is that there is one door that leads to eternal life. The rest of the Bible tells us that Jesus Himself is that door. Jesus said… “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus made Himself the way with His perfect life and His sacrificial death. He certified that He is the truth by returning to life after He died.

The narrow door is open, but the time is coming when that door will be shut forever, at the second coming of Jesus Christ. The words of John the Baptist ring ever true with regards to the message that Jesus is preaching in our text today: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Just as the master of the house, when the door is locked, will turn away those whom he does not know, God our heavenly Father does the same for those who do not know His Son. We can beg and plead all we want, but it won’t do us any good once the door to heaven is closed to us.

Jesus Christ is your sole means of salvation. The narrow door of salvation, once closed, will seal your fate. All of your good works will not open the door. Regardless of what we do to earn our salvation, we fall short of what God demands: perfection. We are not able to keep one iota of God’s law, let alone keep it all and keep it perfectly. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Whatever good we seek to accomplish, whatever means we try to gain access to the narrow door will, in the end, prove to be futile.

As for the man’s question, the answer to whether those being saved are few is a resounding yes, because not everyone has come to faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But you, the hearer, need not despair or exhaust yourself attempting to “struggle” through the door by your own efforts. Luke, throughout his Gospel, provides examples of those who pass through the door, not by their own merits, but solely by the grace of God. We ask the question, “What should we do?” The answer is nothing, for there is nothing we can do. Rather, the answer is what Jesus has done for you. Baptism in the name of Jesus – a Baptism of repentance to the forgiveness of sins with the gift of the promised Spirit – provides all that is necessary for entrance.

Those people whostrive to enter through the narrow door” are those who became convicted of their sins through the power of the Holy Spirit and struggled in repentance over those sins through the power of that same Holy Spirit. These are the people who had their sins washed away by the blood of the lamb and were brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ who is our door into the kingdom of God. These are the people who did not rely on their own works to save them, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, placed all their trust in that same Jesus Christ. These are the people who recline at table in the kingdom of God.

God our heavenly Father has been gracious to you and speaks His Word upon you: “I forgive you all your sins.” As you partake of the heavenly banquet that has been prepared by Jesus Christ, you have a foretaste of the great feast to come in heaven. In, with and under the bread and wine, the Lord Jesus feeds you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins; there, He gives you His own holiness and righteousness. To trust in your own holiness will lead to uncertainty and despair; to trust His promise is to know that, even now, you participate in a foretaste of the feast to come. Therefore, you can be certain of your salvation: Because Christ and the cross are certain, and He promises His forgiveness for you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 13–“Race of Faith” (Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3)

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

Think about the greatest gift that you ever received in your life. It might have been a toy, a game, car, or house. If we are married and are smart, we would say that the greatest gift we ever received was our spouse. Believe it or not, there is an even greater gift that you have received. You have received the gift of everlasting life. So just how exactly did you receive this gift? Did you buy it? Did you earn it? Did you do something for it? The answer is no; you did nothing to buy it, nothing to earn it, and you did nothing for it. This is a gift.

St. Paul tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God….” You see, all of this is a gift granted to you by faith. Faith is the key to all of this. Faith is something that is given to you, not something which we make or create. Paul makes that clear in his letter to the Romans: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Faith is something which comes from the outside, not from the inside. There isn’t anything that we can do to have faith; it must be given to us. Faith is given to us by the Holy Spirit. It comes to us in the Word of God. It comes to us in Holy Baptism. It comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. It comes to us through Christ, who died for our sins. Only through these means does true faith come.

What is the true faith? The writer to the Hebrews tells us at the beginning of chapter 11: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” All throughout our text for today, we read about those people who lived throughout biblical times and the faith which they had, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Each and every person whom the author of Hebrews mentions was a person of great faith. You have Abraham, Moses, the prophets and patriarchs. All were great people of faith, yet each of them experienced pain in their lives, all stemming from the faith which they had in God.

Faith is what saved the people of the Old Testament, since they did not experience the Messiah. Instead, they had faith in the promise of the Messiah. Faith is ultimately all that Abraham had. Abraham is often called “the father of the faithful.” It was promised to Abraham that it would be his descendants who would inherit the kingdom of God. However, even the “father of the faithful” had his share of trials and tribulations and pain along the way. His most painful moment came in Genesis 22 where God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God.

Instead of scoffing at God’s request, Abraham took his only son and went to the land of Moriah to offer him as the sacrifice, just as God had told him to do. When Isaac questioned about where they would find the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham told him, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Instead of losing or questioning his faith, he continued strong in his faith, even in the face of what was to happen, that God would provide. In the end, the faith of Abraham did not waiver. Abraham focused on God rather than on the circumstances of the impending sacrifice.

As the writer of Hebrews expounds on Moses and the people of Israel, and others, faith is all that they had. Faith is all that any of us have. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, the greatest of all promises. This promise includes the resurrection and the glorification of our bodies when Christ shall appear in His second coming to those who are expecting Him for salvation. This promise is a promise for you and for me and for all believers in Christ Jesus.

For us sinners, we have been given faith by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism. We who are sinners have been united with God forever as His beloved children through what Christ has done for us, through Baptism and through His life, death and resurrection. We have the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.

So what happens when our faith is weakened or when it seems that God has given up on us, that He has left us to our sinful vices? First, know that God has not given up on you, His beloved and baptized children. Even when Israel turned their backs on God over and over again, God did not utterly abandon them. Yes, He let evil befall them. They lost their land, their lives, even their identity, but God was still their God and would preserve them.

For you, God is still your God and will preserve you. He will lift you up when you are at your lowest point in your sinful lives. He has promised that in your Baptism, that you have His name placed upon you and that you are His forever. That promise is yours.

So, what sins do you cling to today? What weighs you down in the marathon of your life as a Christian? What sins trip you up? Whatever it is, the text is clear: lay it aside. Get rid of it. Be done with it. How do we do that? Confess it. Speak to God of your sins that He already knows: acknowledge them before Him. And rejoice: rejoice because the Lord has comfort upon comfort in our epistle to give you this day.

For one thing, this grueling race is already won. Every other religion tells you that the prize is yours if you run the race well enough. But this is not so. Jesus has already run the race. He has already become flesh to endure the cross for you. He has despised its shame—the shame of being found guilty of all the sins of all the world, for they were all heaped upon Him. Yet He has endured the cross so that you might be delivered from your sin.

For another, Jesus remains the victor. He sits at the right hand of the throne of God: He is His Father’s right-hand God-man for you. He does not grow weary or discouraged about your soul; rather, He continues to work all things for your good. He is actively preserving you in the one true faith throughout the race.

Your ultimate joy is this: knowing that you are not alone, for Christ is with you now. He is the author and finisher of your faith: it is He who is the source of the faith you have, and it is He who has completed the cross so that your faith and salvation might be fulfilled. He is the author and finisher, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. But He is not far away: He is with you. In your endurance run, who has given you the living, life-giving water of Holy Baptism? It is none other than Christ Himself. Who continues to feed and strengthen you for whatever race remains? It is your Savior, with His own body and blood.

It’s an endurance run, this life of a Christian. Christ has run His course from heaven to the cross and back again, enduring the judgment for sin so that you might be set free. Take heart, dear friends, for your race is run and won already, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 12–“Anxiousness” (Luke 12:22-34)

C-76 Proper 14 (LHP) (Lu  12.22-34)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

One of many things in Scripture that is hard for sinful man to do is put forward by Jesus today in our Gospel reading: not be anxious about our lives. This includes what we will eat, where we will live, the type of job we will have, the amount of money we have in the bank, etc., etc. All of this falls under the category of daily bread, something which we pray for daily in the Lord’s Prayer: “give us this day our daily bread.” But what do we mean when we say daily bread? Martin Luther gives a very full explanation in the Small Catechism about daily bread. In short, he writes that “daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body….” He goes on to explain it in greater detail, but he starts off by identifying the main point of our daily bread – all that we need to support our body each day.

As Jesus is talking to His disciples, He is teaching them not to be anxious about the things of this world. We all know just how caught up we are in the things of this world that it is the rare thing to not be anxious about anything. However, that is precisely what Jesus is telling the disciples. When He sent out the twelve apostles and the 72 disciples, He told them to take no food along. They were to eat in homes along the way. Such a day-to-day existence might easily cause one to wonder where the next meal would be coming from. Jesus urges His disciples to not be anxious. Life is more than just eating and drinking. In rejecting the devil’s first temptation in the wilderness, Jesus even said as much: “Man shall not live by bread alone.”

The attitude that Jesus looks for in His disciples is one of faith and trust in the heavenly Father. This is the very opposite of the world in which we live in, a world focused on food and drink and a fear of not having enough of the “stuff” that we really need. But here Jesus gives to the disciples comfort which they desperately needed. For all of the things that we need in this world, Jesus assures the disciples, “Your Father knows that you need them.” He will provide for our needs of daily bread in His divine way and with His divine understanding.

Rather than setting one’s heart on “what you are to eat and what you are to drink,” Jesus urges the disciples instead to “seek his kingdom and these things will be added to you.” Once again, Jesus is setting up the question of right priorities. The Pharisees had their priorities. Martha had her priorities as we saw a few weeks ago. The rich man had his priorities as we saw last week. And today, we have our priorities. Sometimes they include Jesus and other times they do not.

It’s easy for us to become over anxious in our world. However, Christ points us to creation all around us in our text and asks us a simple question: “When you see creation, don’t you see my Father’s care? Don’t you see the concern my Father has for everything all around you? Then surely you know that my Father is concerned for you as well.”

God the Father does nothing less than provide for us as well. It may not be what we want or desire but it is what we need to live. However, when we look at the world around us, we get conflicting information. While God provides for our needs, we also see such destruction and devastation. All of this seems to go against God’s care in creation. How is it that God provides for His creation when He allows His creation to suffer like this? We look for answers, but often than not, we don’t look to God for the answers. We look to ourselves for answers or we look to the world for answers. When we worry, we are saying one of two things about God. We are either saying that God is not powerful enough to help us, or that God is powerful, but doesn’t care – or maybe He even wants to hold us back. In any case, we are saying that we cannot rely on God and must therefore rely on ourselves and on our stuff. When we trust in ourselves above all things, we are saying that we are god. When we trust in our stuff above all things, we are saying that our stuff is god. Either way, we are committing idolatry. We are not trusting in God above all things. In fact, we are not trusting in God at all.

While worry is not part of our human nature, it – like all our sins – is part of the sinful nature that we inherited from our parents. The corruption of sin that brought frustration, injury, illness, and death into this world also makes us worriers from birth. Worry is part of the package that comes with our original sin. The heart that does not see Jesus tries to build up treasure for itself. It places trust in the things of this world, something which is easy for us to do. It’s easy because we think that the world can provide us the comfort we need, especially in difficult times. However, that is not the case. While the world may seem to bring comfort to us now, it is only temporary at best. Jesus gives to us a warning – short and simple, but a warning nonetheless: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

When the heart is treasuring the wrong things, then creation and the world does not bring the comfort that Jesus speaks of; the problems of the world weigh upon us rather than being lifted, and anxiety and fear burden us. The only way to change what our heart sees is to change the focus of what our heart is seeing. Instead of focusing on the things of this world which give us great joy now, we need to turn our focus to what matters: Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.

Because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, He has made us a wonderful treasure to God. Our sins have been forgiven; not once, but for all times. God doesn’t see the way we used to be, a creation marred by our sins. Now, He sees us as His blood-bought sons and daughters, free from all our sins and where only the brightness of Christ’s holiness is reflected in us.

Where God’s treasure is, there is His heart also. That is why He sent His Treasure to earth, as His one and only Son, who left His place in heaven to become human so that He may die for your sins and mine.

Jesus doesn’t just tell us that life is more than food. He gives us life. Life with Jesus is more than just the years that we spend here on this earth. By calling attention to the short life of the grass of the field, He reminds us that we inherited an immortal soul from our first father, Adam – a soul that was breathed into Him by the very breath of God. The end of our lives here on this earth is not our final destination. Our final destination is in eternity.

The clothing that we seek is that of Christ, to be clothed in His righteousness. For us, that is the only clothing that matters. Christ took the filthy rags of our sins to the cross. With His sacrificial suffering and death, He earned the right for us to wear His eternal righteousness. Now He gives us the right to be adopted so that we can wear the glorious robes of His righteousness and call His Father our Father. There is no reason for us to be anxious about anything, for we know that our gracious Father does indeed care for us and provide for us beyond all earthly measures. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 11–“Things Above” (Colossians 3:1-11)

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

There is an old adage that says what goes up must come down. Gravity sees fit to make sure that adage is true. If you throw a ball up in the air, gravity will pull it back down. Jump up in the air and you will most certainly return to the earth. Even a helium balloon must give way to that adage and when the helium dissipates, the balloon comes down. However for the Christian, we have the advantage of looking towards heaven and knowing that what goes up will most certainly remain up, for that is where Christ is.

As Christians living in a fallen world, we know that when Christ calls us to Him in death, we have the gift of eternal life in heaven awaiting us. We do not focus, as Christians, primarily on a place. Instead, in looking at things above, we look to a person, Jesus Christ. When focused on earthly things, we forfeit so much of the joy that God intends for us. Looking at the rich man in Jesus’ parable today, what is he focused on? He could care less about eternal life. In fact, the man says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” While he may have years of abundant living on earth, what will happen when that abundance runs out? What will all the earthly goods amount to when he dies? What will they do to earn him eternal life with Christ?

Paul encourages us to keep seeking the things above, that is, where Christ is. We look forward to the glory above that is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. The whole point of Colossians is that Christ is the whole point, not just a minor point of it all. Heresies had been distracting the Church there from Christ; a focus on earthly pleasures, Jewish legalism, and empty human philosophies. Paul responds by putting Christ on the appropriate level, above all such human things. Look at what Paul says: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is….; Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” We are to seek those things that emanate from where Christ is, “seated at the right of God.”

Just as we look to things above, we see how Jesus came from above to earth in order to redeem us here below. He came from heaven to earth in the form of a infant child, who grew in stature of a man, who kept the Law perfectly, going all the way to the cross. And just as He descended from heaven to earth, our Lord descended from earth to hell in order to proclaim victory over Satan and his corruption of mankind. And after Jesus proclaimed victory over sin and death, He would ascend to His home again, where He would prepare a place for all believers in Him.

That is the eternal destiny of believers. That is your destiny – to be with God. By your Baptism into Christ, you died to sin and were raised to live in Christ Jesus. We die to this sinful world and are born again into a new life in Christ. There in that new life, God our heavenly Father does not see our sins but sees us for who we are – those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Even though we should be focused on things above, we are often sidetracked and instead focus on things of this world; good, bad, and ugly. When things are going great in your life, when you are at the top of your game at work and the money is rolling in faster than you can count it, spiritual blessings don’t seem all that important compared to earthly wealth. When we are unemployed, when we are plagued with various sicknesses and the like, all we are focused on is an earthly cure and not so much our heavenly blessings. It is easy for us to give in to the things of this world, yet Paul reminds us that the things of this world are not what life is about.

Again, turning to the rich man in Jesus’ parable, all he was focused on was earthly wealth and riches. This was all that he was focused on. But our life is not in this world. Our life is in Christ. Even while we are in this world, we are not to be of this world. Who we are is revealed for us in Christ.

Listen to these words that Paul writes to the Romans: “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” There is another reason to set your mind on things above: that is where your life is hidden. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” That’s an astounding statement. A more joyful reason to rejoice in things above is because that is where your life truly is. Once upon a time, you only had life for this world—you were among the things passing away. But you have died: in Baptism, you were buried with Christ and raised with Him. Already now, you have eternal life. Already, your name is written in heaven, in the Lamb’s book of life. The treasures of heaven are yours. The Lord does not call you a fool and require your soul. He calls you His beloved child, and declares your life is already hidden with Christ in Him.

This is what it means, that our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.” We are not able to see this new reality with our eyes. But “we walk by faith, not by sight.” Our eyes of faith, now opened for us by the Holy Spirit on account of the Lord’s resurrection, now see that our identity is located in the risen Christ. We see this as the Scriptures are opened to us, as the Holy Spirit has opened our minds to see the risen Christ among us in His Word and Sacraments.

St. Paul is certainly pointing us to things above, but setting our minds on things above has everything to do with the way we live now. The rest of our text encourages us today to live above earthly things, in those things where Christ isn’t. And what might that look like for the Christian? Paul spells that out in verses 5-10 of our text. There he lists sins which were very common among the Christians there at Colossae, sins that are very much commonplace in the Church today. Each of these sins are a gratification of some earthly desire.

As Christians, we have a wonderful reason to be different from a life of these sins, and that is because Christ is above them. We are to seek the things above, where Christ is. Christ is not in this kind of behavior because it is sinful. In order to redeem us from our sins, He had to be above these sins and the only way that was possible is by being the perfect Son of God who would go to the cross on our behalf.

The life of things above means living the opposite of earthly life. It means turning away from ourselves and earthly possessions or means as a way of salvation. It means that we turn to Jesus Christ, for He is above all things. 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.

Pentecost 10–“Amen” (Luke 11:1-13)

C-74 Proper 12 (Lu 11.1-13)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.

Everyone knows how to pray. Most of us do it multiple times a day. We pray before meals, after we receive the Lord’s Supper, to watch over our family. Those are all perfectly acceptable prayers. But what about the more selfish prayers? You know, the one for the new car, the million-dollar mansion, a high-paying job, a beautiful spouse hanging off of your arm. Then again, maybe your prayer life has been nonexistent, even disappointing. Perhaps you’ve even wondered why anyone should bother praying in the first place.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord not only teachers a prayer God loves to hear, but He also encourages a persistent and expectant prayer life in His disciples and in fellow believers. It is not because of who we are or what we bring to the table, but because He gives us the perfect prayer and because God loves to give good gifts.

So why should we pray? If God knows all, He surely knows what our wants and needs are, so there really is no need to pray, right? Wrong! The first reason is simple: Christians are people of prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray by His example and by His words. A quick reading of the text indicates that Luke has two things in mind in this prayer lesson. In the part of the text which presents the Lord’s Prayer, the emphasis is on what God’s children should pray for. In the parable part of the text, the emphasis is on how God’s children should pray.

To remind ourselves as to what we should pray for, we turn to the words of the disciples. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” Jesus’ disciples had plenty of opportunity to watch Jesus pray. They all knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. But now, they wanted Jesus to teach them to pray.

Why would they need Jesus to teach them to pray? You just close your eyes, fold your hands and start praying, right? That is why the disciples asked to be taught. They knew that their praying was weak and they needed more. Their request reminds us that good praying is something which we learn. We need God’s help to learn to pray properly.

When Jesus taught them to pray, the words were simple. The pattern was simple. There was nothing hard to it. “And he said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’” Not hard, is it? It consists of five simple petitions and contains three types of requests. The first is for spiritual blessings for all men, the second for material blessings for all men, and the last are requests for spiritual blessings for the people of God.

Jesus immediately answered this prayer by teaching the way and the very words to say in prayer. You can be sure this prayer pleases God and convers everything needed in a prayer. Jesus Himself gave it and spoke it for you to pray – the very Savior who suffered on the cross for you, shed His blood to blot out your sins, and rose again from the grave to lead the way for you into heaven.

Instead of asking for things that we think we need, it contains petitions which seek God’s blessings for all men and petitions which seek His blessings for all Christians. None of its petitions ask anything just for me or for my own. That is part of the pattern Jesus intends to teach us for our prayer life.

Isn’t it interesting that in the Lord’s Prayer, there is only one petition for material blessings? The only thing that we ask for ourselves is daily bread. We ask for what we need to get by in this day, nothing more and nothing less. God will give to us what He deems necessary for our daily bread. Luther says that “daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body….” We do not need to worry about whether the rent gets paid this month or if there will be food on the table tonight at dinner. The Lord provides and He will give to us what we need as He sees fit.

When one learns to pray the Lord’s Prayer, one learns how God has established His hospitality with us in His name and His kingdom and how we respond to this welcoming God by petitioning Him for those things that we need to keep us faithful and from falling into unbelief. When one prays, one enters into a relationship of hospitality where God is the giver of all things and the petitioner is the recipient of the gift of His Holy Spirit. By that Spirit’s power God’s kingdom comes among us as we “believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” That Holy Spirit keeps the whole Christian church on earth “with Jesus Christ in the one true faith,” and in that church “He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” The grand promise – that the good Father gives the Holy Spirit through Jesus – assures a gracious answer to every prayer.

The rest of today’s text is a parable that helps God’s children understand how they should pray. Imagine it in today’s terms. A friend comes to your house at midnight and asks for food for his friend who just showed up. You’re in bed, the house is locked up and the alarm is set. The local grocery store is closed and so you are the only one who is able to help. He keeps asking you for food, ever persistent until you give him some food. You give him the food but why? Is it because he is your friend? No, you do it because he keeps banging on the door. You help your friend not because of your friendship, but because your friend is persistent to the point of being rude. So the point is to be rude when you ask for something, right? In a sense, yes. Persistence pays with God. God urges us to pray, already welcoming our requests, loving to hear and to answer our prayers. God is more than a friend to us. He is a loving Father.

Every prayer a Christian prays always gets an answer. It isn’t always the answer we are looking for, and it doesn’t always come when we expect it. It may come at the most unusual time, but the answer comes. The answer God gives is always the answer of a wise and loving Father. He gives His answer, not when we see fit, but when He knows best. His answer is how it should be, not how we want it to be. God will not play tricks on us, His children, when we come with a simple request. When we ask for something good and necessary, He will not give us something harmful. God’s promise to answer prayer encourages confidence as well as persistence. We continue to pray with all earnestness because God is the heavenly Father who loves to give us much more than we ask or expect, and we pray because we are now His precious children by faith in Christ Jesus. With a loud voice, we can all say “Amen,” and amen. Now the peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 9–“The Right Time” (Luke 10:38-42)

C-73 Proper 11 (Lu 10.38-42)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Time. It is a constant. We have the same amount of time each day: 24 hours. Some days it seems as if we have too much time on our hands, while other days it seems as if we don’t have enough time. In the end, we’re left with the same amount of time. What differentiates one person from another is how they use the time that is given them.

Looking at our Gospel reading for today, we see it start out so wonderfully. Martha opens her home to Jesus as He travels by and through her village. Her sister, Mary, is also present and spends time with Jesus at the house. The Lord has stopped in and will stay for a meal. Nothing could be better than that, or could it?

Now, both sisters face a choice as to how they will spend their time with Jesus. Martha hustles and bustles in the kitchen, arranging pots and pans, firing up the stove to prepare a meal. Her time is devoted to preparing the table, the food, or the many things necessary to serve Jesus. It’s possible that some of the other disciples were there and hungry also. For Martha, her main priority when Jesus visits is preparation for serving a meal.

Mary, on the other hand, just sits. She is nestled in the comfort that is found sitting at the feet of Jesus. She is there, listening to every word that Jesus speaks and she is all ears to what is being said. It is quite rare that one would have such an intimate visit from Jesus like this and Mary was not about to squander such an opportunity.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a nice and pretty picture of Jesus’ visit because Martha was bothered at doing all the work while Mary sat and did nothing. Mary’s choice appears so self-centered to Martha that she can’t contain herself any longer. She finally blurts out, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” There it is. Martha feels a little better because she finally got it off of her chest. What she wants is help from Mary and she’s not getting it. Surely Jesus will be hungry enough that He will tell Mary to go into the kitchen and help Martha prepare the meal. Surely Jesus will get through to Mary that she’s being lazy.

Instead of siding with Martha, Jesus sides with Mary, and with good reason. He tells Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” You see, this is the time appointed for both Mary and Martha to hear Jesus, to listen to His Word, and nothing else is more important. That Word of Jesus is the one necessary thing at this moment.

What is Martha’s problem and often as our problem as well? It is not understanding the purpose of Jesus. Martha seems determined to serve Jesus while He is with them, regardless of what Mary is doing. But Jesus isn’t there to be served. Remember what Jesus says: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What is Jesus bringing Mary and Martha? Jesus comes not to receive a free meal from Mary and Martha, but to bring to them His Word.

Why do we come to the Lord’s house? Do we come to do something special for God, as if our coming is some good work that we do for God? No, we come to be served by God. We come to receive from God’s bounteous hand. We come to receive Jesus – to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation that only Jesus can bring. We come to receive gifts, gifts which we can receive nowhere else.

Believe it or not, you are here this morning to be fed. I don’t mean being fed by eating treats between services. You are here to be fed with the gifts of God. Jesus is speaking of being in the Word. He says in John’s Gospel, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” Here Jesus teaches that the best way to get to know Him is to get to know the Scriptures. Really, isn’t that why we’re here?

However, for Martha, she missed Jesus’ true reason for being there. While Mary seemed lazy, she was doing exactly what Jesus had wanted: she was sitting at His feet and listening to His Word. That is what God desires of His people, that we gather around His Word. We should all be familiar with the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” And we should also be familiar with Luther’s Explanation: “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.”

When focused on the wrong thing, Jesus shows to Martha her spiritual danger. He calls her by name twice, showing love, compassion and deep concern for her spiritual well-being. He wants to feed her, not be fed by her. He wants to give her Himself, for it is Jesus alone that brings salvation.

That is exactly what Jesus does for us. When we have sinned, when we have turned away from Him, Jesus doesn’t leave us in despair. He doesn’t turn His back on us. No, instead of leaving us to our sinful ways, He comes to us and says, “I forgive you. I died so that you might live.” Listen to the words that we sing: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” These are the words of St. Peter directed to our Lord. Our Lord promises us, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” That is exactly what our Lord has done for all who believe in Him. The truth, His truth, the truth about the work of Jesus Christ for us, has set us free.

The promise that Jesus made was not only intended for Mary and Martha, but it was intended for you as well. By His death on the cross, He defeats death; by the shedding of His blood, he cleanses us from all sin and blots out every transgression; by His resurrection, it is declared that God has accepted this sacrifice in your place.

How can anything or anyone be more important than the gift which our Lord gives to us? How can you and I neglect such eternal blessings that come from Christ and His Word of forgiveness? With everything that our Lord says and does, you would think that we would flock to Jesus and the salvation that He grants to us. But instead, we find that the opposite is true. We flock towards those things that bring earthly pleasure and make us happy. We flock to those things which may promise eternal life in heaven, but in the end, fall flat on their empty promises. The promise that Jesus makes for you is one that is indeed most certainly true. This is not like any other promise that you have ever heard or will ever hear again, for this promise of Jesus will give to you eternal life.

When being a Christian may seem unpopular, when following Jesus is ridiculed, we humbly sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. We receive the riches and treasures of heaven, for Jesus has promised, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost 8–“Qualified” (Colossians 1:1-14)

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

Have you ever stopped to think what makes you qualified to do something in life, whether it be a job or something far greater, like being a parent? Using myself for instance, in order to become a pastor in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, I had to meet certain demands. I had to have a college degree. I had to attend one of our two seminaries and receive a Masters of Divinity. I had to be examined by members of the faculty in order to be certified to receive a call. Once all of that was complete, I was qualified to become a pastor.

Take for instance a new parent. You bring home the child but there is no instruction manual. There are no nurses to change diapers or monitor vital signs of the child. As you lay the child in the crib for the first time, the truth sinks in that this child ultimately depends on you and your care. How often do new parents feel inadequate and not qualified for the task at hand?

St. Paul knew the feeling of inadequacy well. He struggled with his own adequacy as an apostle of Jesus Christ, and he constantly reminded his readers, and himself, that his calling was from God. The Church at Colossae also struggled with feelings of inadequacy. Paul referred to them as “saints and faithful brothers in Christ,” but they were starting to doubt the sufficiency of Christ to make them holy and faithful, beginning to feel inadequate in their beliefs.

False teachers were convincing the Colossians that Christ alone was insufficient to guarantee their salvation, and they began to rely on the works of the Law for assurance. Their faith was shifting from Jesus alone for salvation to Jesus and the works of the Law for salvation. They sought to supplement the ministry of Christ with works of the Law.

As the Church has seen throughout her history, we are filled with this fallacy that works will save. It was what the Church taught during the time of Jesus; it is what the Roman Catholic Church taught at the time of the Reformation; it is what is still taught in Christianity today by many Christian denominations and pastors even now.

When we feel deficient, we try to make up that deficiency. We turn to our works or something inward about us. Paul directs us not to ourselves and our own works but to God, who alone is sufficient for all our needs.

We, along with the Colossians, have something going for us: our faith. But what is it about our faith? Where did it come from? What is it in? The faith comes not from us but from the working of the Holy Spirit upon us. The faith is not in ourselves, our works, others, or anything else we can think to fill in the blank. True faith is faith in Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else. Fortunately for the Colossians, they had not given up on their faith in Jesus Christ while flirting with the false theology of salvation by works.

Because of all the confusing ideas that were being preached in Colossae, Paul prayed for them, asking that their faith would be increased, that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will. Paul prayed for them so that they would be able to discern between God’s Word and the false teachers. He prayed for them so that as they heard the Word of God, their faith in Christ would increase and be strengthened so that they would be able to withstand the attacks upon their faith from these false teachers. 

Paul’s prayer for the Colossian congregation is that they would return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and leave behind the false teachings that have entered the congregation. One has to commend Paul. He is not on the scene, only receiving reports of what has been going on. Now he encourages them to hold faithful to the faith they have in Jesus Christ, for that is the only thing that will save them.

What Paul writes to the Colossians can just as easily be written to the Church today, perhaps even our own congregation. We have before us the means of salvation, Jesus Christ, and we also have those things of the world which work counter to the Church’s teaching of salvation and promote other ways of salvation. On any given day, Christians are given the option of Jesus Christ for salvation or other means of salvation, and they get to choose what they want for salvation. That right there is our problem. There is no other means of salvation than Jesus Christ, but we are told contrary to that.

So what do the Colossians do? What is the Church today to do? What happens when you feel as if you are too far gone for God to love you? What happens when you leave God behind and adopt the ways of the world? What happens when you just feel all the way around inadequate to be a believer in Christ? You do what the prophet Joel says: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” You see, even when we are far from God or have turned away from Him, He graciously invites us to return to Him. That is what He did for the Colossians and that is what He does for you and me as well. God has called us by the Gospel and placed His name upon us in our Baptism, forever marking us as His beloved children. While at times that may not mean much to us, it greatly means something to God. He sees the love that Christ has for Him that He would lay down His life, only to take it up again in the resurrection, in order to win for us forgiveness and salvation. That isn’t something to take lightly and God does not take us lightly.

At the times in our lives where we think that we need to do something to earn our salvation or feel as if Jesus isn’t sufficient for salvation’s work, we turn to the closing words of Paul’s introduction to his letter: “He [Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” God’s formula is not Christ and the works of the Law for salvation, but it is Christ alone.

Our adequacy before God and man is not the result of our works but God’s alone. He alone brought us out of darkness into light. He alone cleansed us of all our sins. You and I are not qualified for salvation on our own. God does not call the qualified. Rather, it is Jesus who does the qualifying for us. He alone makes you called to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Rejoice in knowing that you have been qualified to share in the gifts that God has given you through 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.