Advent 2 – “Repent” (Matthew 3:1-12)

 A 4 Advent 2  Mt 3 1 12Grace, 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.

There is recorded for us in today’s Gospel account from St. Matthew one of the most vulgar sounding words to our ears. It’s a word that we don’t’ like to hear, especially when directed at ourselves. That nasty and vulgar word is “repent.”

When John the Baptist makes his appearance, it is not the kind of appearance that you want to see. He goes into the wilderness of Judea with a singular message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John the Baptist is the son of Zechariah the prophet, making him the last of the Old Testament prophets. The prophets’ job was to prophesy of the coming of God’s Messiah. These prophecies had been spoken for hundreds of years so the people would have been familiar with who this coming Messiah is and what it would mean. But when John the Baptist makes this revelation about the coming kingdom of heaven, just what did that mean?

It would mean that God’s promise is about to be fulfilled. It means that the Savior of creation was about to make His grand entrance into the creation He was going to save. It meant that creation needed to prepare itself for the arrival of the Messiah, and what better way to prepare oneself than to repent of your sins.

How is one to repent? What is it that they are supposed to do? What does it mean to repent? We normally think of repenting as being sorry for our sins. This is true enough, but there’s more depth to it than that. To “repent” in the Greek means literally to “change one’s mind.” You can see the obvious: when you repent of sin, you’re saying, “I thought it was a good thing, but now I know it’s not.” That’s a repentant mind-change that happens only by the grace of God. But again, there’s a greater depth to repentance because there’s a greater depth to sin.  When John calls the people to repent, he is calling them to repent of all of their misconceptions and wrong ideas about the Savior. If they have the wrong idea of who the Savior is supposed to be, then they’re not going to like the Savior for who He truly is. If they’re looking for the wrong things in a Messiah, then they’re not going to recognize Him when He makes His appearance.  Remember, John the Baptist is called by God to prepare the way of the Lord. He therefore prepares the people by teaching them the true nature of their sinfulness, so that they see the need for the Savior; and he prepares them by teaching them who the Savior is, and what He will do.

People from the region of Jerusalem and Judea and the Jordan were coming to John the Baptist to be baptized and confessing their sins. For the people who came to John the Baptist, they were contrite and believed. They desired to repent, to change their minds, but more importantly, they desired to hear the message of the coming Messiah. 

This Adventide, it is important for us to heed the words of John the Baptist, as did the people of old. We must repent of our sins, repent of our false perceptions of who the Messiah is, and is not. We must repent of our false perception of ourselves and come to grips with the reality that we are a people in need of a Savior.

This is what John prophesies about to the people. His singular goal is the preparation of God’s people to receive the Messiah when He comes. Despite his best efforts, not all of the people were convinced of the message that he was proclaiming. Believe it or not, we’re not fully convinced of his message either.

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we make excuses to our behavior. They make the claim, “We have Abraham as our father.” Abraham was a God-fearing man. He followed the law of God. But just because they descended from Abraham, did that make them any less of a sinner? No it did not. To be honest, the statement that the Pharisees and Sadducees and all of mankind should make is “We have Adam as our father.” We don’t want to make that statement because if we do, then we acknowledge “that we are sinful and unclean.” We acknowledge that we have sinned against God “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” No one wants to admit that fact. We would much rather say that we have Abraham as our father because Abraham was “good.” If we say that we have Adam as our father, that’s a black mark because Adam was “bad,” and let’s face it: we would much rather be “good” than “bad.”

What we fail to understand, just as did the Pharisees and Sadducees, is that we are not “good” because of our sinful nature; we are like the tree that does not bear good fruit; it is cut down and thrown into the fire. We have all shared in Adam and Eve’s sampling of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result, our lives are unfruitful: we do not do the works that God requires; in fact, we cannot do them. God’s righteous judgment comes down upon Israel and it comes down also upon us. But instead of leaving us with just judgment, doom and gloom, John the Baptist also promises something beyond our wildest imaginations: the coming of the Savior.

Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” John the Baptist is the one crying in the wilderness of the coming Messiah. He is making the paths straight by preaching a message of repentance to the people, to prepare them for Christ’s arrival. John the Baptist comes to lead people to repentance, to baptize with water. When Jesus arrives, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He is coming to do something far greater than John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Sadducees or we could ever do: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

While everything about John seems to be crazy, the message he preaches is anything but crazy. It is a message that draws the people from all over, drawing them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. For as much as John the Baptist seems out of place in the coming Nativity of our Lord, the message is very much appropriate: He comes with grace – to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to prepare you for everlasting life. Even now in Word and Sacrament we feast upon Christ as our tree of life. He is the vine and we are the branches. By Word and Sacrament, we bring forth the fruit of repentance and live in trust and obedience. He declares to you even now, “Repent, because I am at hand; and because I am here, 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.

Advent 1 – “Behold Your King” (Matthew 21:1-11)

A 1 Advent 1  LHP  Mt 21 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 Gospel, which was read earlier.

            Preparations need to be made for the arrival of guests, especially since you know they’re coming. If you have a dirty house, you clean it. You make sure that the house is spotless, almost to the point that the house is sterile and might even seem as if no ones lives there, for everything is perfectly in its place. Once you have a clean house, the best china laid out, then it is okay to entertain guests. To make sure you are ready, listen to me now: you have a guest coming!

             What kind of guest is coming, you might ask? The Introit for today tells us what kind of guest is coming: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.” We have a King coming! Some of you may respond, “Pastor, that’s old news. Of course our King has come. Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended. Tell us something we don’t already know.”

            We all know that long before Jesus was born and long before Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as the Son of God, the prophet Zechariah had given Israel advance notice: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a best of burden.” We see Zechariah’s prophecy fulfilled. It happens much later in the Church Year. It happens on Palm Sunday as Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem. That same account is the basis for the Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Advent. Why would that be? We’re getting ready for baby Jesus to come into the world, not adult Jesus make His exit in the world.

            As we begin the season of Advent, we mark a time of waiting and preparing. We wait for our expectant King to arrive; and while we wait, we prepare. We prepare to receive Him as He comes. How does He come? According to our Gospel account for today, our expectant King comes in a very humble fashion. There is no great pomp and circumstance to our Lord’s arrival. If you want pomp and circumstance, the only thing you have is a star to guide the shepherds and the magi to find the infant Jesus. We prepare for the remembrance of the first coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we hear that our King is coming, this message is the call to prepare by opening our hearts to His grace. We need not fear, for He comes in meekness and lowliness. But He comes as King, mighty to save, full of grace and truth.

            When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting.

            We see much the same with Christ at this time of year. We begin celebrating the “real” reason for Christmas: gift giving, parties, but most importantly, gift receiving. We are doing our own thing, enjoying what Christmas is all about, and then Christ comes to ruin everything. For all who think like that, just remember one thing: you can’t have Christmas without Christ, no matter how hard you try.

            When Christ does make His appearance in this earthly life, it isn’t with great pomp and circumstance. He is born to lowly parents in very circumstances. It should be no surprise that when Christ enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He does so in a very unexpected way. He doesn’t enter with trumpets blaring behind a large processional. Rather, He comes riding on a donkey. This is done also to fulfill what the prophet wrote: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” You see, whatever perception the people had of the Messiah and what He would look like and what He would do, Zechariah puts them to rest several hundreds year before the Messiah first graces us with His presence. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

            Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – gestation and birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

            All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table. 

            That is what Advent is really all about. It is a season of repentance and belief while Jesus serves us with His coming. Just as Lent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for Good Friday, so also Advent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for the coming of Jesus, not just as He came at Christmas, but also as He comes to us now and will come to raise us from the dead and live with us forever.

            Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.


Post-election Thoughts

Congratulations/I’m sorry! After a hard-fought political season, your candidate has won/lost.

Whether your candidate won or lost, the world has continued on November 9, 2016. You woke up this morning. The world did not come to an end, though many a people feel like it has, depending on your point of view following the election results.

We must remember one thing: God is still in control of all things, even if we don’t think He is in control. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Regardless of whether or not you think Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton should be president, Donald Trump has been elected to serve as our 45th President of the United States.

What should we do now? We do what we should be doing – praying. We pray for our President-elect. We pray for our country, for the blessings that God has showered across our lands. We pray for good government. This is in keeping with the 5th Commandment, as well as the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Let us not forget the words of our Lord: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

All Saints’ Day (Revelation 7:9-17)

f-29a-all-saintsGrace, 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 First Reading, which was read earlier.

It is indeed a special day when a woman puts on that white dress. It means that she is soon to become someone’s wife. It has been that way since Queen Victoria decided to buck the system and wear a white gown to her wedding, and ever since, white for a bride has become the norm. Doctors wear white coats to say that they are healers of the sick. There is something to be said about the color white. Today, the color white makes a profound appearance. It harkens us back to a time of long ago, as well as to a time ahead.

Do you remember the day that you wore white? It was probably long ago and all you remember is screaming. All those years ago, you wore white on the day of your Baptism, the day that made you a forgiven child of God. I’m sure you don’t remember much from that day. I doubt you remember asking for God’s forgiveness. The reason why you don’t remember that is because you don’t ask God for forgiveness, He gives that you freely. Some 2000 years ago, God saw fit to keep a promise made even longer than that. God sent forth His Son Jesus Christ into this world to redeem it. This sinful and fallen world did not deserve anything but wrath and damnation. That’s the same thing that you and I deserve, and yet God thought differently, and it’s a good thing He did.

That’s the great joy of being a saint, for that is what you are. Despite how some define the word saint, you are indeed a saint. A saint, in its proper sense, is any believer on earth or in heaven. Since you are a believer in Christ and since you reside on earth, that makes you a saint. But you are not the only saint. In fact, there are a countless number of saints in heaven as well. St. John sees that for himself in our text from Revelation. He says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

These saints of God do what saints should do: worship God. In fact, that is all that they do and it is all that we will do when God calls us to Him. And why shouldn’t the saints give thanks and honor and praise to God? This is God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. This is the God who created all things, including us. This is the God who made salvation possible for us. This is the God who sacrificed His one and only Son in order to redeem His creation.

Being a saint doesn’t make you look any different than anyone else. It doesn’t make you act any different, though it should, for you are a redeemed and blood-bought child of God. To be a saint is indeed a wonderful gift, a gift that is given at great price. It necessitated sacrifice on our part. For all the sacrifices God’s people have made, none would be able to make a sinner forgiven.

In order to be made a saint, God the Father sends forth His Son to make full atonement on our behalf; that is to say, there is nothing needed on your part to be made a saint. Since Christ is true God and true man, His sacrifice is all-sufficient. Listen to what St. Paul says to the Romans: “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” You see, by Adam sin came into the world. But by Christ, and Christ alone is sin conquered. You do nothing while Christ does everything. Because Christ does everything, you become a saint.

As John continues, one of the elders asked him, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” He responds that the elder knows and the elder gives an excellent response as to who these countless people are: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” What a great response! Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, has given His life for us and called us His own. Our sinful name is washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. Being baptized into Christ, we have received the Father’s family name, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Now our names and the names of all God’s saints are written in the Lamb’s book of life. When we are brought into Christ through Baptism, nothing can keep us separated from Him because He has bridged the gap of separation with His own body and blood. The fact that the saints are wearing white robes shows that this righteousness is not their doing but is imputed to them for Christ’s sake.

What a joy it is to be called a saint! What makes it such a joy is that you do nothing to become a saint. This is salvation at its finest. How are you saved? It is not of your own doing, it is of Christ’s doing. And so today, while it is all about us, the saints of Christ on earth and the saints of Christ in heaven, it is still and always about Jesus.

We can give thanks for the work that God did in them and through them while they were here, for Gary, Dorothy and Donna. We can also give thanks for the work of the saints who still live with us here in time. We, the baptized saints of God, continue to confess our sins. We continue to hear and taste the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins as it comes to us in Word and Sacrament. We continue to watch for the day when Jesus Christ our Lord calls us out of this veil of sorrows to Himself in heaven, or, should we still be here on the Last day, we will join in the resurrection of that Day. We too who confess the name of Jesus Christ will one day be reunited with those saints who have gone on before, but more importantly, we will be reunited with the One who allowed us to enter heaven by His sacrificial death, Jesus Christ. 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.

Reformation Day – “Gospel Freedom”

Texts: Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

f-28b-reformationGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The texts for the sermon are the readings appointed for the Festival of the Reformation, which were read earlier.

It’s a good day for you to be here, because do I have a deal for you! You can receive forgiveness of all of your sins, for now and for all eternity, for the low, low price of a few coins when you buy a sheet of paper! How does that sound for you? That was how salvation was granted, or earned, depending on how you wanted to look at it. Salvation was not something given to you by God; rather, it was earned by your works and your money; oh, and Jesus helps out as well.

There seems to be something amiss with that thinking: Jesus + my works + money = forgiveness of sins. There was a major flaw in the thinking of the Church. This thinking ran completely contrary to what is recorded for us in Scripture. For instance, we take verses from the Epistle for today. In Romans, Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Paul makes it rather clear that no human being will be saved by what they do or don’t do. This sounds so simple, and yet the Church neglected to hear what Scripture says. According to the doctrine of the papacy, your works made up for the short-comings of Jesus, because even though Jesus is indeed the very Son of God, He did not make full atonement of your sins and so you had to make up the difference.

This is not a comforting doctrine, but rather one that should put the very fear of God into a person. If it depends on my works to make up the difference of salvation, how many works do I need to do? The last thing that I want is to be lying on my deathbed only to find out that I am one work away from salvation.

What else does Paul say to the Romans? He continues by saying, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” I don’t know about you, but now I’m confused. Scripture clearly says that no works of the law will earn salvation, that salvation is achieved only by faith in Jesus Christ. Either the Church is correct and the Word of God is wrong or the Word of God is correct and the Church is wrong.

Looking again at our Epistle, Paul confirms yet again that we have no part in our salvation: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” If the Word of God says one thing and the Church another, which one is right and which one is wrong? That was the question that a young monk named Martin Luther asked. While he was a monk in the Roman Catholic Church, he came to realize that the papacy said things that were in line with the Word of God and at other times, things that were contrary. So to clarify, Luther did what anyone in the Church should have done and turned to Scripture for the answer.

Luther found that the Church had erred in its doctrine of salvation. Salvation could not be achieved by works. Salvation could not be achieved by money or pieces of paper. Salvation could only be achieved by Jesus Christ and He alone. It is by Jesus Christ and His perfect life, His all-atoning sacrifice upon the cross, His blood shed that forgives and His resurrection that gives to an individual salvation and nothing else. Despite all that the Church was teaching, Luther could not neglect the words of 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.”

As Jesus records in our Gospel from St. John, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” For all those early years in Luther’s life, what he thought was the truth was not. Luther needed the truth in order to be set free from sin and forgiven.

You need the truth in order to be set free from sin and forgiven. The truth is only found in Jesus Christ and what He has done.  The truth is that you have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could keep the Law. Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could do any good work to earn your salvation. Instead, you “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….”

Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have been shown the truth. It is through that truth that God sets His people free, for it reveals Jesus and His work of salvation; through the Gospel He comes to a person and makes that person a believer in Him, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. When a person believes in Christ, he is freed from being a slave to spiritual falsehoods, freed from believing in all that deceives and gives false salvation.

The truth will set you free. The truth is all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all slaves to sin. What a comfort it is then to hear the words that end today’s Gospel. “The son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son of God Himself is the truth that sets us free. To know that truth, then, is to be set free from slavery.

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Freedom is ours as the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, for only His Word brings freedom and life. Only through His Word does the Son set us free and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 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 13C – “By Faith, Part 2” (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 that 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 that 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. The Holy Spirit gives faith to us. 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 that 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 when 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 and God ultimately provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac.

So has God provided a sacrifice for you. He provides the very sacrifice that He asks of Abraham – His one and only Son. But unlike Isaac, there would be no ram to replace Him. Instead, God sacrifices His one and only Son so that we, the poor, miserable sinners that we are, would receive life through the blood of the sacrifice. That works great for us living in a post-Jesus era, but what about all those before us in our text today? What about those who lived pre-Jesus? Does that mean that they are without life? Of course not!

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. 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.

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 the entire world, for they were all heaped upon Him. Yet He has endured the cross so that you might be delivered from your sin.

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, 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 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 12C – “By Faith” (Hebrews 11:1-16

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

We tend to be a rather insecure people. We are insecure in our personal relationships. We are insecure in our jobs. We are insecure in general. We may not be insecure all the time, but we are insecure a good amount of the time. Sadly, we are insecure when it comes to God. We are sinners and sometimes we wonder if God can really forgive the likes of us. That is something that Satan loves to tell you, that you are unforgiveable, that you are too far gone for God to save you. But when it comes to God, you do not need to feel insecure because God has promised you that you are forgiven all of your sins.

All of this makes sense if you possess a single thing – faith. That is the emphasis that the writer of Hebrews presents. Faith is our greatest virtue, for by it do we receive the blessings that God gives to us. And what is our faith founded in? The world would have you ground your faith in yourself, in the fleeting pleasures of this world, in some sappy gospel that isn’t really the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can certainly ground your faith in any one of those things, but that faith will not save you. It never can and it never will. Instead, our faith is grounded in something beyond our imagination.

It’s written: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Because the benefits of Christ’s work are given to us in our Baptism, we draw near to God with the full assurance of faith and we hold fast to our confession, knowing that God is faithful. God’s righteous ones lives by faith. This means having a solid confidence in God. Faith brings the future into the present because it makes things hoped for as real as if we already had them.

Throughout our text today, we hear over and over two words: “by faith.” The author of our text recalls several Old Testament figures and the faith they had. Trusting in the Messiah who was to come, they endured many challenges, believing that God would fulfill His promises, and God commended them for their faith. Each of these figures could have easily given up on God’s promises of the Messiah. Each could have given into the false promises of the world that were immediate than to trust that God would keep His promises.

The first example of faith we see is Abel. Abel, son of Adam and Eve, offered a sacrifice to God from “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” He was commended as righteous and “God [commended] him by accepting his gifts.” Abel gave to God the best he had to give. And in the end, what happened to Abel? He died at the hands of his brother Cain. But as Hebrews tells us, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

How does Abel speak to us today though he is dead? Why was Abel’s sacrifice acceptable? It was not because of what he brought, but because of why he brought it. It was not because of what he did or who he was; it was because of the faith that he had.

And what about a man like Noah? God had told Noah to build an ark because of what would happen. Imagine building a giant boat in the middle of dry land for 120 years that would be large enough for two of every animal and room for food and room for he and his family, a total of eight people. Almost alone in a totally corrupt world, he trusted God and His promises and became the possessor of the righteousness that comes only by faith. Noah was saved, not only from the waters of the flood but also from the fires of hell through faith in God’s promises.

Our text next speaks of Abraham, who was “called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.” He had a nice home in Ur, yet he believed the Lord’s promise that he would receive the land of Canaan; so he packed up his household and left all that he knew. The Lord kept His promise, and Abraham dwelt in the Promised Land; unfortunately, nobody else outside of his family believed it. Therefore, while all of Canaan belonged to Abraham, all who lived there viewed him as a stranger and foreigner.

With Abraham comes Sarah, childless throughout her life. At ninety years old, she heard God promise her a son—an absolutely laughable idea, since she was far past childbearing. But the Lord promised, Sarah believed, and Isaac was born to her and Abraham. Why? Because Sarah believed the promise by faith.

Throughout all these examples of old, they all share a single quality in common and that is faith. In each instance, their faith is not founded in themselves. Their faith is not founded in things of the world. Their faith is founded in one thing and one thing only – God. That is the way our faith is to be as well. Sure, your faith can be in the world, but it will let you down. Sure, your faith can be in people, but they will let you down. As we sing in our hymnody: We walk by faith and not by sight,/No gracious words we hear/From Him who spoke as none e’er spoke,/But we believe Him near.

With the saints of old, it says that they not only lived by faith, but also died in faith. They saw very few of God’s promises fulfilled, but they trusted that God would keep them; therefore, they died believing in what was yet to come. They willingly faced suffering, ridicule, hardship and death in this life because they believed they were just strangers here. They counted their lives and livelihood nothing because they had a different homeland—an eternal, heavenly country.

That is the joy that you have – that your faith in Christ has counted you righteous. It’s not your personality; it’s not all the good things you do in your life. You are made righteous because of Jesus. You are made righteous because the blood of the Lamb was shed and ran over you, washing you clean in that crimson flood.

In short, faith is nothing more than a gift given by God, as it was to the saints in our text. Faith clings to Jesus and His forgiveness, as did the saints in our text. Faith comes by hearing the Word—as you and the saints in our text have heard God’s Word.

If you believe that faith is something you’ve come up with in order to please God, repent. It is His gift to you for your salvation. If faith is something you do, then it is your work and it is never certain. If faith is God’s gift, then your salvation is sure.

Faith is your gift. Faith in Christ is what gives to you your salvation. Faith is your joy, for by that faith God calls you His beloved. 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 11C – “Things Above” (Colossians 3:1-11)

C-75 Proper 13 (Lu 12.13-21Grace, 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 have 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 10C – “Prayerful Life” (Genesis 18:20-33)

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 is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.

As we look at Abraham from our text, it appears he has something: chutzpah, intestinal fortitude – guts. We’re inclined to say that Abraham had a lot of these in our Old Testament reading today. He stands before the Judge of all the earth and bargains. It’s almost like watching “Let’s Make a Deal.” Here, Abraham is the one running the show. He’s pushing God to continue to make a deal after a deal after a deal and for good reason – He did not want to see Sodom and Gomorrah utterly destroyed. He was pleading to God on their behalf and they didn’t even know it. But that isn’t the true picture of who Abraham is, for he tells God, “I who am but dust and ashes.” If that is who Abraham truly is, then how does he get off talking to God the way he does? It is because he understood and believed that the Lord indeed hears the prayers of His people.

It really isn’t about in intestinal fortitude that Abraham had. It was all about the Lord and His mercy and the gift He has given us in prayer. We are encouraged by our heavenly Father to pray. But what is our prayer life focused on? Maybe at times we approach God in selfish ways, asking only for ourselves and what makes up happy, turning God into a divine vending machine. We expect to put in our prayer and God to spit out the request we made. But God is not a divine vending machine. God answers prayer in His way and His time, as He knows to be best for us.

As we see with Abraham, he knows he has no claim on God. He is not dictating that God answers his prayers. Rather, he is begging and pleading God to spare the people. He is not afraid to pray and to ask God for more and more. But he is not asking more for himself; rather, he is asking for more grace to be shown to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was based on mercy not merit – Abraham knew that the same sinful heart that beat in each inhabitant of Sodom and Gomorrah beat within his own breast and that it was only the grace of God that kept him safe from God’s righteous anger. It was a very unselfish prayer, for Abraham wanted others to experience the same mercy he had. It was a bold prayer, a holy shamelessness to his prayer. Six times he dared to plead the cause of God’s love against God’s righteousness.

In Genesis 19, we see that God did indeed answer Abraham’s prayer. In fact, God did more than what He had promised. Although there were not ten believers in Sodom, God did rescue Lot and his family.

We as the beloved children of God have the wonderful gift of prayer, to go before our heavenly Father and to make our requests known to Him. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon the cross, we now have direct access to our God.

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.

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 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.

We are privileged to go to the Father through Jesus. That’s because Jesus’ death on the cross takes away all sin that has separated us from God, that would have kept God from answering our prayers. It is as Paul says in our reading from Colossians today: “God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

For Abraham, he truly believed that God would answer his prayers. Six straight times Abraham asked God if He would spare Sodom and six straight times God answered with a yes. That is also our promise as well; the Lord says yes in showering His mercy upon us. 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.

Funeral for + Dorothy Schell +

LSB Icon_040The text that I have chosen for Dorothy’s funeral comes from John 11:28-37.

[28] When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. [30] Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” [33] When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” [37] But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

To all those gathered today, for you Dick, Carol, Pam, Patty, Caroline, and Nancy, as we just heard from John’s Gospel, we see great emotion from our Lord when He hears of the death of Lazarus, who is considered to be one of the best friends of Jesus. It is recorded here the shortest verse of the Bible: “Jesus wept.” Such tragedy strikes even our Lord, for He is just as human as we are. He forges relationships just the same that we do. He cares for people just as we do. He loves people just as we do. And so it is no surprise that Jesus mourns at the death of a friend.

So are we gathered here today as we mourn the death of a mother, sister, grandmother, church member and friend. It is natural for us to mourn as well. Someone who has meant so much to us is no longer here, for Dorothy has passed through this veil of tears to the loving arms of her Savior. She now rests from her labors, free from all sin, sickness and disease that she experienced in her earthly life.

As much as we don’t want to talk about it or admit, Dorothy was a sinner because she died. St. Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death….” Sin is that great enemy that we all face. And it would appear that last Wednesday, sin won as it claimed another of God’s beloved children. That is what Satan would have you think, that he has the upper hand and final say over God. And you just might be tricked into thinking that’s the case. But there is one thing that Satan forgets about and that is a promise made a long time ago, a promise that would trump all that Satan can muster. That promise is Jesus Christ, a promise from God to man and to Satan that He will prove to be the ultimate victor over Satan.

That victory occurred many years ago for Dorothy as she was brought to the waters of Holy Baptism. There, in what seemed so ordinary, the extraordinary took place, for she was forgiven all of her sins. There she received a new name, a name that could never be taken away from her – that name was “child of God,” for that is what she became.

That same gift that Dorothy was given is a gift that is meant for you as well. But it’s not just a gift for you; it is a gift that God desires to give to all of creation. God is the Creator of all of creation and because He is the Creator, He sincerely desires all of creation to be connected to Him in the heavenly realm where sin, death, and Satan have been defeated and cannot prevail. God, through His infinite love, sent His Son Jesus Christ from heaven to take on mortal flesh and blood in order to do what Dorothy could not, to do what you and I cannot do; live a sinless life. It was made clear early on in creation that due to man’s sin, we would be forever separated from God. But that wasn’t good enough for God. He saw fit to send a Savior.

That same Savior God sent was the same Savior that was confronted by Mary: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But you see, Mary didn’t have the full picture in front of her. She was only concerned about the earthly life her brother had. Though we see Mary sitting intently at the feet of Jesus one moment, here she almost blames Jesus that Lazarus has died. But Jesus did not let Lazarus die. What caused Lazarus to die was sin. Instead of letting Lazarus die, Jesus had a date to keep on a hill called Golgotha, for there He would die so that Lazarus would liver eternally. In fact, Jesus’ death is what gives Dorothy eternal life and it is what gives you eternal life as well.

Dorothy didn’t do anything in her life to deserve what Jesus did for her, and she would be the first to tell you that. There was nothing special about her that would earn her favor with God, and she would be the first to tell you that as well. But all of this happens in spite of her. Regardless of who she was or what she did, God loved her. In fact, He loved her so much that He sent His only Son to die for her.

That is good news for Dorothy and it is good news for you as well, because what Christ did for Dorothy, He does for you also. Many of you mourn right now, and that is normal; it’s expected. But let me tell you something: there truly is nothing to mourn over because Dorothy has received the crown of life. Christ has died and Christ is risen from the dead. He is the Conqueror of death. He is not the Resurrection and the Life only in the past, as if He retired from that after raising Lazarus from the dead. He is not the Resurrection and the Life only in the future, on the Last Day. He is the Resurrection and the Life now. Now, and forevermore. Where Jesus is, life is. That’s what Jesus is about: and whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. By His forgiveness, He already declares that eternal life is yours, for He has done all to accomplish it by His death and resurrection.

This is true for you. It is also true for those you mourn who died in the faith, not just Dorothy, but all who have gone before us in the faith. Those who died in the faith are not dead, because the Lord is not the Lord of the dead but of the living. Their bodies rest in the grave for now, but they live even now with Christ in heaven. You have His promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” It is true for the saints who have gone before us, and it is true for you.

In these days filled with sadness and mourning, let us weep just as our Lord wept at the death of Lazarus, but let us also turn our mourning into gladness, for God has prevailed over sin and death, not just for Dorothy, but for all who believe and call upon His name. Amen.