Holy Trinity – “Trinity” (Matthew 28:16-20)

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

Have you ever played the board game Life before? You get a car, spin the dial, and move spaces around the board. You get married, have kids, buy a house, and get regular paydays. The winner is the one with the most money at the end, and you retire to millionaire acres. But one of the first decisions you have to make in that game is whether to go into debt by going to college or just to head out into the world and get started right away. If you go to college, you typically have much better paydays and more opportunities to make money throughout the game. If you don’t go, you save a bunch of money at the beginning and get a head start on the rest of the players.

How you start the game of Life makes a huge difference in how the game goes. That’s true in real life as well. How you start makes a huge difference in what happens to your life.

That was certainly true for Jesus’ life. How He began as a human being made a huge difference in what happened in His life. He didn’t begin on His own, but with the unity of the whole Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Son right from conception. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and the Father sends His Son to us.

That same triune God who was working together at His incarnation continues to do so throughout His life. Jesus begins His public ministry at His Baptism. There, the Holy Trinity is present. The Holy Spirit comes down as a dove and rests upon Jesus. The Father declares that Jesus is His beloved Son and that He is well pleased with Jesus. Jesus began His mission of salvation together with the Father and Holy Spirit, and all are active in completing our salvation. We see Him regularly in prayer with His Father, and the Holy Spirit is with Him every step of the way.

Then come the final days of His life. Now on the cross, Jesus is alone. Even His Father has abandoned Him as He goes through hell for us. But you can see the Father even in that loneliness and suffering – Jesus is carrying out His Father’s will by going to cross. On Easter morning, the Father raises Him from the dead. Later, when Jesus ascends into heaven, He sends His Holy Spirit into the Church.

Today, in our Gospel reading, Jesus gives to His disciples what is called the Great Commission. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Most of the time when you hear this passage of Scripture, you think of one of two things: evangelism or Baptism. But this passage also teaches us something else: it teaches us the Holy Trinity.

In this text, the Lord Jesus Himself declares the identity of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and you can’t find a better source for this than the Son Himself.

So, on this day, we celebrate who God is: the Holy Trinity, one God composed of three persons. We do not worship three gods, but one. We do not worship one God who puts on three different masks to deal with us; we worship three distinct persons of the one God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate what we cannot comprehend – the persons and identity of God. We know He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for He tells us. But beyond that, His being defies our logic.

How Jesus began His earthly life made a huge difference in what happened in His life. From beginning to end, the Trinity was wonderfully united in action for us. The same is true for our lives. How we start makes a huge difference. And for us in the Church, the triune God is our starting place. We begin by being baptized into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This does something for us. It marks us as God’s beloved child. It gives to us His name, and connected to His name are a host of things. We have forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, granted to us by the work of the Son. We have the gift of faith, given to us by the Holy Spirit. This is work that is done on our behalf by a loving God who has created us. He desires to have the relationship with us that we had in the Garden. In order for that relationship to happen, Jesus had to come to be our Redeemer. Through His life, death, and resurrection, that relationship was restored.

Through all of history, the Trinity has been at work serving. Jesus, the Son of God, submits Himself to the authority of the Father. God the Father give His Son all authority in heaven and on earth. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to fulfill their will. What do the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do as almighty God? They serve one another. But the Father, Son and Holy Spirit don’t just serve each other: They serve you.

For you, God the Father provides all good things for this body and life, as well as for eternity. Especially, He has sacrificed His Son for your sins, and continues to shower all sorts of blessings upon you. For you, God the Son has gone to the cross and died for your salvation, and continues to give you forgiveness by His means of grace, through His Word and Sacraments. For you, God the Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify you with the forgiveness of sins, that you might remain a member of the one, holy Christian Church.

This is your cause for rejoicing: the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present Father, Son and Holy Spirit have made you their disciple. They have washed away your sins and declare your salvation. The works of man cannot save you, but the work of the Holy Trinity can; and what is this work of the Holy Trinity: to forgive all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pentecost – “Come, Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:1-21)

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 Second Reading from Acts, which was read earlier.

We all know who makes up the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We ascribe to God the Father the act of creation. To God the Son, we ascribe the act of redemption. Finally, to God the Holy Spirit, we ascribe the act of sanctification, that is, making us holy. Not only that, the Holy Spirit gives to us the great gift of faith, that without it, nothing that Jesus does works for us. But with all that the Trinity does, the Holy Spirit tends to get the raw end of things, almost forgotten by some. However, the work of the Holy Spirit is just as important as that of the Father or the Son.

As we look at the readings appointed for the Day of Pentecost, all have the Spirit at work in the life of God’s people. Looking at the account of Moses and the elders, God sends forth His Spirit to the seventy elders, “and as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied.” In response to Moses’ prayer, the Lord addressed the needs of Moses first and provided help in the form of seventy elders. Their responsibility would be to help Moses in the administration of the Israelite nation. On them, the Lord would put His Spirit. As promised, the Spirit was put upon the elders, an extension of the work of the Spirit among God’s people. When the men received the Spirit, they began to prophesy, to proclaim the Word of the Lord.

For some unknown reason, Eldad and Medad, two of the men selected, had not presented themselves at the Tabernacle. They, however, began prophesying in the camp. Some, including Joshua, felt that these two men should be stopped from proclaiming God’s Word. Moses sees no harm in their prophesying and proclaiming of the Word of the Lord. In fact, he responds by saying, Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

Turning to the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we see “they were all together in one place.” Who is “they” that Luke speaks of? Is it just the 11 apostles of Jesus or would this include more? Likely, this would include the 11 but also the brothers that Peter addressed, numbering 120, since Jesus’ apostles had already received the Holy Spirit. Luke records for us that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….”

What is so important regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit? It has been said that “from that moment the Holy Spirit became the dominant reality in the life of the early Church.”  Jesus prepared His disciples for the coming of the Spirit with the promise of Pentecost. He promised that His followers would be “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” But Acts emphasizes especially one aspect of the Spirit’s work, namely, inspiring believers to speak God’s message.  Every reference to the coming of the Spirit and the work He is sent to do connects Him to the Word of Christ.

The Spirit works through God’s saving Word. It is a Word intended for all people, not just a select and gifted few. Every person in the house was filled with the Holy Spirit. The list of nations represented in Jerusalem signifies that the gift of God’s Word is to all nations and all peoples. It was a message that was understood in every language.

That is the purpose of the Word. It is the message of the saving work of Jesus Christ for all peoples. The day of Pentecost was the giving of that message to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit came to spread the Word of God to the apostles, allowing them to spread that Word as pastors to the churches around them: Paul was sent to Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica. Timothy was sent to the church at Ephesus to preach and teach. These were faithful pastors who received the gift of the Holy Spirit, though not necessarily on the day of Pentecost.

The miracle of Pentecost is when the Word suddenly reaches us. When we speak of the miracle of the Holy Spirit, we are confessing that something has come to us which we didn’t comprehend before. God gives us His Spirit so that we may have fellowship with Him and be led to do His will, that is, to be children of God.

So what do we have today from the day of Pentecost? We have the Word of God – we have the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good News that He has died to take away our sins.  We don’t have any living apostles, but we do have their apostolic teachings in the New Testament. It was this same message that St. Peter proclaimed to the crowds that day; the same message that saved 3,000 that day is the one that is proclaimed here at Trinity and throughout Christendom today.

That same Holy Spirit rests even on us very ordinary people. While we are not all apostles or pastors, we are disciples of Jesus, that is, His followers. The Holy Spirit was given to us at our Baptism. It was in that moment that the Holy Spirit worked in us saving faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is given to all believers, not on account of what we do, but what was done for us.

There is much that the Holy Spirit gives to us, though we do not recognize it. Through the Holy Spirit, we are given the opportunity to confess the faith of the Christian Church. It is not a testimony of the believer, but of the works of God and all that He does on behalf of His children. The Holy Spirit allows us believers to speak God’s saving Word in ordinary ways that people understand. The Holy Spirit causes God’s Word of salvation to be understood when it is confessed by believers. The message of salvation doesn’t have to be complex. The message of salvation is simple: Jesus Christ came into the world on behalf of your sins. Because of that, all believers will have everlasting life.

The Holy Spirit still works through the Word of God. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The true sign of the Holy Spirit at work is the proclamation of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit points to Jesus who is the God-Man who saved us from our sin with His suffering and death on the cross and promises us life everlasting with His resurrection. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word when we hear it with our ears, when we read it with our eyes, when we experience that Word in the water of Holy Baptism, and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the Bread and Wine of the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is at work when we confess our faith before each other and when we confess our faith before those who do not know Jesus.

Today is a joyous day, for today we give thanks for Christ Jesus who sent to us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to each of you as you were baptized into Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit works faith in you, fights for you, intercedes for you, strengthens you, and carries you home to Christ. No matter what the problems of this world might bring –  sickness, disease, persecution, heartache, or any kind of misery – these shall come to pass and you dear child of God who call upon Jesus who died on the cross and rose for you: will be saved. That is why we have joy. That is our comfort. That is what we should joyously proclaim in the streets for all to hear: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 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.

Pentecost 9C – “One Thing is Necessary” (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.

To be Jesus is to be love. To that end, Jesus loved people, all the people. He loved faithful men such as the disciples as if they were His own kin. He loved faithful women for the great faith that they demonstrated and for their service to Him and His ministry. We see in our text today the love that Jesus had for two such women — Mary and Martha.

St. Luke doesn’t record much for us here in our text. In summary, Jesus and company enter a village, encounter Martha and are invited to her home, a home she shares with her sister Mary. This is the same Mary and Martha whose brother Lazarus Jesus’ raises from the dead. Little is known of these two ladies because not much is written in Scripture about them. From today’s text, it appears that once again Jesus has been invited to a meal. As it takes time to prepare a meal, Jesus does what He does best and that is teach. It is not recorded for us what the basis of His teaching is, but obviously it has captivated the ears of Mary, “who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” We have no indication what His teaching was but it was captivating… or was it?

As Mary was sitting and listening, Martha wasn’t. Luke tells us, “But Martha, was distracted with much serving.” For the two women, it came down to priority. What was the greater priority: listening to Jesus or serving Jesus? Mary and Martha could each give their reasons for their actions.

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.

Jesus coming to dine with Mary and Martha is summed up in priorities. Each woman has her own priorities when it comes to Jesus. Which sister has the right priority? It may seem that Martha has the right priority. She has a guest in her home. When a guest shows up, you don’t ignore them. Your priority is to make sure that their needs are met, because that’s what a good host does. And that is what Martha sets out to do. She wants to insure that all of Jesus’ needs are met while He is in her home.

Certainly we can’t fault Martha for her servant attitude. From all accounts, it appears that she is the ideal hostess. But we cannot forget our Lord’s own words: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We can certainly appreciate what Martha desires to do, but she forgets that our Lord’s duty is to serve, that is, serve the will of the Father by taking on the form of man, to be born of flesh and blood in order to live a life that is without sin, to go to the cross in order to serve man by becoming man’s sacrifice, a sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.

Mary has the right idea about Jesus. She sits at His feet, listening ever attentively to what He has to say, and so she should. Peter’s words are echoed in what we see taking place in this house: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Those are familiar words to us, as we sing those words prior to our Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Mary desires for that good news, the saving act of Jesus Christ for her, but not only for her. She desires that good news for her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus, but not only for them. She desires that good news for all whom Jesus has come to save.

We live in a world whose view is that we are doing something for Jesus, as if our lives are one that we’re doing a favor for Jesus. But we are not the ones doing a favor for Jesus. Rather, it is Jesus who does us a favor, a favor that we can never repay, for He becomes our substitute before the Father. He takes our sin upon Himself and in return gives to us His holiness and righteousness as we stand before the Father. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is solely because of that fact that means we cannot do anything for Jesus, for what can we do that is greater than what He has already done for us?

Frustrated, Martha pleads to Jesus to have Mary help her. He doesn’t dress her down in His response. He doesn’t respond in anger. He doesn’t give any indication that He is upset. Instead, He reminds her just exactly what Mary is doing. He says, “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.”

Focus on the words of Jesus here. He reminds Martha that “one thing is necessary.” What is that one thing? It’s not making sure the house is cleaned and dinner is done before Jesus arrives. No, the one thing that is necessary is that Jesus has come! He comes for you, to provide for you and to care for you, to give you what you need most — the forgiveness of all of your sins; not just some of them of most of them, but He comes to forgive ALL you your sins, for to be made holy means to be without sin COMPLETELY, for that is the only way to be given the gift of eternal life — to be without sin. And on account of Jesus Christ, you stand before God the Father with ALL of your sins forgiven.

Jesus also reminds Martha that Mary “has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Jesus can most certainly say that mean that for He reminds us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Those are words that we need now more than ever. Amidst all the death and devastation that occurs what seems to be daily in these gray and latter days, we are reminded, no, we cling to Jesus’ words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” for these are our words of comfort when we are beaten down, when we feel forsaken, when we think that Satan finally has the upper hand on God. And when we start to think like that, we are reminded of the words of Jesus that He spoke to the disciples that are just as true now as the day He spoke them: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

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 5 – “The Accomplishing Word” (Isaiah 55:10-13 & Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

A-67 Proper 10 (Mt 13.1-9)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 and Gospel, which were read earlier.

Do you ever have one of those “ah-ha” moments? It’s one of those times where everything seems to just make sense. In looking at our text for this morning in Isaiah, this is one of those “ah-ha” moments. Listen to the words of Isaiah again: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” It sounds very simple, but is it really?

Take Isaiah for example. Isaiah stands midway between Moses and Christ. His ministry spanned the reign of the Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. In chapter 53, Isaiah revealed the vicarious atonement accomplished by the Messiah: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” In chapter 54 Isaiah assured the Church of God’s careful guidance and bountiful grace. Despite the attacks of Satan and the sinful world, the Church will endure. All believers are to find comfort and strength in the Lord. As Isaiah says, “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” What Isaiah says is much easier said than done.

Jesus tells us in both Matthew and Mark, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” It’s not always easy to proclaim the Word of God. There are Christians around the world that are persecuted for even mentioning the name of Jesus. We have people who are like the types of seed in our Gospel lesson for this morning. First, we have those who are like the seed that fell along the path and was devoured up by the birds. Jesus later explains what He means: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” It’s a shame that we have people who hear the Gospel but through the powers of Satan, a stumbling block is put up so that they cannot hear the saving message that while we are sinners, Christ died for us and has made us clean by His shed blood. Unfortunately, not all who hear will believe.

The second type is the seed that fell on rocky ground, had no soil and was scorched away. Christ tells us, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Unfortunately, this type is seen all too often. People attend a gathering or a conference, read an inspirational book that really gets them fired up for Christ and with direction, they could probably do great things. But their new-found spirituality quickly dims because no one is there to help guide them and give them direction, to answer questions that they have, to share the real Gospel message behind the gathering or conference or inspirational book. No one is there to nurture them in the Christian faith and they lose all interest.

This is all too apparent with pop evangelical Christianity today. Look at some megachurches and the large non-denominational churches. Their goal is to bring people into the building. Once that’s done, you become a number of the many thousands they have on the book. They may offer certain programs at the church but are they truly nurturing your soul? What tends to be important is your involvement in the church, in the small groups and programs that the church has to offer. However, what is often missing is the Gospel itself. What you tend to be left with is nothing more than fluff, things that make you feel good but in the long run, do nothing for nurturing of the faith of the individual.

The third example that Jesus speaks of is that which fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. How Christ describes it is unnerving: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” This is the kind that places the riches of the world above that of the spiritual riches that we have received through our baptism into Christ, the nourishment that we receive when we come to the Lord’s Table, placed above the Word that we hear.

There is a saying that very appropriately describes this kind of seed: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” While that may be true among the rich and wealthy, someone will come along after you’re dead and surpass your riches and wealth. When that happens, you lose. The more appropriate statement to make is this: “He who dies with the most toys still dies!

What riches can you take with you when you die? Show me someone who has bought their way into heaven. That’s not how it works. Christ has purchased our sinned-filled lives and has cleansed them by His blood. Listen to what St. Peter writes: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” That is our only way into heaven.

Finally, Christ speaks of seed falling on good soil. “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” That is true Christianity. That is the Word accomplishing what it has set out to do. Hear again the words of Isaiah: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Gospel is God’s declaration of universal grace and pardon. It offers and conveys the Lord’s grace to men—God’s absolution of our sins and His promise of grace and forgiveness without any strings attached. Christ said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” The Gospel not only has the power to convert people to faith but also to motivate believers to be fruitful Christians. Isaiah tells us that God’s Word is never proclaimed in vain. It is not a waste of time to declare the mercy and grace of God in Christ. The possibility is always there for those who hear it to come to faith and be saved. And when it is rejected through the hardness of the human heart, the Gospel has a purpose to be preached as a testimony against unbelief.

The Word is power. To those who believe in Jesus Christ and the Word, God gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. The Word never returns empty. It always accomplishes what it was sent out to do, though we may not be able to see it. The Word of God is still the powerful force it has always been. Therefore, let us not lose confidence in its effectiveness, since the Lord stands behind it with the promise So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. The world around us declares that there is no good use for the Gospel anymore, that it doesn’t have any power or might. So many suggest that we get rid of it. Sometimes in our weakness we might think it isn’t accomplishing anything. However, let us have confidence that God is behind His Word and will use it according to His will. Let us keep on proclaiming the Gospel, the power of God to do all things. 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 4 – “Easy Yoke” (Matthew 11:25-30

A-66 Proper 9 (Mt 11.25-30)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.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes some outrageous claims about His person and His ability to get people right with God the Father, and goes on to make a fantastic offer to all who feel beat, bushed, and burdened. In fact, Christ’s claims about Himself are so extravagant and His offer so unbelievable, one must wonder if perhaps this is nothing more than a ruse of some sorts because it sounds too good to be true.

Of the outrageous claims that Jesus makes in His ministry, there is one today that sticks out like a sore thumb: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” To say something this ludicrous is beyond that which even the prophets of old could not say. In fact, no one dared to say something as outrageous as this because if they did, they would be put to death as a heretic. With death charges possible, Jesus makes such a statement as this and more with what He does throughout His ministry.

After making such an outrageous claim as this, Jesus makes a fantastic offer, one that no one before or after has been able to make and keep. Sure, there have been those who have made such an offer before, but in the end, they were unable to fulfill such an offer. Just what is the offer that Jesus comes and makes? Our Lord simply says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

“Come to Me,” says Jesus, but He doesn’t mean “If you work hard enough to make your way to Me, I’ll reward you.” No, think instead of the parent who scoops up a little child while at the same time saying, “You come here!”, and you have a better idea of the Savior. He has rest for all those who are weary and heavy laden, and that would be you. There are two types of people in this world: those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and know it, and those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and don’t know it. The former understand that the salvation isn’t about the rules of daily living; if it is, they’ll never get the work done. Thus, they’re happy to be rested by the Savior. The latter don’t think that the burden is heavy, so they see no need for the Savior. Instead, they’ll seek out salvation by their own rules. And they’ll never make it.

Note carefully again the words of Jesus. Not “take My yoke upon you and pull with Me,” but “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Hear from His Word that He has paid the price for your sins. Hear from His Word that He gives you grace and faith and salvation and all good things. He does not come like the ox-driver, whip in hand and demanding a good performance before He rewards you. No, He is gentle and lowly and humble in heart, so much so that He gently rode into Jerusalem, suffered most lowly, and humbly went to the cross in your place. Because He’s suffered God’s wrath for you, you have rest for your souls with God forever. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, because the price for your salvation is already paid.

The Christian life is not about being a better person and it never has been. We get to be real, true, honest sinners with a real true, powerful Savior. When we fall short and fail, we’re not surprised. We’re not home in heaven yet. We don’t invest a ton of time and energy in trying harder for salvation, because anything that starts with us is doomed to failure.

The burden, the yoke, that we bear and carry has all been carried and done for us by Jesus Christ. It is Christ that carried the burden of our every shortfall, every time we failed to keep God’s Law perfectly. It is Christ who wore the yoke of obedience that feels to us like being trapped in a vicious cycle: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There is no way for us to be perfect as God demands and as Jesus tells us. Instead, it is Christ’s perfect obedience, His perfect keeping of every law of God, that is given to us, that is credited to us.

The reason that Jesus can say this is that He is the Son of God who entered history in order to save us from our own sin. While we can do nothing to please God, everything that Jesus does is pleasing to God. While we cannot endure the punishment that will satisfies God’s justice, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross totally satisfied God’s justice for you. Jesus is the one who takes our hard yoke on Himself and gives us the easy yoke of forgiveness in its place. He is the one who took up our heavy burden of sin and replaced it with the light burden of His righteousness. He has taken the labor and burden of false belief and replaced it with the rest of true faith.

Jesus has done all the work that makes us right with God. The blessings of that work become available to us when the Holy Spirit works faith in us. The Holy Spirit establishes the faith that receives the gifts of God – forgiveness, life, salvation. At the same time, the Holy Spirit creates a new being in us — a holy child of God. We now have the easy yoke of Christ’s forgiveness and the light burden of His righteousness.

Yoked to Christ we find peace; not toil and burden and work. How are you saved and redeemed? Is it because of anything you do to work or earn forgiveness? Do you have to toil and labor to get your little slice of heaven? Does your salvation consist of Christ does His share and you do yours? Of course not! We are saved because of God’s grace alone, which is ours because of the redemptive work of Christ alone. In terms of salvation, it really is easy, just like Christ says. We are yoked to Christ through faith alone. How much easier can it get? Trust in God above all things. Trust; that is, have faith in the fact that Christ has done it all, and it is finished. Trust in the fact that He is with you always, even when it feels like you’re being crushed under the crosses and burdens of life in this fallen and sinful world, for it is precisely here, under the burdens and loads and aches and pains and despairs and crosses of this life that we find Christ’s Word and Promise to be true: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Life is a rat race, a struggle. You get out of it what you put into it if you’re lucky; and sooner or later, you can’t put enough into it to sustain. That’s how life works in this sinful fallen world. But that isn’t how salvation works with your sinless Savior. The Lord Jesus declares that He gives it to you freely as a parent gives to a little child. While your struggles and setbacks dictate that you labor wearily and bear heavy loads in this life, it is not so for eternal life. Your Savior bids you, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That rest and salvation are yours, because you are forgiven for all of your sins on account of Jesus Christ and the easy yoke that He gives to 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 3 – “Law to Gospel” (Romans 7:1-13

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

Have you ever wondered why we have laws? Why is there a law that says the speed limit is 75 on I-90? Why is there a law that says no shoplifting? Why is there a law that says you must stop at a stop sign or red light? Laws are put into place in order to protect people. They often come about as a result of injury or death. While it might be fun to drive down I-90 at 100+ miles an hour, it isn’t safe and speeds like that cause death. Therefore, the Wyoming Department of Transportation deemed fit that 75 miles an hour is an appropriate speed limit.

As Paul addresses the church in this part of his letter, he is speaking to those who know and are under the law. The legal principle that Paul sets forth is fairly simple and straightforward. A law, any law, has authority over a person so long as that person is alive. The law obligates living people; it has no claim on the deceased. The latter are both literally and figuratively “dead to the law.” They take no orders, they make no response. The point Paul would have us notice is that death changes a person’s relationship to the law.

The apostle now proceeds to illustrate this truth with an example from everyday life. He draws from the marriage laws that regularly are in force in an orderly society. The death of a spouse allows the surviving partner to remarry. In both cases, the point is the same – a death changes things; it breaks the power of the law. Paul now moves on to show that this general legal principle in everyday life has its counterpart in the spiritual realm. There too death changes things. It loosens the Law’s grip.

We have to remember to whom Paul is writing his letter. He is writing to the Church, to the fellow believers in Jesus Christ. They are the ones who have been convicted by God’s Law. And because he is speaking to fellow believers, he can boldly say, Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

In just a single verse, Paul says so much to this Church. First, he acknowledges the fact that they are brothers in Christ. What a joy and privilege it is to know that you are one counted amongst those who are called by God. Secondly, these are those who have died to the law. Because of Christ, they have been made a new creation because the blood of the Lamb has atoned for their sins. The Christian has “died to the law.” A death has happened, in this case, that of the sinner, so that the Law’s hold on the Christian has been broken, making the Christian alive in Christ who has bore their sins. The fact that Paul must remind them of this fact is sad because it means that they have forgotten or ignored this truth of the Gospel. Regardless of whether or not they have forgotten or ignored it, it doesn’t make it any less true.

A third fact to remember is that because they died to the law, they belong to another, that is, they belong to Christ. The marvel of God’s plan of salvation is that it provided a way that did not require the sinner to die. Rather, God provided a substitute, His sacrificial Lamb, to die in the sinner’s place. This substitutes’ death was credited to the sinner. Sinners themselves do not actually die, as they rightly deserve for their sins, but instead die “through the body of Christ” on Calvary.

What great news for the Church at Rome to hear! It is especially great news if some heard it for the very first time! It is always important for news like that to be put front and center of the Church. That same message is still at the forefront of the Church. And why shouldn’t it be at the forefront? Isn’t that the central focus of the Gospel, of how on account of Jesus Christ we have been made a new creation, with sins forgiven and everlasting life granted to us and to all who believe?

As great as that news is, there is the unfortunate side of it. There are those when presented with the Gospel reject it. There are those when presented with the Gospel forget it. There are those when presented with the Gospel feel as if it doesn’t apply to them. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that news which we all need to hear as the blood-bought and redeemed children of God. Left to our own devices, we are slaves to the Law.

Using Paul’s illustration, we are married to the Law. You lived under its direction and you sought your life and meaning from it. This isn’t all bad: the one who abides with the Law generally leads a Law-abiding life. But there are a couple of big problems with the Law as your partner. For one thing, the Law of God always accuses. It’s always telling you what you should be doing and aren’t, as well as what you shouldn’t be doing and are. It’s always pointing out your sins, both the bad you commit and the good you omit. This has an effect on you, perhaps worse than you imagine. When the Law shows you your sin, it does more than just point out your imperfections: it actually makes you sin more.

But there is good news, news that we heard before: the death of somebody else has set you free: “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead….”

You’ve died to the Law. You died to the Law through the body of Christ. In other words, He died for you. He bore all of your sins to the cross—every last thing that the Law could accuse you of. He died for them all: and because He forgives you for all of your sins, the Law looks at you and says, “I don’t see anything left to condemn you with.” But Christ hasn’t just died for you: He is also risen for you. That’s why Paul says, “You also died to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another.” You’re no longer bound to the Law. Who do you belong to? Paul says you belong to, “Him who has been raised from the dead.” You’re not partnered to the Law anymore: you belong to Christ. You’re part of His Church, His bride; and He’s the Bridegroom who has laid down His life to make you His own, and then taken up His life again.

You’ve died to the Law, says Paul; but does this mean that you live a lawless life? Does this mean that you go ahead and do whatever you want to do? That now you get to show that you’re the boss? No. You’re joined to Christ, and He is your Lord and King. You’re no longer bound to the Law, but you obey it because it’s Christ’s Law; and by following it, you bear fruit to God. By obeying the Law, you do the good works God has created you to do.

You’ve died to the Law, because Christ died for you and He’s joined you to His death. You live—not as a slave to the Law, but as member of the Church, the bride of Christ. By His death, you are released from the Law. By His resurrection, you have life with Him forevermore. By His work of redemption, 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.