Funeral for + Earl Terry Eckard +

The text I have chosen for Terry’s funeral is John 14:1-6.
1“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Here ends our text.
Cheryl, Terry, Tamara, Pat, and Larry, family and friends of Terry, if I asked you three months ago where did you think you were going to be today, I’m sure this is the last place you would have guessed. This is the last place I thought I would be today. This is the last place that Terry thought he would be today, but alas, here we are. There is only one thing that would bring us all here today, and that is death.

None of us would have thought that when Terry entered the hospital last week, he would not see the outside of the hospital. I take that back; there was one person who knew how things would work out, and that was his heavenly Father. According to Job, the number of our days have been determined by God. Despite our best efforts, there is nothing that we can do to add to that number. For Terry, last Monday was his last day on this earth. While it was his last day on earth, it was not his last day, for on March 27, he received the crown of eternal life.

None of this was expected, especially by Terry. But despite what happened in this earthly life, none of that really matters, because the important fact is what happens in the eternal life. As Christ our Lord tells His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” A long time ago, God made a promise to a pair of individuals, a couple named Adam and Eve. That promise was about salvation, salvation that was made possible by Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” To be baptized in the name of Christ means to die with Him. To die with Christ means something, something the world cannot understand. To die with Christ means to inherit all that Christ has and all that Christ is. To die with Christ means to inherit His holiness and righteousness. It means to receive the forgiveness He seeks to give freely.

That is what Terry received all those years ago when he was welcomed into the family of God through the waters of Holy Baptism. When the pastor spoke those words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Terry received all that Christ had to give him. He received the forgiveness of all of his sins. That fact is what drove Terry to this place, to hear the words of absolution pronounced over him, to receive the body and blood of Jesus.

One has to wonder what might have been going through Terry’s mind while he was in hospital last week. While I may not know, I do know this about Terry: he believed wholeheartedly in these words of Jesus. Hear these words again: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” If there was anything Terry had, it was not a troubled heart. Terry knew who he was. He knew that he was a sinner, inside and out. And even though he was a sinner, he knew that he was forgiven. He knew that one day, he would die. Did he think it would have been last Monday? I doubt it. Was he afraid that he was going to die? I doubt it, because he knew what would happen when he died. He knew that the moment he breathed his last, he would be with Christ.

He knew that in order to accomplish salvation, God the Father sent His Son into this world to take our place by enduring the penalty for our sinfulness and for all our sins, each and every one of them. That is what happened on the cross when Jesus died. He endured the pain that should have been yours. Jesus paid the debt that was yours. Taking your place, the Incarnate Son of God was abandoned by the Father when Jesus suffered on the cross in your place. God prepared your redemption when He died on the cross. His Words “It is finished!” indicate a complete payment and accomplished salvation for you.

Jesus invites when He says, “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” The eternal blessings of God because of His Son’s life, death and resurrection are yours by faith in Christ. Salvation is by God’s gift of faith and not by man’s good deeds. Faith itself is God’s work that the Holy Spirit gives through the Word. The Lord worked faith in Terry when he heard the proclamation of the Good News. God granted him faith to believe in Him.

Unfortunately, there are many who do not believe, many who do receive what our Lord offers. Tragically, we see that with one of Jesus’ own disciples, Thomas. It is Thomas who speaks for many when He says to God, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Does that sound like the voice that you often hear in your own head or from your own heart? Listen to Jesus’ answer to every Thomas in this world and especially in this room: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Those are the words we so desperately need to hear, not just today but always. We need to hear how Christ our Lord has come into this world full of sinners, of how He lived among us and was one of us in order to die for us. But the story would be cut short if He did not rise again for us, and He did. He rose victorious over sin and death in order to Terry everlasting life. He rose victorious over sin and death in order to give us everlasting life. Jesus is the Way because He is the only one who could make the preparations for your entry into Paradise. He is the Truth that has prepared a mansion for you that awaits you. He is the Life that extends beyond the day of your death and never, ever ends.

For as difficult time as this now is for us, we know that this sadness is temporary. While we grieve Terry’s death, that is not what we dwell on. Rather, we REJOICE that he has received the crown of everlasting life, that he now rests from his labors and enjoys the full salvation won for him and for all who believe. Amen.

Lent 5 – “Resurrection & Life” (John 11:1-45)

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.

No one likes to be ill. All the feelings that are surrounded by being ill are rather uncomfortable. Most of the time, with rest and the right medications, we normally bounce back from our illness. However, that does not prove to be the case with Lazarus. Mary and Martha, his sisters, send word to Jesus to inform Him of Lazarus’ illness: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” When one receives word that a loved one is ill, our minds don’t immediately run to death, but Jesus does. “But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

That’s a rather unusual response that Jesus has, one that doesn’t seem right. Obviously Jesus did not know that Lazarus was sick until He received word from Mary and Martha. Once He does receive word, He immediately goes to death. Did Jesus know something about Lazarus’ illness that his sisters did not? Does Jesus know more than what He’s letting on to the disciples?

Upon hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus doesn’t immediately make His way to Bethany; rather, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than Jesus’ work in that region was not yet complete, and so He remained until it was finished. But then He tells the disciples that they are setting out to Judea again. They are quick to respond, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” You can almost hear the emotions in their voices. Why would Jesus willfully go back to a place where the inhabitants sought to put Him to death? Obviously going back to Judea isn’t high on the disciples’ list of places to visit again, and yet Jesus has set His face towards a place where the people want to put Him to death.

While on their way, Jesus tells them that Lazarus has fallen asleep. The disciples did not truly understand what Jesus was saying to them. As far as they were concerned, if he has fallen asleep due to his illness, he will wake up and be well again. But that is not what Jesus meant. Lazarus, dear friend of Jesus, has died. To make things perfectly clear, Jesus says, “Lazarus has died….”

Death is the ultimate result of sin. Sin separated us from God. Sin caused pain and hurt to enter into creation. As a final result, sin gave to us death, the ultimate separation from God.  It separates us from His holiness, His perfection and His Word of truth.

At the loss of a loved one, we seek comfort. Some seek comfort in friends and family.  Some seek comfort in the things of this world. For Martha, she sought comfort in her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She knows that while family and friends can tell her that things will be okay, her brother is still dead. She knows that the world can bring her comfort in many things, but in the end, the world cannot bring back her dead brother. She goes seeking Jesus because she knows that He is the Christ, the Son of God.  He gives her the assurance that she is looking for: “Your brother will rise again.” That is the assurance that Christ gives to each and every one of us: you will rise again.

During this season of Lent, now, more than ever, we hold the cross before us as a constant reminder of why the cross is there. The cross is there because of you. The cross is there because of me. The cross is there because of your sin. The cross is there because of my sin. Paul knew that it was his sins that put Christ on the cross. As he writes to Timothy and his church at Ephesus, he says, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” He knew of his acts against Christianity, how he murdered Christian after Christian after Christian. He knew, after meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road, that he was indeed a sinner and was in need of forgiveness.  He knew that he was spiritually dead because of sin.

Do you know that you are spiritually dead because of sin? Do you truly and honestly accept that fact? The psalmist David did when he wrote Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We are sinners, each and every one of us.  However, that does not mean that we are left without hope. There is indeed hope for each and every one of us, hope for every man, woman, and child. That hope cannot be found in the teachings of Islam or Buddhism. You can’t go to Wal-Mart and say that you want hope for sinners. That hope can only be found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While Martha grieves the death of Lazarus, Jesus gives to her that hope that is only found in him: “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.” That is the hope which we have to look forward to. That is the hope which the world cannot give. This is hope which can only come from God. It comes to us through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. This is hope which we see demonstrated for us on the cross of Calvary.

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. At your baptism, Jesus declared, “Come out! Come out of the bondage of sin, for I make you My beloved child this day!” Your resurrection at the font was a greater miracle than the one of Lazarus at the tomb: Jesus gave physical life back to Lazarus’ body, and that life would be lost again—Lazarus’ body would die again. Jesus has given eternal life to you: you already have it. Unless the Lord returns, your body will eventually die. Your soul will not: you are alive forever, and the Lord will raise your body up, too, on the Last Day.

Where Jesus is, life is. And whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. His Word gives life. He spoke to bring Lazarus back from death. He put His words in Ezekiel’s mouth, and those words made dry bones alive. This day, He speaks His forgiveness to you. These are not empty words: they give you life, renew that eternal life in you once again.

And where Jesus is, life is. Do not despair, repentant people of God. Whatever sins you have clung to in the past, He has died for them all; and He promises “everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” This promise is for you. It is for all the penitent people of God who have died in the faith. Those who died in the faith are alive with Christ even as they await the resurrection of their bodies; and on the Last Day, the Lord will bring forth those bodies in the ultimate restoration of life as He calls His people from the grave. For Christ will return in glory; and where Jesus is, life is. That is your hope for you and for all who die in Christ. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and He has given that life to you, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 4 – “Light of the World” (John 9:1-41)

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.

Everyone likes to play the “blame game.” The rules are easy: take no ownership of your actions and place the blame on anyone and everyone but yourself. Now that the rules have been explained, we see the game being played in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and His disciples are passing through a region and come across a man blind from birth. The disciples knew of the man’s condition and asked Jesus a simple question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The game has now been set up. Who is to blame for the blindness: the man, his father, or his mother? Clearly the reason why the man is blind is because someone sinned. Now the question is who was it.

The question was difficult. If the man’s own sin caused his blindness, how could he have sinned so bad while in the womb to cause this? If his parents’ sin caused it, that seemed unfair that the effects of their sinful actions should be passed on to their offspring. Still, the disciples thought that one or the other was true. It was a commonly held belief, so they didn’t think of any other possibility.

To the untrained, it appears as if what the disciples are hinting at with regards to the blind man is karma, that idea that what goes around comes around, that there’s a kind of justice that drives the inner workings of the universe. This notion is nothing new, one that has been around for quite a while. In asking this karma question, it’s the kind of question that we’re comfortable with, the kind of question that attempts to make sense of the world. There must surely be a cause and effect relationship. The effect is the man was blind from birth. Now it’s time to pinpoint the cause: his sin or his parent’s sin?

The answer to this question that the disciples ask is, to some extent, already answered in their question. It’s not a matter of who’s sin caused it as much as it is sin caused it. There is a common sin that infects us all. To be sure, there are certain sins which carry with them certain consequences, but sin, at its root, has the same effect – death.

To answer the disciples, one only has to look at in these terms: man sins, sin leads to death, death leads to man, repeat. That’s sin at work in creation. It’s not a matter of who sinned that caused the man’s blindness, but rather it is sin that caused the blindness.

In this new age world in which we live, in a world that is supposed to be politically correct but usually isn’t, the easy answer is something like karma because it’s a nice and neat solution. If you do good, good is done to you. If you do bad, bad is done to you. It takes sin out of the equation completely. But there’s one problem: you CAN’T take sin out of the equation!

The disciples were correct in saying that the man’s blindness was due to sin. Everything about us that is not perfect is the result of sin. Our poor eyesight is due to sin. Our inability to hear is due to sin. The diseases that we face are due to sin. And if that’s not bad enough, the death that you face in this life is due to sin.

Jesus, in talking with His disciples, chooses not to play the blame game. Instead, He reveals the reason the man is blind: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” All of this is done according to God’s divine plan. Now if you are the blind man and you heard this, it would be quite natural to wonder how your blindness might cause the works of God to be made manifest.

It’s hard to see how something negative like this can be used to God’s glory. How can anything negative be used to God’s glory? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? We can understand how good things work to God’s glory, but how do bad things work to God’s glory? Clearly Paul was mistaken when he told 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.”

Let’s test Paul’s statement. Israel faced all sorts of bad that would lead to God’s glory. When Israel turned to other gods, some sort of evil would befall them and they would repent of their wicked ways and return to the God of Israel. When Israel travelled in the desert for 40 years, it would be to God’s ultimate good, as He would give to them a land that would truly be theirs, a land flowing with milk and honey. Though many if not all of the prophets of old met with an untimely death or sort of persecution, the message of God was proclaimed through them and many were brought to saving faith in God.

The ultimate act of evil turned to good was nothing short of what happened to our Lord. The perfect Son of God took on human flesh and blood, entering into a world of sin and death. Things only get worse from this point on. For three years, He traveled the surrounding area proclaiming that He was the promised Messiah of long ago, that He would lay down His life for the lives of the sinful people that He is living amongst. Few understood, but many were quick to persecute Him, seek to put Him to death. Ultimately, they would succeed. On Good Friday, He would be nailed to a tree of death and laid in a tomb to rot as a heretic in the eyes of many.

If left up to the Pharisees, that’s exactly what they would like to happen. With Jesus out of the picture, there is no one to threaten their sphere of influence, no one to question their teaching as being right or wrong. Everything can go back the way it was three years earlier and everyone can move on with the lives again. However, that is not the way things are going to play out.

As Paul said, All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” With the death of Christ, all things are working for good. Christ would do what He said He would do: He would come, live a sinless life, be crucified and rest in the tomb for three days. After three days, He would be raised from the dead. Very few truly believed He would do what He said that He would do. But the people believing or not believing in what Jesus said doesn’t make it any less true. Christ did all that He said He would do. He defeated sin, death, and the devil. He gave His life so that God’s creation would not die eternally. He died so that you would live.

The Lord does forgive you, and the Lord has not forsaken you. Jesus declares in the text, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Though He has ascended into heaven, Jesus remains in the world, as near to you as the means of grace. He remains the Light of the world, saving you from the darkness of sin and death. Where He added His Word to mud to make the blind man see, He added His Word to water and gave you faith to see in your Baptism. Where He sought out the healed man to speak again His saving Word, He still speaks His saving Word to you, to strengthen your faith so that you might believe in the Son of Man. He feeds you His own body and blood, so that His work of faith might continue to be displayed in you.

He declares that He has come into this world of darkness to shine the light of His grace upon you. He has gone to the cross to die for your sin, and He is risen again to deliver you to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 3 – “Peace with God” (Romans 5:1-8)

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.

If you want to sum up our lives, you can use many words to do so, words like father, mother, son, daughter, etc. You use words like doctor, teacher, lawyer, etc. to define yourself. But there is another word that you can use that sums up your life – work. Work defines us quite well because it sums up the majority of our life. From that first job in high school to your chosen profession and vocation, we work tirelessly for the majority of our lives. Though work is indeed a large part of our lives, there is one place where we do not work, and that is with regards to our salvation.

As St. Paul writes this portion of his letter to the Romans, it would wise for us to take a closer look at the words he uses and the words that he does not use. In these few verses, Paul makes it abundantly clear who the subject of the verb is and who is the object of the verb. The work is done only and always by God and not by us. God does the work and we are the recipients of that work.

The people at Rome proved to be a unique bunch of people. Made up of both Jew and Gentile, they all shared something in common – they were all lost in sin and all were justified by the same declarative act of God. This church had issues like any other early church did following the death and resurrection of Jesus. Though Jesus had died and risen again for the forgiveness of sins, that didn’t stop the Pharisees from preaching and teaching contrary to the resurrection. Here was a group of Christians who needed more instruction in regard to the doctrine of justification. Paul was anxious to visit these Roman Christians in order to instruct them in these important truths, but he was kept busy preaching the Gospel in other areas where no one else was preaching. He promised that he would come to Rome soon, but first he had to go to Jerusalem. Since the misunderstanding of the doctrine of justification was an urgent matter, Paul wrote this letter from Corinth before he went to Jerusalem.

The doctrine of justification, the doctrine of being forgiven and made right with God, was one that was up for grabs in the early church. You could believe that the work is on your part as the Pharisees taught, or you could believe that the work is on God’s part as Jesus taught. Unfortunately, only one of these doctrines could be correct. The question was which one is correct. That is what Paul set out to confirm for the Roman church and for all the churches that he visited or wrote to during his ministry.

For us, the doctrine of justification is up for grabs as it was at the time of Paul. Many a church will preach and teach that man’s salvation is accomplished either solely by man or a combination of Jesus and man’s work. One of the many problems of this teaching is the fact that there is no definitive answer as to how much is needed on man’s part. There is no definitive answer as to how much work Jesus did for man. There is no definitive answer as to how many good works man needs to do. And so we are left wondering how much does man need to do in order to make up for Jesus’ shortcomings.

The notion of man doing something to earn his salvation is not new; it’s the same heresies from yesterday with a new title and a new spin on them. When one tries to determine how much work is necessary on man’s part is when we fail. Supposing that there was an exact number, not a single person would be able to attain that number because of what Holy Scripture says about us. Scripture tells us that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Scripture tells us that we were conceived in sin. Scripture tells us that the wages of our sin is death. Because of what Scripture tells us, it is made abundantly clear that we cannot do anything to atone for our sin and earn our salvation.

Just as Scripture tells us about who we are and what we can and cannot do, it also tells us what Christ has done for us: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” That’s all that we need to hear. That is indeed a bold statement of what God has done for us. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been made right with God.

Because we are justified we now have peace in the presence of God. No sinner can stand in the presence of God and live. But by faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross, our sins, which would bring our certain death before God, have been removed. We are reminded by Paul that it is something that was done to us by God. That is the only way that it could ever be, God doing the act of salvation for us. Now, washed clean of our sins and wearing Jesus’ robe of righteousness, we have direct and permanent access to God and His grace. This right is given to all who trust in the justifying work of Christ. Of great comfort, assurance, and hope is the truth that God tells us we now currently and permanently stand in His grace.

Because we have been declared innocent and have been set free from our sins, we can boast in the hope of enjoying God’s glory in heaven. People have always been told that it is not good to be boastful. However, Paul is telling us the exact opposite! We joyfully boast. This is not glorying in our own accomplishments. This is a joyful boasting in what God has done and what He promises to all who trust in Jesus.

All of this is done for us because God said so. Listen again to these words from St. Paul: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Because God said so, Christ gave His life to reconcile us back to God. Sin separated us from God and made us enemies of God. When Christ died, those sins were removed by Jesus by taking them upon Himself.

All of this is done for us by God, just because He said so. When we hear the words, “Because I said so,” the end result is usually negative and not in our favor. When God says, “Because I said so,” the end result is always according to God’s will. Sometimes it has a positive result and other times a negative result. But for us, today, when God says “Because I said so,” the result is indeed in our favor. These words of Paul are words of assurance of what God has done for us and what he continues to do for us because of Christ. Heading to Calvary, we see the love of God for us as we see the cross coming closer and closer until that time we see Jesus on the cross. There, when we gaze upon the crucified body of our Savior, we see the love of God that He has for us. How can we be certain of this? Because God said so. 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.

Lent 2 – “God’s Kingdom” (John 3:1-17)

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

It must have been hard to be Nicodemus. Probably one of the hardest things of his life was living two lives – his Pharisaical live and then the life that looked to Jesus. He is open to new ideas and possibilities and independent enough to give Jesus a fair hearing. He is skeptical enough to want straight answers before he commits himself to anything. He is willing to take the risk of breaking step with his colleagues in the Sanhedrin and make up his own mind about Jesus and his movement. He is cautious enough to do so alone and at night. He likes a theological discussion and prides himself in his sensibleness and logic, yet keeps the stakes fairly low by being reluctant to put his reputation or career on the line.

Under the cover of the darkness of night, he goes to Jesus, wanting something more, possibly something more than the Pharisees and all the Sanhedrin can give him. Nicodemus, unlike the other Pharisees, came sincerely seeking the truth. Jesus’ teachings and signs had impressed him. He confessed that Jesus had come from God. He knew so because Jesus did miraculous signs no one could do without God.

As with see with this discourse, Nicodemus correctly states that Jesus is from God and Jesus answers him by saying, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus speaks of being “born again.” It’s time to ask the good Lutheran question: What does Jesus mean? Nicodemus clearly didn’t understand because he questioned about being born a second time from the mother’s womb. Nicodemus isn’t the only one to not understand either.

Often in evangelical circles when one speaks of being “born again,” it means that moment in your life when you make that decision to follow Jesus or when you decide to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. However, that is not what Jesus means. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” With these words of Jesus, He speaks about the wonderful gift of Holy Baptism, that sacred act where God chooses to make us His beloved child, where Jesus redeems us and where the Holy Spirit gives to us faith. Notice that it is the Trinity who is doing the work and not the individual. Being born again, as Jesus explains, is an act that is done completely from the outside, not the inside.

A person can contribute no more to his spiritual birth than he did to his physical birth. The Holy Spirit must give a person the new birth. The Spirit does this in Baptism. Jesus says God’s Spirit works in the water of Baptism to accomplish the new birth. Through your Baptism, you are brought into the kingdom of God and made part of that great heavenly family, a family with God as our Father and Christ as our Brother.

What Jesus said was profound and Nicodemus was left wondering, questioning what Jesus had said. Jesus spoke of glorious things, of divine things, and Nicodemus thought in terms of his own experience, relying on his own knowledge to grasp what Jesus was talking about. And so Jesus asks him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”

Nicodemus isn’t alone in his ignorance of what Jesus says regarding the new birth of water and the Spirit. Many are ignorant of what Jesus means. Holy Baptism does something extraordinary, something that we cannot comprehend; yet we accept it by faith. But for as many as accept Baptism by faith, there are just as many who reject it or see it as nothing more than a human rite that a person does to confess their faith, and that’s where it stops. Jesus makes it clear that even as we don’t choose our physical birth, neither do we choose our new birth in Him either. It is God who does the choosing, not us.

We all have a little bit of Nicodemus in us. We are ignorant of what God promises us. We are ignorant of what we have received on account of Christ. We fail to understand what it means to be a part of the family of God. As a teacher of the Old Testament, Nicodemus should have understood the things about which Jesus spoke. Nicodemus knew quite a lot but still did not understand in his heart because he stressed the how instead of the fact. There are still those, like Nicodemus, who insist on explanations about the mysteries of the Spirit rather than taking them on faith and finding in them their great comfort and joy.

Even though Nicodemus doesn’t understand everything that Jesus is saying, Jesus lays out God’s divine plan of salvation – not just for Nicodemus, but for you and me and for all people: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” This does indeed proclaim salvation: heaven is not yours because you have done enough to earn it, but because Christ has done enough to save you. “Enough” did not come cheap, but by His holy, precious blood, and by His bitter suffering and death.

Christ’s death for your sin is your salvation—completely. It is not by your work, but because you have been born again by water and the Spirit. The price is paid in full, the work is done and salvation is yours. With that being said, Satan will always try to convince you otherwise. He will tell you that you’re not good enough. He will tell you that you haven’t done enough. He will tell you that you are unlovable. He will tell you that your sin is too great to be forgiven. The ironic thing about Satan’s argument is that he’s right on every point. But that is where God trumps every argument that Satan has made or could ever make. Even though you are every argument that Satan makes, God’s love for you is greater. His grace and mercy are greater. He sends His Son to the cross, to be utterly forsaken so that He may atone for your sins, that you may be forgiven, and that you may have everlasting life.

All of this was done so that we would have eternal life. He did all this out of love for us, so that we would have life and have it abundantly in His name. This was done for us because we are sinners in need of salvation. We aren’t born with eternal life. Each and every one of us are born into a sinful world and we die in a sinful world. However, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have that gift of everlasting life.

God has created you. Jesus Christ has redeemed you, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood.” You have been brought to believe in Him by the power of His Holy Spirit, poured out on you at your Baptism. What a mystery all of this is. We will never understand how this all works in this world. Fortunately, God does not ask us to understand it. He only expects us to believe and even supplies the faith that does the believing.

Christ has died and Christ is risen for you. He does not come now to judge you, to condemn you for your sin. Rather, He comes with grace and salvation, to tell you that you are born again by the work of the Spirit, to maintain that new life by His Word and His Supper. He comes to declare that you are entered into the kingdom of God, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

+ Harold “Swede” Dean Heimgartner +

The text that I have chosen for Swede’s funeral comes from Ephesians 2:1-10.

[1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Here ends our text.

Myrna, Vince, Carley, friends of Swede, to say that the events of the last week have been rough would be an understatement. Death seemed to prove the victor last Friday as death closed in around Swede. At first glance, St. Paul seems to confirm that in our text from Ephesians: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air….” Do you want to know what we were? Dead in the trespasses and sins. But notice that Paul doesn’t say that you ARE dead in the trespasses and sins, but rather he says you WERE dead in the trespasses and sins. Isn’t Paul just arguing semantics? Is there really a big difference between are and were? Lying before us is our beloved brother Swede. The fact that we are gathered here indicates that this isn’t just a matter of semantics, that Swede IS dead. But we would be wrong in saying that, despite what things look like to the naked eye.

Death, unfortunately, is very much a part of who we are, but it wasn’t meant to be like that. When God created all things, His last act of creation was the creation of man, creating him in God’s own image. That means that man was created without sin, and for a brief time, man enjoyed a life without sin. But that time would not last, as Satan would enter creation and causing man to fall into sin, thus severing our union with God. God would not be content with letting creation being separated from her Creator. And so, God would make a promise, a promise to restore things the way they were in the beginning, to restore the union between Creator and creation.

By Jesus Christ, creation has been restored to her Creator. By Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of our sins. By Jesus Christ, we have life once again. And so says St. Paul, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” New life has been given to those who are dead in trespasses and sins. It means that we are no longer dead but alive. But it doesn’t appear to be the case today, or does it? Are we here to focus on death or to celebrate life? The answer is both.

We focus on death because that is what brings us here. And because we focus on death, we must focus on sin, because it is sin that leads to death, as Paul says in Romans, “For the wages of sin is death.” If we didn’t have sin, we wouldn’t have death. If Swede were not a sinner, then he would not have died. If you were not a sinner, then you would not die, but as we know, we all will die.

But we don’t focus just on the point of death. We focus on life. We focus on life because God has made us alive with Christ. Only by what Christ has done are we made alive. That’s why the words of St. Paul are so important for us: “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.” Why are these words so important? Because they promise us that our salvation does not come from us, but it comes from Jesus.

For all who knew Swede, you knew that he was a simple man. He liked simple because simple was easy. Jesus makes it simple, for it is Jesus who does all the work of salvation. We don’t have to do anything, not that we could. And for Swede, that was his comfort. He took comfort in knowing that Christ did all things necessary for him to enter heaven. He did nothing, and Christ did everything. That is not something that Swede hoped in, it was a promise that God had made to our first parents, Adam and Eve, a promise that is passed down to all generations, a promise fulfilled in Jesus.

Martin Luther, when writing on Genesis 12 writes the following: “Therefore it is proper for us to contrast the blessing in this passage with the curse under which all human beings are because of sin. The curse has been taken away by Christ, and a blessing will be bestowed on all who receive Him and believe in His name. The remarkable blessing is this, that after being freed from sin, from death, and from the tyranny of the devil, we are in the company of the angels of God and have become partakers of eternal life.”

Swede has been freed from sin, death, and the devil. He now rests in the Father’s loving arms, as do all who believe. Swede joins all who have been faithful until God and His promise of salvation, a salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ. All of this is freely given to all who believe.

Of course, nothing is free. There is always a price to be paid, and the price is great to redeem you from sin and death. But while the price is great, it is not yours to pay: that has already been done by your Savior, Jesus. He’s gone to the cross for your sins—He’s suffered God’s judgment for you and died your death; and because God has made Him alive again, God makes you alive again. How much of the cost is passed on to you? None. Hear these words again: 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.”

Rejoice in knowing that Christ has done all that is necessary for your salvation, just as we rejoice that Christ has done all for Swede’s salvation and that he now rests in the arms of his loving Father. Amen.

Lent 1 – “Death to Life”

Texts: Genesis 3:1-21, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon comes from our readings for the First Sunday in Lent.

It is important for us to establish a couple of basic tenants as we approach our sermon this morning. First, as we ponder what happened in our Old Testament reading from Genesis, we see that man was perfect. However, that did not last for long, as the serpent tempted Eve into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good of evil. This tree looked good. It’s recorded, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

From the moment that Adam and Eve ate from this fruit, everything for them changed. They no longer had the image of God. They no longer were without sin. They started to have feelings and emotions that they had not had before: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Up until now, being naked did not enter into their thoughts as being wrong. Now, after they have sinned, they have feelings like shame and so they cover themselves up and hide from God, as if that is even possible.

Because we come from Adam and Eve and they are sinful, we must deduce one thing – we are sinful as well. But only if that were everything.

As God deals with Adam and Eve for their sin, they are told something: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We heard those words just a few days ago as we began the season of Lent, reminding us that we will die. Paul tells us what happened with sin in our Epistle: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned….” We are all sinners and the result is death. As sure as there is life in this world, so it is that death will be a constant. It is something that is inescapable. Try whatever you may, you will die. That is a certainty because of our sin.

So there you have it. Two basic tenants that we must accept about ourselves is this: we are sinners and we will die. But fortunately, there is hope that stems out of those two basic tenants of sin and death.

From what God had promised to Satan, Adam, and Eve, there would be hope. There would be salvation from sin and death. God makes a promise, a promise that would be like no other promise that He had made or will make: He promises the means of salvation from sin for Adam and Eve and their offspring. That is what Adam and Eve needed, what their offspring would need. But that wasn’t the only promise made. Because God had promised the means of salvation, it would also mean a promise over death. While there would be physical death, there would be no spiritual death because of the promise of God. That promise is One who would defeat sin and death once and for all. But this One would not defeat sin and death for Himself. Rather, He would defeat sin and death for you. He would come into this sinful and fallen world, endure the full sin of all creation, endure the full wrath of God against sin and He would die. But this wouldn’t be just any death. This would be a death that gives life. When the blood flowed from this One’s pierced side, it would wash over all of creation, cleansing them of their sin and giving them the ability to be reunited with God.

This One is none other than Jesus Christ, the very Son of God. Paul goes on to say 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.” Sin was brought in by one man, Adam. Death was brought in by one man, Adam. But death would be defeated, not by man and his works, but by the grace of God shown through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And what must you do to receive this grace of God? Surely there must be some fine print somewhere that says what I have to do in order to receive His grace, something I must do in all of this. But that’s where you would be wrong. Paul says that it is “the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” Two words jump out: free and gift. Free meaning nothing must be paid by me. The cost has already been paid and it exceeds whatever you might be able to pay. Secondly, it is a gift. A gift is something that is freely given, without any terms of repayment.

How could all of this happen because of sin? How could a wrong such as the Fall be made right again? Contrary to many a wrong belief, it has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with Jesus. It has everything to do with what He did. As seen in our Gospel, it is Jesus verses Satan, nonstop for forty days and forty nights, temptation after temptation. As Matthew records, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. If Jesus used His divine power, He would never get hungry. He would never need to eat. As God, Jesus had the divine power to create a full meal out of nothing. As man, He voluntarily decided not to use that power. Despite what Satan tempted Jesus with, each temptation was defeated…by the Word of God.

What was the purpose of this? What would it prove? It would prove the lengths that He would go to in order to redeem creation. In short, this shows the lengths that He would go to redeem YOU! He doesn’t take any shortcuts. He puts His faith not in the false lies and temptations of Satan but solely in the Word of God. With each temptation, He remained faithful to His mission. He followed the path to the cross. He suffered and died. While He hung on the cross, He endured the wrath of God. He did not take the easy way. Instead, He took the way that saved you from your sin.

Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil right up to the end. He resisted until He was dead and buried. In this way, He triumphed over sin, death, and the power of the devil. He triumphed for you so that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This story ends with a happy ending. Christ dies, and yet He lives. Creation dies, and yet creation lives. Creation is restored to the Creator, just as it was meant to be from the beginning. We will live with Christ because of His sacrifice for us, so that we may stand before God as His holy and redeemed people. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord – “Changed” (Matthew 17:1-9)

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 Gospel, which was read earlier.

Have you ever found yourself in this situation: you’re going about your business as usual when suddenly you find yourself in the presence of greatness? Suddenly, out of nowhere, you find yourself rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, a celebrity or music artist? Unless you’re privileged to have an all-access or backstage pass, most of the time we do find ourselves interacting with the celebrity crowd. If we are lucky to do so, I’m sure those times are few and far between. As we look at our Gospel account of the Transfiguration, we see briefly of what it is like to have that all-access pass, in this case, to the fullness of God’s glory as seen in Jesus Christ.

I’m sure the day started out as just any other day for Peter, James, and John. I imagine they got up, put on their tunic and sandals, had some breakfast and then followed Jesus as they had every day for the last three years. I would venture to guess that if you were to ask Peter, James, or John if today was going to be any different than the day before or the day after, the answer would most likely be no.

As Jesus takes these three men up on top of the mountain, ideally to pray as Jesus often did with His disciples, the tone changed. In fact, everything about the day had changed. Matthew records for us, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Up until this point, Jesus hid His full godliness from the people, the disciples included. He looked like a man, for He was man. The people followed Jesus and believed in His teaching, including believing that He was the Son of God even though He didn’t look like what the Son of God would look like. Now suddenly, Jesus was transfigured before them. But what did that mean?

When our English language translates the Greek word as “transfigured,” do we understand what that means? The Greek word there is “metamorpho,” where we get the word “metamorphosis.” We understand that word as meaning to change form, a word often used to denote the change from say a caterpillar to butterfly, for instance. That same thinking and reasoning is seen here with Jesus.

Christ’s appearance was changed and was resplendent with divine brightness on the Mount of Transfiguration. Christ was changed in that the disciples with Him no longer saw Jesus as just a man – now they saw the fullness of God’s glory revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. This was God removing the veil that covered the divine nature of Jesus. Peter, James, and John were able to witness for themselves the fullness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

We see a marked difference at what happens on the Mount of Transfiguration and the time of Moses. In Moses’ day, he was told by God, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” At the time of Jesus, things are changed a bit. Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me…. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

You want to know who God is? The fullness of God is now seen through Jesus at His Transfiguration. Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He was God, and He had demonstrated that fact through the performance of miracles. Yet, here He is making a very visible statement about His divinity. There, Peter, James and John stood before Christ in all of His divine glory. If the Three had any doubts before of who Jesus was, this was all the convincing they needed. But it didn’t stop there. Before their eyes stood Moses and Elijah: Moses, the man of God through whom the Law was delivered on stone tablets. And with him was Elijah, representing the prophets who foretold of the coming Savior, and who endured the worst of times among God’s people. And finally, to top it off, they were overshadowed in a cloud and heard the voice of God. Jesus’ disciples were not dreaming. They actually saw two individuals who had died centuries before this time. How Peter, James, and John were able to correctly identify these two people as Moses and Elijah we are not told. But these disciples were experiencing a little glimpse of heaven. Their lives were changing right before their eyes.

With everything going on here, with a transfigured and veil-ripped away Jesus, with Old Testament icons such as Moses and Elijah, who would ever want this to end? Peter obviously didn’t want it to end; hence why he says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” When you have all of Scripture present here, how can you not want this moment to end! To see the full glory of God, that alone was worth going up on the mountain with Jesus. And then you add great historical figures of the faith with men like Moses and Elijah, it truly is heaven on earth! And with all of that, the day isn’t over yet!

It seems like it’s been forever since we heard the Father’s voice. The last we heard from Him was at Jesus’ Baptism. Now, God the Father makes a reappearance and echoes the same sentiment at Jesus’s Baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The lives for the disciples would be forever changed with the words Jesus would speak. Those words would indeed be life-changing words, for they will declare that their sins would be forgiven by His death upon the cross.

We need the Jesus who came to the disciples and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” We need the Jesus who led these three disciples down from the Mount of Transfiguration. We need the Jesus who made His way to another mountain, Golgotha, the place of the skull. On that mountain, Jesus will express the inner most being of God in sweat and blood, pain and suffering, and, ultimately death and burial. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus earned our justification. It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus took away our sin and replaced it with His righteousness. It is Jesus working through the cross who offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation. It is Jesus who takes away the burden of our sin and makes it possible for us to stand in the presence of God. It is the glory of Christ on the cross that gives the glory of eternal life to us, glory manifested at His Transfiguration and fully shown to us on the cross where He won for us the forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 7 – “Neighborly Enemies” (Matthew 5:38-48)

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.

There is something that we are all guilty of – getting even. It’s something that is all too familiar to us, something that comes too naturally. There is a sense of a twisted joy that comes with getting even. We even say, “I won’t get mad, I’ll just get even!” It’s something that we’ve all done at one point or another in our lives, whether it was getting even with the school bully who took our dessert or the driver that cuts us off on the interstate. We could all give many examples of getting even in our lives, but what would be the point? All of our plotting, our thoughts of how to get even all meet its end in our Lord’s damning statement, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How do you do that, you ask? Where’s the fairness in that? What about getting justice, getting even? There is no fairness and there is no getting justice or getting even, there is only love.

Jesus in this portion of His Sermon on the Mount makes no mention of getting even or seeking justice. Instead, He advocates the complete opposite of that. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

There is no question that Jesus’ words make us stop and take an honest look at ourselves. And what we find is never a pretty picture. Just what was Jesus thinking when He told us to love our enemies? He does know what the definition of enemy is, right? There’s times where we cannot stand our families or friends, that we despise them and on occasion wish harm to them. When we dig deep into our hearts, we find that we are corrupt – not just a little bit but corrupt to the core. We confess that we are, by nature, sinful and unclean. That doesn’t mean just a little sinful or just a little unclean. No, sinful and unclean from head to toe, inside and out. Everything about us sinful. Everything about us screams that we do not desire God and the gift of forgiveness He brings through His Son.

In sharp contrast to the Old Testament Levitical laws and to the Pharisees’ twisting of the same, Jesus speaks out in favor of the law of love. There is no place for vengeance in the heart or the life of the Christian. Here He is condemning the spirit of lovelessness, hatred, and a yearning for revenge.

That my friends, is what we are guilty of – the spirit of lovelessness, hatred and a yearning for revenge. It is our sinful nature shining forth as a beacon of unholy and unchristian light. We are too busy wrapped up in hating our enemies that we forget that they are our neighbor.

When the scribes asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He answered them, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Both are one and the same. That’s what Jesus says. He extends the idea of neighbor to our enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus tells us to love our enemies. What kind of love is Jesus talking about? He is talking about ἀγάπη, that kind of love that sacrifices itself for others. How are you doing with that? Can you truly say that you make sacrifices for your enemies?

If that wasn’t enough, Jesus tells us to compare ourselves to God the Father. God the Father sends His rain on the just and the unjust. As Luther states in the explanation of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people …” So Jesus asks us to follow the example of God the Father who blesses all people alike with the gifts of His creation. Finally, Jesus puts the final nail in the coffin of our self-righteousness with these words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Remember what I just said – neighbor and enemy, enemy and neighbor. Are you as perfect as your Father in Heaven? Do you put Jesus first in your life? Do you put others next? Do you put yourself last? The answer is most likely no. And yet despite the fact, Christ views us differently, He treats us differently. St. Paul tells us, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

You and I are the enemies of God. Our sinful nature causes us to want everything that is opposite of God and all that He is and all that He desires. And yet, despite that fact, He sends His only begotten Son into the flesh in order to redeem us, the ungodly. But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were sinners and Christ died for us. We are still sinners and Christ still pleads on our behalf, for He is the once-for-all sacrifice that was needed to bring creation back to its Creator.

Paul says, More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” We have the reconciliation between God and man, between Creator and creation. We have been reconciled, forgiven of our sins and made clean by the blood of Christ that washes over us. And just as Christ has forgiven us, so we too forgive our enemy – not because he is our enemy, but because he is our neighbor. We forgive because Christ has forgiven us, reconciled us unto Himself.

Jesus taught us that we are to place God first in all things, then we are to love our neighbor even if our neighbor is our enemy. The reason is very simple, for our enemy is the same as we are, God’s creation. But even more than that, our enemy is one for whom Christ died in order to save. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 6 – “Spiritual Infants” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

We are all babies! Each and every one of us, regardless of our age, are still babies, that is, spiritual babies. Don’t take my word for it; rather, listen to what St. Paul says: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Does it sting a little that Paul refers to us as spiritual infants?  What about those who claim that they’ve been a life-long, card-carrying member of the church from the day of their baptism all those years ago? You’re still an infant. What about those who have just confessed their faith in Jesus Christ? You’re still an infant. We are all spiritual infants, regardless of age, regardless of time spent in the church.

As Paul presents the Gospel to the Corinthians, he could not address them as spiritual “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” These Corinthians, so fascinated by man’s wisdom, so bent on acquiring it, so vain about the worldly wisdom they possessed, were insisting that Paul also give them God’s deepest wisdom when he preached to them. That sounds wonderful, with great potential to the Corinthians, doesn’t it? Aside from their fascination with worldly wisdom, which, who could blame them since that’s what sinful man tries to attain, they want the fullness of the Gospel preached to them. But there was a problem with their desire – they weren’t ready for it. They were not capable of drinking from the firehose; they needed to drink from the faucet in little bursts.

Paul was faced with a question: how much of God’s wisdom can you feed an infant? The Corinthians were only babes in Christ, too immature spiritually to absorb much heavenly wisdom. They were too worldly; their flesh was too weak to understand more than the basics of Christianity. Paul gives to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in a way that they were able to digest. He says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” It wasn’t a slight to the Corinthians but an honest evaluation of where they were in their Christian faith. No mother gives her infant solid food when they cannot chew or digest it; so Paul could give the Corinthians only the simplest of spiritual food, that is, spiritual milk. They thought they were ready for the spiritual big leagues when they were yet still a farm team.

It really is no different for us. We think that we are able to absorb all that Scripture has to say. We think that we are great Biblical scholars because we have a Bible or have heard the Word of God preached; that we have the full understanding of all of Christianity. In reality, rarely do we comprehend what God’s Word says to us. Rarely are we able to grasp the tenants of the Christian faith to a point where we are considered a novice, let alone an expert. Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with that, because we are spiritual infants, ever growing in our understanding of God and His Word, ever growing in our faith.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they started bragging about which teacher they followed. There were those that followed Apollos and thought they were getting some extra blessing that those who followed Paul were not getting and vice versa. For them, it wasn’t so much about the message as to who was preaching the message. Paul seeks to put an end to their egotistical ways. He said with regard to himself and Apollos, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” It wasn’t about the man, it was about the message. That was Paul’s point from our Epistle reading. It was vital for the Corinthians to understand that Paul was a mouth, a speaker of the Gospel. He didn’t add anything to it. What could Paul add? Remember, Paul was the former persecutor of the Church: it’s not like he had years and years of good works and merit saved up that he could hand out to others. Apollos was a former Greek heathen who’d lived as an enemy of God for years too. He had no salvation to contribute to what Jesus had won, either. Had both been saints their entire lives, they’d still have nothing to add to Christ! Both teachers were Christians by the grace of God, chosen by God to speak His Word. Whether it was Paul or Apollos speaking it, what mattered was that it was the Gospel.

We see firsthand here at Corinth what happens when the central focus is on the speaker rather than the Doer. Strip away the speaker and what do you have? You are left with the sweet sound of the Gospel, a saving word for all who believe. Strip away the speaker and you are left with the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ and He alone. It’s not the speaker that matters; rather what matters is what is spoken. And so Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

It was a simple truth, but such an important one for the Corinthians to believe. Why? Because as long as they thought Paul was something they needed, they would think that Christ was less than sufficient to save them. But once they realized that Paul and Apollos were simply the messengers of the King, they were ready to rejoice in Christ and Him crucified, that Jesus had done everything necessary for their salvation.

There is a single, all-important fact that we must be aware of, even if we forget it from time to time: we are a people of the flesh who need to hear that there is One who became flesh for all people. That One is Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh. Christ, the unchanging God, became flesh for all of our fleshly sins, for all jealousy, for all strife, for all who are behaving only in a sinful and human way. The wages of our sins is death, but the wages of Christ’s labor on the cross is full and free forgiveness. The wages of Christ’s labor is new life and a never-ending salvation. These gifts of God come to us in the simplest of means – in the water and Word of Holy Baptism, in the precious body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. This is the food that we need to grow spiritually and it is the food that our gracious God provides for us at the expense of His Son.

The Lord gives the growth, and the Lord is faithful. By His Word which endures forever, He has made you His field, His building, His holy people. He feeds you with what you need, the spiritual milk that comes through His precious Word and Sacraments. By that eternal Word, you are forgiven 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.