Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 5:1-11

Everyone has a call. Your call is a holy one, whether or not you are in church work. Although I have a divine call to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ at this congregation in this community, I also have a call to be a husband and a father, not to mention being a son and a brother. By virtue of my baptism I am also called to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian.

That’s the one call you and I have in common. There are other calls we have, but they vary. I can’t do everything. You can’t do everything. We are interconnected people with various gifts and talents who work together to make a world. One difference between Christians and people of the world is that Christians believe their call is a gift from a gracious God. God has called you to His kingdom and to His glory through the gospel according to the purpose of grace. The end of your call as a Christian is to meet eternal life with joyful hope.

Yet our call as Christians is not easy. Even your call to your various stations in life is not easy. Consider Simon the fisherman. He had returned from his most recent fishing expedition empty handed. Simon and his companions were washing and caring for their fishing nets when Jesus suddenly climbs into his boat and asks him to put out a little from the land. Simon is tired. He’s cleaning his nets, perhaps wanting nothing more than some breakfast and a few hours of shuteye. Now this Nazarene wants to charter his boat in order to speak to the crowd pressing in on Him from every side.

Simon does as Jesus requests. He’s heard Jesus speak before, but the call to be one of His disciples had not yet come. Nevertheless, Simon puts the boat back into the water and listens to Jesus preach. If he can’t catch fish today, he certainly can catch the preached Word and feed his soul. Man does not live by fish or bread alone. Everything, even his livelihood, is located in God’s blessings.

It may not seem a blessing to you to be burdened with your daily vocations. Raising children isn’t easy. Marriage is hard work. Being single has its challenges, too, especially if you’ve lost your spouse. You work at what you do. The more you work at it, the more you acquire the skill and knowledge to live out your callings. The same can be said for your heavenly calling. Simply being baptized and then cutting yourself off from God’s Word and the fellowship of the saints around the pulpit and the altar is starving yourself from your Lord and Master. The highest calling you have is “Christian”. As you learn your trade in the world, so you also keep close to Christ in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So many believe it, yet so few take it home and use it.

Simon is given an opportunity to take it home and use it when Jesus tells him, Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Everything is working against our Savior’s words. Simon caught nothing the night before. Now it is daytime and no one fishes during the day. Simon worked the shoreline and caught nothing. Now Jesus says put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. There is hesitation in Simon’s response, but something else is there, too. Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.

At your word. It is for this very reason God often allows us to work in vain. He puts to shame our best attempts so that we do everything at His word. On the wall in my study I have these words from Martin Luther within my eyesight at all times. I commend his words to you today: “If you are a pastor engaged in preaching and teaching your people, and the response hasn’t been all that great, don’t be dismayed and diverted. Say to yourself: God has ordered me to proclaim His Word, and that’s what I’ll continue to do. If it doesn’t always prosper, God knows why; if my work does thrive, it pleases both Him and me.”

Granted we are not all pastors. But you can put any vocation in there and the meaning remains the same. God has put you where you are to do what you are given to do. You carry on doing what you do. God will provide the blessing in His time and in His way. At His Word you persevere. At His Word you are unrelenting. The Lord blesses what you are doing. He promises it, and He has never backed out of a promise.

So Simon casts the nets. The catch is so great that he must signal to James and John to help him bring the bursting nets into his boat. Immediately Simon falls to his knees saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. It’s only human to say and do what Simon says and does. No mortal man can provide like Jesus provides. Perhaps you have felt like doing the same thing when God blesses you in your vocations. All the hard work has finally paid off, yet unlike children of the world you know from Whom those blessings came. As Jesus once said to His disciples: when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

Simon the unworthy servant of Jesus Christ no longer calls Him Master, but Lord. Now Simon sees the fount of every blessing. If only the world could see Him as Simon sees Him. If only you and I could see Him as Simon sees Him. Sin makes us proud and cocky in great blessings of earthly things. We start reading our own press clippings. While it is good to rejoice in how God has gifted you with particular talents, you also keep in mind the words of this humble fisherman later in his life: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” If anyone knew anything about humility, it was Simon Peter, the disciple most prone to catch open mouth-insert foot disease. Nevertheless, God used him in a mighty way to proclaim the Gospel.

God uses you in a mighty way to proclaim the Gospel. Granted you may not be able to sing like angels or preach like Saint Paul, as the hymn says. Sometimes it’s the little things, like saying “Jesus died for you” or “Jesus forgives you, and I forgive you, too”. This shows your neighbor that you, like Simon and his companions, have left everything behind to follow Christ.

That doesn’t necessarily mean to forsake everything and literally live as a beggar. It means you put the main thing first: Jesus Christ and His free, full righteousness that now clothes you. Drop everything to pray. Drop everything to read Holy Scripture. Drop everything for a while and rest in this pew to receive Jesus in Word and Sacraments. Jesus is here, ready to bless you. Jesus is in your home, your workplace, and wherever you go, ready to bless you. He has already done so by making you His precious child and given you gifts to love and serve Him and others. These are your callings. They are holy, for Jesus makes you holy in His saving death. Believe it for His sake.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 6:36-42

The four key words in our LORD’s discourse in Luke chapter six are: Judge not, condemn not, forgive, and give. All these words are hallmarks of what it means to live your life clothed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. He has done all these things to you. You are given to do all these things to your neighbor, whether or not he or she is a fellow Christian.

The first word Jesus says is the one that is perhaps the most misinterpreted word from our Savior’s lips. People believe Jesus is giving license here for everyone to do whatever they want. Don’t judge me! Jesus says you Christians can’t say one critical word about anything I say or do! If that was true, then Jesus would contradict Himself. The same can be said for condemning someone. If it was true that Jesus forbids every form of judging and condemnation, then there is no need for worldly authorities that judge evil work and condemn evildoers. There would be no need for parents to chastise and judge the sins of their children. There would also be no need to exercise church discipline, or even for Christians to approach one another out of Christian love to admonish and correct one another. You would have chaos if Jesus’ words here were taken out of context.

What our Lord forbids here is judging and condemnation that contends with mercy. Jesus begins this discourse with the words: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. It is merciful to judge and to condemn when the end result is mercy. Earthly authorities judge and condemn criminals in order to have mercy on citizens and protect them from harm and danger. Parents judge and condemn their children’s sins in order to correct them and keep them from shame, vice, and evil. Even congregations and fellow Christians judge and condemn their neighbors’ sins not to kick ’em out or throw ’em out, but to keep them in the fellowship of the faithful and not let them be cast into eternal death.

The motive behind proper judging and condemning is mercy. Jesus speaks against any judgment or condemnation whose motive is not mercy. You don’t need to look at anyone else’s behavior to see examples of improper judging and condemnation. Look at yourself. When you judge your neighbor’s action as good or bad, when you condemn someone because they are or are not a Christian, those two things are what the Lord forbids. Only God can see and judge the heart. You can’t judge hearts, so you keep quiet about someone’s eternal welfare. Where there is no love in your thoughts, words, or deeds toward your neighbor, there the sin of improper judgment and condemnation lurks in your heart.

This is nothing new. Jesus knew sinners acted that way, so He spoke these words nearly two thousand years ago. Martin Luther knew sinners acted that way. Even he was guilty of it because of his sinful nature. Luther says about Christians nearly five hundred years ago: “Although we are called Evangelical, I fear that the most of us are heathen under the Christian name.” When you examine yourself, your thoughts, your actions, especially your words, you will see that Luther doesn’t lie. Jesus certainly doesn’t lie. There is far too much judging and condemning that comes from our lives, and not enough forgiving and giving. Even your best intentions are far from the standard our heavenly Father expects from His children.

Our Savior’s words today work repentance. Think of what could happen if you, today, stopped merciless judging and condemnation of your neighbor. You’ll never perfectly stop it because of the sinful nature that clings to you this side of eternity, but what if you simply quit judging your neighbors’ hearts and lives. You stop playing God and start leaving the matter of your neighbor’s eternal welfare to God. It will never completely stop as long as the flesh clings to you, but that doesn’t give you license to keep mercilessly judging and condemning people. It certainly would make conversation polite and social media a pleasure to look at. It would also bring with it a promise from God.

Jesus says: forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. As if that isn’t enough, He continues: Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Forgiving and giving take the place of judging and condemning in a Christian’s life. Mind you, forgiving and giving aren’t merely good things that you need to do in order to earn God’s mercy. You already have God’s forgiveness, generosity, and mercy because of Jesus Christ and His victory over Satan and the grave. Jesus is talking to those who are already forgiven, who have God’s grace for Christ’s sake. That’s the starting point for forgiving your neighbor and giving to your neighbor.

Forgiveness is yours in Jesus. Forgiveness can’t be locked up inside you and given only to those you deem appropriate to be forgiven. Saint John writes: We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Those last four words are the heart of the matter for a forgiven Christian. We love the brothers. We love other forgiven people with no prejudice against who they are, where they live, what they look like, or even for whom they voted. Those who do not judge or condemn, but forgive from the heart and give in true love are assured on Judgment Day that God no longer judges and condemns them, that their sins are forgiven because they know they are a believing child of God who no longer enters into judgment but has been carried from death to life.

There is no more powerful and loving thing to say to someone than “You are forgiven.” Those three words should live on your tongue. They are instant mercy. They give the righteousness and joy that Jesus gives you in His death and resurrection for your forgiveness. Even if you can’t give to others in the way that you have been given to by God, especially in possessions and treasures, you can give something more precious in abundance. You can give the mercy first given to you in Christ Jesus. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Third Sunday after Trinity – Luke 15:1-10

The seeking, saving, and bearing up of lost sheep isn’t always the blessed picture you may have in your mind. Sacred art portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd, bearing sheep on His shoulders, returning them to the flock. If you look over the double doors on your way out, you’ll see that image. It is a joyful sight to behold, whether you’re walking out or coming in to this church building. Jesus bears sinners home.

Did you consider, however, the lengths Jesus goes to rescue the lost? There is sacred art that portrays the rescue, too. A quick Google image search features an image of Jesus on a rocky path, leaning over the edge of the path while holding on to His shepherd’s staff with one hand. He reaches over the precipice to grab a sheep that is almost out of His reach with His other hand. Two birds are about to swoop in to pick up the sheep if Jesus doesn’t rescue it. There is danger involved in most every rescue, but we don’t often associate Jesus with danger. We think our Savior would never put Himself into a predicament like that one. Jesus is much too dignified to get His outer garments dirty in order to save one sheep.

Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, begotten of His Father from before there was a heaven and an earth, became man. He came into this sinful world as a man to rescue sinners from everlasting death and give them everlasting life. His work of redemption is the shedding of His blood. His death is not a tidy incident. His death was bloody, was public, and yet also salvific. His death is His plan of rescue for you, by His grace.

Jesus rescues sinners. He rescues all sinners. All sinners deserve death by virtue of their sinful nature. You deserve death. You are the one whom Jesus rescues. For many of you, you don’t remember that rescue because you were young, even an infant, when it occurred. You were once lost. Maybe you have been directionally lost on a country road, in the city, or even in a department store. That’s not the lost Jesus speaks about in Luke chapter fifteen. You are lost lost. You don’t know the way to be found. You don’t even know whom to cry for help.

Jesus knows you. That’s what matters when it comes to saving your soul. He is willing to give up His life for your salvation. Perhaps that is why you may have a visceral reaction when you think of that picture of Jesus reaching out over a side of a cliff to rescue a lamb before predators take that lamb away. Why would Jesus exert that much effort to save me? Because He is merciful and He loves His whole creation, that’s why. Jesus Christ, the very Son of God Who is made man, loves you. He wants you to live with Him, before the face of God, in Paradise for eternity. Why me? Why not you!

Old Adam constantly asks, “Why me?”, “Why him”, and “Why her?”. In our eyes here on earth we will always see a certain flaw in a penitent sinner throughout that person’s life. You especially see it if that person is someone you know well, even a family member. When you live in one place for a long time, you know, so to speak, where all the bodies are buried. You know well each other’s sins. You know the buttons to push to bring out the worst in everyone. It is hard to forget what your neighbor did wrong. With God, however, there is no memory of that person’s sins. God only looks at the repentance and reversal of the sinner. The joy of repentance swallows up all the woe and heartbreak of walking down the wrong path.

It’s hard, though, to focus on the joy of repentance when you see someone’s sins making them an outlaw, so to speak. The phrase “forgiven outlaw” sounds like two words that don’t belong together. You might even think, “God forgives him, but I certainly won’t.” Now who is the outlaw? God willingly embraces a recovered sinner into His arms and opens to that person all joys and honors of His kingdom in heaven. God’s angels welcome that forgiven outlaw with cheering and exultation as a companion of heavenly salvation.

Radical? Yes, it is. Outrageous? To our sinful nature, yes. Truth? A certain truth for Jesus Christ’s sake. He seeks you even when you don’t wish to be sought. He finds you, even when you play hide and seek with Him. When He finds you, He doesn’t scold you or give you a spanking. He bears you up on His shoulders and takes you back to the flock, rejoicing all the way.

Seeking, finding, and bearing are the work of Christ’s Church to this day. When the Scriptures are preached, when Moses has his say to work repentance and Christ is brought home to penitent sinners, you are sought. That preached Word finds and strikes your heart and conscience. He touches your will and works repentance. He softens your hardened heart. The Word preached works a renewed heart and soul. You stand still and let the Good Shepherd bear you up on His shoulders and carry you home to God’s flock. All of this is the Lord’s work, the effect of His grace, His underserved love for sinners like you and me.

Rescuing sinners is not a tidy task. It is, however, a joyous task. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for your sake. He is not afraid to go to the rough places, even the dangerous places, to rescue you. Another image comes to mind about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus cuddles a lamb in His arms. The look on His face is one of pure love and grace for a lost sheep. See yourself in that image. See yourself safe in the arms of Jesus, protected from every evil foe. Believe it for the Good Shepherd’s sake.

Second Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:15-24

Jesus’ parable at the table of a Pharisee’s banquet is a picture of the call of salvation that goes through the world. God has prepared salvation for all sinners through Christ. Christ is the servant in the parable. The host is His Father. The invitation is simple: Come, for everything is now ready. This is not a potluck. This is not a for-profit restaurant. This is a banquet where everything is taken care of by the host. You have been specifically invited by the host. You didn’t do anything to earn his invitation. He picked you. All you do is embrace the invitation. You drop everything and go to the banquet.

Those who are invited first are God’s chosen people, the Israelites. The banquet is for them because God chose them out of all the people in the world to eat and drink at His feast. Christ’s coming is for them first, and then for others. You would think, at long last, His own people would come running to the banquet hall. But they all alike began to make excuses. The refusal is unanimous. One has bought a field. Another needs to test five yoke of oxen. A third is a newlywed. All three have placed earthly acquisitions and enjoyment ahead of the joyous meal offered by a friendly host.

That’s the way things were with the Israelites. They had lost their focus. They bore the name of God’s chosen nation, but the name was just a name to them. They now sought an earthly kingdom with earthly pleasures. They expected power, rule, and glory, with Messiah as their earthly king Who gives them bread to eat. The Israelites, especially their rulers, scorned the great banquet because they loved the things of this world and despised the preaching of Christ and the apostles.

This is not merely a Jewish problem. This is a human problem that knows no ethnicity, race, sex, or economic stature. People have no time to hear the gospel because they are too busy. Even when Christian congregations offer other times besides Sunday morning to rest in the Good News, the schedule seems to fill up precisely around those additional times.

People have no time to pray and to receive God’s gifts because they have earthly gifts that occupy their time. Even those earthly gifts are not enough, so you work harder and do more in order to purchase more things that rob time spent with the Lord in His Word.

People have no time to spend with the family of God because they find their delight in their own home and family. This doesn’t mean you should pay no attention to your spouse, your children, and all other family members in order to focus exclusively on God’s kingdom. What it means is misplaced desires and delights in family. Misplaced desires and delights is placing focus exclusively on finding happiness in earthly things. God’s Word becomes a disposable thing that can be picked up and thrown aside on a whim.

All these excuses do not hold water. The way they are spoken shows that those invited know how important the banquet invitation is that they are apologetic about their excuse. They say, “Yeah, I know my presence is requested here, but, well, you know how it goes. Maybe next time.” A guilty conscience cannot be set at ease by any excuse. The gospel has struck your ears, has come into your way again and again, yet you’re waiting for next time.

We have seen this year that there may not be a next time. We went eleven weeks without corporate worship. That next time could have been much longer. Please never assume that the gifts will be here next week, or next month, or at your convenience. The thing about assuming the gifts will always be here is that, once you grow accustomed to something being always where it is, flesh and blood remains earthly minded. What’s missing one week? The next thing you know, that one week can turn into several years. Hardening your heart toward the gospel can happen faster than you expect.

The invitation is then extended to others. Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame. The LORD has in mind here the so-called better class of losers among Israel: the poor, the tax collectors, the sinners, and the fishermen. People of this sort made up our Lord’s first disciples. The servant replies: Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room. The response is: Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. This is an apparent reference to Gentiles like you and me. Even though Gentiles were outside the citizenship of Israel and foreigners to the testaments of the promise, the banquet is for them as well.

We see this in the Acts of the Apostles when the apostles go into the world to preach the Gospel. The apostles went first to the Jews. More often than not, they rejected the gospel. So the apostles turned to the Gentiles, many of whom embraced the good news and were brought to the banquet.

The invitation still goes out to this day: Come, for everything is now ready. The excuses continue to this day. Unfortunately, most reject Christ and His Word. We will have to get used that response, as much as it pains us to hear it. Jesus points out in this parable that rejection of the invitation to the banquet will happen. Others, however, embrace the invitation in the power of divine grace. Ultimately, all places at the heavenly table are filled.

Those who embrace this invitation receive the joy of eternity when they sit down at the banquet table. They are fed with the bread of life, Jesus Christ, and His forgiveness and peace won for them in His conquering sin, death, and Satan through the shedding of blood on the cross and the resurrection from the dead. They are comforted in the hours of agonizing struggle with the confidence that Jesus has triumphed over the evil foe. Even when they fall to temptation, Christ is their way out of temptation and their way into eternal life.

Perhaps the man who said Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God had no idea what he meant when he first said it. In the light of Jesus’ parable, you see it with a new clarity. Eating bread in the kingdom of God, sitting down at the Father’s banquet table, is your future in Jesus Christ. It is your future right now because Jesus won it for you and gives it to you in His gifts. It is your future yet to come when Jesus returns to bring in a new heaven and a new earth, our home of righteousness. There still is room. His house is not yet filled. The invitation goes forth: Come, for everything is now ready. Blessed are you as you embrace this invitation and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the holy ones of God to eat the good things God has for you.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9 ESV)

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

Of the two men Jesus presents in today’s Gospel, which one would you rather be? One wears bespoke suits from Saville Row in London. He drives a Ferrari on the days that he doesn’t drive a Koenigsegg. He has more vacation houses than homes you’ve owned. He doesn’t know what it’s like to eat flank steak because he eats Wagyu beef…for every meal.

Then there’s Lazarus. Someone must carry him because he can’t walk. He has to beg to make ends meet, if they ever meet. His body is covered with painful boils. Only dog spit gives him comfort in his pain. Lazarus lies outside the rich man’s home every day, hoping for a morsel that falls from his table.

Which one would you rather be? If you’re honest, you’ll say the rich man. He doesn’t have enough fingers and toes to count his blessings. Lazarus, on the other hand, seems to have nothing but hard luck. Not even one morsel that falls from the rich man’s table ends up in his mouth. He lays there, waiting for a handout, and nothing comes. You might think God has cursed Lazarus and blessed the rich man.

You would be wrong.

A hard paradigm to get out of your head is that rich people are blessed and poor people are cursed. God loves those with money and possessions and hates those who have nothing and must beg for everything. Jesus shows that is not the case by upsetting the apple cart in His parable. Actually He doesn’t just upset the apple cart. He torches it with gasoline and throws some kerosene on the blaze for good measure.

Both men die. Wouldn’t you know it, Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man is in the agony of hell. How did that happen? It happened because death is the great equalizer. Rich and poor die alike. Rich people die in more comfort, but they die. In our Lord’s parable, it is the rich man who is now the beggar and Lazarus is the rich man. Lazarus, who once was carried to the rich man’s gate, is carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, a figure of speech for Paradise. It’s a good place compared to where the rich man is.

The rich man is in Hades, a place of torment. He desires the comforts he had when he was alive. So looking up to the bosom of Abraham, he starts ordering Abraham around. After all, the rich man once had money, possessions, and prestige. He’s sure to get some attention. He demands Lazarus be sent to him to quench his tongue while he is in agony. That can’t happen. There is a chasm fixed between the two places. Once you’re there, you’re there. You can’t hop back and forth between the two realms. Prestige means nothing now that the great equalizer has had its say.

Abraham responds with pity, but also with blunt directness. Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. Let’s not misinterpret Abraham’s words here. Bad things here do not automatically mean good things in Paradise and vice versa. Lazarus had something else that the rich man lacked. That’s what matters when it comes to eternity. Lazarus is comforted here because, unlike the rich man, Lazarus remembered the good things to come rather than the good things right now that the rich man had. Lazarus was thinking about eternity. He patiently endured suffering and, at the last, was carried to Abraham’s bosom, the best spot to be.

Even Christians get caught up thinking like the rich man. You want to have your kingdom of heaven on earth. Money and possessions are your salvation. A wonderful life is your paradise. What does that give you when the great equalizer comes calling? Agony. Earlier in Luke chapter sixteen Jesus says, No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. God willing, we will focus on those words later this year. For now, Jesus shows you can’t have two masters. Yes, God blesses you with money and possessions, whether a little or a lot. What matters is what you do with them and how much you trust them. When death calls, as it must do this side of heaven, you cannot take them with you. So you hold them with a light hand and put them to work here, believing you have a greater inheritance in Christ Jesus.

That’s the inheritance Lazarus has. Though given nothing and receiving comfort only from dog spit, Lazarus has the one thing needful: eternal life. Other helpers failed. All comforts split the scene. The Helper of the helpless, God Himself, is Lazarus’ help. That’s what Lazarus means: “God helps”. God’s help isn’t always lots of good things in your earthly life. God’s help is giving you eternity for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood and righteousness is the beautiful possession that brings forgiveness, hope for eternity, and salvation from the agony of Hades.

Lazarus’ inheritance is also your inheritance. You receive this inheritance when you hear Moses and the prophets. They proclaim more than the law. They also proclaim Christ, the only hope for salvation. That is why Abraham tells the rich man when it comes to his brothers’ salvation: they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. The God of the living also does not bring people back from the dead with messages of hope. He uses the living Word to proclaim repentance and forgiveness. That is why when someone wants to know why you are certain of your salvation from this wretched world, you invite them to join you hear in God’s house to hear God’s Word proclaimed. Let them hear their salvation strike their ear, move their heart, and create a living hope for resting in the bosom of Abraham.

Money can’t buy you love. It certainly cannot buy eternity. Only Jesus’ blood buys eternity for you. That same blood now covers you, declares you righteous and holy, and gives you a place next to Lazarus in Paradise. That’s the good thing that matters before God; the good thing that is proclaimed to you today that is better than the fastest car, the finest clothes, sumptuous food, and even dog spit.

Feast of the Holy Trinity – John 3:1-17

The Trinity is not so much understood as it is believed. Jesus alludes to that when He tells  Nicodemus, the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. It can’t be explained. It can be believed. So it is with being born anew. This great mystery of God is something all Christians have experienced, but they can’t explain the details. Being born anew is a work of the Holy Trinity, a work that begins with the preaching of the Word, moves to your baptism, and continues every day as the Old Adam dies to sin so that the New Man rises and walks with God.

But. But. But. How? Why? I can’t see it! I just know it happens. I believe it happens. But I need to be able to explain it so that someone who doesn’t know what it is like will know it when it impacts them. Ah, yes, you’re thinking like a rationalist. A rationalist can’t abide mystery. There must be an explanation for the work of God. So people try to explain it. Many theological tomes try to unpack how God works in the lives of His people. There are things we are able to see and to hear, like the preaching of the Gospel, or a baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, or even individual absolution. We know God is at work there because His Word is proclaiming Jesus Christ’s victory over death and covering us with His righteousness bought for us in the shedding of His blood.

Where things go off track is when you ask the next level questions. Tell me more. How does His Word adhere to water and make baptism salvific? What is the exact moment when bread and wine are shown for us to be the precious Body and Blood of Christ? Why did God choose these earthly things to carry heavenly possessions? Tell me more. That’s the way of a rationalist. Everything has to be rational, explainable, with no mysteries necessary.

A crude example of this in the history of the Christian Church is the time when Rationalism was in vogue in the eighteenth century. Sermons preached in churches reduced our Lord’s parables to a gateway on how to live. Take the parable of the soils in Luke chapter eight. Instead of Jesus teaching you that there are four different ways people hear His Good News, the preacher used the text to teach his hearers good gardening and farming techniques. The mystery was ripped from Scripture. The text became the basis of an agricultural lecture.

Why not let the mystery be? That’s no fun! You have an advantage over someone when you know all the ins and outs of how God works. Instead of “We preach Christ crucified”, a congregation might say, “We can explain everything”. Instead of preaching the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to us in His death, a congregation can use our Lord’s crucifixion to explain anatomy and show how cruel His death was, while never getting around to telling you why His death is a matter of life and death for you.

There’s a lot of Nicodemus in you and me. Nicodemus asks all the right questions, but the answers he’s looking for aren’t the answers Jesus gives him. How can these things be? It’s enough to exasperate our Lord. Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Look at yourself. That includes me. None of us perfectly understand these things because we don’t have perfect knowledge of Scripture. Thanks be to God for His only-begotten Son taking on flesh to walk among us and tell us about the great wonders of His Father.

Jesus says we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen. The eyes of God see more than the eyes of man. That’s not to our disadvantage, though. All things work to our advantage. What you and I cannot see is what’s beyond the tip of the iceberg that is the miracle of the salvation of the entire world in Jesus Christ. All we get to see is a little tip of it. Unfair? No. It’s all we can handle as fallen creatures. Jesus gives Nicodemus the tip of the iceberg and it’s too much for him. That’s because Jesus is breaking through Nicodemus’ rational thinking and opening His mind to the Scriptures. Nicodemus must see through the regulations set in place by the Pharisees and scribes. He must see the totality of Torah, the Law of God. The totality of Torah is Jesus Christ for him, and for you.

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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. Five verses, yet there is so much packed into these five verses that it is enough to keep you busy pondering them for the rest of your life.

The mystery of salvation that Jesus unpacks for you today breaks through your need to understand and explain everything and puts your focus on what our Father in heaven wants you to see. He wants you to see His Son, Jesus Christ, lifted up for your salvation. He wants you to see the Holy Spirit at work in Word, in water, in bread, and in wine, pointing you to where you find the all-availing righteousness of Jesus Christ for you. No explanation is necessary except to say that God is at work, forgiving sins, strengthening faith, and preparing you for eternal life. It’s a rationalist’s nightmare. It’s a Christian’s hope fulfilled in Christ.

Feast of Pentecost – John 14:23-31

Jesus says the Holy Spirit will do two things. He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. When it comes to meditating on our Lord’s words here, we are tempted to focus more on the how and less on the why. The “how” of the Holy Spirit is a great mystery of the eternal godhead. It cannot be explained. It is believed. That’s difficult to understand when you want to see what’s going on behind the curtain rather than focusing on what’s going on in front of the curtain.

It’s much more fun to think about the backroom machinations of God. How does He do all these unspeakable things? How does Jesus perform miracles? What did it look like inside that tomb on Easter morning the moment when Jesus rose from the dead? All of these things and more might cross our minds. All of these things might also take the focus off what’s going on and puts the focus on how it happened.

Jesus tells His disciples, and you and me as well, the “how” isn’t the main thing. The “what” and the “why” is where the action is. So what is the Holy Spirit doing? He is teaching you all things and bringing to your remembrance all that Jesus has said to you. What are all the things that the Holy Spirit is teaching you? The Holy Spirit is teaching you Jesus and the benefits Jesus leaves you in His death, resurrection, and ascension.

Being taught Jesus is more than being taught to do the right thing and make right choices. Being taught Jesus is to be put into our Savior’s life and all that the Savior does for you in His life. By virtue of your baptism, in that lavish washing away of sin and in grafting you into His vine of righteousness, all that Jesus says and does is said and done for you. All those precious sayings of Christ: Blessed are the poor in spirit, Come unto Me and I will give you rest, I am the way, I am the Good Shepherd, Today you will be with Me in Paradise, and so many more, all those words are spoken to you and for you. The words that Jesus speaks are more than sayings in one moment in time. The words He speaks are truth, your truth. You are with Him in Paradise. He is your Good Shepherd and you are His precious lamb. Jesus’ words teach you that He alone is your Savior; He alone is your certain hope for everlasting life.

Where the rubber hits the road is when the Holy Spirit brings to your remembrance all that Christ has said to you. Your life is continuing education. Even when you are finished with going to school, you are never actually finished going to school. No one ever achieves a moment where no more knowledge is necessary. Times come nearly every day when you put to use what you have learned and, in so doing, realize you don’t know everything. Either you figure it out using your God-given talents and discover something new or, more than likely, someone has to show you the knowledge needed to do something you haven’t accomplished.

You may recall the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The Holy Spirit does both things. He gives you the Scriptures, the words that reveal the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Jesus Christ. The Spirit, though, doesn’t just drop the book in your lap and leave you to figure it out for yourself. He teaches you. He brings to your remembrance all that Jesus says to you. That is why Christians are always teaching alongside preaching. Even a sermon like this one is a teachable moment. Yet this sermon didn’t happen without time to pray, to meditate, and to put fingers to keyboard and write it. All of these things are works of the Holy Spirit. He brought to my remembrance the things Jesus says and uses the gifts God gives me to speak them to you today, wherever you are, no matter who you are.

That’s nothing short of a miracle. It would be nice to see the inner workings of every miracle. Seeing the “how”, though, is nothing compared to hearing and believing the “what” and the “Who”: Jesus Christ and His righteousness. All the years you heard the Bible stories, all the sermons you have heard in a church building, and all the times your pastor gives you one-on-one soul care, these things add up over time and mature you into Christ Jesus. Chew on that for a moment. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit: bringing you Jesus in His Word that is preached, splashed, eaten, and drunk.

Now that these are yours, how do you take it home and use it? It’s not you getting to take it home and use it. The Holy Spirit will use it when and where He wills. He will call to your remembrance the great and precious promises of Christ and use them in the many circumstances of your life. In times of sorrow the Spirit will draw you to God’s Word and use that Word to bring you consolation. He will even teach you how properly to lament. That’s something we have all learned to do over these last few months. Our heavenly Father doesn’t mind it when you lament your situation to him. He longs to hear your cries of sorrow and even anger. The Spirit will also point you to words of consolation in the Scriptures, even words that restore joy and certainty that you are His precious child and He will care for you.

The Holy Spirit does nothing without the Word. The Word made flesh says to you today: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. If you could choose one verse of Scripture that leaps off the page and soothes your aching conscience, it might be that verse from today’s Holy Gospel. The Holy Spirit, Who brings you Jesus, brings the peace that Jesus gives to you. It is this peace of God that transcends all that your mind can do. It is this peace abides in you unto life everlasting. It is a mysterious peace that is not investigated but lived and loved.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 15:26-16:4

Our Lord’s disciples had every right to say “Why didn’t you tell us in the first place?” after hearing what Jesus tells them in His farewell discourse. Jesus is about to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. Forty days later He will ascend to His Father in heaven. He promises them that they will not be left alone. He will send the Helper, the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father. The Holy Spirit will bear witness about Jesus. The disciples will bear witness about Jesus. You will bear witness about Jesus, too. That’s your chief calling as a Christian: to bear witness about Jesus Christ to a world that doesn’t know Him or even wants to know Him.

Now that you know the world will be hostile to the witness of Jesus, you’re probably wondering why that wasn’t told you at your baptism, especially if you were an infant when you were baptized. You were told at your confirmation that hostility will come your way. “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” These questions are not child’s play. Christians around the world die for bearing witness to Christ nearly every day.

There was a time in our country when bearing witness to Jesus may have been more pleasing that it is right now. It seems that in our time bearing witness to Christ is the surest way to be unfriended on social media, not to mention in real life. You are privileged to stand before the world and testify about your certain hope for eternal life in Jesus Christ. There is life after death in Christ. That’s Good News! You can’t wait to tell this Good News and this hope to everyone you know. You also quickly find out how the world reacts to your testimony. You’ll find a sympathetic smile. Maybe you’ll get a nod or a shrug of the shoulders. You’ll probably also experience open contradiction, mockery, ridicule, hatred, and hostility. It stings. It’s even worse when it happens from your best friends or even a close family member.

There’s an old saying that goes something like: “After the seventeenth arrow it doesn’t hurt anymore.” You’ll probably start to be concerned about what you believe. So many people despise Christians. Some see Christians as hypocritical, self-righteous, self-important people who think only of themselves. You are guilty as charged. So am I. It’s enough to make you think that you’re wrong. Maybe you have backed the wrong team? It’s enough to make someone, especially a young person, stumble on the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense.

Jesus promised it would happen. He did not come to bring peace on earth, but division. Father will be against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Be prepared for it. If you don’t believe me, take a look at what’s happening in our country. Christians look to the world as if we demand preferential treatment before the government. Caesar must care for all people, not merely Christians. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but Jesus says you should expect it from Caesar, as well as from your family.

It may get so bad for the disciples that they will be excommunicated from the temple. Not only that, it will seem a God-pleasing thing to do for many people. What disgrace those early believers had to face! What bitter persecution, even death! Jesus prepares His disciples, and you, for what is to come. The world will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

The days of wine and roses for Christians in the United States is gone, if there ever was a time. Our romanticized notion of preferential treatment in society is over. Jesus told you it would happen. It has happened throughout history and it continues today. Repent of foolish notions of thinking the world will love you because you’re a Christian. Rejoice, though, that your Father in heaven continues to strengthen you for the task at hand: bearing witness to Jesus in word and deed.

Jesus came preaching righteousness from above and salvation in His name. They crucified Him. In Christ’s crucifixion came the righteousness He preached to them. In His resurrection from the dead came the eternal hope He preached to them. In the sending of the Holy Spirit came the Comforter of priceless worth, the Advocate of His people Who strengthens them in their calling. He didn’t tell His disciples from the start because He was with them. He did occasionally say something about it, but now that He is about to leave them, He prepares them for what will happen.

He tells you every day in His Word how it will go with you. He teaches you that you will have to suffer many things for the sake of the kingdom. Nevertheless, remember Who said these things to you. Jesus says it. I have told them to you. Jesus also says, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. The Holy Spirit’s work is to get you where Jesus is with the Jesus gifts that bring you Jesus’ forgiveness, Jesus’ life, and Jesus’ salvation. When you abide in the Jesus gifts, Jesus abides in you. You don’t have to fear anything, even death. All is taken care of in Christ.

Jesus tells His disciples, and you, you will be My witnesses. He doesn’t leave you alone to figure it out. Even in the worst agonizing struggles, the Holy Spirit will bring to your remembrance all that Jesus says to you about His promises. He will strengthen you in His gifts that deliver the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He will keep you steadfast in His Word. He will keep your spirit, soul, and body sound and blameless until the day of resurrection. He will do it, even when the going gets tough. Believe it for His sake.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 16:5-15

Today’s Gospel begins a four-week run that focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit among us. The Holy Spirit’s office and work are a source of rich consolation and support for us. The Holy Spirit, on the one hand, convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. On the other hand, the Spirit guides believing Christians into all truth and glorifies Christ in our hearts.

How can the Holy Spirit not be considered when it comes to our salvation? There is no way you are able to be saved without the Spirit using the preached Word to call you to believe in Jesus Christ. The preached Word that saves is a two-edged sword. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word that is proclaimed, convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. These three things of which the world is convicted are also three topics the world does not want to hear.

The Holy Spirit reveals what sin is and how the world lies in sin. No one likes to hear a convicting word about their nature. People often boast about doing the right thing, being kind to others, and not being a self-righteous hypocrite. Yet many use doing good things and nice behavior as a cover for not believing in God. Civil righteousness is enough for such people. Anyone who says civil righteousness isn’t enough to achieve eternal life must be a hypocrite at best and a self-righteous prude at worse.

That sort of thinking shows the Holy Spirit’s convicting office at work. The chief sin at play here is that they are convicted of sin, Jesus says, because they do not believe in me. The Good News of Jesus’ death for sin strikes their ears as bad news. They become hostile. They won’t embrace the freedom Christ has won for them. They blaspheme. They rage. Yet the world cannot escape this testimony. It will convict, chastise, and prick their conscience.

The Spirit also convicts the world concerning righteousness. The righteousness the Spirit proclaims turns a person away from themselves and toward Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Conventional wisdom teaches us that righteousness is being nice to everyone, following the rules, and making better choices about our life that helps each other. While these things indeed are good in a civil way, and are even evidence to our neighbor of believing in Jesus Christ, these things do not equal achieving eternal life. They do not take the place of the shedding of Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit witnesses in the Word the only righteousness that matters before our heavenly Father: the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The world is also convicted concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Satan is the ruler of this world. He is a conquered and defeated enemy because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. Everything, everyone, that attempts to silence the witness of Christ in this world must see that it is all in vain. All the struggle, all the grousing about the preaching of Jesus, and every obstacle thrown in the way of the preaching of the Good News is a lost cause.

As long as there is a Church, as long as there are preachers of the Gospel, and as long as there are witnesses of the good things Jesus does for His flock, the office of convicting the world in the preaching of the Law will continue. For believers, the preaching of the Law chiefly serves to check our sinful nature. It also shows our sin. It even is the standard of how we live as Christians in a fallen world. Yet this convicting office does not save us from sin. It is not the final word from God. The final word from God is His Yes and Amen in Jesus Christ.

The Law prepares the way for the Gospel. Once your idols are stripped away and stomped upon, you are ready to receive the joy of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Savior of fallen humanity. The Holy Spirit glorifies me, Jesus says. Jesus is glorified because only Jesus is able to take away your sin in the shedding of His blood. Only He Who knew no sin is able to take on our sin, to become sin for us, in order that we might take on His righteousness, be made righteous in His righteous act of salvation.

This is why everything that is done in the Church is done to glorify Jesus. That’s the Holy Spirit’s office. That’s why the Spirit descends upon the disciples at Pentecost. The Spirit takes what is Christ’s and gives it to them. What was once cloudy and difficult to understand is made clear and able to be proclaimed because of the descent of the Spirit.

Perhaps the best way to explain the work of the Spirit is to consider a neon sign. A neon sign advertises something, usually a business. For example, a pizza place in Momence has a neon sign that says PIZZA. You know when you see the sign that you can buy pizza there. For us, the Holy Spirit is a giant neon red arrow that points to Jesus Christ. It flashes amidst a world of darkness that the Way, the Truth, and the Life are found in Christ alone. The work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ, to point Him out, to get you to the forgiveness and life that Christ gives you in the Word, in your baptism, and in His holy Supper.

Preaching the Law is the alien work of God. It’s a work that must be done in order to strip away all your pretense of self-righteousness and self-salvation. Once all your masks that hide you from God are ripped away, you are ready to embrace the hope of eternity given in Jesus Christ. The world is going to hate what they hear, but they must hear it. For those who are saved, hearing preaching that convicts sin, righteousness, and judgment makes the way clear for the preaching of grace, mercy, peace, and joy from Jesus Christ, the Righteous One Who gives you more than you ever imagined. He gives you eternity and takes away your sin.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 16:16-23a

The disciples are confused by the description of time Jesus gives them in the farewell discourse. How long is a little while? Where is Jesus going? When will He return? The duration of time is not important to our Savior. What is important is what happens when He goes away and when He returns.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. The double Amen, the twofold truly in this translation, sets His words off as a sure thing. You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. As long as you sojourn on earth, there will be a thread of sorrow running through the life of joy you have in Christ. Those outside the Christian faith often have it better than Christians do. They seem to bask in their freedom from God. They have no compulsion, no need to deny themselves. They often mock Christians who suffer so much on earth while walking a narrow, lonely way.

This narrow, lonely way you walk is called by Psalm 23 the valley of the shadow of death. You enter the kingdom of heaven through much tribulation. There is a constant battle fighting the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. This is not to say that you flee all things worldly and purposely embrace a hard and sorrowful life. It means you don’t get adjusted to worldly things or see them as your way to eternal life. All things are a gift from a giving God, but gifts can be abused or neglected.

Then there are times when it seems as if God has the last laugh. God pretends that He is the enemy Who wants to destroy you. I’m sure you’ve caught yourself wondering, “What is God trying to tell us right now? How is God going to use this pandemic for the rest of my life? What does it all mean?” Questions like those are far beyond the knowledge God reveals to us. Rest assured He will use these times, as He has used all other times in history, for our own good and for the revelation of His will. Anything beyond that is impious speculation.

Perhaps the best way to look at our situation in life right now is that it sharpens our focus on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus continues, you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. All times of sorrow, whether the times we live in right now or any time in history, will ultimately turn into joy for those who believe in Jesus. A disc jockey used to sign off his radio show with the phrase: “Be sure to stop and smell the flowers, because we’re only here for a little while.” When you consider the history of the world compared to your lifespan, you’re a pebble in the rockpile of life. Nevertheless, you are a loved and wanted pebble, taken from that rockpile, washed in baptismal water, nourished in the incarnate Word Who is Jesus Christ, and prepared for an eternal future before the Father’s face.

Jesus drives home His point about a little while by comparing it to a woman in childbirth. No one is able to help a woman in childbirth. Doctors, nurses, midwives, even a spouse can do nothing to take on her pain. She must go through it alone. When the child arrives, however, all sorrow evaporates and there is joy that a child is brought safely into this world. Having five children of my own, I have seen this joyful event take place. Becky went through tremendous agony giving birth but the moment that newborn was laid in her arms, all pain disappeared, replaced by jubilation.

Although you may not want to think about it, think about the moment when you will die. Like many milestones in your life, you will have to go through it alone. For some, it happens suddenly. For others, it is a long duration of agony. No matter how it happens, because of sin, it will happen. On the other side of that moment is what we might see as the great unknown. For a believer in Jesus Christ, that great unknown is now known. Though a sorrowful moment for those alive, your sorrow will then be turned into joy. No pain. No agonizing struggle. No tears of woe. Now there is only joy and life where death and distress once reigned. There is a blessed slumber awaiting the return of Christ triumphant to raise the dead and take His children Home to the Father.

When it seems there is no end in sight, our heavenly Father knows the end. The end He knows is not so much an end to a virus but an end to this little while of human existence and a beginning of the eternal little while of the life to come. That beginning starts when Jesus breathes His last upon the cross to pay for your sins. That beginning is sealed in His resurrection from the dead. That beginning is delivered in the gifts Christ gives His beloved Bride, the Church. You have this gift of joy right now as your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. No one, not even the devil himself, can take this joy from you. Not even for a little while.