Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:1-13

            The key to taking to heart what Jesus says in the parable of the dishonest manager is to hear what Jesus says before and after this parable. The familiar words of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son of Luke chapter fifteen precede it. Luke’s description of the Pharisees one verse after today’s Holy Gospel summarizes everything: The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

            The Pharisees loved money. Men who were stewards of God’s holy law, teachers of Israel, experts in the ways and means of our Lord, feared, loved, and trusted in another god who was not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Pharisees loved money. They loved prestige. They loved power. They wanted the best seat at the table and the people’s honor. The inconvenient truth is that Jesus is talking about them…and they know it.

            Before you take a deep breath and think you are off the hook, apply the parable to yourself. Like the dishonest manager, you are wasting the possessions of the rich man. The Lord God has given you so much. He gives you more than you can handle, and then gives you even more without you asking. Not only does He give earthly possessions, He gives you the treasure of everlasting life in the completely sufficient sacrifice of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

            What do you do with the treasure given you? How will you use it? Perhaps you think of the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine”. You were taught to let the Gospel light shine. You were taught neither to hide the light nor let Satan blow it out. You were taught to pass it on to someone who does not have this light. In a world that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel light given to you, you have done what this song taught you not to do.

            You hide the light. If you let it shine, you will be shamed for being a disciple of Jesus. It’s better not to stand out in a world where sameness means anonymity. You let Satan blow it out. The Bible is impossible to read and understand. The hour you spend here in God’s house is your only exposure to Scripture because the pastor is trained and paid to tell you what’s in the book. Even though you don’t have to take his word for it, you’ll do so because God’s Word is hard and he makes it easy.

            While you hide the little light, you let your street smarts shine. You are too good for your own good stewarding earthly treasure. You’ve saved your share and more. You’ve played the market with shrewd senses. You’ve made friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth by doing others a solid when you or they are in trouble like the dishonest manager in our Lord’s parable.

            Knowing how to be shrewd with earthly wealth is a good gift given by a gracious God. Rare, though, are ones who are just as shrewd with the heavenly treasures. Whether you do well with your excess of abundance and share it with others, or whether you hoard it all for the rainy day that may never come, what do you do with the heavenly treasure of forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ? That’s what our Lord wants to teach the Pharisees today, but they don’t have ears to hear. Jesus tells them in verse 15: You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

            You and I plead guilty before God in the abomination department. The priceless treasure of the Good News of Jesus Christ is either wasted or squirreled away. We are afraid. We don’t want to be considered fools by the world. So we remain silent. We clutch the goodness of God with a tight fist and hang on to it for dear life.

            Jesus did not cling to the Father’s goodness for dear life. He did not play a shell game with our salvation, asking us to find it while constantly hiding it under a different shell every time. Jesus Christ is the Father’s goodness in flesh and blood. He is the priceless treasure Who gives Himself up for your sake. Earthly possessions might buy you power and prestige this side of Paradise, but they will not buy your way out of sin, death, and hell. The blood of Jesus Christ alone is your payment for sin. His blood covers your sin. His blood cleanses you and declares you just, righteous, and holy before the Father’s eyes.

            Our heavenly Father did not spare His most treasured possession. He put His Son to work for you. The treasure is yours for Christ’s sake. How do you use it? When you first receive something, you learn how it works. Take learning a new language. You learn the vocabulary. You learn how the vocabulary works. Pretty soon you are speaking a new language. Granted you won’t master the language overnight, but you have made a first step. The same can be said for learning a musical instrument, learning mathematics, or any new skill.

            How are you shrewd with stewarding the gift of forgiveness of sins and everlasting life? Shrewd stewardship of heavenly treasure begins in staying connected to Jesus Christ and His gifts in Word and Sacrament. When you step away from learning a language, you begin to lose the ability to speak the language. You’ll have to start all over again with basic vocabulary and grammar. When you let go of the gift Jesus gives you in your baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, or in hearing the preached Word, you lose the language of faith. You lose the desire to learn more about the joy implanted in you in the Word.

            Staying connected to Christ’s sacred gifts makes you more and more adept and unafraid to tell others about the hope given you by God in Jesus. The Chief Steward works in your life to be a shrewd steward of His forgiveness. Do not be afraid of the world’s reaction to heavenly treasure. The Lord will open hearts and minds when and where He wills. Even if you cannot preach like Saint Paul, you can put to use whatever you are able to further His heavenly kingdom on earth. When you fall short in stewardship, Jesus Christ never falls short in His love for you. Jesus Christ, friend of sinners, makes you His friend in His death and resurrection. He is faithful in much when you are faithful in little. Believe it for His sake.

Galatians, Martin Luther, and Albuquerque

I’ve been absent from this forum for a while because I was preparing for and attending a continuing education class in Albuquerque, NM. You might wonder why a flatlander like me flew over 1,000 miles to the desert southwest for continuing education? Martin Luther’s Greater Galatians Lectures taught by Dr. Naomichi Masaki, that’s why.

About ten pastors and a couple of laymen enjoyed a week of study together, capped by a few evenings of conversation, beverages, and camaraderie. Dr. Masaki had us put in a lot of preparation before our arrival. While preparation was a lot of work, the work paid off in our discussion. I left Albuquerque refreshed and renewed. That’s the spirit of continuing education: refreshment in the Word and renewal for ministry.

Albuquerque is a city I want to visit again. I didn’t have much time for sightseeing, but what I saw I enjoyed. The Sandia Mountains east of the city is a sight I don’t mind seeing every day. Green chiles do make a cheeseburger taste better (green chiles make almost everything taste better). Albuquerque has some fine microbrewed beer. You can’t beat the hospitality of the people at Grace Lutheran Church. I felt right at home among them.

As for Luther’s Galatians Lectures, I recommend you purchase Haroldo Camacho’s translation of the lectures. He makes Luther speak in 21st century English rather than Oxbridge academic English. Luther practically comes alive in this new translation. Dr. Masaki had a few opportunities to compare translations during the class and what he saw, he appreciated. If you’ve never engaged these lectures, Dr. Camacho gives you an open door to sit in the lecture hall and listen to Dr. Luther speak to you.

Watch this space for sermons beginning this week. My summer traveling is over and I’m ready to get back into the pulpit!

Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 5:17-26

            Over fifteen years ago the book Soul Searching coined a phrase that summarized what teenagers believed about spirituality. The phrase is “moralistic therapeutic deism”. I’ve talked about it from this pulpit on a few occasions. I won’t go into detail about it now, but I will remind you about the final of five main points about this term: “Good people go to heaven when they die”.

            This phrase should not surprise you. The natural man knows no other way to heaven than that of the law. You do good things to other people, you follow the rules, and you aren’t a jerk, then you go to heaven when you die. Pagans, Jews, Muslims, hypocrites, and even Christians in name only can agree on that. Yet not one sinner has come to eternal peace this way. Reducing being a Christian to being nice and doing the right thing does not rescue anyone from sin and eternal death. The harder you try to be nice and do the right thing, the harder you fall when you aren’t nice and doing wrong. Even we Christians, by nature, still persist in this delusion.

            Why do we still believe that people will enter the kingdom of heaven through works of the Law? If this is so, then there is no need for Jesus, no need for His saving death upon the cross, no need for His resurrection from the dead, no need for baptism, no need for His Supper, and no need even to be here in the Lord’s house to receive His gifts. You can stare at a Bible, read the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, and do just fine, thank you. If there is any need for Jesus, it is as a reminder that He did all sorts of good things for people. If He can do it, so can you.

            Except you can’t do it. When you are stuck in moralistic therapeutic deism, you do not recognize what righteousness the Law demands. Jesus says unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Before man the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is impressive. They go above and beyond not only the Law of God, but also the pious decrees of their fathers. They don’t just fast, they fast in the extreme. They don’t simply give alms, they give even more than what they are commanded to give. They don’t merely pray, they pray more often and more fervently than you.

            It’s all a show before God. Take how they interpret the Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. The scribes and Pharisees, pious as they are, limit murder to the act of violence itself. Compare the act of murder to what the Small Catechism teaches about murder. “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”

            Your heart should be free from wrath, hate, envy, and retaliation. You may look pious on the outside, but God, Who sees the heart, looks upon you as a murderer. Even gestures and facial expressions should be free from wrath. Have you rolled your eyes lately? Have you given a steely stare of death to someone? Have you let a word similar to “Raca!” slip from your lips? How can I say “Raca!” if I don’t know what it means? “Raca” means “worthless wretch” or something like it. Even worse, there is calling someone “You fool!” The word in the original language of the New Testament is a form of the word “moron” or “dummy”. You call someone a name, you have committed murder.

            Murder is not confined to deeds or words. Jesus spends some time teaching about reconciliation among fellow members of His body. If you have offended someone and are not reconciled with the one whom you have offended, Jesus tells you literally to drop everything and be reconciled with that person. The longer you are not reconciled with him or her, the longer you remain a murderer.

            Now you see how bleak the situation is with murderers. Jesus is not referring to people who you see on Court Cam on cable television. He’s talking about you. About me, too. God demands a righteousness that not only exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, but matches the real, perfect righteousness Jesus has. Outside of Christ you do not have the real, perfect righteousness that the Law demands.

            The righteousness that avails before God is that of Jesus Christ alone. You would have no idea that this righteousness exists had you not first been shown your sin by the Law. The Law’s job is not to show you how to be saved, but to show you your sin. The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature. Once the Law has finished its killing work, only then does the soothing word of grace, peace, forgiveness, and joy in the Gospel does its thing. God’s one-way love for sinners in Jesus only works on those who are dead enough to receive it.

            In Christ there is hope for murderers, adulterers, robbers, defamers, coveters, and all sinners. The Law cannot give peace, comfort, and blessing. Only the Good News of Jesus Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan brings those things. Why do you want to be saved by your works? Why do you place your trust in not being a jerk? Both those things and every good thing you do in Christ, flows from Christ, not from self.

            You see now that the Law is not easy. Christians try hard to make the Law easy and palatable because it’s not the Gospel. The Gospel seems far-fetched compared to the Law. Maybe that’s why you are inclined to try to keep the Law rather than believe that Jesus fulfilled the Law, every jot and tittle, for you, in your place, that you may be His own and live under Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Your unkind words and actions are forgiven in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ that covers you. You are free. No moralistic therapeutic deism necessary. Only freedom in Jesus Christ, Who became a murderer, a thief, a liar, a coveter, and much more so that you would become what you are not: holy and righteousness in His sight.

Fifth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 5:1-11

            Simon’s words to our Lord in Luke chapter five show us two feelings that we share with Simon and with countless Christians. Those two feelings are doubt and fear. As much as some Christians try to downplay doubt and fear as being anti-Christian behavior, doubt and fear still loom large inside us. Doubt and fear will remain in our inmost thoughts until we fall asleep in Jesus.

            Doubt and fear flow from our sinful nature. It is natural for a human being to doubt someone or something. Some people think that doubt or skepticism is healthy. P.T. Barnum said that there is a sucker born every minute. You don’t want to be that sucker so you approach everything and everyone with doubt. A fool and his money are soon parted. Better to be skeptical than be a fool.

            We don’t know if that is what Simon thought when Jesus said to him, Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Considering the context of what just happened and with hindsight on our side, we see that something special is going to happen. Jesus has finished teaching the people from Simon’s boat. Now it’s time to go fishing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

            Everything seems to lead to an awkward moment. Simon tries to prevent it by giving Jesus some unsolicited fishing advice. Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. Fishing at this time in history in this part of the world took place late at night in shallow water. Casting nets in the heat of the day in deep water defies conventional wisdom. Then again, the words of Jesus often defy conventional wisdom.

            Perhaps that is why so many people who inquire into the Christian faith react to our Lord’s words in the Gospels with healthy skepticism. When you do something wrong you should be punished for it. God instead punishes His Son, Jesus Christ, for the evil things people think, say, and do, or leave undone. Insanity! Foolishness! Nonsense! God lets people get away with the worst and pours out His wrath on His perfect Son. Imperfect people go scot free with a clean conscience and receive eternal life by believing in Christ. Something for nothing has to be the greatest scam on earth. There’s no way this can be true. No way!

            Healthy skepticism is one thing. Sheer unbelief because you don’t like the way our heavenly Father saves His children is not healthy doubt, though it can flow from doubt. Jesus is about to move Simon’s doubt into confidence, but not without a fight. We, too, are moved from doubt into confidence with great struggle. Even the most devout follower of Christ has moments of doubt. As long as sin still clings to your flesh, you will have doubt. Doubt can turn into unbelief. That is why even in moments of doubt and trial, you stay connected to Jesus. You listen to His words of sure and certain hope. You stay put in Him and believe that He will see you through the worst of times, bringing you into the best of times in His nearer presence.

            Simon and company cast the nets. They enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. Doubt now turns to fear as they have caught so many fish that their lives may be in jeopardy. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

            Simon’s reaction to this event is a natural human reaction. Like doubt, fear also clings to us because of inborn sin. The expected reaction to what our Lord does is to thank and praise Him for His generosity, trusting that He will do this at His good pleasure. Simon’s reaction to a miraculous catch of fish in broad daylight in deep water is only human. His words to Jesus after the catch are also a human thing to say. If you had all this fish and you knew from Whom it came, you also would ask Jesus to go away. You’re in the presence of pure divinity made man.

            If Jesus goes away, though, you’re left in a sinking boat. You could swim, but what about the fish? Jesus stays in the boat because He is the source of this miraculous catch. Think back to what happened before this moment. Jesus taught the crowd while in the boat. Then Jesus orders Simon to go fishing. Simon and his fellow fisherman bring in a catch unlike any other. As Simon is afraid, Jesus comforts him by saying, Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men. Simon, if you think the catch of fish is something, wait until you see how many people you will catch with the net of the gospel!

            There’s where fear sets in for us. We’ve gone fishing all these years and the nets seem to come back empty every time. For every person that is translated to glory, there is not another person to take their place in these pews. As your pastor, I am aware of that fact. It makes me upset. Yes, it even makes me afraid. There is comfort for me and for you from this great catch of fish that flows from the mouth of Martin Luther. It brings me so much comfort that I have it taped on the wall in the study.

            “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.”

            When doubt and fear set in, we are called as God’s children to gather around His preached Word. He will feed us. He will lead us. If there is a tremendous catch of fish, thanks be to God. If there is a famine of the Word, God knows why. Either way He blesses us with His forgiveness and life. He turns our doubt into certainty in Him. He turns our fear into joy in His presence among us in Word, water, Body, and Blood. Like Simon we doubt His Word and tremble before Him knowing we are sinful. Like Simon, too, we still leave everything behind that the world has to offer and follow Jesus. The journey is an adventure that leads us to eternal life. Do not be afraid. The Lord will provide. Believe it for His sake.

Luther on Luke 5:1-11

Martin Luther is prolific with great quotes for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity. Here are a few:

When we experience what Peter did, that is, toil all night catching nothing, we tend to become anxious, start to grumble, and become so discouraged that we’re ready to run away from it all. We must not give way to such temptation but persist, no matter what, remain at our post, and let God do the worrying.

True enough, we should indeed truly repent, confess our sins, and improve our lives, but let’s not depend upon our own repentance, worthiness, and merits, but solely upon the pure grace of God, promised us in Christ. Apart from Christ and His Word, there is no forgiveness of sin.

Always our heart says: “I’d love to pray and trust God fully, but I’m a sinner! How can I possibly be truly God pleasing? Our God is so majestic that I don’t dare approach Him in prayer.” It is for such faintheartedness, fear, and hesitation that Christ has rich comfort in this Gospel. Don’t be afraid, He says, just trust My Word and come to Me confidently and joyfully.

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.

God will forsake no one, each must have what he needs, if he trusts in God alone; as Psalm 37:35 says: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” There is no lack of provisions, only a lack of faith; before that should take place the angels would come and minister unto us. Therefore the fact that the people suffer now such need is caused only by unbelief.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 6:36-42

            If our heavenly Father was merciful to you the way you are often merciful to others, you wouldn’t want to consider how His mercy looks toward you. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes: Through [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Does this sound like the kind of mercy you show others? More often that not, the kind of mercy you show others looks like watching your back and protecting yourself rather than doing good and sharing with others.

            You are quick to protest that others rarely show mercy to you. You think of all the favors you have done others, even to those outside the household of faith. What do you get in return? Nothing. Not even a word of thanks. Maybe you get an attitude of expectation instead of nothing. Now that you’ve done something for them, they will expect you to do the same thing again and again. No one like being taken advantage of, even when the intent is good.

            So we pick up our marbles and go home. You’ve had enough of being merciful. Even though Jesus promises that the measure you use will be measured back to you, your cup will not runneth over for anyone anymore. Everyone has used up their one more last chance. Now it’s time to take care of me. I know what is best for me. I know my good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over into my lap.

            Jesus is quick to remind us today that mercy is more than giving. Mercy neither judges nor condemns. Mercy forgives as well as gives. All of these things flow from our heavenly Father’s mercy on us. When you forget your need for His mercy, you also forget your neighbor’s need for mercy from you.

            We love to see our neighbor fall into sin. A quick examination of your conscience proves that to be true, especially when that person is close to you. We enjoy the moment when someone is brought down a peg or two. He had it coming to him. She got above her raising. How does it feel when the shoe is on the other foot? How do you like being the one who is humiliated and it seems like every eye in town is on you? You would hope that others would not harshly judge you.

            The Christ-like way that our Savior shows us here is a way that opposes unforgiving judgment and condemnation. It’s only human to make a mistake. Not every mistake, however, leads to outright condemnation. Not every human weakness is an automatic trip to hell. Yet how quickly are you ready to hand over someone to the devil who does the tiniest misdeed? Yes, it’s true that the wages of sin is death. Christians do take sin seriously. The first place a Christian looks when it comes to sin is not at the other Christian, but to their own sin.

            That is what Jesus gets at when He says: Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? We tend to soft-pedal our own sin at our neighbor’s expense. “Chief of sinners though I be, I am not as bad as he”. When it comes to dealing with sin, consider your own sin before you consider someone else’s sin. That makes all the difference when you must deal with sin.

            Today’s Chief Hymn has a stanza that should stop us in our tracks the next time we’re ready to go on the warpath against someone. “Keep me from saying words That later need recalling; Guard me lest idle speech May from my lips be falling; But when within my place I must and ought to speak, Then to my words give grace Lest I offend the weak.” This hymn stanza does not mollycoddle sin and let others get away with doing whatever they want while you stand under judgment. This stanza reminds us of King David’s words in Psalm 141: Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!Do not let my heart incline to any evil,to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity.

            The next time you’re ready to play keyboard warrior or get the urge to catch open mouth-insert foot disease, ask yourself whether or not it is your place that you must or ought to speak. You may be surprised to discover that not every place or time is the right time to speak. Sometimes it’s best to remain silent lest you offend the weak. Again, this doesn’t mean you are letting sin have the final say. God has the final say in all things, and His time is always the best time.

            There are times, though, when you must speak. There are times when I have had to speak up about touchy subjects among fellow members of the Body of Christ. No one likes to be shown their sin, even when it is done in kindness and concern. More than once have I seen fellow redeemed sinners become angry when it comes to taking a speck out of another’s eye. “Don’t you realize the log in your own eye?” “Hey, we’re all sinners!” “Live and let live.” That is why we pray “Then to my words give grace Lest I offend the weak”. No matter how gentle you handle a situation, someone is going to be hurt or even offended.

            Consider how Jesus handled sin and sinners in His ministry on earth. He showed compassion to those caught in sin, gently showing them the danger of living in sin while also showing them mercy and kindness as they repented of their sin. On the other hand, Jesus treated those who acted as if they weren’t as awful as other people with a rougher disposition. Jesus had little truck with Pharisees and Sadducees who saw specks in other eyes while not seeing logs in their own eyes. Jesus also spoke in His place as Messiah, the only-begotten Son of God. Even when Jesus had to get tough with those who opposed Him, He did so out of concern for their eternal welfare.

            Your eternal welfare is in the hands of a gracious God Who has dealt with your sin in the shedding of His Son’s blood for your sake. The Lord has had mercy on you. As He has forgiven you, so you also forgive your neighbor. Showing mercy is not about “you owe me one” but about the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord for all people. You deserve everlasting death. You deserve shame and wrath. Jesus took all that you deserve upon Himself, giving you His righteousness, His justice, and His mercy…the same mercy you show to your neighbor no matter the time or the place.

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

            The world sees with different eyes than a Christian. Take the rich man in Luke chapter sixteen. He wears the finest clothes and eats the finest food…every day. The world sees the rich man and says that he is doing something right. Even we Christians look at him and think God has blessed him in a special way. God certainly blessed him with the best clothing and the best cuisine. As we see in a few verses, however, the rich man has the wrong idea about his blessings.

            Now take Lazarus, who lies every day at the rich man’s gate. He is clothed with sores, not with Gucci. He longs not to eat what the rich man eats, but only the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. The world sees Lazarus and wonders what happened that he deserved such a fate. Maybe someone in his family did something wrong years ago and God is visiting that iniquity on Lazarus. Maybe Lazarus is lazy. Maybe Lazarus could apply himself and work his way out of his current condition. Maybe the rich man at the least could bless Lazarus with medical care for his sores and a decent hot meal.

            Day after day the rich man had the opportunity to do just that. But he didn’t. Dogs had to take care of Lazarus’s sores when the rich man turned a blind eye to him. Then one day the lives of both the rich man and Lazarus ended. Jesus points out that Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man, however, had no such welcoming party. He died and was buried. Then Jesus adds three words that change everything: And in Hades.

            Surprised? Those hearing our Lord’s parable may have been quite surprised to hear where the rich man will spend eternity. Like some think today, the better your life is now, the better eternity will be for you. Simply put: The one who has heaven on earth will have hell in the hereafter.

            The bigger surprise for hearers then and now may be hearing that Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. There’s a wrong way to come to that conclusion as well. If you think Lazarus chose this lifestyle in order to impress God with poverty and pain so that he could have a “better” life everlasting, you would be wrong.

            Lazarus has something the rich man doesn’t have even though the rich man seemingly has everything. How can this be? Lazarus listened to Moses and the Prophets. The rich man may have heard Moses and the Prophets, but the words heard did not move him to love the Lord God and to love his neighbor as himself. The rich man attended another church than Lazarus. The rich man went to the church of earthly delights. Lazarus, though covered in sores and longing to eat crumbs that fell from his neighbor’s table, received the finest thing that the rich man could not provide: eternal life because of Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.

            The road to eternal life in Abraham’s arms is not run in the way of money, possessions, and earthly power. Worse yet, the road to eternal life is not run in hoarding money, possessions, and earthly power to you. That’s what the rich man does and it costs him dearly. Remember what Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew chapter nineteen: Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Why? Rich people tend to forget that with the more they accrue, the more they believe God doesn’t bless them with their abundance.

            Though you may think you don’t have enough, if you think about it, you have much more than you need and are not content with what you have. When you have more than you need, you tend not to want to put to use what you have in such a way that you do not forget God and your neighbor. The Lord sees to it that you have enough for today. That’s not enough for you. You desire more. The more you have, the more comfort you think you have. But you have that comfort you desire without more. So what do you do with the more that you think you don’t have but actually have?

            That question gets to the heart of the matter. You use what you have to show your neighbor Who has blessed you with riches you’ll never be able to count. This is easy for wealthy people because they can put their trust in the Lord to use by helping those who have less. Or they can give it back to the Lord and watch Him put it to use for the sake of His church. Remember, the gifts you have are not gifts unless you are able to give them away.

            What about those who have less? What are they able to give? They are able to pray for and with those who are blessed with more. Even if the poor of this life do not receive a windfall or even a modest gift, the poor in possessions who have the priceless possession of Jesus Christ as Lord have all they need. They also have the ear of their heavenly Father Who loves to give good things to His children, whether rich or poor.

            You have seen this play out time and again in this congregation. Whenever there is a need, you step forward in faith and give. When you give, you believe the Lord has given you what you now pass on to Him to put to use. You still have more even after you give. He will make sure you are without want. Even if the only thing you are able to give is your prayers, you put your trust in the Lord Jesus to work for the good of His church. You believe He will bless the preaching of His gospel in this place. You believe that you are blessed by the finest thing you’ll ever receive: forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

            The rich man might have seen it, but didn’t believe it. Lazarus saw it, believed it, and rests in it. You see what the world sees, and yet you see something more than earthly pleasure. You see that the kingdom of God is yours in Christ Jesus in spite of all the kingdoms that want your attention.

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

            Nicodemus is on to something when he tells Jesus no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him. Nicodemus refers to Jesus turning water into wine, not to mention many other signs not specifically mentioned in John’s gospel. Yet Jesus knew how man would use what He says and what He does against Him. John writes just before Nicodemus visits our Lord that Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

            There’s another way to look at those words about not needing anyone to bear witness about man. Jesus teaches Nicodemus, and you and I today, that unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus adds that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God and you must be born from above. If Jesus says something three times, it certainly must be important for us to believe this is so.

            Man’s witness about himself is a witness of death. Man’s first birth will end in death because of sin. To live with God for eternity, man must have a second birth, a regeneration. Only one who is born of the Spirit will see the kingdom of heaven.

            Nicodemus is confused about regeneration. How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? He’s not alone. Many people outside and even inside Christianity do not understand being born from above. So often we hear spiritual regeneration described as being “born again”. This term became popular in the 1970s when then presidential candidate Jimmy Carter described himself as a “born again Christian”. As some Christians understand regeneration, you have some sort of conversion experience that leads you to cast aside your old way of living and walk a new way in the Lord. What some Christians misunderstand is that regeneration in Holy Scripture is tied to baptism.

            Baptism is a washing away of sin with water and the Word of God, as well as our Lord’s mandate and the promise He attaches to this mandate. Baptism is drowning sin and bestowing a new life. Water alone does not do this, but water with the Word of God and the faith that trusts this Word of God in the water. For some people this is hard to understand, let alone believe. That is why so much emphasis is placed on a personal conversion experience outside of baptism. It seems illogical to believe that baptism is able to do what it does. Human reason has no place alongside Holy Scripture. What God has written, we believe, for He promises good things where His Spirit accompanies His Word. Baptism is a good thing, for it regenerates a person; it brings them through death into life, a new life united to Jesus Christ.

            How can these things be? That’s the question of a catechumen, a learner of the things of God. Nicodemus should know better, being a teacher of God and a ruler of the Jews. Yet he does not know these things. Nicodemus, though an adult, is still a catechumen. Even now he is learning about regeneration and how necessary regeneration is to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus is privileged to learn not merely from a very smart rabbi. He is privileged to learn about regeneration from the God-man Himself, Jesus Christ, the very One Whose arrival His people have been preparing for and waiting for all these years.

            As Scripture is proclaimed to you this day, you also learn again what is regeneration from the God-man Himself, present in His holy Word. Regeneration is an internal, thorough, moral transformation. Your heart and mind is renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through water and the Word of God with the water. You are put into a spiritual, divine being and life. When you are regenerated, when your life is renewed in Christ Jesus, your life in Christ cannot help but manifest itself in all you say and do. This is not your own doing. This is the work of God in you and among you in the lives of your fellow redeemed.

            Regeneration plays out every day of your life. Although you are baptized only once, you are always getting used to your baptism. As Luther’s Small Catechism teaches you, the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Saint Paul explains how your baptism plays out in your daily life in Romans chapter six when he writes: 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. He says a few verses later: So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

            Nicodemus must die. You must die. Yet physical death for a Christian is merely a catnap. You are regenerated. You have died to sin at the baptismal font. Your life is hidden in Christ Jesus. His death is your death to sin. Jesus tells Nicodemus: 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. His life is your life in Him both here and in the life of the world to come. The Holy Spirit is sent into the world, even to Momence, Illinois today, to proclaim this good news of Jesus Christ’s victory over sin in order that the world might be saved through him.

            Every time you pass the baptismal font, think of Nicodemus and his questions. Although Nicodemus may not have received the answer He was looking for, he did receive the answer he needed to hear. Nicodemus must be born from above. He must be regenerated. You also must be born from above. The Lord Jesus Christ began a good work in you in your baptism. He will bring it to completion in His day. Believe it for His sake.

The Feast of Pentecost – John 14:23-31

            The Feast of Pentecost is the capstone to the time of Easter in the church year. All the days between Ash Wednesday and now lead up to three major saving events: Christ’s resurrection from the dead, Christ’s ascension to His Father in heaven, and Christ’s promise of the sending of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples. It’s easy to see our Lord at work in His resurrection. We heard last week how His ascension is for our benefit and not for our sorrow. What about Pentecost? What is the benefit of the Holy Spirit’s promised descent among us?

            Pentecost proclaims the gift of the Holy Spirit conferred not merely on the apostles, but on the entire church. The Holy Spirit is living and active in the church, working through the proclamation of the preached Word, through water and the Word in baptism, and through bread and wine tied to the Word in the Lord’s Supper. These holy things given to holy ones keep the church with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

            If you had to choose a way to propagate a message of love, hope, peace, joy, kindness, and goodness, would you choose men standing in a box telling you this good news? That’s the way our Lord chose to proclaim His message of salvation. He uses sinful people to tell others the message that Satan’s head is crushed, that eternal life is yours, and that forgiveness of sins covers you in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.

            Jesus doesn’t drop this word into our midst as a vapor or in some otherworldly way. He has it written by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, using their words and their style of communication to tell us the most important thing we will ever hear: you are forgiven for Christ’s sake. The fact that our Savior’s church exists and thrives is a miracle. Man has time and again attempted to snuff out the living Word of the gospel. Every time that Word is seemingly thwarted, the church continues to grow. Every time Christians give their lives for the sake of the good news, the church continues to grow. The more you put the church under the cross of persecution, the more the church grows.

            Today our greatest enemy, at least in our country, isn’t so much persecution of the faithful as it is apathy toward the good news. The gospel has become as comfortable as old leather or a warm blanket. We assume the preaching of the gospel and the distribution of the Lord’s Supper will always be there for us. We assume our baptism is a guaranteed first-class ticket to Paradise. We need not be present to receive these precious gifts in which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus Christ and His victory over sin and death for us. So we treat these holy things with kid gloves. I know where to find it when I need it. I don’t need it now, but maybe someday, if ever. At least I know it’s there.

            What happens when “it” and “there” are taken from you? Oh, well, I have my computer, or my tablet, or my phone. I can always watch when I need a faith lift. Yes, in a pinch, hearing this sermon on your device brings you the gift of forgiveness and life. Yet it is not the way our Lord arranged proffering His gifts. Christians have a Christ Who became flesh. Christ gives His gifts in an incarnate way. His people gather around the font, the pulpit, and the altar to receive concentrated good news under water, bread, wine, and the preached Word. As we learned a year ago, these things can easily be taken from us for a time…perhaps even longer. You can’t depend upon modern technology as a permanent replacement for being with each other as we gather around His gifts of forgiveness and life.

            The day is coming when “it” and “there” will be over. Jesus will soon return to judge the living and the dead. How will you answer Him when He arrives and you are caught thinking that you’ll come back when the going gets tough? How will you deal with your apathy for His way of saving you? That’s the bigger question. You can’t look inside yourself for the answer. You look to Jesus Christ. He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He alone is peace, as you hear Him say in John chapter fourteen: 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 there’s anything human beings need now, it is peace. We are at each other’s throats on a daily basis. We have separated into our camps: the vaxxers and the anti-vaxxers, the maskers and the open facers, the truthers and the conspiracy theorists, and so many others. One of the hottest hash tags on social media is “exvangelical”, people who once were Christians but now have created their own form of Christianity or have turned their back on Jesus for good. It’s hip to question everything except the preferred narrative you see and hear on the little box in your house or the little box in your car. No wonder we Christians see ourselves as strangers and sojourners in this world.

            As we walk the lonely way awaiting our Lord’s return, we are not alone. In spite of our apathy and our divisions, there remains one Lord Jesus Christ. He has established one holy catholic and apostolic church. We believe wherever you hear the Word rightly proclaimed and wherever you see the holy things given to the holy ones, the church is there. Even among Christians we have divided ourselves into camps. Amid the many confessions of divine truth, the Lord Jesus Christ finds a way to hand over the good things to His children. If there’s any doubt whether there is a Holy Spirit, that doubt is cast aside in believing that in spite of all our ways to foul up telling a dying world the good news of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit continues to work through it all, keeping the Good Shepherd and His precious lambs connected to each other.

The Ascension of Our Lord (transferred) – Mark 16:14-20/Matthew 28:18-20

            The Ascension of Our Lord is a forgotten and misunderstood feast day. It falls on a Thursday during the sixth week of Easter, forty days after the Resurrection of Our Lord. Our schedules make it hard to come to Divine Service on a Thursday night. So the feast is often forgotten or transferred to the Sunday before or after Ascension Day. When the feast is celebrated, you wonder why we should celebrate Jesus leaving us behind on earth while He gets to be with His Father in heaven. Doesn’t Jesus get the better end of the deal? Now we’re stuck this side of Paradise watching and waiting for His return.

            The bottom line is not that Jesus departed and disappeared from our sight. What makes us joyful in the Ascension of our Lord and impels us to celebrate the feast is that when Jesus ascended, He did not leave us alone and without comfort. Jesus says in John chapter 14: I will not leave you as orphans. The feast of the Ascension makes our hearts glad that Jesus both made provision for us upon His departure to His heavenly Father, as well as keeping His promise of not leaving us orphans.

            Before Jesus ascended, He gathered the first pastors of the Christian church around Him and mandated they speak in His name. Go, He said. Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. With the proclamation of the good news is baptism: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Here we see the apostolic pattern of ministry. Men are sent to proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. As hearers hear the proclamation of the good news, faith is created by the Holy Spirit working in and through the preached word. Hearers are then drawn to the font to have their sins washed away and be united with their Lord Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection in holy baptism.

            There is no more important mandate given to men on earth than to preach the gospel. No corporation has said it. No world leader has said it. No military commander has ordered it. Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son, has spoken. He Who has suffered death for our sins, entered hell for our sake, and rose from the dead that we, too, may rise from our grave victorious over death, has sent preachers into the world to tell the good news about Jesus. As our Savior says in Matthew chapter 28: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

            Perhaps the most unbelievable thing about our Lord’s ascension to His Father in heaven is that He leaves the administration of His gifts in the hands of sinful men. Now you see why some people are hesitant to trust congregations, synods, or other gatherings of Christians. If only Jesus Himself would appear in houses of worship each week to hand over the good things He left His church on earth! Then we wouldn’t have to deal with fallible men who sin and who use the office given them by God through the laying on of hands to promote themselves or politicians or some other thing of this world. When you are challenged by the devil to believe that the church is the last place on earth you want to be because rotten sinners gather there in their self-righteous pride, remember what Jesus says: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

            Those words bring comfort when pastors are derelict in their duty, or when congregations obscure the gospel. Even a false-teaching congregation whose public confession obscures the gospel of Jesus Christ can have a pastor and other people who, in spite of what is believed on paper, actually believe what Jesus says to be true. Dogmaticians call it the “felicitous inconsistency”. Inconsistent, yes. Felicitous, thanks be to God that it is so! The joy of our Lord’s vicarious satisfaction is able to shine like a diamond in the rough among such Christians.

            There is another promise that our Savior Jesus Christ gives to His first pastors. Besides having all authority, He tells them: I am with you always. He doesn’t say, “I am near you” or “I am beside you” or even “I am there for you”. He says: I am with you always. Christ’s words comfort more than preachers. Christ’s words here are for all of His children.

            I am with you always. It is as if Jesus tells you today: I am with you, fighting for your own good. I wrestle with your demons. I endure your grief and sorrow. I pull you through your temptations. I take on your sin. I pull you through your own personal hell. I descend into the pit with you in your darkest times and drag you out with Me. I am also there during your greatest joys. There is no time when Jesus leaves you on your own. Jesus abides and dwells with you because His word dwells with you. His word enters your ear, is splashed on your head, and put inside your mouth. Jesus is right there with you at all times.

            I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. That is our Savior’s promise as He leaves us for His Father in heaven. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll be back here to see that promise fulfilled as He sends His Holy Spirit upon His people on the Day of Pentecost. From that room, following Peter’s sermon and 3,000 people being baptized, the Christian church began to grow. Still today it grows, although we may not see that growth everywhere. Growth is not necessarily by the numbers. Growth is where God’s children gathered around Word, water, bread, and wine grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Growth is where Jesus’ precious lambs cling ever more to their Good Shepherd’s voice in good and bad times. Growth is Jesus making disciples of all nations, and making them stronger in the firm foundation of the apostolic teaching.

            Jesus does not leave you to your own devices. Jesus ascends so that He might see you again in His gifts given for you at this altar, at that font, and from that pulpit. Jesus ascends to prepare a place for you with Him for all eternity. Jesus ascends so His Word of forgiveness and life may reach the ends of the earth.