St. James of Jerusalem – James 1:1-12

Lutherans tend to get allergic to hearing preaching, let alone reading, from the epistle of James. After all, James does say in chapter two of his epistle, But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. That ought to be enough to make us nod our heads in approval with Martin Luther calling James an “epistle of straw” and “a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God.”

There is always two sides to every story. James might be an “epistle of straw”, but it is also an “epistle of faith”. A key to understanding what James writes in his epistle is to understand that James is writing to an audience who already believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He calls them the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, echoing Old Testament language of the twelve tribes of Israel who have been scattered abroad.

A clue to why his audience has been scattered abroad comes early in today’s epistle: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Some scholars place the date of this epistle not long after the stoning of Saint Stephen in Acts chapter seven. Stephen’s stoning began a period of severe persecution for followers of The Way, as the Christian faith was called in those early years after Pentecost. Reading James while understanding the context under which he wrote his epistle brings us a lot of comfort as we listen to his words to those who are ready to suffer, even to death, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. That’s the last thing any of us want to do. Those of us who are Cubs fans may have found a couple of games this week to be more than we could handle. Perhaps you have already signed off on the Bears season because you can’t stomach seeing them play poor football. Comparing sports to the Christian faith is foolishness, but you see the point. When persecution comes upon a Christian, the last thing you want to do is consider it a joy to suffer for Christ’s sake.

The apostles counted it joy to suffer for Christ’s sake. Every opportunity they took to preach the Gospel was all joy. They were allowed to speak Christ’s saving death and resurrection to someone. The Jewish authorities tried to silence their witness. Some Roman authorities listened, but never really believed what they said. Others were ready to do whatever it took to silence their preaching, even if it meant killing the messengers.

The model witness, or martyr, in the New Testament who counted it all joy to suffer was Saint Stephen himself. Perhaps that’s why James writes what he does to open his epistle. Saint Luke records his death in Acts chapter seven: And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Stephen doesn’t yell at them to stop. What is more, he doesn’t hold their sin against them. He is ready to die. He is ready to forgive. Stephen stands firm to the end and receives a martyr’s crown.

Those who suffer for the sake of Jesus count it all joy to meet trials of various kinds. Perhaps it is not persecution that should concern us. All of us bear various crosses. For some it is unrighteous anger. For others it is shame and guilt over an abortion, or perhaps a divorce. These are not unpardonable sins. They are covered under Christ’s blood; paid in full. Yet the pain remains, often for the rest of one’s life.

Jesus Christ counted it all joy to suffer and die for your sin. He met a trial no one should ever go through. He was the scapegoat for the sins of every human being who ever lived, currently lives, or will live. Never once did He waver. Never once did He think it a fool’s errand to die an innocent death for the sake of guilty people. Jesus did His Father’s will all the way to Calvary, through the tomb, and to His Father’s side. All this He did for your sake.

The privilege is yours to meet various trials, especially trials that come for the sake of clinging to Christ for your salvation. In those trials you have the opportunity to speak the hope that is in you for eternal life. Your hope, your joy, is Jesus Christ. He has made it possible for you to die a Christian death. A Christian death means to fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds with the confidence that when you again open your eyes, you shall see your Savior face-to-face. James says so in the last verse of today’s epistle: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

You may not have a death like Stephen, all of the apostles save John, or any other martyr. You will, however, have your trials. In the midst of those trials, you cling to Jesus to see you through it all. When you cling to Jesus in every trial, your steadfastness has what James calls its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James’ words to you today are not words of straw. They are words of faith, a faith that is founded on the Chief of the Corner: Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Faith for Saint James, and for you, does not merely know Jesus like someone would know answers to trivia. Faith is a lively trust in the God who has made forgiveness a reality for that faith. The ancient Christians believed that reality in the preaching they heard. You today also believe that reality, for you have seen in various trials how the Lord God has brought you through them. Count it all joy, beloved, to suffer everything for the sake of Jesus Christ, even when your faith in Him is a tiny spark. That tiny spark is perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, for it holds fast to Jesus Christ, your Crown of Life.

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity – John 4:46-54

Jesus chastises unbelief and praises faith. When His disciples woke Him from sleep as a storm raged against their ship, Jesus says, Why are you afraid, O you of little faith? When the nobleman came to Jesus with a weak and imperfect faith, Jesus says, Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. On the other hand, when the centurion asks Jesus to heal His servant and our Lord is ready to go with him but the centurion won’t let Him, Jesus says, Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.

While chastising the nobleman, our Lord still heals his son by saying Go; your son will live. The nobleman goes home with five words in his pocket that do what they say. The nobleman is an educational and edifying image of faith. Sadly, we might consider asking Christ’s help in difficult situations only when He is our last resort. We live in great carnal security, thinking everything will go our way in time. We pay no attention to God’s Word about calling on Him in the day of trouble. Only temptation teaches us to remember what God’s Word has to say about believing He will provide help when and where He wills.

Such is the case with the nobleman. He is a member of the court of King Herod Antipas, the adulterer who beheaded John the Baptist. Only when the nobleman’s son falls sick unto death does he recall God’s Word of promise that was implanted in his heart. That Word causes him to seek out Jesus. Although a tiny spark, as it were, faith in Christ proves true no matter its size. Jesus may have been the last resort for the nobleman, but at least he went to Jesus and asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

The nobleman’s faith is shown to be weak because he had to have Jesus go with him to heal His son. As we heard with the centurion, the word spoken from a distance is able to heal. The centurion said that he was not worthy that Jesus enter his house. All that was needed was a word from Jesus and his son would be healed. No wonder our Lord says truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. Jesus can’t say the same about the nobleman.

The same also could not be said about you much of the time. You cry out to the Lord in distress and faith is there. Yet often it is a small spark, just like the nobleman. It is like a small, weak hand that can’t grasp the word of promise. All sorts of temptations come flowing at you. God isn’t listening. God is a liar. Jesus only listens to prayers of the most ardent Christians. He hasn’t any time for your babblings. Jesus isn’t here like He was then. He can’t come to your house or even speak a word from across the planet. There are other options to try before you ask the Great Physician of body and soul.

What matters here, as it does for the nobleman, is that Jesus doesn’t turn His back on the nobleman’s request. Little faith is still faith, a faith that receives everything it needs provided you only know, desire, and seek no other help than from Jesus, the Almighty Son of God. It would have been easy for our Lord to brush aside the nobleman and ask him to come back when his faith was stronger. Instead, Jesus does what the nobleman requests in spite of him asking twice for Jesus to come with him. The nobleman goes home with those words in his pocket; words that never fail to accomplish what they mean. In this case, Jesus says, Go, your son will live. Sure enough, the boy lives.

Little, weak faith often attracts strength quickly and suddenly by God’s grace. It’s like Captain Marvel in comic books. A young boy, Billy Batson, says one word, “SHAZAM!” and becomes Captain Marvel, an adult hero. A childlike faith in Jesus makes someone a hero. You open your mouth and ask for help. The Lord will come to help the weakness of the nobleman. Yes, Jesus tells him, unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. Don’t take these words as chastisement to wrath and righteous anger. These are words of love and grace aimed at strengthening dim-witted courage.

Jesus here is redirecting the nobleman to trust not in what he sees, but what he hears. Jesus needs not be present for you to win. You, like the nobleman, should only confidently believe Jesus will help, even when all signs point to the contrary. Believe Jesus without previous signs and wonders. Believe Jesus in spite of what you see, feel, or think. Believe Jesus without seeing. That’s what Jesus tries to root out of the nobleman by saying unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe. That’s all it took for the nobleman. Even though he begs Jesus to come, Jesus heals with five words. The nobleman goes home thinking Jesus might still need to make an emergency trip to his house. Yet when he returns home, his son was healed at the precise moment Jesus said his son will live.

It’s tempting to think Jesus needs to be there to help. Yet His Word does what it says even without Him standing next to you. That’s what the nobleman learned. That’s what is renewed in you today. Faith in Jesus clings to the naked and pure Word. Consider how the naked and pure Word works in the Church. Your baptism is Christ’s working on you to bring you into His kingdom. Jesus personally didn’t baptize you. The Word with the water and with Christ’s mandate did what it does. You’ll eat and drink the Lord’s Supper today. Jesus isn’t here to put His forgiveness directly in your mouth. He puts His Word under bread and wine. The Holy Spirit, working in that Word, shows you that bread and wine, Body and Blood, are here together to forgive your sins.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee, as the hymn says, there stands the Savior’s Word of promise for you. His Word is more than Go, your son will live. His Word is all over Sacred Scripture. He makes countless promises for you. He keeps every one of them. The greatest promise He makes is the promise that you will live with Him for all eternity because of His shedding blood on your behalf. His perfect righteousness and holiness now covers you. You are not guilty of sin. You will go to your home in the New Creation after Judgment Day a perfect being for whom Christ died and rose from the dead. Though ever a child of God, trusting in His promises you are a strong hero of faith, even when that trust in God is a small as a spark.

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:1-14

No one looks bummed out at a wedding reception. Even the father of the bride, who gets to pay for most of the feast, is happy about his daughter’s wedding day. You get to dress up, even in this age of dressing down. You might get a meal. You will get your share of beverages. There are customs and traditions that bring smiles.

Even Holy Scripture speaks of spiritual goodness in the way of a lavish meal. Consider Psalm 23: You prepare a table for me before my enemies. Mary the mother of God says in the Magnificat: He has filled the hungry with good things. The Divine Service of Word and Sacrament is a foretaste of the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb. Yet we sometimes treat our time together around the altar and pulpit as if we are going to our own execution.

We gripe about the draggy hymns. We gripe about singing and speaking the same thing every week. The noise of children, the notion of seeing someone we might not like, and hearing yet another sermon about Jesus, forgiveness, mercy, grace, blah, blah, blah. What we forget is that this service is full of joy. Jesus sends a human being into your midst to deliver His gifts of forgiveness and life in an up close and personal way. You don’t have the potential for forgiveness of sins; you actually have forgiveness put in you. Why are we that way? Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast of our heavenly King refreshes our joy in being someone for whom Christ died.

Jesus tells about a wedding feast. In Biblical times, according to custom, a wedding feast could last for days. You laid aside all worries and concerns for a while and celebrated what God had joined together in Holy Matrimony. Jesus took care of a great concern for a wedding feast in Cana by changing water into wine. Joy was restored to the wedding guests in a miraculous way.

The wedding feast in our Lord’s parable also is a royal wedding feast. That’s what makes this particular feast a double honor. You get to celebrate in the presence of the King. You know the food, drink, and festive atmosphere will be something special. Consider how many people follow royal weddings in the United Kingdom. The wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge several years ago captured much attention in our country, not to mention Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana years before.

The cry goes out from the servants of the master: See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast. Everyone is invited. No one is refused. Many refused that call. Their place is taken by all whom are found, both bad and good. Imagine a royal wedding banquet with multitudes of homeless people and criminals in attendance, not to mention “normal” people like you and me, with few, if any, of the social elite present. That’s the banquet Jesus is talking about today.

God prepares this banquet for you. You have no say as to what is served, where you sit, how you are served, and especially what you wear. God did not prepare this banquet with regard to whether guests would want to come or would be opposed to coming. The call keeps going out again and again: Come to the feast!

What is more, God doesn’t care whether or not you are worthy of attending His banquet. Think of it! How many times have you thought you were not worthy of coming to church because of your messy life. You stay home a few weekends because, well, church is only for those who have their act together. I don’t have my act together. My life is chaos. My temper is rotten. I don’t have any money for the offering. Somebody might shoot me a look because of what I wear. I’m not that good of a singer. I haven’t read the Bible in years.

God has heard all those excuses and more. He doesn’t care whether or not you are worthy of attending His banquet. The call keeps going out: Come to the feast! There’s a modern hymn that didn’t make the cut for Lutheran Service Book called “O Kingly Love, That Faithfully”. See yourself in these words.

O kingly Love, that faithfully

Didst keep Thine ancient promises,

Didst bid the bidden come to Thee,

The people Thou didst choose to bless,

O lavish Love, that didst prepare

A table bounteous as Thy heart,

That men might leave their puny care

And taste and see how good Thou art,

O seeking Love, Thy hurrying feet

Go searching still to urge and call

The bad and good on every street

To fill Thy boundless banquet hall.


You’re there. You’re in the picture. You are one whom God chooses to bless. There’s a spot at the table for you. There’s a wedding garment, dripping in baptismal water and Christ’s saving blood, waiting for you in the vestibule. That garment has your name written on it. Only you are able to wear it. That garment covers your corruption and makes you worthy of that spot in the banquet hall.

You get to leave your puny care to partake of the feast of victory of our God. The prophet Isaiah pictures this feast taking place on a mountain top. 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.”

Welcome to the mountain top at the corner of Second and Pine. Cast aside all cares, for the Lord Christ cares for you. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are washed. You wear the wedding garment. Taste and see that the Lord is good. He lays before you His forgiveness in His Word read and proclaimed. He puts His true Body and true Blood in your mouth for the forgiveness of sins. He blesses you and sends you on your way rejoicing in His bountiful mercy. He does all this for you at no charge. Blessed are those who do not reject their wedding garment and reside in outer darkness, for they are outside of God’s curse and reckoned worthy in Christ for His everlasting royal wedding feast!

The feast is ready.

Come to the feast,

The good and the bad.

Come and be glad!

Greatest and least,

Come to the feast!

Earth’s Happiest Occasion

[Jesus] portrays His Gospel [in Matthew chapter 22] in beautiful, lovely tones, comparing it to a wedding, not a time for work or sadness, but a time for festivity and joy, when people dress themselves specially, sing, play, strike up the music, dance, feast, drink, and are happy all around and in good spirits. It would be no wedding, certainly, just to work, be sad, or mourn. Christ, accordingly, describes His Christendom and the Gospel in terms of earth’s happiest occasion, namely, a wedding. And by this He teaches us that His Gospel is a proclamation of love and joy, a truly joyous wedding celebration where Christ is the bridegroom and the Christian church, the bride, and our mother. Beautifully, magnificently the Lord portrays the kingdom of heaven, that is, His kingdom on earth, or the Gospel, as a wedding, in order winsomely to urge and coax us to come to Him in His kingdom, to accept His Gospel. We are to bear in mind, that it is to the wedding we want to go; it will be beautiful and delightful; we will be truly happy, our hearts and spirits lifted up in song. In this way our Lord seeks to urge us to regard the Holy Gospel as the choicest of treasures and greatest joy on earth.

Martin Luther, Third House Postil for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 22:1-14)

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

The doctrine of justification is intended to formulate an answer to the question: “What must I do to be saved?” Justification’s answer, “nothing”, is startling, and it reframes the question itself by asserting that God is not in the salvaging business. Instead, what God does in saving us is to recreate us, that is, to make us to be creatures who have faith at the core of their being, and humble and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:10-12). God’s salvation is a recommitment to his original and continuing work of creating out of nothing (creation ex nihilo) (1 Cor. 1:27-30; 2 Cor. 5:17-18). God not only re-creates us out of the nothingness of sin and death, but also providentially sustains our lives, together with those of all creatures (samt allen kreaturen), from moment to moment, out of nothingness.

Rev. Dr. Mark Mattes, “The History, Shape, and Significance of Justification for Preaching”

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:34-46

It’s ironic the Pharisees ask Jesus a question right after He had silenced the Sadducees. The Sadducees are really a dead bunch of guys because they don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. So after silencing them Jesus now has to face a scribe from the Pharisees who comes with a good question: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?

Jesus answers their question. The great commandment in the Law is LOVE. Love is the one thing the Pharisees lack. Love is the one thing that slips from our mind as well when it comes to the Law of God.

Had Jesus not given you the answer to the Pharisees’ question, how would you have answered Him? I ask this question every time I teach Luther’s Small Catechism to young and old: Summarize the Ten Commandments in one word. The answers I get are always interesting. They show what people are thinking concerning God’s holy Law. Perhaps the number one wrong answer is “obedience” or “obey”. That answer plays right into the Pharisees’ question.

Love in the way of the Pharisee is “do as I say and as I do”. Pay no attention to what the Scriptures actually say, just let me explain it to you. Then you do exactly as I tell you, perhaps go a little overboard on that doing, and maybe you’ll qualify for eternal life. Love is replaced by do. There is no need for love when you are busy doing everything, and more, that is necessary for salvation.

So we do. And we do. Then we do some more. There’s no time to love. There is only time to do. Doing is obedience. Make sure, while you’re obeying and doing, that you do a little bit more than the Pharisee does. Put some extra relish on that hot dog, so to speak. Forget your neighbor. Forget about God. Keep doing. Keep trying. One day you’ll get the hang of it, or you’ll die trying.

The Pharisees know nothing about love, especially love toward God and toward their neighbor. That is why Jesus answers their question. He is trying to refocus who they are and what they do. He’s tried many times over the course of the Gospels to get them to see that Messiah is right before their eyes. All their doing is about to end in Christ’s doing what He is sent to do. Yet they won’t believe it. It’s not as if they can’t believe it. They won’t believe it.

That leads to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees: What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? That’s another question that could have been asked to you along with summarizing the Law in one word. The Pharisees know that how they answer this question will tip their hand. If they say he is David’s son, as they do, Jesus comes right back with His response in today’s Gospel. If they say the Christ is David’s Lord, as they should, then they admit He is Messiah. The Pharisees are unwilling to admit that Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, Son of David, is also the very Son of God.

How would you answer the question? Jesus gives you some help by quoting King David’s words in Psalm 110: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son? There’s the heart of the matter. Jesus Christ is David’s Son and David’s Lord. The Christ is both human and divine. Only He Who is human and divine can do what Messiah comes to do: save His people from tyranny.

For a Pharisee it is impossible to believe that the Christ suffers death and rises from the dead to atone for sins. That is foolishness. The Son of God would never stoop to become man. The Son of God would never allow Himself to go through agony, even to be forsaken by His Father. The enemy is Rome and the Gentiles. The objective is a heavenly kingdom on earth where everything is done just right. The good old days of the Old Testament need to be restored.

What the Pharisee forgets, and we often forget as well, is that what is concealed in the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. God has worked in time, using His chosen people, to prepare the world, Jew and Gentile, for the coming of the Christ, His only-begotten Son. God’s love for His creation becomes man, born of a woman, born under the Law, to fulfill the Law. Jesus’ perfect love, Jesus’ perfect obedience is credited to you. You are free. You live. You get to love both God and your neighbor.

Jesus has good news for the Pharisees and for you as well. All the “do” of the Pharisees, all their misunderstanding, adding, subtracting, and distorting of the Scriptures will not stop the Christ from the Father’s mandate of love. Our heavenly Father gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

In Christ, “do” becomes “done”. All is accomplished. Everything necessary for reconciling sinners to the Father is fulfilled. Jesus pays your debt in full in His blood and righteousness. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The Pharisees couldn’t believe it. By God’s grace you believe it. You are a child of God, washed, fed, and clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The long awaited peace between God and man is yours in Jesus. Believe it for His sake.

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:1-11

We love to be humble, and we hate to be humble. If you sit toward the back of the nave, you’re taking a lesser spot than sitting up front. But you’re also farther away from the chancel, where you get a close-up look at what happens in the Divine Service. Yet when someone makes that invited move up higher, whether at church, the ball game, or at a wedding reception, we bristle at their impudence.

How do we reconcile Jesus’ two sentences: sit in the lowest place and friend, move up higher? The Old Adam in all of us hates to sit in the lowest place. You’ll never admit it out loud, but sitting in the back, off to the side, or at the kids’ table is not always the best place to be. Take the Pharisees. They are arrogant men who expect the best seat in the house. They elevate themselves over everyone else. Consider the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke chapter eighteen. The Pharisee makes sure to stand where he can be seen by everyone. His actions, his piety, even his words, must be seen and heard. It’s as if he hopes you’re watching him and learning how to do it right, or better than right.

Even worse, the Pharisees elevate themselves over Christ and sit in judgment over Him. Saint Luke says they were watching him carefully. The stress of the word watching is to watch someone to see what He is going to do. It’s as if the man before Jesus who has dropsy was a setup to see how Jesus would deal with him. If Jesus heals him, they got Him. If Jesus doesn’t heal him, then our Lord is branded as merciless and lacks compassion. It’s a trap with no way out. Even when Jesus asks them, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? they remain silent. Let’s watch what happens so we can grab Him in a gotcha situation.

We love to watch people to see how they will react to a gotcha situation. What we don’t realize is that we’re already in a gotcha situation. The same nature of the Pharisee, and all humanity, also sticks to us. That is why God’s Law is proclaimed, to show us who we really are before the perfect God. The gotcha comes back on us because we cannot be holy as God is holy. We cannot be humble as God is humble, especially God in flesh in Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not come to lord His perfect humility over us. If it were so, then He comes not as Savior, but as an arrogant taunter, Who expects us to follow His example without bestowing anything on us in order to follow His example, and that following is weak and imperfect. Jesus takes the lowest place in our place. He submits Himself to become man. He takes on our imperfections and flaws, bearing them in His own body with all our sins, and perfectly keeps God’s commandments. He does so not externally, but according to its proper, spiritual understanding.

Jesus took [the man with dropsy] and healed him and sent him away. Rather than fuss about what is and what is not right or wrong to do on the Sabbath, Jesus heals him and sends him away. Done. Rather than fuss with the Pharisees about what is right or wrong to do on the Sabbath, Jesus perfectly keeps the Sabbath for Jew, for Pharisee, for Gentile, for you, and for me. Done. His rest in the tomb that Passover Sabbath is our rest in the tomb. Jesus keeps the Sabbath for us, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.

Our spiritual dropsy, so to speak, of pride and arrogance is paid in full in Jesus Christ’s blood. Jesus alone has worked perfect healing for us. Jesus alone has acquired a righteousness that avails before God. When the Father looks at us He sees us perfect in Christ’s blood and righteousness. Satan, the accuser, and all other accusers, have nothing to say. They remain silent as the Pharisees remain silent even after Jesus heals the man from dropsy.

So what does this have to do with taking the lowest place and moving up higher? Humility’s source is in Jesus Christ. His humility is your humility. As He took the lowest place among us, so we too consider ourselves as rubbish for Jesus’ sake. There is nothing good in us outside of Christ. Everything good in us is Christ in us, the hope of glory. Healed from our spiritual dropsy of arrogance and pride, Jesus carries us to the best seat in the house: a place with Him in the New Creation, along with all those who have placed their trust for eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Wherever God puts us to be a little Christ to our neighbor, we do what is given us to do to show God’s love to our neighbor. As we are brought higher, so we bring others higher in our various callings in life. Granted it may be the little things, like changing a diaper or simply being a friend to someone having a bad day. We do them not to earn extra points with our Father in heaven. Eternity is ours in Christ, not in what we do. Yet what we do reflects the One in Whom we trust, for Jesus first did His good work in us, just as He works today in Word, bread, wine, and water. The Righteous One carries you to His righteous Gifts. His righteous Gift of life goes into the world in all you say and do, proclaiming Jesus as the Humble One Who heals the sick and raises the dead.

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 7:11-17

There is a giant mosaic on the wall of the south classroom building at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The mosaic pictures Christ the King, triumphant on His heavenly throne as ruler over His Father’s creation. A German theologian visiting the campus a few years ago was shown the mosaic. He was taken aback by one prominent thing missing in the mosaic: Jesus’ wounds. How can Jesus be King of Kings and Lord of Lords without His wounds? When Jesus returns, as the Advent hymn “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” proclaims, all, especially those who despise Him, shall “gaze…on His glorious scars”.

I suppose you could put the best construction on the matter and say the lack of wounds on Christ is an artistic choice. Yet as long as death is in the world, attempts are made to scare away its terrors. Death doesn’t care how or when it takes its victims. Death cannot be warded off by piety and virtue. You can try to prop up a death by thinking about all the nice things the deceased did. Yet when judgment comes, all human righteousness will be like filthy rags. The only righteousness that matters in judgment is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of death.

Jesus is shown as the Conqueror of death when He raises the widow’s only son at Nain. You can see this moment coming when you look elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus says to Martha about Lazarus’ death: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. He tells the Jews who are ready to stone Him: Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. He also says in the “bread of life” discourse: Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Jesus not only talks the talk, He walks the walk. Consider not only Lazarus, but also Jairus’ daughter, and today the widow’s son at Nain. The account of the miracle at Nain is a picture of Judgment Day. A large contingent with the widow and with Jesus meets at the town gate. The procession of death and the procession of life come face to face.

Jesus says two things. First He says to the widow, do not weep. Our Lord’s words sound like a funeral faux pas. You want someone to cry. Grieving is good. Yes, a grieving Christian believes death is slumber. Yet the sting of sin remains. Death is the wage sin pays out. You can’t help but grieve at not being able to see or hear or hug or kiss the dead person like you did when he or she was alive. You wish you could move heaven and earth to have one more day with that person.

It looks as if Jesus is adding insult to injury with His words. No man has ever spoken and dealt with death as Jesus speaks and deals with death. Saint Paul explains how Jesus deals with death when he quotes Isaiah and Hosea to the Corinthians: He will swallow up death forever and O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Even the hymn writer Otto von Schwerin gets it in his hymn, “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense” when we sing in stanza seven: “Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave/And at death no longer tremble;/He, the Lord, who came to save/Will at last His own assemble,/They will go their Lord to meet,/Treading death beneath their feet.”

What an image! Death blinks first. You see it play out at Nain. Jesus has His entourage. Death has its entourage. A widow, already knowing the scorn of the gloomy grave with the loss of her husband, now has the double indignity of losing her only son. No wonder there’s a tremendous crowd that goes with her, following those who bear the body of her son. What sounds like an insult, do not weep, is actually a proclamation of how we look at death. Yes, there are tears at a loss, but the grave has no power over a Christian.

The grave has no power over the widow’s son. Jesus came up and touched the bier (another funeral faux pas that will really anger the Jews), and the bearers stood still. And He said, “Young man, I sat to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, God and man, the One Who blots out sin, is our Savior from sin, hell, and death. What happens to the widow’s son will happen to you. Your name belongs where Jesus says young man. Put your name there. Jesus made it possible for you to have your name go there. Everyone who believes in Him certainly will rise from the dead. It may not be according to Miss Manners for us to laugh to scorn the gloomy grave, but that’s the sentiment behind what Jesus does for you in His death and resurrection.

Christ’s death redeems you from sin. He becomes sin for you. He puts His righteousness on you. He becomes what He was not. You become what you were not. The price for your redemption is the blood of the innocent Lamb of God. Christ’s resurrection is your resurrection. He will speak your name and you will come bounding forth from the tomb as from a nap. You will receive a glorious body, free from sin and every imperfection seen in this life. “Now no more can death appall,/Now no more the grave enthrall;/You have opened paradise,/And Your saints in You shall rise./Alleluia!”

My Uncle Loren never liked to say goodbye. When it was time to go, he would say, “Meeting adjourned. See you at the next meeting.” The last time I saw him alive, his last words to me were, “See you at the next meeting.” That’s a great confession of how we look at death.

For a Christian, there is another meeting. That meeting is when Jesus meets the world on Judgment Day. Death and life will contend one last time like it did outside the gates of Nain. Though the accuser is busy flinging your sins in your face, his attempts ultimately fail. Your only plea is to the blood and righteousness of Jesus, the Firstborn from the dead. He is your life, your death, and your gain. Jesus alone has taken on death and brought immortality to life. The widow and her son saw it that day. You believe it now. You will see it with your own eyes soon.

Six Days for Earthly Education, One Hour for Eternal Preparation

There was lament even in 1898 over the lack of preparing young people for eternal life. Consider these words from a sermon outline for Luke 7:11-17.

At home their thoughts and senses are directed only to earthly things. What they hear is only on daily bread, on money and possessions, on lust and pleasure of the flesh, honor and reputation before men, etc. They learn in school only worldly knowledge, etc. (Free [public] school) Education for eternity soon enough, when the time of confirmation closes in. But how do you know if your children are ever to reach the age of confirmation? Sunday School adequate for education for eternity? So, six days of thorough instruction for this short time on earth, an hour a week of inadequate Sunday School instruction sufficient as preparation for the long eternity?! O, consider this, you parents! What are you doing! Overestimation of the body, underestimation of the soul!

Public Prayers Belong to the Church’s Witness

The demands of serving a public responsibility, for example in worship leadership, will not allow us to display our prejudices or opinions in the public prayers of the church. Personal opinion and witness is altogether fitting and proper in the context of the sermon – provided it still remains within the rubric…of belonging to the church’s witness….

In the public prayers of the liturgy the mood is much more discreet, much more unassuming and restrained. The prayers you pray aloud as worship leader are to be endorsed and appropriated by all worshipers, remember – even by those who do not share your views. You are serving as their voice in prayer – that is the public role and responsibility every pastor assumes. If you are uncomfortable with that kind of advocacy, you’ll want to spend some time rethinking your vocational choice. The pastor – indeed the Christian! – is called upon to represent all people, even those we may not prefer to represent. We have the example of Christ in that!

Rev. Paul F. Bosch, “The Sermon As Part of the Liturgy”, p. 27-28