Monthly Archives: July 2017

Seventh Sunday after Trinity – Mark 8:1-9

Growing up in a county that once knew prosperity, and now living in a county that also once knew prosperity, the words from a couple of hymns take on personal meaning. We live “in these last days of great distress”; “these gray and latter days”. The memories of what some call “The Great Recession” still linger. Perhaps we are still in the throes of it here. Many hearts remain full of anxiety.

Saint Paul tells the church in Rome: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good…. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? The answer is nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even hard times serve for our own good.

Hard times serve for humble recognition of your sin. Four thousand men were in physical need in Mark chapter eight. They followed Jesus into the wilderness. They wanted to hear the Word of life. They forgot about earthly food to feast on the Bread of Life. They sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Everything else follows from it. What happens in the wilderness with Jesus, His disciples, and four thousand men shows what happens when everything follows after seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Every weekend the Holy Spirit gathers the faithful together to be fed with the Bread of Life. The church bell rings. Hymns are sung. The Word is heard and proclaimed. The Lord’s Supper is given. You are blessed and go home forgiven. Who wouldn’t want to miss it?

Many people miss it to their own peril. Yes, life happens. Yes, you’re sick. Yes, you’re physically unable to be here. Yet so many miss what happens here because the pursuit of personal satisfaction has gotten in the way of true satisfaction in Christ. We pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, then spend our whole lives going after daily bread with a vengeance. Before you know it, well, there’s no time for Jesus. Maybe there’s a scattered moment or two in the day when you think about God, maybe say a quick prayer, then get back to racing and chasing after that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Even Christians are guilty of misplaced priorities. We are well-fed with things of this world. Granted there are wonderful moments of clarity, like this past Wednesday’s ingathering of food for our community food pantry. Those seem like fleeting moments, though. There’s always one more thing you need and then everything will be just so…until you discover you need just one more thing to round it all off. You set aside the heavenly things for yet another chase after earthly things. You still think everything is up to you to run the race to the bitter end. You forget that everything rests on the Lord blessing you with stewardship of all you have.

Hard times also serve for joyful confidence in the Lord’s help. Jesus says to His disciples: If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way. It’s as if Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them to come up with a solution. They have seen Jesus change water into wine. They have seen Him feed five thousand men with five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Their response has to be: “Lord, You will make it happen. You alone can do everything.”

Nope. Their response sounds like our probable response. Where can anyone get enough bread to feed these people here in this deserted place? They can’t help it. Neither can we help it. When life is cruising along, we don’t lack in courage and confidence. We’re not bashful with advice and help. When a need comes, we are helpless and embarrassed. We cling to what we see and what we have. We start playing the numbers game like the disciples. Let’s see. Seven loaves of bread. A few small fish. That might feed four, but certainly not four thousand.

Jesus wants to help. Jesus does help in a big way. You get a sense something big is about to happen when He says I feel compassion for the crowd. Something big does happen. The crowd is told to sit down. Jesus took the seven loaves, gave thanks, and broke them. He gave the pieces to His disciples to distribute to the crowd, and they did so. They also had a few small fish. He blessed them and said that these should be distributed as well. The people ate and were satisfied.

The Lord Jesus Christ knows only one way to give: the way of more. Christ gives more than what anyone expected. We think of Psalm 145: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. These words are often heard when asking a blessing before a meal. What is not often heard are the verses that follow: The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

Every day we see suffering before us. We probably know at least one family wondering where their next meal will appear. We probably know at least one family struggling to keep the power on or the rent paid. There are those who squander what is given to them. Yet there are those who are underemployed; those who suffer from generational poverty. Living hand to mouth is literally their way of life for decades. Whether you have much, or whether you have little, the Lord will make sure you are never skimp. He’s probably not going to plop millions of dollars into your lap. He will, however, make sure His children have what they need exactly when they need it.

You’ve seen it. You’ve lived it. There’s too much month and not enough money. Yet there is just enough to see you through, with perhaps some fragments left to tide you over until next month. You will eat and be satisfied. The Lord God will see to it. The Lord God also will see to it that you have satisfaction for your sins through Jesus Christ. Though you may be in debt over your head, your eternal debt is paid in full in the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s no need for rambling and scrambling to try to make ends meet for God. He’s done everything necessary for you to live with Him for all eternity. Everything is accomplished in Christ. Nothing is left in your hands.

When you have enough, you have enough to give to others who haven’t enough. If the Lord works good in happy times, He also can work good in hard times. Hard times show you Who is truly in charge of everything. Hard times show to Whom everything belongs. Hard times gives you the opportunity to open your hand and let gratitude fall from it. When gratitude falls from your hand, you have a basket full of broken pieces that are used to satisfy the need of your neighbor. A basketful of broken pieces given to broken people is the love of God in Christ Jesus in action. As the Scriptures say, we love because He first loved us.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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Sixth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 5:17-26

Saint Paul summarizes the entire content of the Gospel in Second Corinthians chapter five: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. You have a different look at life once you take Paul’s words to heart. Everyone you know, everyone you meet, becomes someone for whom Christ Jesus died.

Why, then, have you not taken this truth to heart? Why do you remain angry with people? You may not be really angry with most people you know, but there are those who remain in your personal penalty box for some major or minor infraction. How does your keeping track of your neighbor’s sins against you stack up against your sins against not only them, but others whom you may not know, even against God Almighty? Today Jesus gives us encouragement to be reconciled to your brother.

When Jesus speaks about reconciliation, He is speaking about keeping the Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. The Pharisees and experts in the law taught that not murdering someone meant you don’t take up a weapon and cause physical damage. What they forgot about the Fifth Commandment is that it includes more than a weapon. The Fifth Commandment covers every action that hurts or harms your neighbor.

Perhaps the most dangerous weapon in your arsenal is the least-likeliest to cause damage. The tongue causes more damage to your neighbor’s reputation than any other weapon. Your tongue causes irreconcilable differences between people. Irreconcilable differences are nothing other than continued hate. Jesus says in today’s Gospel that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Raca,” will have to answer to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, “You fool!” will be in danger of hell fire.

The danger of hell fire alone ought to move you to reconcile with your brother. This is why the Law is still preached to Christians along with the Gospel. Some Christians think that, because Christ has shed blood for our sins, we no longer need to hear the Law. Christ has fulfilled the commandments in His loving act of reconciliation on our behalf. This is true. It stands at the center of everything we believe, teach, and confess as Christians. Yet sin remains in our mortal bodies. As long as we are this side of the grave, we are at the same time both justified and yet sinners.

Even the most subtle sin of destroying your neighbor’s reputation with your tongue, or with your fingers on a computer keyboard, needs warning and admonition. Your hurt or harm against your neighbor is murder. You not wanting to be reconciled with your brother when something comes between the two of you is murder. Don’t go on the Internet and tell everyone how much you hate someone, either in vague words or in direct speech. Don’t run his or her reputation through the mud, and then think about reconciling once you’ve done your damage. Be reconciled to your brother. Go. Now. Don’t wait. Reach an agreement with him quickly.

Our Lord’s harsh words concerning reconciliation preserve us from the Pharisaical self-righteousness. Oh, well, at least I didn’t hit her with a blackjack. He wasn’t shot on sight, like he should be. True, yes, but your words about murder did the job just fine. Your “at least” isn’t good enough for God, Who expects absolute, total, complete, and perfect righteousness in fulfilling the Law. No gift, however perfect, can placate our heavenly Father. Only obedience is expected; obedience you cannot give.

The Law brings knowledge of sin. The Law brings terror. Even when your heart is set on walking in the Lord’s precepts, there’s always that gnawing knowledge in the back of your head that your walk won’t walk the walk. You are guilty of the Fifth Commandment. You have murdered your neighbor in your thoughts, words, and even deeds. You may have not shot him, but you have hurt or harmed him. You deserve everlasting death. Remember, death isn’t merely assuming room temperature. Death is total absence from God and His gifts. Death is rejection of what He gives you in Christ. Death is final and eternal.

Once the Law of God works repentance, you are prepared to receive the comfort of the Good News that Jesus Christ has taken the punishment you deserved for murder. Even though Jesus never hurt or harmed His neighbor in their body, He suffered the punishment of a murderer. He was sent to the cross, while a murderer named Barabbas was set free. What horrible injustice! We deserve what should come to us for what we do. Jesus deserves none of it, yet takes on all of it for your sake. “All our debt/Thou hast paid/Peace with God once more is made./O Lord, have mercy.”

Be reconciled to your brother. Christ has died for their sin, too. Reckon even your worst enemy as one for whom Christ died. That’s hard to do when animosity builds against your adversary. Consider that Jesus willingly suffered for you in order to reconcile you to the Father. Even when you willingly do something good for your neighbor, you tend to count the cost. You seek limits on your kindness. Jesus’ love for sinners like you and me knows no limit. His death for your sins doesn’t stop being salvific after the 17,000th sin. You are His brother. He is reconciled to you in blood and in perfect, holy righteousness. These are yours in Christ. These are yours to give to your brother when you are reconciled with him.

Speaking from experience, there is no better feeling than when you speak a word of reconciliation to your brother with whom you have a disagreement. It is as if cool, clear, fresh water springs from your mouth into their heart. You feel the same thing when your reconciling words hit home with your brother.

Reconciliation, though, is more than good feelings. It is the way of the Christian life. Christians do not hold grudges against anyone. Christians do not count the cost of how many times we say “I’m sorry” or “You’re forgiven”. Christians forgive. Christians give forgiveness in a seemingly reckless way to all whom they have hurt or harmed. It once was said about Christians, “See how they love one another!” That love has its roots in the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We love because He first loved us. As He loved us, so we love our brother and live in peace with one another.

King David sings in Psalm 133: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. Fellow oily bearded ones, rejoice! In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Believe it for His sake.

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11

(Condensed from 2007)

At Your Word.  Simon Peter’s three simple words carry a lot of comfort.  What could be so comforting about something that rolls off his tongue almost as an afterthought?  Simon and the other fishermen toiled all night and caught nothing.  Now Jesus wants to go fishing in the middle of the day?  Is He crazy?  That’s the worst time of day to catch fish.  The fish are all at the bottom.  It will be next to impossible to catch fish.

Not so with our Lord.  Perhaps Peter knew it.  Maybe that’s why he says at Your Word I will let down the net.  Or maybe it is an innocent comment.  Or maybe he thinks Jesus is crazy.

Peter sounds a lot like you, doesn’t he?  Our Lord promises to give you everything you need to support your body and life.  But you won’t take His Word at face value.  You suffer so much pain and loss that it seems as if He doesn’t care.  Even though you can’t always get what you want, you get what you need…and that’s never enough.  You pray give us this day our daily bread more out of habit rather than trust.

That’s the thrust of Peter’s seemingly meaningless remark.  Peter thinks, “Lord, you’re crazy to suggest we go fishing at this time of day.  We’ve worked hard all night for nothing.  Now you’re playing the fishing expert?  I’ll go along with it because You said so…but only because You said so.”

Peter’s three little words show a lack of fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Now you see why Peter quotes Psalm 34 in today’s Epistle: He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.  Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.  Peter learned the hard way to keep the Word of the Lord and not merely listen to it.

Peter’s words are spot on, I am a sinful man.  The miraculous catch of fish shows Peter that he is a sinner.  He did as the Lord commanded, but the intention of his deed was almost out of spite rather than a joyful response to Christ’s Word.

Then there is Peter’s request, depart from me.  Peter’s intentions were good.  But he missed the mark.  When God’s Word shows you are sinful, the last thing you need is the Savior leaving.  How often have you thought about not coming to Divine Service or not reading God’s Word because you are really sinful?  The last thing you need is to say something like “I’ve got to get right with God before God can get right with me.”  When you are at your lowest, that’s the perfect time to let go of your doubt and let God fill you with the sure and certain hope of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The pithy saying is true: God is in the small stuff.  You visit the doctor when you are ill.  You don’t think about the fact that the doctor is God’s Hands helping you get better.  You go and see him or her because they know how to help you.  Sometimes it takes a lot of prodding and poking to see a doctor.  We don’t like waiting.  It’s a hassle to deal with insurance.  The prescription may or may not help.  Because so many people bug you with comments about seeing a doctor, you go to get them off your back.  When you feel better, you thank your friends for annoying you like that.  You may even apologize for being hard-headed!

We have a Great Physician more powerful than any doctor in the world.  When you are sick in sin, you visit the House where the glory of the Lord dwells.  Sometimes you go out of pure habit.  Sometimes you go because there is no place left to turn.  You come to His House because He knows what you need and He is willing to give it to you.

Sometimes it takes a lot of poking and prodding to go to church.  Many people are anxious about coming back to church if they’ve been gone a while.  We don’t like the fact that church is different from the world.  It’s a hassle to dress up for church.  The prescription is not what we expect.  Yet the Lord gives the antidote to all your burdens in His House.  When you make it part of your weekly routine, you don’t even think twice about being here.  You come because you know you need more of what the Lord Christ offers here.

Jesus sends men to catch men alive.  That’s the thrust of what Jesus means when He tells Peter he will be a fisher of men.  Peter, James, John, and the rest will catch men alive and give them life.  It’s odd to say that the Twelve will catch men alive and give them life.  But that’s what happens when you are caught in the Lord’s net.  Outside the net, your life is really death.  Inside the net, your life is really life forever with the Lord.  It makes no sense to be caught in a net and be free.  But you are free from the trap of sin, death, and hell.  Holy Baptism brings you through water and makes you captive to Christ.  He catches you and cleans you with baptismal water.  He feeds you with His True Body and True Blood in His Supper.  He keeps you steadfast in the Faith to all eternity.

At Your Word.  What comfort those three little words bring!    The Lord catches you, keeps you safe in Him, and provides for you.  The Lord saves you not out of spite but out of great love and mercy.  It’s natural for us to think we’re smarter than our Lord God.  Nevertheless, we take Jesus at His Word and cling to His Word now and forever.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 6:36-42

Saint Paul writes in Philippians chapter four: Let your gentleness be known to everyone. In particular our gentleness is shown to our fellow man, especially those who are weak in the faith, Christians who have stumbled into persistent sin, and those who have fallen prey to sin. Our natural tendency is to throw the book at them, so to speak, and perhaps even to shun them. It easily happens that, if a fellow Christian sins, we ourselves sin against them. This is why Jesus takes pains to say: Be merciful. Do not judge. Forgive. Give.

We sin against our sinful brethren in Christ when we are merciless toward them. We immediately sit in judgment over them. We refuse to hear their side of the story. We do not let them defend themselves. Instead we are quick to reveal their sin to everyone who will listen. We even go as far as to condemn them outright. Unless you are given a vocation to judge someone, you do not judge anyone. The flippant phrase, “Go to hell!” is not yours to speak unless it is your place to speak it. The end game of two Christians dealing with one another’s sins is to win your brother back, not outright condemn him to hell with no hope of salvation.

We also play the game of hesitating with our forgiveness or even expressing forgiveness in an intricate way. The game often goes like this: “I’ll forgive you when I see enough sorrow and pity” or “Let me think about whether or not I want to forgive you.” Then you run to the Magic 8-Ball and see what it says. When two Christians deal with one another’s sins, they forgive and forget. The latter thing is hard to do, especially when the sin hits close to home. You don’t bring up past mistakes in your marriage. Why would you want to bring up someone’s past mistake and hold it over them as a bargaining chip of forgiveness?

Worst of all, we are merciless when we deprive our love to a fellow sinner. Jesus says in the verse before today’s Gospel begins: love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. That last clause says it all. You are the ungrateful and evil person. The Most High God is kind to you in forgiving your sins in His Son’s innocent suffering and death. His love for you knows no boundaries. He knows your sins no more for Christ’s sake. As the mercy of God in Christ has fallen on you, so in turn your mercy to your neighbor, especially your neighbor who knows not the Lord Jesus, and in particular your fellow Christian.

We sin against sinful brethren in Christ when we do not use the double-edged sword of the Holy Spirit: the living Word. We instead think common sense or sound judgment from reason will take care of the problem. If we were using rhetorical skills, common sense, sound reason, or anything outside of God’s Word, we are the blind leading the blind. Nothing good can come from it.

The Word of God is the infallible light that enlightens not only us, but also our neighbor. We use this Word, when it is our place to use it, in order to reveal his sin. We call that word “Law”. Yet the Law is the penultimate note from God.

The ultimate note is letting the Word free him from his error, from sin, and from the dominion of sin. That word is called “Gospel”. It is not given for us to beat someone over the head with the Law and let them go. The Law sinks its teeth into the sinful Christian, not letting go until it has shows sin. Once you see your sin and your lost condition, the Law is silenced because Jesus Christ has died for that sin and is raised for your justification. You are free. You are forgiven. You live because Christ lives.

Again, the end game of speaking the truth in love without compromising either the truth or love is to win your brother back. You win your brother back when you use the double-edged sword of Truth: the sword of the Spirit.

Our own sin must always appear to us as a beam. The sin of our neighbor must appear to us as a splinter. How quick we forget that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. So if we judge our neighbor, but are not strict with ourselves, it’s useless to give a graceful, appropriate admonition of our neighbor. Jesus reminds us, How can you tell your brother, “Brother, let me remove the speck in your eye,” when you do not see the beam in your own eye? We are hypocrites. We are an abomination to God. We disgust our neighbor with our admonition. We prevent the Word of God on our lips for an admonition from making an impression. On the other hand, when our neighbor sees that we exercise discipline on ourselves, we will find an ear easily lent for a hearing. First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye.

When you forgive your neighbor, and your neighbor forgives you, there Christ is in action in your lives. Christ alone is merciful to you, for His mercy is His Father’s mercy. Christ’s judgment of guilt, even though He is not guilty, changes your divine verdict to innocent. He forgives your sins. He gives in the way of more in baptism, in preaching, and in His Supper: more forgiveness, more life, more salvation, more joy, more peace, and more sure and certain hope.

As He has judged you innocent, so you in turn consider your neighbor innocent for Christ’s sake. When it is your place, as we sung today, when you must and ought to speak, the words you speak seek to win your brother in Christ back from sin to forgiveness. That’s the direction Christ has spoken to you as well.