Category Archives: Sermon

Second Sunday in Advent – Luke 21:25-36

When will these things that Jesus says to His disciples take place? These things are signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.

When will the end happen? That’s what is on many of our minds when we consider the end times. A date would be nice. We could plan for it. We could get all our ducks in a row. Cancel the cable and internet. Visit all our family and friends one last time. We could even tell those who do not believe in Jesus as Lord that it’s time to repent and believe the Gospel.

That last one is one big reason why Jesus doesn’t give us an exact date of the end. As Christians we live as if Jesus will return at any moment. There are those who are ready and those who aren’t ready. That’s the way it is. When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

The events of the last year or so make us wonder if we are sitting straight with heads raised. There are so many unanswered questions concerning violence. It seems like our nation hasn’t been this divided on political issues since the Watergate affair or even since the days of the Vietnam conflict. Many of you remember those days. Perhaps you hoped you would never have to live through something like that again. Yet here we are, living through uneasy times once again.

Uneasy times never really left us. That’s why Jesus says watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. We get so caught up in cares of this life that we forget the big picture. Everything as we know it has a definite end. Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Our Lord’s kingdom has no end. This world has an end. It is pre-determined by our heavenly Father…and He isn’t telling.

Now that knowing the date of the big event is out of your control, you get to focus on what’s given you to do. Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Remember that the original language of the New Testament has a couple of different words for “time”. One word is more familiar to us: chronos. You hear the fancy word for a watch in that word: chronograph. Chronos time is clock time. How long will the preacher preach? How many more days until Christmas?

The other word for “time” is kairos. Kairos time is not so much about boundaries as it is about the fullness of something or, to use our Lord’s example, something becoming ripe, like a fig tree. Jesus uses the fig tree, and all trees, to explain kairos time. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. The budding of trees is kairos time. When the weather turns warm and the ground thaws, everything builds toward a tree starting to bud. When the leaves appear, you know it’s time for warm weather. The tree has its kairos.

The heavens and the earth have its kairos. The time is coming, and is becoming full, when everything old becomes new in God. All the signs are there for your observation. The problem is when we don’t want to notice the signs. God fearfully and wonderfully makes everything, especially human beings. Yet we don’t want to see it because we’d rather focus on what we know rather than what we don’t know. We don’t know when Jesus is returning in the flesh. So let’s instead live as if there’s nothing after the end to everything. Someone is going to drop the big bomb or we’re going to find a way to destroy Earth sometime soon. After that, turn out the lights, the party’s over.

For those of us in Christ, however, the party has only started when the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The party will never end. The Son of Man comes in a cloud with power and great glory. For many there will be joy. For others, well, let’s say they will be sorry they didn’t pay attention when it mattered. That is why Jesus tells us to stay awake at all times. The time of which He speaks is kairos time. Pay attention! Look up and lift up your heads! Notice the signs! They have been around you all your life!

Jesus also says to pray that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Take the Collect for today for instance. We ask our heavenly Father to stir up our hearts “to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son”. How are our hearts stirred up to make ready our Lord’s appearing? They are stirred up not only by the testimony of the heavens and the earth, but chiefly by the testimony of Holy Scripture. Malachi prophecies the day of the Lord is coming. He also prophecies the coming of Elijah, John the Baptist, who prepares the way of Messiah.

Your strength is in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He prepares you for His coming in the proclamation of His promise to give you everlasting life. He prepares you for His coming by uniting your life with His in your Baptism. He prepares you for His coming by feeding you His true Body and Blood to forgive your sins and keep you steadfast in the true faith to life everlasting.

The Lord has His way with you in these gifts. He prepares you for His ultimate coming, when the dead in Christ shall rise and receive the crown of life that never fades away. Those of us who are alive then will be changed and also receive that crown of life. Thus we shall always be with the Lord, even when fire and smoke destroys this world. These things will take place. You will be safe in Christ when it all goes down. He is your salvation. Believe it for His sake.

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First Sunday in Advent – Matthew 21:1-9

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” A new church year arises from the end of an old church year. But nothing has changed. The Lord Jesus Christ remains Lord of His Church. His gifts are given again, just like last week and previous weeks. Yet there is something exhilarating about a new church year.

Perhaps it is because we get to hear the greatest story ever told all over again. My children love to hear the same stories all over again. They beg Becky and me to read them the same library books. We get them different ones every two weeks, yet a couple of months later and those same books reappear in the library bag. We have some of them memorized. We might even be tired of hearing them.

We say the same thing about how we are saved from death and given life and forgiveness of sins in Christ. We get bored with it. After all, I heard it in Sunday School. I heard it from my parents or my grandparent or another family member. I heard it last year. Now I hear it again this year. Why not another story? Aren’t there any other good stories that need to be told? Let’s hear something fresh; something I’ve not heard before.

There are great stories that haven’t been told. This story, your story in Jesus Christ, is the story’s story. It will find a way to be told whether or not you want to hear it. The Gospel finds its own way to speak, especially when you try to silence it. The thing about the Gospel, though, is that, like Jesus, it doesn’t demand to be heard. It doesn’t come banging on your door in the middle of the night expecting you to pay attention. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands nothing. It offers. The Gospel offers something you can’t get anywhere else.

What is more, the Gospel, like Jesus, comes to you. You don’t get to come to it on your own accord. The Gospel finds you. When the Gospel finds you, it comes to you in a humble way, just like Jesus enters Jerusalem. The way we think, the Gospel needs a fiery chariot with brassy horns announcing its presence. People will pay attention to the Good News if you spiff it up a bit. You gotta let ’em know something special is coming. How will people know the message of Jesus Christ if you don’t show ’em just how important the message is?

The Gospel doesn’t work like that. Jesus Christ doesn’t demand fiery chariots and brassy horns. He has what He has: humility, a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. Jesus comes into Jerusalem in a humble way, a way that doesn’t befit a king. Yet that’s the way Jesus enters Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise from the dead.

You have to admit it’s not the strongest of plots from a human standpoint. We might write the story in a different way. Jesus sends ten thousand legions of angels to wipe out the plot against His life. His disciples prepare a throne for Him in the temple. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees finally repent and join everyone else in honoring the King of Kings as He takes His rightful throne in Jerusalem, the center of the everlasting theocracy.

But what about the atonement for sin? What about Isaiah’s Suffering Servant? What about the promise in the Garden to the serpent? What about the ram caught in a thicket as a substitute for Isaac? If we wrote the story, then let these all be gone. We have our King! But we don’t really have our King. We have a king, but not the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus enters Jerusalem to begin, as the chief hymn says, “His heroic course”. The first entrance of His heroic course is that night in Bethlehem when a star announced Christ’s birth to shepherds abiding with their flocks. Even wise men from afar ascertained something special was happening and rode to Jerusalem to see this King promised by prophets.

His heroic course turns to Calvary and the shedding of blood that covers your sin. There will be no fancy throne and no grand theocracy for Jesus Christ. The Lamb of God reigns on a throne made of two pieces of wood crossed to form a torture device. Jesus reigns on the cross to give you forgiveness at the cost of your sin. Jesus is placed in a tomb where He rises victorious over our greatest enemy: death. As He rises, so you, too, shall rise with Him on Judgment Day.

His heroic course continues among us today where His gifts of forgiveness and life are given. He comes among us in the Word, in water, and in bread and wine. Here is where sins are taken away. Here is where life is given. Here is where you hear Christ will come again to raise the dead and usher in the new and everlasting creation.

Jesus’ heroic course begins again today from the end of another round of hearing the old, old story of Jesus and His love for you. His story is one no one minds hearing again. The deeper you study it, the better acquainted you become with it, the more you marvel at God’s love for sinners in His only-begotten Son. The more you may have questions, too. The more you hear, the more you seek for answers. Those answers may not ever come, for some questions have no answers this side of Paradise. Yet in seeking you find your heart’s desire: a clear conscience, a hope for life amid death, and freedom to be who you are given to be and to do what is given you to do in Christ.

Yesterday’s old news is today’s new news, for Jesus comes to you again to save you.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 9:18-26

We’ve come to the end of another church year. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll begin the season of Advent and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child. Before we bid farewell to the old and welcome the new, Jesus shows us that He is with us even to the end. He is with us as He has always been this church year and every church year. Jesus proves Himself as our faithful and merciful Savior.

Jesus never separates Himself from His people. He is there among them. Granted the Twelve were His intimate followers, yet Jesus is always available to help when there is a need. Today a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.

Note first of all how the ruler greets Jesus. He knelt before him. This man knows that Jesus is more than a man. He is the very Son of God in flesh. He believes Jesus is able to heal his daughter. Elsewhere we see Jesus healing by speaking a word. He need not be bodily present to heal. All it takes is a spoken word. Here, though, our Lord goes with the ruler to heal his daughter.

As Jesus is among the people and is willing to go to the ruler’s house, so He is among us not only in this house in the preached Word and in the gifts of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. He is also among us in our own homes every time we open the Scriptures to read God’s Word. Christ is in every word of Scripture. He is the Living Word made flesh. Every word in Scripture proclaims Jesus for your forgiveness and your eternal life. We, like the ruler in today’s Gospel, greet our Lord with respect fitting the King of Kings. We bow our heads to pray. We focus our ears and eyes to hear His Word proclaimed. We might even make the sign of the cross to remind us of our baptism at appropriate times in the liturgy. Jesus is present among us in His gifts, giving life and bringing joy.

Jesus is among us even when our Bibles are closed and we are living our callings in life. In illness He is our Great Physician. He hears our prayers, consoles us in His Word, and gives patience and hope for healing, even ultimate healing in the resurrection of the body. When loved ones died this past year, Jesus was there to bring comfort and hope. He dries our tears and scares away the horror of death in His sweet consolation. He was with us as we tended to our daily tasks at home, at school, and everywhere.

But do we believe that Jesus has been our faithful and merciful Savior this past church year? There are times when we have been angry with God. His goodness to us sometimes looks like frustration and setbacks. We think He puts roadblocks in our life to punish us. Maybe we think He enjoys watching us suffer. Our tongues are quick to speak evil of Him. We’re convinced He only wants to do us harm and never good.

The woman with a flow of blood for twelve years had every right to think that way. Yet she found a way to approach our Lord for healing. She says to herself, If I only touch his garment, I will be made well. She does, and she receives what she desires, even when our Lord’s back is turned to her.

That’s when Jesus loves to help. With the eyes of faith we see His back turned to us. We think He has no time for us. Still we reach out to Him in prayer. Still we come here to receive His loving care. Jesus doesn’t disappoint. Even when it seems like He is busy with someone else, Jesus has time for us. He turns to us as He did to the woman and says, Take heart; your faith has made you well.

Don’t think for a moment that your faith is your doing. Saint Paul reminds us faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The Word implanted in you through the preaching of the Gospel creates trust in God for all things. Whether faith is as small as a mustard seed or as tall as a mountain, you have your heart’s desire in Christ. Sin is covered in Christ’s blood. His righteousness is your white garment of holiness and peace. You do not receive what you deserve. You receive instead the best of what God has for you: everlasting life because of Christ’s death and resurrection for you.

Jesus brings the dead back to life. Today we see it in the raising of the ruler’s daughter. The girl is not dead but sleeping. The crowd laughed at Jesus for saying such a foolish thing. Yet Jesus speaks the truth. Death is a nap. Jesus wakes her up from the nap. As He wakes her up, so He will do the same for you on Judgment Day. Your confidence lies in the certain hope that the dead in Christ shall rise, be changed, and live forever before the face of God. Our ultimate confidence lies in that joyful fact. You will live in the presence of God for eternity without sin, without pain, and without death.

The old church year ends and a new church year dawns. As it was in the past, so shall it be again this time. Jesus is with us as our faithful and merciful Savior. His ear is always open to our prayer. His comfort is always near. He’ll be here again next week, Lord willing, to forgive your sin and restore the joy of His salvation. He’ll be with you everywhere you go as His holy angels watch over you, protecting you from the evil foe. You can run, but you can’t hide from God. His love for you in Christ never fails. His forgiveness for you in Christ is always ready. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:15-22

When you see a politician in a church pulpit during worship time, alarm bells should ring in your head. When you hear a preacher preach politics instead of the Gospel, those same alarm bells should ring in your head. Both are abominations before God and mankind. State and Church each have their own lane with distinct principles and goals. Yet we Christians do not stop being Christians in our civic life. God’s Word continues to be our guiding star even as citizens of God’s left-hand kingdom.

The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians correctly state our belief concerning Church and State issues: Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully. What was meant for hypocrisy and evil intentions ends up being the right thing to say to our Lord. The Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 119: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path also applies to our way of life as citizens under Caesar, or in our case, under a federal republic. You are a faithful Christian and a good citizen when you learn what part of your life as a citizen and a follower of Jesus Christ belongs in what particular lane.

Jesus gives the guiding principle in Matthew chapter 22 when He says: render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Christ confirms Roman government in Judea. He reminds the Jews to give the ruling authorities what is entitled to them for the sake of good divine order, recognition, and honor.

Worldly authority is a good gift from God. No matter whom you vote for, no matter what political party you identify with, everyone might agree that sounds wrong. If worldly authority was a good gift from God, shouldn’t it agree with everything I agree with, especially as a Christian? Stay in your own lane! Don’t cross lanes and make earthly authority into some sort of theocracy. Jesus confirms worldly authority no matter how it came to authority and what kind of authority the state has. Saint Peter confirms our Lord’s words when he says in his first epistle: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

We citizens of the United States of America recognize and honor the authority elected by the people as God’s order even though the authorities are not exactly our personal choice. The last twelve months have shown us how important this principle is. Some Episcopalian priests have stated they refuse to pray for President Trump. Other Christians believe President Trump is God’s personal choice for President of our country and uses him as His hand-picked servant to do good things for us. Both ideas are wrong. They have gone out of their lanes.

Worse yet is when we go out of our lanes by hurling insults at our authorities. Whether or not you voted for the officeholder, he or she is your public servant. He or she is a gift, even if their conduct is less than honorable.

The Jews in our Lord’s day used Caesar’s money. They stood under his protection. They were to pay taxes in order to help fund the government so they could be protected from enemies and so government could run smoothly. This is why Christ says render to Caesar.

Our Lord’s statement remains true today. Saint Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 13: one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

These words of our Lord, not to mention Saints Paul and Peter, are our guiding star when it comes to living in both the secular kingdom as well as the spiritual kingdom. We might hold our nose when we pay taxes, but we do so conscientiously and accurately. We take advantage of tax breaks, but not so that we might forget to pay our taxes. We also, when necessary, submit ourselves to military service if the draft is reinstated. All these things are matters of good order in the secular kingdom.

One of the most important duties in the secular realm is to vote in elections. When a Christian stands for office, he or she doesn’t do so in order to seek advantage. A Christian stands for office in order to serve the country or the state and, in so doing, serves their neighbor as well as God. The same goes for the right to vote. Christians do not seek a bribe in return for voting for one particular candidate, not to mention the candidate making promises they cannot keep to the electorate. When a Christian is elected to an office, he or she serves with faithfulness and conscientiousness as God’s servants.

Then comes the last part of our Lord’s counsel: and to God what is God’s. Here Jesus separates God’s kingdom from the state. The Jews fulfill their civic duties, yet these duties do not interfere with their way of life. The State, in return, does not interfere with the exercise of their faith.

Our founding fathers in this country were clever not to establish a state church, as well as allowing for the “free exercise of religion”. Some politicians see this as merely a freedom to go to church, leaving other matters of faith to be controlled by the government. Yet as of now, the free exercise of religion enjoys a wide berth not only among Christians, but other faiths outside of Christianity.

Simply put, we give to the state what belongs to the state. However, we don’t cast aside the law regarding what belongs to God. There are some things the state has no business settling. Only God’s Word settles matters of the Christian faith. If Congressman Robin Kelly came to our congregation and forbade us to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life, we must tell her to stay in her lane. The same goes for us if we tell Governor Rauner or even President Trump that Christianity should be the only religion allowed in our country, or even that prayer in school must be mandatory. We must stay in our own lane as well.

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. A simple statement with profound applications. When the state stays in its own lane, we are protected from harm and help maintain good order as citizens. This includes paying our taxes and voting for qualified candidates in elections. When the Church stays in her own lane, we rejoice in receiving forgiveness and salvation from our heavenly Father through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We are pilgrim people, traveling through this time and place looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. While we walk here, we hear Christ’s words concerning Church and State, giving to both what is due both while staying in our lanes as citizens of the state and children of the heavenly Father.

Reformation Day Observed and Confirmation Day – Revelation 14:6-7

A.J. Horn, Lilli Horn, Catherine Juhl, Keith Morellas, and Trey Sandstrom are confirmed and receive the Lord’s Supper for the first time this Sunday.

The word “angel” means “messenger”. There are angels, the crown of God’s unseen created beings who watch over God’s children. Then there are angels who aren’t so much spiritual beings but are messengers. These messengers spread the Gospel: Good News for those who dwell on earth. Saint John writes about seeing one of these messengers in his vision on the island of Patmos. The angel flying overhead has a message for us even today: Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.

Five young people today are before us who have heard the Good News of the eternal Gospel over a long period of time. It began for them when they first heard the Good News from a pastor’s mouth and from a family member’s mouth. They heard that Jesus has taken away their sin. They heard Jesus has given them eternal life. They heard there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. They have a good conscience. The seed of the Gospel that was planted in them in hearing the Word, the seed that was watered in their baptism, has been nurtured over a period of time in being taught the Christian faith.

These young people, as well as you and me, have heard through our lives to fear God and give Him glory. This fear that the angel proclaims is a holy awe of what God has done for us. Not only does He provide earthly things for us, He also takes care of every spiritual need. He saves us from sin, death, and the devil’s power. All this He does from Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

The devil demands you fear him and give him honor. Kings and princes demand the same thing when they make themselves as gods. Even our own human hearts demand that we bow down and worship ourselves as our own false god. Satan sets every obstacle in the way of letting God’s judgment over the world have place in our lives. Yet this judgment breaks through in spite of every obstacle.

The history of the Church shows how the Gospel, God’s judgment over the world in Jesus Christ, breaks through even when those inside and outside the Church try to stop it. In spite of the Israelites’ disobedience, even Moses’ disobedience, the Promise of a land and a Savior remains steadfast among them. In spite of kings who demand idolatry, even exile into a foreign land, the Promise of the Savior and a spiritual Israel remains. In spite of Herod slaughtering innocent male children under two years old in order to rid his kingdom of the so-called interloper named Jesus, the Promise remains alive. In spite of every human leader who makes himself a savior, in spite of every attempt to snuff out the Light no darkness can overcome, the Promise of forgiveness and new life continues to be proclaimed today.

The hour of judgment has come. In Jesus Christ, in Him alone, you are judged worthy of eternal life. His blood and His righteousness speak freedom from slavery to sin better than the blood of bulls and goats on the temple’s altar. Satan has been judged and found wanting. His head is crushed. The Savior’s heel is bruised. In that bruise, in His blood, you have sure and certain hope of salvation. Saint Paul says it best in Romans chapter three: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Now you see why the angel says worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. The Lord God has done everything to save you. He acted in time, in real life, letting His Son become flesh to suffer and die for your sins and rise from the dead for your justification. Nothing else matters. Jesus Christ lived and died for you. That’s all that is necessary for eternity.

That’s the reason God gathers His people in places like this one each week. What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me asks the Psalmist. You render Him thanks and praise in your presence. You speak and sing the words of Scripture. Almost every word spoken in the Divine Service is drawn from Scripture. Even the events in the Creed are drawn from the Bible. In our time together in instruction we walked through the story of salvation. It’s an amazing story to hear. Sin befell the world like a bottle of ink spilled over a pristine piece of paper. God acts among His people. He makes a Promise to Satan in the presence of Adam and Eve that a Redeemer is coming Who will undo everything done in the Garden. He makes the same Promise to Abraham and gives him a family to carry on the Promise. Through time and every seeming setback God prepares His people for their salvation.

Then comes the birth of the Savior according to the flesh. The Promise has skin. The Promise lives the perfect live for you. He dies. He rises. He ascends into heaven to fulfill all things. One day the Promise returns to raise the dead and bring the living and dead who are in Christ with Him into eternal life.

The impossible is possible in Jesus. We deserve death. Jesus gives life. We deserve hell. Jesus gives us heaven. Jesus becomes sin. We receive Jesus’ righteousness. This is the message of the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the messenger in Revelation chapter fourteen. It’s a message for you, no matter how old you are. It’s a message once covered in darkness for centuries, yet renewed time and again by messengers, angels if you will, whom God raises up to proclaim His story anew.

A.J., Lilli, Catherine, Keith, and Trey: This is your story, too. It’s the story you live in as Christians. Everything Jesus does, He does for you. You see your name, your life, and your everything tied up in the Savior. If there’s nothing else you learned in instruction, you learned that much. That much is enough, for Jesus is enough for eternity. You are free in Christ. Believe it for His sake.

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 9:1-8

You’ve heard a string of bad news. Cancer. Surgery. Death. Loss of your job. The hits just keep on coming. Then someone has a new message for you: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Is it the truth? Is this truth going to comfort me? Is it for me in the first place? Then there’s the bigger question: Are there strings attached to this message?

Jesus spoke the message: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven to a paralytic. These words not only apply to him, but to you and me as well. They apply to every poor sinner. So let’s put these words to the test and see how well they apply to us some two-thousand years later.

Every poor sinner is confident when they hear their sins are forgiven because the words are certain truth as much as they are comforting truth. Jesus knows the thoughts of the experts in the Law who say Christ is blaspheming. After all, no man may say that someone’s sins are forgiven. Only God can forgive sins. They don’t, or won’t, know that Jesus is God and man in one person. Not only is He able to forgive sins, He is also able to heal the man.

The greater miracle among the two performed in Matthew chapter nine is forgiving sins. That is not to downplay the healing of the paralytic. The word spoken by our Savior does what He said it does. The man stands up, takes his stretcher, and goes home. Yet the words Jesus speaks about forgiveness also do what He says they do. Jesus Himself satisfies divine righteousness for sinners. That’s why Jesus takes on flesh: to earn and to deliver the forgiveness of sins. To show He’s not a liar, He adds the healing of the paralytic. It’s the extra whipped cream on top of the delicious ice cream sundae that is the forgiveness of sins.

You are like the paralytic in the fact that sin paralyzes you. There’s no way for you to delight in forgiveness of sins if you are in charge of your own forgiveness. Your righteousness outside of Christ is nothing. It’s a farce, a joke. It’s actually offensive and, worst of all, usurps authority from Jesus. The afflicted conscience needs a foreign righteousness; one that is outside himself. Christ’s righteousness is that resurrecting balm and consolation for the anxious conscience.

You see this firsthand when you are sick, or when a family member or your neighbor is hurting. Trusting in the foreign righteousness of Jesus Christ, a righteousness that comes from the outside in, brings either recovery from God’s hand or a blessed end under God’s guiding love. Both are welcome. Either you’ll recover from sickness and live a while, bringing joy to all who know you, or you’ll die a Christian death and fall asleep in the Savior. Though there is weeping for a time, joy comes sooner than later, for all who live in Christ shall die in Christ. Dying in Christ is slumber. We wait in joyful expectation for the certain hope of the resurrection.

Poor sinners are confident when hearing their sins are forgiven because no one who hears this forgiveness is excluded. Jesus never pulls a bait and switch with forgiveness. When He speaks this word of forgiveness to the paralytic, He also intends it to be heard by the experts in the Law, even everyone who was there that day, even us today. Jesus is certainly the very Son of God, yet He calls Himself the Son of Man here because He has become a genuine member of the human race in order to acquire forgiveness for all mankind. His life is a salvation for many, that is, for all, as He says elsewhere: the Son of Man came to save the lost.

Little do we realize that we are lost outside of Christ. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “If I came to your church, I know, for a fact, that the walls would fall in and the roof will collapse. I’m such a so-called ‘sinner’ that the building couldn’t stand me being there.” Well, here we are. The walls remain. So does the roof. They remain not because we’re the righteous and the holy and have no need for a Savior. The opposite is true. The unrighteous and the profane gather here every week. Jesus alone is righteous and holy. Here’s where He gives those gifts that declare us righteous and holy: our Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Absolution, and even the Sermon.

Who would think that Jesus leaves forgiveness of sins in the hands of sinful men? He does. He confers this authority to the Church and to her ministers. They are given to forgive sins in His name, to preach the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to all creatures. Whoever you are, wherever you are, even if you aren’t here, even if you can’t or won’t believe Jesus as Lord, take heart! Your sins are forgiven. That’s the message of the Christian Church even today.

The problem remains, even for the most faithful of Christians, that there’s strings attached to that message. Your sins are forgiven if…. Your sins are forgiven when…. Your sins are forgiven, but now…. Worse yet, Your sins are forgiven, give your offering to make sure it sticks. The Gospel is not for sale here. We Christians are in the business of giving something for nothing.

Jesus never asks the paralytic for anything in return. He never asks for anything from the people who bring the paralytic. His forgiveness is free, just as the healing was free. He made him well. He saw their faith, yet the experts in the Law go home empty because they would not believe. The only thing that excludes from salvation is unbelief. The Gospel makes no demands. The Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts that appropriate the Good News.

When the Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts, it also changes those hearts from stone into flesh. You are a new person when the Good News of forgiveness hits you. The paralytic became healthy. He stood up and walked. So you also walk in a new life in Christ. Clinging to Christ not only means rejoicing in forgiveness, but also rejoicing in the many ways you get to serve your neighbor. There are no strings attached. You don’t sigh as if you must do it because God is watching you. Faith in Christ can’t help but get busy looking for opportunities to serve. In all things throughout life, in how we live before God and neighbor, all glory belongs to God for His undeserved love. He gives us consolation in believing that we are in Christ, and Christ is in us.

Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:34-46

Holy Scripture plainly says there is life after temporal death. Jesus tells the Jews who were seeking to kill Him in John chapter five: whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Yet not everyone who seeks to enter eternal life will not be able to do it. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Are you certain that you will attain eternal life? That’s the big question we face as human beings, especially when we are tempted or are afraid because of our sins. A question we ask ourselves in suffering is: Do I actually have reason for the hope to be God’s own child? On our death bed we might wonder if we can joyfully die in the certain expectation of eternal life. As sin clings to our human nature, it is natural to ask these questions.

So where is your hope based? My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Your hope is not based on the requirements of the Law. An expert in the Law asks Jesus a question: which is the greatest commandment of the Law? You wonder if this was a disputed question among them. You also wonder if this is a question meant to trip up Jesus. Our Lord answers according to the Law: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. Love your neighbor as yourself. He adds: all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.

Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Both love toward God and love toward neighbor are what the Ten Commandments deal with. Even the love of your neighbor finds its ultimate goal in the love of God. Christ’s answer to the question leaves no doubt that all commandments are equally important. You can’t fulfill one part without fulfilling the other part. Even keeping the moral law falls under love of God. You love God by honoring marriage and the privileges of marriage. You honor God by not harming your neighbor even to death with your actions, words, and thoughts. Remember what Saint James says: whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. You stop loving God, you stop loving your neighbor, and then you are guilty of breaking all of the Law of God.

The Law, with its demands, cannot be the bedrock of our salvation. If it were so, then there’s no need of Jesus except to look at Him as your example of how to get the job done. Even His death becomes an example of what you must do to fulfill the Law. Yet your blood and your righteousness avails nothing before the Father in heaven. The Pharisees thought they would be righteous before God. They placed Sabbath laws or sacrifices or circumcision on top of the Law of God. Everything depended upon external observance of these commandments.

Note, though, that Jesus emphasizes the commandment of love over external observances. Merely going through the motions earns nothing. The attitude of the heart is the main thing. Love the Lord your God…. Love your neighbor as yourself. A quick look at Matthew chapter 23, where Jesus pronounces seven woes over the Pharisees and experts in the Law, shows that there is no love among those folks. What do you see when you examine yourself? Saint Paul explains it in Romans chapter seven: we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

Your hope is based solely on the promises of the Good News from God in Jesus Christ. Jesus returns the volley of the experts in the Law with his own question. He asks What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? He asks these questions not in order to tempt them but in order to make them aware of what is the end of the Law; what makes the sinner righteous. Again Saint Paul has the answer in Romans chapter ten: Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Jesus asks these questions to redirect their attention where it should be directed: to Messiah, to Himself. Yet the Jews made misconceptions about His person and His office. They lost sight of the Gospel promises given through the prophets. That is what our Lord asks the Pharisees about Whom is Messiah. They get the genealogy right when they answer the son of David. That answer is all over the Old Testament. They heard that answer with their own ears a few days earlier when our Lord entered Jerusalem to suffer and die for sins and rise from the dead. Remember that this conversation takes place mere days before our Lord’s Passion.

The Pharisees did not deny the human nature of Christ. They had no knowledge, or purposely wanted no knowledge, of His divine nature. Jesus then quotes the opening words of Psalm 110 to answer their question. The One Who is David’s Son is also David’s Lord. He is more than an earthly son of a king many generations later. He is the Son of the King Who dwells in heaven. The prophet Jeremiah says: the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

What the Pharisees didn’t, or wouldn’t, know is that Christ is David’s Son and David’s Lord wrapped up in one person. This also answers the question about His office, about what He comes to do. If Christ, about Whom this prophecy deals, only assumes divine rule, how can He then be eternal God? He humbles Himself, according to His human nature, unto death upon the cross and then is raised to the right hand of His Father. Yet His divine nature and His human nature are together in one person. Jesus alone not only suffers and dies, but also overcomes our enemies: sin, death, devil, and hell. He alone is Messiah, the Redeemer of the world.

It is a teachable moment for the Pharisees and experts in the Law. What they didn’t, or wouldn’t, know, we now know. Matthew tells us from that day on no one dared to ask Him any more questions, not to mention that no one was able to answer Him a word concerning Christ’s own questions. Jesus alone is the branch from the root of Jesse and the only Child of the everlasting Father. He suffers and enters into His glory. He is seated at the right hand of God with royal power. He reigns as Victor over His enemies until at last they lie beneath His feet as a footstool. All this He does for our own good…for our own good and not for His own good. Jesus Christ alone is our brother and our substitute. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. “When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” This hope never disappoints.

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:1-11

What does our Lord’s encounter with the Pharisees give us to consider regarding relations with a world hostile to Jesus Christ? Consider first of all that we should beware the hypocritical love from those outside of Christ. The Pharisees invited Jesus to eat bread with them. Yet they also watched Him closely. They were looking for something to accuse Him of so they could get rid of Him. Jesus, however, perceived their shenanigans and showed true prudence in all His words and works.

It’s as if the Pharisees and experts in the Law had planned everything perfectly. A man who was suffering from swelling of the body was right in front of our Lord. Jesus asked them one question: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? No answer. All eyes are on Him. So He took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go.

People of the world also invite us to eat bread with them, so to speak. They do so not out of love, but out of spite. They, too, look for opportunities to trap us and bring us down. They, too, look to prove our hope for eternal life and forgiveness of sins to be a farce. Everything in the world will pass away, even their false opinions about salvation.

This doesn’t mean we walk away from the world and retreat to some sort of monastic way of life. We instead walk in love over against the world. Jesus never voluntarily withdrew from the Pharisees. He seized the opportunity to draw closer to them. He accepted their invitation to eat bread with them. Jesus sought to draw the Pharisees and experts in the Law closer to Him. Sometimes it took harsh words. Sometimes it took a parable. Sometimes it took a miracle. He left the matter in their lap to deal with His words and actions. They knew what He said and did was true. They saw everything as an inconvenient truth.

We, too, seize every opportunity to engage the world with the Truth of Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ has taken care of sin and death in His perfect life, His all-atoning death, and His life-giving resurrection from the dead. Over the last couple of years, however, it seems as if some Christians would rather pick up their marbles and only play among other like-minded Christians. Some well-known Christians have written that it’s hopeless to deal with those whose minds are set on the world. So let’s just deal with those who are like-minded with us and leave the world alone.

That’s not the way Jesus dealt with sinners. Jesus dwells among sinners. He doesn’t exclusively talk to His disciples. He eats with tax collectors instead of shooing them away. He has compassion on harlots and even Samaritans. As our Lord Christ put Himself in the midst of sinners, so we also are in the midst of sinful people, both within and without the Christian faith. We deal with others in love, not in hate. We show concern in word and deed instead of turning our backs on “those people out there”. Always, always, we show forth the love of God in Christ Jesus in order that they may join us in the great feast of the Gospel.

We are also fearless over against the enemies of the Truth. Christians have shown a lot of fear before the world over the last couple of years. Ever since the Supreme Court gave homosexual couples the right to marry, Christians have looked more like fear mongerers than fearless disciples of Jesus Christ. Consider our Lord’s conduct in today’s Holy Gospel. He does not avoid provocation, but fearlessly responds by healing the man and teaching the Pharisees and experts in the Law what the Sabbath is really about.

We Christians look intimidated these days against the world. It seems as if there can be no middle ground when it comes to hot-button topics. Instead of listening to our neighbor, we quickly react against them in order to be right. The shoe often is on the other foot, too. Saint Peter has good advice on how to deal with our neighbor: in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

The key words there are gentleness and respect. You win few people over with venom. You win a willing ear with gentleness and respect. You also win the respect of others not merely by speaking the Truth, but also living the Truth. Jesus shows His adversaries the true meaning of the Sabbath by healing a man. The Sabbath is not so much about strict rest as it is about attending to the Word of God and prayer. If you must work to save a life, then do it. Refusing to act because it is the Sabbath harms both God and your neighbor.

Consider your conduct before your neighbor. Do you say and do everything with gentleness and respect? Or are you always looking to win a fight by any means necessary? Our conduct before the world is not about winning as it is about speaking the Truth in love without sacrificing either the Truth or love. That’s what Jesus is driving at with His audience by speaking the parable about places of honor at a banquet. Speaking truth with humility shows that Christ dwells among us and that we dwell in Christ. When we raise our voice to speak the Truth, we do so as representatives of Jesus Christ, not as a talking head spewing talking points on a cable TV talk show.

It’s not easy to live as a Christian these days. It’s never been easy to live as a Christian. Ever. There were never any “good old days” for Christians on earth. Yet when it is our place when we must and ought to speak, we pray that the Lord give us courage to speak in boldness and confidence, yet with tenderness and peace in our hearts and in our consciences. We aren’t in it to win it. We are in it to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and to win our neighbor from the devil’s clutches into the Lord’s merciful arms.

Jesus Christ has triumphed over Satan. In Christ you have ultimate victory. Live in the world in peace. You will have many opportunities to speak about your hope in Jesus. Your hope is built on the solid rock of Christ. Don’t be afraid.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 7:11-17

Death is the king of terrors. Death knows neither class nor age of people. Death has wiped out entire races, even nations. Death strikes when you least expect it, and even when you do expect it. Consider the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, not to mention elsewhere. Death always catches its prey. It waits for you at your door.

Wherever death moves, countless tears flow. Death extinguishes every joyful light. It snatches away the breadwinner of the family. It comes for the caring mother of children. Death even seeks out children of all ages.

There is an antidote to death. Today’s Gospel from Luke chapter seven shows the antidote to death at work. Jesus Christ raises a widow’s only son as the funeral procession takes the body out of Nain to his resting place. Christ is victorious over the king of terrors: death.

Not only has the mother of the deceased lost her husband, now she loses her only son. Death has struck twice. She has suffered a full measure of misery. Yet the Lord arrives at the perfect time. When He arrives at the gate of Nain, the funeral procession is on its way. When Jesus sees the weeping mother, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not cry.” Jesus has authority to raise the dead. Though she has lost her husband, she will not lose her son. Jesus went up to the open coffin, touched it, and the pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

What a sight! Jesus is victorious over death. The scene at Nain brings us comfort as we remember our loved ones who have gone before us in the faith. Perhaps at the funeral or the committal we thought, “If only Jesus was here to do what He did to the widow’s son at Nain.” Then we would not have to suffer the death of a loved one.

What we forget in times like those is that Jesus is there. His presence never leaves us, even when He is not bodily present and standing before us. Jesus’ presence is in His preached Word, a Word that declares death cannot hold a beliver in Christ for long. St. Paul tells the church in Corinth that the body sown incorruptible is raised incorruptible. Jesus comes at the right time, both in His Word and again on Judgment Day, to bring comfort and resurrection.

Jesus comes at the right time when we say goodbye to a loved one. Pastors like me stand at the bedside of the faithful departed to bring the comfort of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. We won’t stop you from crying, but we also will remind you not to cry as those who have no hope. You will see your loved one again. Your sorrow will be turned into joy. We stand in the pulpit at the funeral to, as it were, give Satan a good kick in the rear end by declaring Christ’s triumph over death in His resurrection from the dead. We also stand beside the grave, commending the body to sleep in Jesus and rise on the Last Day.

Jesus also comes at the right time to take His children home to the New Jerusalem. Only our Father in heaven knows that time. So we wait in hope, always ready for Christ’s return, especially on those days when it looks like Jesus will never return. This world has an appointed limit. Soon everything will decay and burn away. We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. There Christ is the Light. There shall we stand in the presence of the Father for all eternity. There shall we be free from all sin and death forever.

But what about my death? What will it be like? Will I go with a bang or with a whimper? We shudder to think about it. We shudder because death is the separation of the body and the soul. Your highest earthly good is your life. Yet your life will decompose in the ground. We may complement a funeral director on his or her expertise at preserving a corpse, but that preservation won’t last long.

When we stand before the corpse of a loved one, we see our own mortality. Here is the punishment for sin. For those who believe there is no punishment for sin because there is no sin, no God, and no eternity, all that is left is eternal death and eternal condemnation. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews makes it plain: it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

We, though, who believe that Christ has triumphed over death know that isn’t the end. The author to the Hebrews continues: so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Note the adverb: eagerly. We don’t get too fond of earthly affairs. They will pass away. It’s nice to enjoy the good things God gives us right now. They will pass away. The one good thing given us, everlasting life, is the gift that gives to all eternity.

Listen again to these comforting words of triumph. Jesus says to Martha: 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 John in Revelation chapter one: I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Again the author to the Hebrews writes: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

Your death in Christ means redemption from all evil and entrance into eternal salvation. He will rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom. We rejoice with the funeral party at Nain, with Jesus and His disciples, and with all fellow Christians who have suffered the loss of loved ones and soon will join them in rest. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The king of terrors is dead. The emperor of evil has no clothes. Christ has triumphed. He is living. Because He lives, you live with Him. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 6:24-34

What’s your worry? You worry about the past. You ponder every past decision. You replay in our minds everything we said to people or did for people. All of us have an itty bitty committee that tells us how bad our past was, our present is, and our future will be.

You worry about today. You have more than enough, but it isn’t enough. You have fifteen shirts in your closet. If you give five away to charity, you still have ten shirts. But that’s one-third less than you have? How can you live with one-third less shirts?

You worry about the future. A surgery is pending. Will you survive? What’s going to happen? Children grow up. What sort of future will they have? Will they have to live with us until they are 40? Will they be employable? Will I have enough to make ends meet when I am old? Will I have to live in a “granny pod” behind one of my children’s home? What about my congregation? We’re old. There are few children. People just don’t seem to care about practicing the Christian faith.

Jesus asks, which of you can add a single moment to his lifespan by worrying? You may not add a single moment to our lifespan, but you sure spend a lot of time worrying. Something could change and I’m not ready for it. I’m not in control. I have to know everything before it happens. I can’t merely abide in something or someone.

There it is! I can’t merely abide in someone. I can’t merely believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord. There must be something else alongside Him. I can’t merely cling to objective grace given to me in the preaching of His Word, in my baptism, in eating and drinking Christ’s very Body and Blood. What is more, I treat these things as a given in my life. They’ll always be there for me. I know where I can go when other helpers fail and comforts flee. For now, though, other helpers and comforts will do just fine.

Perhaps it’s retail therapy. You buy five more shirts to replace the other five you gave away. Perhaps it’s clinging to another god besides the only true God. It wouldn’t hurt to have some good old fashioned idolatry in your life. Whatever you look to as your hope for salvation is your god. Maybe a dead relative will work through your thoughts to calm your worry. Maybe something else will show up to get you through these worrisome days.

In one of the last letters Martin Luther wrote before his death in 1546, he tells his wife, “Pray, and let God worry.” Prayer seems to be our last resort when it should be the first thing we do when we worry. Our heavenly Father, for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ, is all ears. He wants to hear you ask Him what’s on your mind. Yet you see prayer as a last resort. I’ll try anything once and, if all else fails, I’ll pray. Instead of casting our burdens on the Lord, Who cares for us, we cast lots to find what will be the quick fix for worries.

What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? The unbelievers chase after all these things. Certainly your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of god and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. When Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he’s not asking you to go on a quest for something that isn’t yours. The kingdom of God is among you.

God’s kingdom is the universe, is His Church, and it extends over the angels and saints. You’re in His kingdom because Jesus put you there when you heard His Word of reconciliation grab a hold of you. He washed you clean of sin in your baptism. He set you among your fellow reconciled Christians, and even those who don’t know Him. He has done everything necessary for you to miss hell. You seek His kingdom when you abide in His kingdom.

This side of Paradise there will be doubt. Yet amid doubt the main thing remains the main thing: Jesus bled and died for you. He has put His salvation in your ear, in your heart, and has watered it in your Baptism. The struggle between doubt and certainty continues until you stop breathing. That’s why you abide in Christ where He is found. Your feelings can lie. Your thoughts can waver. Christ never lies nor wavers. He is your strength and stay, even when you worry.

He covers you with His righteousness, a righteousness that avails before the Father’s heavenly throne. The garment of incorruption placed upon you at your baptism means you are covered in Christ’s blood; dripping wet in blood, water, and the Holy Spirit. What worries you now? Jesus is your only hope for eternity.

Yet day-to-day worries linger. What about clothing and food, house and home, family and friends? Our Lord not only has your salvation covered, He also provides all you need for body and life. That is why He has you consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Worry neither about food nor clothing. Our heavenly Father provides them. So it is for you and me as well. Food and clothing will be there. Everything necessary for life will be there. It may not be a lifestyle of the rich and famous, but it will be enough for the day.

Children of the world worry. They think everything must be earned, even eternal life. Children of the heavenly Father haven’t a care for things of the world. They are given to by a God Who cares for them. He gives them life and salvation. If that isn’t enough, He gives them material goods in His providential care. Even the work that is done to earn material goods is a gift from our heavenly Father. You will have many things to worry about over time. Have no care for them, for Jesus cares for you. His Father, our Father in heaven, will see that you neither starve nor are homeless. Live, love, and rejoice in the moment. Even if it is all gone tomorrow, Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.