25th Sunday after Pentecost; Veteran’s Day

25th Sunday after Pentecost/Veteran’s Sunday
November 11, 2018
Leviticus 19:17-18
“The Gates of Hell; A Lack of Love”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I conclude this sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is Leviticus 19:17-18.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

My dear friends,

Today is the 4th and final sermon in this series that I call “The Gates of Hell.” So far we have examined how neither sin nor the world nor divisions among us nor even the gates of Hell themselves can ever stop the Christian Church on earth despite statistical analysis or demographic reports. Today we consider a new issue – a lack of love, the idea being that the Church will fall because Christians will be unwilling to love their neighbor as themselves.
When I was growing up, my parents poisoned me on a regular basis. No, they didn’t mess with my food or anything. They poisoned me with their music playing day and night in the car and the house and everywhere I went! Poisoned me with their 1960s weird hippie music: their Neil Diamond and their ABBA and their Barry Manilow and their (shudder) Barbara Streisand. It’s a miracle the neighbors never called Child Protective Services. Anywho, I distinctly remember hearing one song over and over and it’s burned in my mind so much so that not even 80s heavy metal could erase the stain from my brain. The song is called “What the World Needs Now” and it has been recorded several times: Jackie Deshannon, Diana Ross, and Dionne Warwick among others. The refrain goes like this: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Hippies. But then again…maybe they were on to something.
What the world needs now is love. It is God’s love that motivates us to be the men and women who we ought to be. It is God’s love that calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light. It is God’s love from the start to the finish of all of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, that speaks about Him who is love and who loved us so that He might make us beloved people of God.
The command in Leviticus is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is given for a good reason. When we fail to show love towards others both in and outside the church, the world sees that and it sends a very hypocritical message, which is one of the most common accusations leveled at the church…it’s full of hypocrites. Well…the church IS full of forgiven, loved sinners. This much I’ll admit. Full of hypocrites? Probably not so much.
Does that mean it’s easy to love your neighbor as yourself? No, because you and I know that some people do more than just play music we don’t like. They say things and do things and post things on social media that make us angry, and then what we want to do is to give them so many of these (right fist) that they beg for one of these (left fist). That’s the old sinful nature in us, but we aren’t called to be vengeful or resentful or violent. We are to reflect the love of God to a world that has too little love.
In Jesus, we know the true love of God that motivates us to love even when we are not loved; we can overcome a lack of love WITH love…it’s just that easy! It is God’s love that moves us to forgive when it’s hard for us to forgive. It is God’s love that motivates us to be kind when somebody is not that kind. It is indeed a challenge to live in this world today, because the world hates us. But we are to reflect the love of Jesus to the world.
What does Moses tell us in the words “love your neighbor as yourself”? It is a privilege to be a neighbor. A neighbor is someone who cares, someone who goes out of his way to reach another person. Last week I reminded you that the people here with you are your brothers and sisters; they are the people you will spend forever with. Those same people – the people to your right and the person to your left – they are your neighbors, your brothers and sisters who need to know that they are loved. Don’t worry…I’m not going to have you do some hippie, touchy-feely thing where you turn and tell your neighbor how much you love them. But that does beg the question. How do you let those closest to you know that you love them? Do you tell them? How often? Do you show them your sacrificial, forgiving grace-filled love? If so, how?
Ten days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, residents of North Platte, NE heard a rumor that soldiers from the NE National Guard Company D, would be coming through on a troop train on their way to the West Coast. About 500 people showed up at the train depot with food, gifts, letters, and love to give the boys. When the train showed up, it was not the NE National Guard Company D boys on board; it was the soldiers from the Kansas National Guard Company D. The North Platte residents decided to give out their gifts to these soldiers they did not know. It was a spontaneous act of genuine devotion and love that touched both the soldiers and the people who came to the depot that day. A few days later, a suggestion was made for the town to organize a canteen, so they could do something similar for every troop train that came through. For the next 4 ½ years, the people of North Platte met every troop train that came through their town. Every day, they prepared sandwiches, cookies, cold drinks, and hot coffee. They had baskets of magazines and books to give away to the soldiers, and snacks for the train some days for as many as 8000 soldiers and sailors. By the time the last train arrived on April 1, 1946, six million soldiers had been blessed by the North Platte Canteen. 45,000 volunteers had served faithfully until the war was over and most of the troops had been transported home. If the residents of North Platte were that dedicated to doing whatever they could to help win World War II and serve the soldiers, Christians should be even more committed to lovingly serve the Lord and their neighbors any way they can. We may not have a canteen, but how can/do you serve our campus, our school, or any of our ongoing ministries?
Thank God for the reality that we will stand with Him some day in paradise when the final victory is won because there is NOTHING – sin, the world, divisions, a lack of love, or even the gates of hell themselves – that can stop us from living and loving as the redeemed people of God that we are and will be forever. God grant it all for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

All Saints’ Day 2018

All Saints’ Day 2018
November 4, 2018
Luke 22:22-24
“The Gates of Hell; Divisions”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I continue this sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is Luke 22:22-24.

(Jesus said) “The Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And (the Disciples) began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Then a dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

My dear friends,

Today is the 3rd sermon in this series that I call “The Gates of Hell.” So far we have examined how neither sin nor the world nor even the gates of Hell themselves can ever stop the Christian Church on earth despite statistical analysis or demographic reports. Today we consider a new issue – divisions among us.
That text I read from Luke 22 took place during what we call Maundy Thursday. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread – His Body – and gave it to the disciples. Luke tells us that they received the wine – Christ’s blood of the Covenant – then immediately quarreled about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Really?! How quickly we can go from the Lord’s Table to the devil’s business; it’s only about 50 feet from the altar to the door, and A LOT can happen after 51 feet!
These men were brothers twice over. They had a shared humanity; sons of our first father, Adam, and they were now by His Supper blood brothers with Jesus. Yet they fought. The history of the world is the history of feuding brothers: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his eleven brothers. God is our Father as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer; Christ Jesus is our Brother, making us all brothers and sisters of one another, not by a shared humanity through blood alone, but by faith, by a common, shared forgiveness. How then is it that you murmur and grumble about those whom Jesus has joined to Himself?
The words that I use to start every sermon are easy to gloss over, a standard sermon opening you’ve heard a thousand times: “Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2). When you hear that, you might have a Pavlovian response; when you hear those words, you instinctively yawn…“boring! Get it over with already!” Yet that greeting is intentionally for you, for I desire that you have grace, mercy, and PEACE! To whom are these words spoken? To you…to the saints, faithful brothers and sisters…co-heirs of the Kingdom, members of the family of God.
It’s unrealistic to expect you’ll never experience division in your relationships, on the job, and even in church. Everyone cannot ALL be right or ALL be wrong, so you’re naturally going to have divisions among people. But arguing in the church is like arguing in marriage: if you’re trying to win, you’ll lose even when you win. Beware of loving the fight. You may “win” the disagreement or argument, but you “lose” way more in terms of the relationship. Sure, you might win that battle, but you are slowly losing the war. Disagreements and debates are necessary; but the moment we love winning more than we love one another as saints and faithful brothers, we’ve lost even if we win.
Divided or not, we share a common existence as the people of God. Look around you…these people are your family; your brothers and sisters who share in the inheritance in Christ. We are all in Him, with Him, buried with Him, raised with Him. Alive in Him. Fights and misunderstandings from time to time? Sure. Will we fall because of divisions? Never. Not even the gates of Hell will shut down the Church on Earth.
I have a brother Mike. There is nothing I did to make him my brother, it just happened that way. In the same way, our congregation, our district, our Synod, our families, our own calling as disciples of Jesus—none of it is our own doing. God the Father has done that, delivered us, transferred us to the Son’s kingdom, for He has redeemed us. Having a share in an eternal inheritance, co-heirs in the kingdom of God, ensures that not even the worst problem, the worst issue, the worst divisions among us will cause your demise as a child of God or the ultimate demise of the Church on Earth. The Saints will always be the saints; we will always stand as the redeemed people of God and never fall.
There is a story that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive, then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so either out of hostility or boredom, he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the British land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.”
Yes, the world will continue to “fire” at us, and we will because of sin in our midst “fire” at one another from time to time. There may be times when we may disagree on policy, procedures, or practices. We are still the saints, made holy by the blood of the Lamb. We are faithful brothers and sisters because we have a Brother who was faithful unto death, even death on a cross. In Him will we live, in Him will we die, and His life will be our life forever, because there is no division – not even the dividing gates of Hell themselves – that will ever divide or destroy the Church on Earth.
Amen.

Reformation Day 2018

Reformation Day 2018
October 28, 2018
Matthew 16:15-18
“The Gates of Hell; The World”

Grace, mercy, and peace be with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I continue this sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is Matthew 16:15-18.

“(Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

My dear friends,

It was almost five hundred years ago when Martin Luther was called to confess at Worms. On April 17, 1521, a knock on Luther’s door told him that the imperial diet was waiting—the meeting of the emperor, all the emperor’s people, the kings, the princes, the nobles, they were all waiting to hear from him. When they brought him to the main meeting chamber, there was a table before him was a pile of 25 books that he had written. Johann Eck pointed to the pile. “Luther, are you ready to admit that you wrote these books, and that they contain heresy?” “Yes, they are mine Luther said. “But as to whether they contain heresy, that is a matter of faith and salvation of the soul and it cannot be affirmed or rejected without consulting the Word of God.” The Council was not satisfied. Luther asked for more time. He was granted a day.
He was brought back the next day at 4:00 p.m., left to sweat it out for another 2 hours until 6:00 p.m., and then called in front of the emperor and the whole crowd again. And they told him, “We want to hear one word from you, Luther: revoco.” Revoco. From the Latin. “I recant.” They only wanted one single word; the word “revoco.”
They asked Luther one more time, “Are you prepared to answer, Luther? Say the word revoco.” And at that moment in the history of the church, in the Western world particularly, nothing would ever be the same again. He didn’t recant. Instead, Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen” (AE 32:112-13).
Luther refused to recant Christ’s teaching; he never would. Christ is the rock. If we lose the Rock, what do we have left? And he also asserted, and this is important for us today, that the Christian conscience is bound by the Word of God and not the world around us.
Luther clung to his faith, rejecting worldly interference with the Gospel, and the world today does not appreciate that stance. It is a bit of a double-standard. If we stand up for what we believe, we are “old-fashioned, hateful, bigots.” If someone else stands up for an opposing viewpoint, they are “brave, courageous, worthy of admiration.” Luther, on a big stage, for the first time, held forth the idea that the world has no right to intimidate the religious conscience. None.
The animosity and hostility between church and the world is still around so that the world enjoys seeing the church and its confession of Christ struggle and even fail. And we give them plenty to work with! Mega-churches are becoming mega flops. Historically strong rural congregations are slowly dying as people relocate to urban areas. The issues of Catholicism make people shake their heads. The “heart” of Lutheranism in America is in the Great Lakes/Upper Plains areas. Yet, baptized membership in Lutheran “strongholds” like Minnesota North (18%), Michigan (18%), and South Wisconsin (20%) are all down by more than 18%. Our own FLGA District had a 24% decrease over 18 years. The world will snarl, “See! We told you! Your church is dying!” My friends, the Missouri Synod and the future of the church on earth doesn’t depend on statistics or you or me or anybody else. It depends on Christ, the rock.
“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the name of Jesus, your sins are forgiven, washed by the blood of Christ. You are baptized and covered with His free, wonderful righteousness. No matter how troubled your conscience is at times; no matter how terrified you are of your sins or past deeds; no matter if you are sluggish in the faith. Only believe. You are forgiven. And your conscience is captive to the Word of God. Flesh and blood doesn’t reveal this. It’s your Father in heaven who as grabbed hold of you. And He’s not going to let you out of His hand.
The pressure from the world is mounting, my friends. The world and its emperors want to hear one word from us: “Revoca. We recent.” “Revoca. Your Christian idea of marriage and sexuality is obsolete.” “Revoca. Nothing must impede choice, especially a woman’s right to choose!” “Revoca. Quit trying to tell us how to live our lives because what does it matter? Dead is dead and there’s nothing after.” We are at a point now where what the Bible calls good, the world calls evil, and what the Bible calls evil, the world calls good. That’s a sad truth.
Here’s the very good truth. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15). And even as the world screams at you “recant,” with Luther we say, “I cannot. I believe and am baptized. My conscience is held captive the Word. I cannot, I will not, recant. Here I stand. God help me.”
In these difficult and troubling times, the question of Christ in Matthew 16 is for us all: “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ.” And this we will confess. And we will do it joyously. And the world will snarl at us. And they will hate us all the more. They will belittle us and say we are a bunch of kooks and idiots and old-fashioned fools. We take it like water off a duck, because we are but strangers here; heaven is our home! And we will shout it all the louder. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The world needs to know that name; to know that when this age ends, there are only 2 possible options for eternity and “the beach” isn’t one of them; “a drink in your hand and toes in the sand” is not the way to everlasting life. Jesus is. The world can scowl fierce as it will. And you know what? Neither the world, nor the gates of hell themselves, shall prevail over our lives or the church. Live in that confident grace.
Amen.

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2018
1 John 1:8-10 and Matthew 16:18
“The Gates of Hell; Sin”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I start a new sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is actually 2 texts: from 1 John 1:8-10 and Matthew 16:18:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” And “(Jesus said) on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

My dear friends,

According to “Pew Research,” an organization that conducts public opinion polling, 80% of Americans believe in God…so, where are they? In 2016, the Barna Group reported that almost half (46%) of the Americans that do attend a church worship with 100 or fewer people – a 16-year low. Closer to home, all 35 Districts of the LCMS from 2005 to 2015 are on the same trajectory of decline: baptized membership is down 2%, communicant membership is down almost 2%, and weekly worship is down 3%. Those numbers might not sound scary, but a downward trend is a downward trend. If it continues that way for an extended period…well, we all know what that means.
However, before anyone pushes the panic button, let me share a couple of quotes with you: “The Church has had small influence of late, and seems likely to have little more in the immediate future.” That was written in “The Atlantic” magazine in October…October 1942, more than 75 years ago. Also, consider the following: “The symptoms of the decline (in our Synod) are evident and increasing among us…While we are richer in earthly things than our fathers, we are weaker in faith and Christian love.” That was spoken by former LCMS Synodical President Friedrich Pfotenhauer in a sermon he preached…in 1897.
Does that surprise you? That people have been preaching and teaching doom and gloom for the future of the Christian Church? That proclamation is not a new thing. Did we think that perhaps the devil would just say, “Oh well. I’ve been bested. Guess I’ll just keep my nose out of God’s work.” AS IF!
They say that numbers don’t lie, and numbers can be made to say whatever you want them to say. Regardless, no matter what statistics are cited, the Church has one problem and one problem only…sin. Not that we need the devil’s help to sin against one another. We are quite capable of that all by ourselves. The Church in every age, every situation, every cultural, social, and political climate has struggled against sin – the sin outside of the Church, and the sin inside the Church. And yet…here we are – the year of our Lord 2018. It’s been more than 120 years since President Pfotenhauer lamented our decline, but again, here we are. Why? Over the next four weeks I hope to re-assure you that not even the gates of hell itself shall prevail against the Church of God, and that especially includes the destructive force that is sin.
The truth is, and there are no statistics necessary here, that we are sinners through and through. God’s Word tells the truth about me…about us; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us. But if that’s the truth about us, we confess an even greater truth about God. If we confess our sins, God is faithful—God keeps His promise. God is just in Jesus, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s because in Jesus, God Himself did what we could never do.
The Book of Hebrews says Jesus was like us “in every respect…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17). “Propitiation” is one of those big, churchy words we rarely use. The dictionary is NO HELP with this word. If you look up “propitiation” in the dictionary, the given definition is “the act of propitiating.” Helpful, right? Saying that Jesus made propitiation means that Jesus took all our sins. They were ALL heaped on Him, every single last one. On the cross, Jesus absorbed the full blast of God’s wrath for all sins; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us. He took it all for us. It’s all gone. That’s what propitiation means. The wrath of God was all poured out on Jesus. There’s none left for us. That’s a good thing.
Who does the Father see now? Only Jesus, in our place. And the Father’s verdict? Not guilty, but righteous; by faith, washed clean in the blood Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross for you and for your sin. That sin that plagues us..the Church…washed away by the sacrificial death of Jesus, meaning that even though sin is still very real, it CANNOT prevail against the blood-bought Church of God…His people…His children.
Do you know who Charlotte Elliott is? Charlotte Elliott was born in 1789 in England and was a gifted artist and writer. In 1821 when she was 32 years old, she contracted a severe sickness that removed her from her healthy social life. As a result she was lonely, ill, and depressed. About this time, a visiting pastor asked her whether she was at peace with God, a question she resented at the time and refused to talk about. A few days later she called on the pastor and apologized, saying she had been thinking about heaven, hell, grace, the grave, and wanted to cleanse her life before becoming a Christian. The pastor answered, “Charlotte, come just as you are,” and she came to faith that day. 14 years later, she wrote a hymn to commemorate that time. You know that hymn as “Just as I Am, without One Plea” (LSB #570). The now-sainted Dr. Billy Graham wrote that his team used this hymn in almost every one of their crusades, since it presented “the strongest possible Biblical basis for the call of Christ.”
Just as you are. When we confess, we come to God just as we are…sinners, yes! But we also confess Jesus, for in Jesus, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us are ALL FORGIVEN. Is the Church in decline numerically? Maybe. Will the Church fall because of sin or anything else? NEVER! Our sin, as great as it is, has been paid for by Jesus, with the result that not even the gates of hell themselves will prevail against God and His Church. Never.
Amen.

21st Sunday after Pentecost

21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2018
Mark 10:17-22
“Who Do You Love?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read earlier from Mark 10.

My Dear Friends in Christ,

“Who Do You Love?” is a song first written and recorded in 1956 by Bo Diddley. The lyrics of the song speak of wearing a cobra for a necktie and having a house built of rattlesnake hides with a chimney made of human skulls…how charming. The song has been recorded by many other performers since Bo Diddley including The Grateful Dead, George Thorogood, Golden Earring, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and The Doors just to name a few.
Who do you love? It’s not just a popular song, but it also seems like a pretty good question, right? It is a question that we not only ask other people, but we ask ourselves – or at least we should ask ourselves from time to time. Who do you love, that is, what is it or whom is it that you love? That was most definitely a question to be asked and answered in today’s text from Mark 10. It is a question that Jesus didn’t ask in so many words, but He answered when it came to the rich man.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus and His disciples are in Judea where He is engaged by a number of different people and groups. As today’s Gospel lesson began, Jesus is approached by a man often identified as a rich young man who has an abundance of property or possessions, depending on how that word in verse 22 is translated, which is often translated “wealth” or “possessions” or “property.” This man wants something more from Jesus. He wants to know what HE must do to get or obtain eternal life. Jesus knows this is the wrong approach. He knows that this wealthy man wants to add everlasting life to his long list of possessions and what the price tag will be.
After their exchange, which I will address later, the rich man goes away empty handed because Jesus knows what this guy’s real priority was. The question “who do you love” was answered, and the rich man gave the wrong answer. And lest we make the same mistake, we also need to ask ourselves and then also answer the question – who do YOU love?
Who do you love? Do you love your spouse? Children? family and friends? I think we can answer that “yes”, we love our family and friends. And yet, look what has happened to our relationships. God’s intention of marriage is amazing, yet husbands abuse wives. Wives abuse husbands. Spouses abandon one another physically or emotionally. The one-flesh union that God creates is broken by sinful lusts and desires figuratively or sometimes literally! Children disobey and disrespect parents. There is never an age when children stop breaking their parent’s hearts: little kids, little heartache, big kids, big heartaches. Friends betray friends. They lie, spread rumors, speak ill of one another. Can we always depend on our families and friends? Sadly, the answer is no. I stand here today as living proof that your family can and will betray you. We love them just the same, but sinful people will always be sinful people and they will always let us down in some way. Maybe the answer to receiving eternal life is not found in loving family and friends first and foremost.
Who do you love? Maybe it’s the flashy things that are available in life. The list is as long as it is corrupting: money, home, car, “Alexa” enabled technology, cell phone, Facebook page, Iphone, laptop, 80” 4K Smart TV, your favorite sports franchise, et all. As sinful people we get so caught up in the pursuit and craving for each flashy object, obtaining it, and then moving on to the next one. These cravings and seekings drain our time and our resources and pull our attention away from the One True God. Maybe they’re not the answer either.
Case in point. In today’s lesson, the rich young man had “great possessions,” an abundance of wealth, he “had it all” as we might say. But the answer to the question “who do you love” isn’t to be found in “all.” It is found in One. The answer to the question “who do you love” isn’t found in “all.” It is found in One. One is the final test; a test that the rich man failed and went away truly empty-handed; how ironic! Because I can tell you this. While the rich man disappears from the pages of Scripture, I know for sure that at some point he died, and neither the quality of his family and friends nor the abundance of his possessions made one iota of difference when it came to the eternal salvation of his soul!
As I stated earlier, in response to the rich man’s question, Jesus showed him his sinfulness. Jesus summarized the Second Table (Commandments 4-10), to which the man replied “all these I have kept from my youth” (v. 20). Yeah…right. There is NO WAY he kept these commands. We know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is no one that is truly good…no, not one (Romans 3:12). And yet, notice Jesus’ response! “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (v. 21a).
Jesus told the rich man “go, sell all that you have…and come, follow me” because Jesus knew his love for wealth was getting in the way. The answer is in love for the One…love for the one True Triune God, not love for stuff. Eternal life is not in an abundance of stuff but in a right relationship with God.
To ensure that those who believe can inherit eternal life, Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sinful desires and greed and selfish wants. He shed His blood to provide the forgiveness of sins that we so badly need every day. He gave His body that we might have the means to restore the fractured relationships that sin creates in our families and in our homes and with friends. The peace and love and grace and mercy of God are given to those who believe that we would believe and be saved…that’s the ONE thing the rich man lacked.
Who do you love? Do you love cobra neckties, rattlesnake hide homes with skull chimneys (yuck!), or do you love the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who loved you before time began? Enjoy the blessings that God gives you: faithful spouse and family, friends, material things, but don’t covet them above all else. Love God and your neighbor, lose your life for the Gospel, give yourself to the One who gave all for you. Who do you love? Truly…who do you love? Love the One who loved you first and did what was necessary to obtain for you eternal life through faith in Christ, who loved you before time began.
Amen.

LWML Sunday

LWML Sunday 2018
October 7, 2018
Psalm 62:1-8
“The Rest We Share”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is taken from Psalm 62.

My dear friends,

I empathize with you if you feel like you’ve been lapped on the information “super highway;” technology that we didn’t grow up with races past us like a high performance sports car on I-75 with nothing in the windshield but open road and we get left in the dust. Social media have brought more information to the palm of our hands than ever before, and that information comes from everywhere! The days of everyone gathering around the old TV to get their news from a man like Walter Cronkite are long, long gone. Instead, we have instant news with live interviews of people experiencing real-time situations in their lives. Some of this has been a blessing. Rescuers bringing assistance to people in times of a crisis can receive calls, texts, emails, and messages from people who need help. First responders can use GPS and social media to pinpoint where people are and where the nearest rescue team is to bring help and assistance rather than wasting valuable time hunting for victims. That’s a great use of modern technology.
A side effect, though, of constant information has raised the level of fear, unhappiness, and uncertainty about their safety and their future. We can see the footage from church and school shootings, terrorist acts, and other negative events with no context that have robbed many of any sense of security or peace day after day. Instead of the world moving closer and closer to peace and love, the world is seemingly being dragged closer and closer to destruction by all the negativity we are exposed to; hatred and division, name calling, finger pointing, social unrest, and accusations of past and present misconduct, are on the rise while love, unity, and peace seem to be losing ground. Is America a country where love for God and neighbor predominate? I don’t know.
Where does a person go for peace and security in an uncertain world like ours? Throw our cell phones down a well? Find a cave and hide? Hiding will not help, but David was on to something. King David, the author of Psalm 62, was familiar with the insecurity of his world. Scholars believe David wrote Psalm 62 in response to a specific situation, his own crisis of confidence. David was under a serious attack from those who wanted to overthrow him as king, and he desperately needed shelter…he needed peace and rest.
David’s foe Absalom would rise up early in the morning and stand by the city gate – the earliest form of Facebook and how people got their news in the ancient Near East. Absalom convinced people how their lives would be better if he were king. When this news came to King David, he had to flee Jerusalem quickly, and in Psalm 62, David shares his response to threat and uncertainty. This Psalm, in the verses you heard, proclaims where we find rest and peace when we are confronted with the threats and uncertainties in our world as it is “falling apart” around us, and the answer then is just as valid today. My friends, rest and peace are found in God alone. He is the rock, fortress, and salvation we need especially in times of trial and tribulation.
You may remember Melissa Falkowski, a fellow Floridian and English teacher at the high school in Parkland, Florida (30 miles from Fort Lauderdale), who hid 19 students in her classroom closet when she learned there was an active shooter at the school earlier this year; a gunman who took 17 innocent lives. This heroic woman is a reflection of God who hides you in the shadow of His wings as evil rages (Psalm 57:1). Has evil been raging? Has it ever! In the last 10 years, America has endured more than 60 fatal school shootings. Schools never have been and never will be places of absolute peace and rest. If it’s not bullets, it’s bullies; if it’s not gunfire, it’s gossip. Who is going to rescue the students under attack from isolation, loneliness, and rejection? Who is going to rush in and help those poor souls?
Thankfully hurricane season is almost over! Most of you know what that’s like and difficult those storms can be. But there was a much greater storm than any category 5 hurricane that blew unto our shores and a greater threat than any active shooter. The storm of sin and death engulfed humanity since Eden and none can escape its hail of bullets. All of us were stranded helplessly by the floodwaters of our fallenness and gunned down where we stand in sinfulness. And that is why the greatest rescue in the history of the world took place. Jesus as our rock and our salvation came and bore our sins and punishment on himself. He is the one who died and rose from the dead not to protect us from “bad things,” but to give us great confidence and assurance no matter who attacks us or what is happening around us, because we are ALWAYS under attack by something and it’s not always bullies, bullets, winds, or waves. The only place you can find lasting rest in this turbulent world is in the One who conquered death and gives you life. Through the living Word, you receive rest. Through the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion, you share in Jesus’ grace, strength and forgiveness. This world will rage; it cannot be stopped anymore than we can step the advancement of technology. It may even injure you physically, relationally, or emotionally. But even if you’re caught in the cross-fire, Jesus, who is Lord over all, “is your rock and salvation, your fortress; we shall not be greatly shaken.”
Many congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod are celebrating and thanking God this weekend for the ministry of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League – the LWML. For 76 years the LWML has been supporting mission work nationally and internationally. Locally, our LWML is heavily involved with the Health Care Kits and Hope Seeds; in 2019 they hope to take on new mission challenges and opportunities. It’s been my experience through the years that the women truly are Lutheran Women in Mission, and they are also women of encouragement. The LWML hasn’t just been collecting pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters in their mite boxes; they have also been encouraging women and men in their faith walk to find true rest in God alone. Lives have been touched through their work and people have received rest that comes from our Lord and Savior, Jesus. An area overlooked is that the LWML have funded countless students to prepare for pastoral ministry, present company included.
King David lived in uncertainty and so do we. David received from God physical and emotional rest – a rest that nothing in this world of insecurity could take away from him. And so do we. We have this same assurance as we live in this uncertain age, the promise that God is our rock and salvation – the one who loves us and sent His Son to redeem us thereby restoring the right relationship with God. Let us say daily, “My soul finds silence in God alone” and in that blessed, divine silence may you find the peace and rest you so badly seek in this uncertain world.
Amen.

19th Sunday after Pentecost

19th Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 3018
Mark 9:38-50
“Have Salt in Yourselves and Be at Peace”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is our Gospel lesson from Mark 9.

My dear friends,

A few months back I came across a vendor at the weekly Sarasota farmer’s market. “Florida Sea Salt,” the awning said. Inside were bags and bags of salt harvested from the Gulf of Mexico by Tim Norwood, a very faithful Christian man who runs this business full time. I sampled his product and was amazed! Sea salt, from the Gulf, but seasoned with roasted garlic or lemon zest or Portobello mushroom. You can buy his product around town and I now stock 4-5 of his salts among my numerous spices. It is an incredible product resulting from an incredible idea run by an incredible Christian man. But…the red tide has really hurt Tim Norwood’s business. With the red tide in, he cannot harvest any useable salt. So freely abundant, yet so unusable. Jesus said, “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (v 50). This will be our focus today.
Jesus was not talking about the red tide, but still has something important to tell us here. In order to understand what he means, we need to rethink the way we look at salt. If you go to Publix to buy salt, you’ll find it with the spices. That aisle has some of the most expensive things in the whole store. Some will set you back more than $100 per pound. Then on the bottom shelf is the salt. Fifty cents a can; almost giving it away. In ancient times, though, it wasn’t like that. Salt was valuable.
Salt is good. It’s good for cash—so much so that soldiers in the Roman army were paid part of their wages in salt. The Latin word for salt is sal and that’s why we call our wages today a salary. Salt isn’t just good for making food taste better; it’s good for preserving it. In pre-refrigeration days, it was critical for keeping food. Without salt to preserve food for the future, day-to-day survival was much more difficult. Salt is good.
Then Jesus said, “If the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again?” (v 50). This is difficult for us to understand because of what we have for salt today. Salt is sodium chloride—a very stable molecule; it doesn’t really degrade over time. If you buy a can of salt and leave it in your cupboard for fifty years, when you finally take it out, it will still be salt. It may be one solid chunk, but it will not have become anything else. That’s because we have pure salt. In biblical times, they didn’t.
In those days, like “Florida Sea Salt” does, salt was harvested from the surface of salt marshes or pits where salt water had flowed from the Mediterranean or the Dead Sea and it was filled with impurities: from the rocks it was scraped off, algae, sand, and other crud in the seawater. Dead Sea salt is even worse; high levels of toxic bromide made it almost unusable in antiquity. How, then, can salt lose its saltiness? Humidity, sun, heat, and constant contact with the earth leach away the easily dissolved sodium chloride, leaving behind the impurities. Bits of rock and sand, mineral crystals, dirt and debris remain to make it look like it might be salt, but it’s tasteless. On the surface it looks like salt, but inside? Not so much. It has lost the fire of the salt within. Hhm.
Is this not exactly what St. Paul warns us of in 2 Timothy 3? “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents…heartless…without self-control…not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1–5). Sound familiar?
What Paul describes is what happens when the fire of the Holy Spirit is driven out of people. We become empty crystals, having the form of the godly salt of the earth, but doubting Jesus’ presence or questioning the authority of God’s Word in our modern world. The salt can be leached out by the humidity of a life not fed by the Word of God and the Sacraments. We can become flavorless, going through the motions, without faithful stewardship and sacrifice. We can be hypocrites: actors who look like believers by outward action, but having no faith. We lose our saltiness if we refuse to stand against evil. A church that says “all roads lead to God” or “it’s all good so long as you love” is a church that has lost its savor. Salt must purify; it must preserve what is good and worth preserving. Salt substitute is not salt.
“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (v 50). You have been salted with salt…Jesus was your salted sacrifice. He was the one who purified and preserved you. The salt of his sweat in Gethsemane, the salty blood he shed for us at Calvary, these are what has won our forgiveness and given us strength to endure hardship, to flavor and preserve, so that you can love and forgive one another. Now by God’s Word and Sacraments, that forgiveness, that purity, is given to us. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We have salt in ourselves. Now…what are you going to do about it?
In our Epistle, James tells Christians how they can have peace with one another. He says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working…My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:16, 19–20).
Salt has no power in itself…just like us. Our holiness, our forgiveness, our righteousness, our power, our love, our “saltiness,” come from Christ. The salt in us only has power because it is from Christ. The world leaches the salt from us, but Christ salts us with his word and spirit to have peace with God and with one another. May Christ so live in you in peace today and always.
Amen.

18th Sunday after Pentecost

18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 23, 2018
Jeremiah 11:18-20
“Blindsided!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Jeremiah 11 previously read.

My dear friends,

Ah, yes…football season is here. And I just LOVE watching Nebraska lose each week. Growing up in Nebraska, where football is “king,” being a football fan is not optional. I have seen so many football games at every level I couldn’t even begin to list them all. And I’ve seen just about every football play imaginable. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the QB drop back, mere seconds to find the open receiver while defensive linemen and linebackers are closing fast. A quarterback can see the rush in front of him, but he can’t see behind. They call this area the “blind side” of the quarterback. This is why, to go with a right-handed quarterback, the left tackle is one of the highest-paid players on an NFL team—to protect the quarterback’s blind side.
One famous NFL player who played left tackle is Michael Oher, who grew up homeless in Tennessee. After being rescued by the Tuohy family, he entered a Christian school where he learned to play football and ultimately received a scholarship to play for the University of Mississippi. His NFL career included playing for the Ravens, the Titans, and the Panthers. You may remember the 2009 movie The Blind Side about Oher and the Christian family that changed his life. Oher would do just about anything humanly possible to protect his quarterback’s blind side, including sacrificing himself. As a result of doing so, Oher can no longer play in the NFL due to reoccurring concussion issues. If only the prophet Jeremiah had had a giant left tackle to protect his blind side!
Today we learn that while Jeremiah loves his native state, his hometown of Judah, the people of Judah don’t necessarily love him back. Jeremiah experienced perhaps one of the biggest blindsides in all of the Old Testament. In these three verses (an aside from the prophecy), we learn about a plot against Jeremiah and how he once was almost killed. We also learn that God was watching out for his high-value prophet.
Why were they plotting against Jeremiah? Jeremiah was proclaiming God’s Word, but his listeners didn’t like it. They were working behind the scenes to silence him. This is not just any Tonya-Harding-amateur hour knee-cap attack, for Jeremiah describes his attackers as wanting to “destroy the tree with its fruit…cut him off from the land of the living that his name be remembered no more” (v 19b). This isn’t just death; they wanted to wipe out his very existence. It’s total annihilation! The odd thing is that somehow Jeremiah, by his own admission, didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t until God revealed the plot that Jeremiah was even aware. He was like “a gentle lamb” without a clue as to the slaughter that was about to happen. He was blindsided.
Where were the blockers? Oh yeah…this is 7th century BC in Israel. Football won’t be invented for another 2600 years. Still, why did Jeremiah get caught with a blind side? Maybe it was because he was from the same hometown as his listeners and probably felt a sense of camaraderie with them. Maybe he was blindsided because he believed they would understand he was only the messenger and you’re not supposed to shoot the messenger! In any event, he didn’t see it coming. This is the horrible danger of a blind side. If we could go into the future and look back in time, what we call, “hindsight,” it would be easy to see where we missed the signals. But that’s the problem with a blind side. We don’t see the signs or signals. We simply don’t see it coming. Not much has changed in 2700 years.
Why are we constantly unaware of our own blind side? It’s likely because we rely on our abilities, instincts, and our judgment rather than trusting God’s plan, protection, and provision. We hang on to every cent as if it’s our last. We are racked by anxiety assuming the absolute worst until the test result comes back. We refuse to love and forgive and then wonder why we are not shown love and forgiveness by others. We hear there is a hurricane coming and everyone goes into full-blown panic mode instead of starting with full-blown prayer mode.
We should know from experience and from Scripture that the human condition is full of sin and can’t be trusted (deny yourself = ignore that voice!). Even though we are trusting in our own minds and hearts, we are trusting in minds and hearts that are in a fallen condition. It’s like counting on a play to work when you KNOW it won’t. C. S. Lewis once said that no one knows how truly bad they are until they try to be very good. How true. The sinful self cannot see beyond itself, and we tend to get blind sided as a result.
You see, God is NEVER blindsided. When he looks at us, he sees the parts of us that none of us can see. He sees the dangers long before we ever do. He sees and knows the temporal and eternal punishment we deserve. We may think that we know everything about ourselves, but the theological word for that is bologna. God knows everything. And when God looked at our lives, he saw our complete and utter failure to see our own weaknesses…our blind sides.
It is for that reason that he sent us a Savior. He sent Jesus into the world to redeem us from all the times that by trusting in our own sinful nature we’ve walked into the consequences of our blind side.
There are some interesting parallels between Jeremiah and Jesus. Like Jeremiah, Jesus was a hometown boy; he had great compassion for those around him, and he spoke God’s truth to them. Like Jeremiah, Jesus’ listeners plotted to kill him, too. God spared Jeremiah; He did not spare His only Son. The plan to kill Jesus succeeded because Jesus allowed it, nailing Him to a cross. But ultimately this plot was foiled as well, as Jesus broke through the chains of death and the seal of the tomb, rising from the grave, to set us free and if the Son sets us free, we will be free indeed! (John 8:36).
Wouldn’t it be great to have our own Michael Oher? Sure…but we don’t. By ourselves, we don’t have our own personal giant left tackle to protect our blind side, but we have Someone infinitely better. We will be constantly plagued by the fact that we cannot see our unknown unknowns. But these will not hurt or harm us because we have One who walks near to us…beside us…behind us every step of the way. Jesus has your blind side. His righteousness has been given to us and that makes you holy, righteous, and redeemed in the sight of God. And God’s righteousness in Christ protects us despite our sinful blind sides.
Oh yeah, before I forget. Go big red! Sorry…old habits die hard.
Amen.