8th Sunday after Pentecost

8th Sunday after Pentecost

July 26, 2020

Matthew 13:44-46

“The Value of Value”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is a portion of the Holy Gospel lesson read from Matthew 13. I would like to focus primarily on verses 44 through 46: the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

It was the summer of 2005 and the phone was ringing. I had just moved into my new home and I was starting a new Church/career in Crosslake, MN. Homes and land in Crosslake had great value as vacation and summer homes…until the housing market crash 3 years later, then they were worth next to nothing. Anyway, when I answered the phone I knew right away that the news would not be good. My mother’s voice had that shaky quality it gets when things are going bad. My father, who was only 64 years old, had suffered a stroke and was unable to talk and walk. I made a decision to drop everything and go to North Dakota to be with my parents during this crisis because family is important and has value, right?

What is of value to you? Is it your home? Is it your health? Is it your family? Is it your money? If you had to give up one – home, health, family, or money – which one would you be willing to part with? Which one has the most value to you? For most, money would come first followed by home, health, then family. Family probably has the most value to people in general.

In today’s Gospel lesson we have not one, not two, but three parables. Today I want to focus on the first two parables. On the surface they seem so simple, but they are both complex with multiple meanings. They say virtually the same thing, yet there are 2 very important understandings I want to “unpack.”

Consider those parables again and the reaction of those involved. One person found a treasure of great value in a piece of land and, upon finding the treasure, he sacrificed all that he had to secure and obtain that treasure. Similarly, the knowledgeable merchant, upon finding such a great pearl, did whatever it took to secure that valuable pearl. As I have said before, parables are earthly stories that have heavenly meanings. These are not really about treasure chests and pearls; it is the fact that God’s kingdom has such great value and importance that it is worth sacrificing all to possess it.

If you found a great treasure like that how would you feel? How would you feel if you unearthed a mint-condition Honus Wagner baseball card in your family’s stuff? If you do, DON’T THROW IT AWAY because that card is worth millions (literally). Or what if you found a sure-fire way to cure the Coronavirus? Wouldn’t you legally secure that and the financial rights to it? You would have way more money than Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos at 113 billion. Why? Money provides things you can see and touch, so we assign them value.

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which cannot be seen as such or touched, is a treasure so valuable, and yet there are many who would go to no lengths to obtain it. There are so many who take the Gospel for granted and live life as if there were no Gospel and its impact on this world. There are so many that are emotionally unresponsive to the Gospel. There are so, so many that are unwilling to sacrifice anything or are unmoved by the love and sacrifice of God through Christ to possess what He offers. Instead, they cling to what this world offers and can be seen/touched: money, homes, family, health, jobs, electronic gadgets, and so on.

True…the kingdom of God is so valuable that it is worth sacrificing anything to gain it. But the second meaning of both parables is that God values you so much that He sent His only Son to secure the precious gift of the Kingdom; to redeem you, that is, to buy you back from the power of sin and death and hell. The cost that Jesus Christ paid for that redemption was His own precious invaluable body and blood; a perfect sacrifice to pay the only acceptable price for the penalty of sin.

God values you so much and loves you so much that He forgives you of your sin, your rebellion, your lack of appreciation, your unresponsiveness to Him and His Word, your unwillingness to sacrifice for Him the same way that He sacrificed for you. Jesus values you so much and loves you so much that He went through the torment and pain and agony of the cross and the grave for that forgiveness. When it came to determining true value, Jesus knew what was really of true value and it’s not your house or jewels or rare baseball cards or even a cure for COVID-19. It is ETERNAL things like the Kingdom and your soul. Only 1 of those out there.

Jesus never taught to hang on to your wealth. Jesus never taught that your home is of supreme importance. Jesus never taught that faith in Him did not involve sacrifice. In fact, He taught the opposite. He taught that eternal things matter and we, like those in the parable, cling to that kingdom in any and all of life’s circumstances, just as our soul matters to God who sacrifices so much to obtain it.

So what is the value of value? What really and truly has worth? Is it our clothes? No. Is it our homes? Not really. Is it our bank accounts? I would be bold enough to say not at all. In and through our faith, God through the Holy Spirit calls us to focus on our commitment to Him, to His kingdom, and the growth of the everlasting Kingdom. That may hurt a little…it will involve sacrifice. But what is the value of the eternal Kingdom of God worth to you? Is it worth your money? Is it worth your family? Is the Kingdom of God worth your life in loving and obedient sacrifice and service to God who gave you all those possessions in the first place? I would think so, knowing how valuable God should be to you and how valuable you are to God.

It was the winter of 2006. My dad recovered from the stroke in the summer of 2005, and he was back in northern MN and I was back in Crosslake. And the phone rang again, and the wavering voice was back. It was my brother Mike. Dad had a heart attack and he had died at home. Only 16 months had passed, and he was gone. Not knowing that, I never truly valued the remaining time I had with him. Don’t make the same mistake. Find what has value – REAL value – and live your lives with no regrets about the choices you make for tomorrow may truly be too late.

Amen.

7th Sunday after Pentecost

7th Sunday after Pentecost

July 19, 2020

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

“Wheat or Weeds?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson read from Matthew chapter 13 and the “Parable of the Weeds.”

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Now it’s time to play “Name that Hymn!” I will give you clues, and let’s see if you can name that hymn. Here we go. Clue #1 – This hymn was written in 1874, just 27 years after the LCMS’ formation, but this hymn has NEVER been in any of our church hymnals. Clue #2 – This hymn, being 146 years old, is still sung today even though it doesn’t mention God or Jesus. Clue #3 – The author of the text was known as the “Singing Evangelist of Indiana.” Clue #4 – This hymn is recognizable. It was sung on several episodes of “Little House on the Prairie.” Clue #5 – It has the following stanza: “Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noon-tide and the dewy eve; waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping, we shall come rejoicing…”. You got it yet? It’s “Bringing in the Sheaves,” written by Knowles Shaw in 1874.

 

Wait. A hymn that doesn’t mention God or Jesus but people still sing it in church? Why? Because the hymn reminds us that the final harvest is coming – a separation of the wheat and weeds – a theme that Jesus also teaches in today’s Gospel lesson.

At first glance, this parable does not have encouraging news. The sower went out and sowed his seed, but the enemy came along and sowed weeds (“Tares” in KJV) among the wheat seeds. Not just weeds, but a noxious weed specifically identified as “bearded darnel,” a troublesome weed in wheat fields sometimes called “wheat’s evil twin.” The problem is that Darnel is indistinguishable from wheat while it is young. Only when it has grown and has put in roots will it stand out against the wheat. And yet, the presence of the darnel is not the end of the wheat. The wheat survives as it grows amid this poisonous weed. In the end, it is not the enemy but the sower who is “victorious” as the good crop is gathered in and the darnel is gathered separately to be destroyed.

 

Remember what I said last week? Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings and today Jesus again provides the heavenly meaning for this parable. I know that Jesus also explains this parable, but believe me. Jesus explaining parables is very rare! The sower who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man or Christ himself. The seed that he sows is the Word of God. The field that the seed is sown in is the world. The darnel or the weeds are the “sons of the evil one” as Jesus calls them. The enemy who sows the weeds is the devil. In other words, the devil sows his evil amid the good seeds or amid believers, and so evil then coexists amid the people of God’s kingdom. There are weeds among the wheat. There is evil mixed in with the good. I don’t have to work too hard to convince you of that.

The problem – the psychological itch that needs to be scratched – in this parable is the identical nature of wheat and weed. The problem was that the darnel – the weeds – were indistinguishable from the wheat. No one could tell them apart until it was almost too late. How is that any different from today’s church in which the evil coexist amid the righteous? The church of every age has had its share of weeds both within and outside of the church. The church on earth is not perfect – far from it, in fact – so how do we distinguish the wheat from the weeds?

 

How can the righteous be identified from the unrighteous if the people of God are afraid to speak up regarding their faith? How can the wheat be identified from the weeds if our behavior and choices make us look like weeds? How can church goers be identified from the lost when we are so silent in this world that is crying – begging – to have good news and we have that good news to give? When we sinfully fail to follow our Lord as we should, sinfully fail to serve him as he commands, sinfully stay silent, then we exhibit the traits of the weeds, and it’s the weeds who are destined to be destroyed in the final fire of judgment

 

Thanks be to God that the coming of His kingdom does not depend on us! Rather, it depends on Jesus Christ. It always has and always will. The coming of God’s kingdom depends on his obedience, not ours. Obedience that was fully and faithfully carried out on Calvary’s cross. Even though we stumble and screw up, we can still find confidence that the kingdom of God does and will prosper and advance because of Jesus Christ and for his sake. Jesus lived that perfect life where we cannot. While we remain silent, Jesus spoke up in the face of opposition. While we behave contrary to God’s Word, Jesus followed it perfectly. While we remain weak and fearful in our faith, Jesus remained strong until the bitter, painful end. It is because Jesus lived, died, and rose again for you so that you, the “wheat,” can coexist amid the evil weeds of this world without having it destroy you.

That is a truth we need to hear now more than ever. We have been and are surrounded by evil and its effects day after day. Concerns over COVID-19 are wearing everyone out. So many people we are close to are hurting, suffering, or trying to recover. The world is a very confused, violent, and dark place these days. But, the evil WILL NOT overtake us or consume us or destroy us. We will co-exist and we will endure and we will be the ripe harvest that our heavenly Father seeks when the day of judgment comes.

Now you know that Knowles Shaw wrote “Bringing in the Sheaves,” but do you know how Knowles Shaw died? He was killed suddenly in a train wreck outside of Dallas, Texas in 1878. He was only 43 years old. For some of us judgment day comes at the end of a long and fruitful life. For others, it comes suddenly and quickly as it did for Knowles Shaw. The harvest will come for all of us whether it is Christ returning in the next 24 hours or when we die. Since we don’t know when either event will happen, ask yourself…are you wheat or poisonous weed? When judgment day comes, for those with faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, on that day they will also truly rejoice with the angels “bringing in the sheaves.”

Amen.

 

6th Sunday after Pentecost

6th Sunday after Pentecost

July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“Seeing, Hearing, and Understanding”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson read from Matthew chapter 13 and the familiar “Parable of the Sower.”

 

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

When I learned to drive, it was on the backroads of the extreme rural area where my parents lived in northern Minnesota. For me, driving in the “city” was a trip to Baudette, which doesn’t even have a stoplight. When I lived in tiny, remote Baudette, I rarely went to Minneapolis or St. Paul because I was literally too scared to drive there. I didn’t know about on ramps and off ramps and merging traffic and freeway exits, although that has changed…I am a good city driver now.

In the early 1990s, I made a trip from tiny Baudette to Lincoln, NE. I had never driven this trip before and it offered its fair share of challenges to an exclusively rural driver like myself. My inexperience caught up with me outside of Omaha, NE. While attempting to drive around Omaha, I saw a sign that contained a series of arrows. I saw the sign, but I failed to fully comprehend what exactly they meant. I began to exit the freeway on the wrong ramp…a ramp that would lead me into downtown Omaha which is precisely where I didn’t want to go! In a moment of panic I stopped the car on the exit ramp and pulled over to the side. I knew where I wanted to be and the ditch that divided our car from where I wanted to be wasn’t too bad and so, in true “Dukes of Hazzard” fashion, I yanked the wheel to the left, drove down into the ditch, came roaring back out on the other side, and got back onto the correct freeway. My family wondered what on earth was I thinking?! Had I not seen the sign? Oh, I had seen it, but I failed to understand it.

The parables of Jesus are earthly stories that have heavenly meanings, that is, parables teach us using earthly images that we can better see, hear, and understand, but that doesn’t mean we always do. Today’s Gospel lesson, one of Jesus’ most well-known parables, is that kind of parable. The parable of the Sower teaches us about God’s Word; the fact that His Kingdom comes by His Word and we are encouraged to see in our mind’s eye the images, hear the words, and perhaps more importantly to understand the implications for us in our Christians lives.

In the Parable of the Sower, the Word is given to the world. God Himself is the Sower and the seed that is sown in His Word. Those seeds, the Word of God, are sown throughout all of God’s creation.

But, as the parable teaches, not all the seed falls on fertile ground. Agriculture in 1st century Palestine is pretty different from modern agriculture. Today, most cash crops have the seed directly placed in the prepared ground for maximum effect and higher yields. But in 1st century Palestine, they planted like most of us plant grass seen in our yards. They broadcast the seed, that is, it was thrown by hand or a hand-held device that sprinkled the seed onto the ground. Some of that seed found a good place to take root and grow, but some did not. Instead of fertile ground some of that seed fell onto a compacted road or path, some onto rocky terrain, and still other seeds fell among thorns.

As I said earlier, a parable is an earthly story that has a heavenly meaning. So too with today’s parable. The seeds that fell upon the path were eaten by birds. These seeds represent someone who hears the Word of God, but fails to understand it and the evil one takes away any chance for it to prosper and grow. The seed that fell on rocky ground is for someone who hears the Word and receives it with great joy, but that seed never really quite takes root and hold in that person’s life so that when persecution and hard times come, that person quickly gives up and falls back into sinful ways. The seed that falls among thorns is someone who hears the Word, but the worries of this life and the deceptions of wealth and an abundance of commitments “choke” the life out of the new plant making it unfruitful.

We may like to think that the parable only applies to others, but not so fast. The reality is that all of us, at one time or another, has exhibited a hard heart that doesn’t allow the Word of God to penetrate it. We have shown a shallow response to God’s Word and in a sense fallen away at times. We have held on to worldly concerns and fears that have choked the hope and joy out of our lives that should be ours in Christ.

But here’s another reality. Jesus is the Seed AND the Sower. He IS the Word and the Word describes His work to save us all from our sinful behavior – our hard hearts, our falling away, our failure to trust in Him alone. In John 12:24, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” In exactly the same way, our Lord died, was planted in the grave, and rose again to provide the Good News of forgiveness and salvation and new life for us all! His Word encourages us to see, hear, and believe; to understand the true value and importance of God’s Kingdom despite tribulation and bad information and persecution in this life.

When the Word of God falls upon good soil, rich soil that receives the seed and nurtures it, the harvest that is created is an amazing yield. Those who see and hear and understand the Gospel produce such rich fruit of the faith that the yield level is 30, 60, or even 100 times what was sown. Good seed on good soil bursts forth in limitless potential. What are you doing to help nurture the growth of the seed? Are you seeing, hearing, and understanding or are you just jerking the wheel left and right in crisis mode day after day? How are you allowing the seed, the Word of God, to enrich and bless your life? What is your Bible study life like? What about the consistency of your worship attendance? Are you seeing, hearing, and understanding or are you taking too many wrong exits ramps in your life? How is the seed of God’s Word being nurtured and tended to in your life?

There are a lot of things that I don’t understand. I don’t understand what there is to love about “love bugs.” I don’t really know how an internal combustion engine works. But I do know and understand that Christ died for me and for my sins. I do know that God’s love and grace wants all people to be saved and to come to Him. And I do know that eternal life is available to us by our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. And by the working of the Holy Spirit and the Seed, the Word of God, you know it too. Now…how will it change your life today? How will it change your tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year? How will it change your eternity? You know the answer to that, right?

Amen.

 

“Easter” 2020

“Easter” Day 2020

July 5, 2020

Matthew 28:1-10

“Free at Last”

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 we celebrate Easter 2020 will be the Gospel Lesson from Matthew 28.

My dear friends,

The date…mid 18th century. America’s “Declaration of Independence” was the culmination of years of dissatisfaction in the 13 emerging American colonies. People had been grumbling for a while, but the real anger started most clearly around 1763, at the end of the Seven Years’ War or the “French and Indian War.” Colonists after the war believed all that land won in the war would be available for them to settle, and their contribution would be recognized and result in lower taxes on them levied by Britain. However, with the debt of the war, the British government needed to make the colonies as profitable as possible, so literally the exact opposite happened. The Colonists were taxed even more, and you can imagine how happy the people of the colonies were about that.

American colonists weren’t allowed any representatives in British Parliament, yet they were paying loads of taxes to the British government. Instead of changing policies, the British started adding on more taxes of the colonies. The most famous is the “Stamp Act,” which required colonists to use special stamped paper for nearly everything. In reality, the tax wasn’t a huge financial burden on the colonists, but it was the principle of the thing…taxation without representation. Not cool. In late 1773, Colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor…the “Boston Tea Party.” This protest resulted in the closing of the port of Boston and the declaration of martial law. Things were falling apart…rapidly.

In 1775, Britain’s King George III declared the American colonies in open rebellion against England…and they basically were, which triggered the start of the Revolutionary War in April 1775. A year later, on June 7, 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution which said that the colonies should be independent of Britain. The Declaration of Independence was presented on July 2, 1776, edits were made, and the final version was approved on July 4th, 1776 – our Independence Day. America was free from British taxation and oppression when the war ended in 1783. America was free at last.

The date…early 1st century. It was dawn of the first day of the week after the Sabbath. Some women are coming to a newly-used garden tomb. They are there to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial since there was no time on Friday before the Sabbath began. Tradition was very specific about how a body was to be prepped for burial, and Jesus’ body had been done hastily before sundown on Friday. It was time to prepare the body right.

Before they even got into the tomb, there was a great earthquake. How common are earthquakes in Jerusalem, you wonder? Well, the region can have earthquakes because the Jordan Rift Valley is part of an earthquake fault zone. But, how many GREAT earthquakes has Jerusalem had? Oh, about half a dozen major earthquakes have hit the city…over the last 1000 years. 6…in 1000 years.

If that wasn’t uncommon enough, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone of the tomb and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow; white is a color of purity and power and perfection. The Roman guards, left in charge of guarding the tomb so Jesus’ disciples didn’t come and steal the body, trembled and became like dead men. Playing dead? Not a good tactic for a Roman soldier. With the guards out of the way, the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

Turning, the women then saw Jesus risen from the dead and He spoke to them words of encouragement and instruction: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Sin had been paid for with blood on Friday. Physical death is now conquered on Sunday morning. Jesus is risen from the dead; that’s what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown. The world – your world and my world – is free at last from the tyrannical power of sin, death, and the devil.

The date…Year of our Lord 2020 in modern America. 2.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19; 128,000 reported deaths. 146,000 Coronavirus cases in Florida alone. Across America, our city streets are full of protests, violence, and senseless destruction and the police are nowhere to be seen and who can blame them when there are socialists who pander to these violent crowds and advocate “defund the police?” Closer to home, our congregation was rocked with the news of the tragic and sudden loss of Bruce Ficken, an otherwise normal and healthy 60-year-old man who died suddenly last Sunday.

There is much anger, uncertainty, and fear in America today. We hardly feel free at all…held prisoner by virus and violence. But faith is the only thing I know that is greater than fear. Faith doesn’t take our problems away…it leads us through them. Faith doesn’t take the pain away…it gives you the chance to endure it. Faith won’t calm the storms in life…but it does calm you in the storms of life. How? Because we are free in and through Christ.

Paul wrote in Romans 8, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 18, 21). My friends, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). We are free…free at last! The Son of God, the risen Christ, sets you free from sin, death, and the devil. That will never change. We are set free to be the people of God in this glorious and free country of ours that we call America. As the people of God, we are free at last, free at last. America is a far from perfect country, but the best place to live is not where everything is free and easy; that place doesn’t exist. Instead, the best place to live is where it’s easy to be free. That was us – once – and we can be that again when we return to One Nation Under God.

Thank God Almighty, even amid the trouble, toil, and turbulence of our modern viral-and-sin sick America, we are free…at last. Let’s make sure we do what we can to never lose that. Happy Independence Day and Happy Easter to you all, my friends!

Amen.

 

4th Sunday after Pentecost

4th Sunday after Pentecost

June 28, 2020

Jeremiah 28:5-9

“Peace…in God’s Way”

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 the First Lesson from the prophet Jeremiah.

My dear friends,

Say…in my almost 6 years here at GSLCS, have I ever mentioned I like the Nebraska Cornhuskers? I have? Oh good. Growing up a Cornhusker you learn about all of the great Nebraska football history, and right up there in the annuls of football history is “The Game of the Century,” the 1971 meeting between the #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers and the #2 Oklahoma Sooners, which ended with a 35-31 Nebraska victory. In that game was the famous Lyle Bremser radio call after an amazing 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by Heisman trophy winner Johnny Rogers, “Man, Woman And Child, Did That Put ’Em In The Aisles! Johnny The Jet Rodgers Just Tore ’Em Loose From Their Shoes!” I’m not sure I know what all that means, but I love that song! What a call…what a game. A classic showdown of #1 vs. #2 in The Game of the Century.

Well, in our text today we encounter a showdown that is no less dramatic as the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah confront each other. At stake is not a football championship, but rather the validity of whether Jeremiah or Hananiah is truly the Lord’s prophet who speaks his word to the people. And that means what’s really at stake is which word, each supposedly from God, we can really believe. In the battle between the prophets the question was peace or calamity.

Jeremiah and Hananiah confront each other about which word is to be believed as God’s plan for Judah – peace or disaster. First, a brief history lesson…no groaning allowed. Suck it up, buttercups!

After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, Babylon emerges as the dominant Near Eastern “superpower.” Judah would eventually come under the control of Babylon and her king, Nebuchadnezzar. In 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar took Judah’s King Jehoiachin and leading Judahites into exile. Nebuchadnezzar also took the vessels from the Temple – a major “no-no.” Nebuchadnezzar then places Zedekiah as king in Judah. But then, civil unrest in Babylon (sound familiar?) caused Zedekiah and Judah and the surrounding nations to consider rebellion (Jer. 27:3) since Babylon was falling apart from within. But, Jeremiah warned that Judah’s disobedience will lead to exile and that the nation must submit to Nebuchadnezzar – that was God’s plan for eventual peace one day.

Jeremiah proclaimed that Judah will go into exile for 70 years (25:1-14) and that the Temple will be destroyed (26:4-6) if they rebel against Babylon. God commanded Jeremiah to make a yoke and wear it on his neck as a sign and symbol that Judah was supposed to submit to the Babylonians…or else (27:1-2), or they will face destruction – sword, famine, pestilence, and exile (27:1-8). That was NOT going to be a popular message with anyone. It was the TRUTH…but not a popular message.

So, Hananiah (spoiler alert…he’s the false prophet) comes along and confronts Jeremiah and prophesies good news and peace…oh, just what people want to believe! Hananiah proclaimed that within 2 years God will break the yoke of Babylon and that Jehoiachin, the exiles, and the Temple vessels will all return (28:1-4). Uhm…that’s not what Jeremiah had been told by God. So, Jeremiah responds by saying that the prophet who prophesies peace is shown to be a true prophet IF that peace comes to pass. Remember that yoke that God had Jeremiah wear? Hananiah broke Jeremiah’s yoke (28:10) as a sign that he was right and Jeremiah was wrong.

We have a conflict between 2 different prophets and 2 different messages. As with Jeremiah and Hananiah, God’s Word clashes with the world when the world offers and wants peace. Like Hananiah, the world offers peace that we’d like to believe in…we’d LOVE to believe in right now. We’d love to believe that COVID-19 will just go away tomorrow and that will finally be that. We’d love to believe that all this social unrest in America will end and we can just get things back to “normal.” We’d love to believe that peace among people will come through “tolerance” and political correctness and advocacy and “fix” all the injustices of the past. We think we’d love to believe “We don’t need any law enforcement because we all agree to behave ourselves.” Right; love to see that, right? As if. We’d love to believe that this world offers peace of mind through possessions and wealth and a secure financial future; “As long as I don’t outlive my money, everything will be okay.” Is it? Is it really? What is GOD’S plan?

Jeremiah’s message was not so popular. He confronted Judah’s sin and proclaimed the consequences it would have. God sent word through Jeremiah that the nations will wear Nebuchadnezzar’s iron yoke and that Hananiah will die in that year because his formula for peace was actually rebellion against the Lord (28:12-16). Sure enough, Hananiah dies two months later (28:17).

But with Jeremiah, God’s Word tells us the truth, and therefore gives peace of a different kind—a peace we can actually believe in. Jeremiah said that after 70 years, God would bring the exiles and Temple vessels back. God promised a restoration that would go beyond physical return from exile. He promised that the Messiah from the line of David would reign as king (30:9; 23:5-8). He promised to make a new covenant (31:31-34) with His people.

Jesus is this Messiah who has established the new covenant and given us true peace. Born as a descendant of the Davidic line, Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead have defeated sin, death, and the devil and brought true peace. We are, in fact, at peace with God because the sin that made us his enemies has been removed. We are at peace with other people – we love God and neighbor as ourselves – because they, too, are forgiven sinners, exactly as we are. ALL lives matter, regardless of color, creed, or career. We are ALL forgiven and redeemed sinners…and that brings peace in God’s way. We don’t need the other kinds of false peace when God is for us and with us, giving us everything we really need! One day, Jesus will bring the final peace on the Last Day when he raises the dead and restores creation.

#1 Jeremiah and #2 Hananiah have a showdown in our text today. Hananiah proclaims peace, but it is a false peace. Jeremiah speaks the truth and promises peace in the future. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jeremiah’s words have found their ultimate fulfillment. We already now enjoy the true peace God gives in His way, and we will rejoice in the consummation of that peace on the Last Day. As a result, we are NOT dependant on peace in the world around us to find true peace in our hearts.

Stay safe, be strong, and Go Big Red!

Amen.

 

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

June 21, 2020

Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

“Who You Gonna Call?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 10.

My dear friends,

It was the summer of 1984 – 36 years ago – when the movie “Ghost Busters” was released. It was the 80’s and each summer brought summer blockbusters…I miss those days. Back before satellite TV and Netflix, we had the summer blockbusters, and “GhostBusters” was hugely successful. “Ghost Busters” would eventually make more than $240 million dollars making it the most successful comedy of the 1980s. It launched a mountain of merchandising with GhostBuster images all over it. Its hit theme song launched not one, but TWO catchphrases in America: “who you gonna call? Ghost Busters!” along with “I ‘aint afraid of no ghost.” Well, I also “‘aint afraid of no ghost,” But there are several things I AM afraid of (needles/snakes/popsicle sticks), and I imagine there are things that you fear too…and you’re probably thinking about them right now.

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1933), that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, there would have been no reason for the 32nd President to say there was “nothing to fear” unless there actually was something to fear. And there was. At that time America was in the throes of its worst economic crisis ever – the Great Depression AND the Dust Bowl era at the same time – sparking fears among the populace nationwide. Who were they gonna call? In 1933, certainly not the Ghost Busters. Here we are today…2020…and the question remains. Who you gonna call?

Let’s go further back than the 80s and 30’s. Let’s go back to the 1st Century. In today’s text, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples to “have no fear” as he sends them out to proclaim the coming of his kingdom, yet Jesus knows that he is sending them out not just to sheep but “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). Like FDR, Jesus’ very words of encouragement, “Have no fear,” show that he knows that there is MUCH to fear, at least from a human point of view. And today, as we face and name our fears, we aren’t going to call Ghost Busters, but we will rejoice in confessing and proclaiming that Jesus is greater than our fears.

As Jesus speaks today’s text, he knows that those who follow him have almost everything to fear. He knew they would face rejection (vs 21-22). No one likes to be rejected, and most of us probably have had experiences that give us a deep fear of rejection. The first disciples had to face that fear regularly and repeatedly (v 14). Still today, many reject the message of the Gospel. Public opinion of and affiliation with the Church is at an all-time low. Since the late 1990s, the percentage of Americans who claim they “frequently” attended in church has been steadily declining. If the current rate of decline continues, by 2050 the number will be around a mere 20%. Let that sink in. Who you gonna call?

Additionally, we need to address the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Do we have plenty to fear outside of church? Of course. The Coronavirus is still a “thing;” there are still more reported cases and more deaths even though states like our own are opening up more and more. People are angry enough to demonstrate which leads to rioting which leads to looting which leads to more wide-spread rioting and looting. And now we have “CHOP” or “CHAZ” or whatever occupying a chunk of downtown Seattle. What is going on? Who you gonna call?

And, as if that were not bad enough, Jesus clearly and explicitly warned the disciples that they needed to be prepared to be “put to death” (gulp!) as the result of sinful opposition to the Gospel (v 21)—and most of them eventually were. Martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel has been a reality throughout the history of the Church, and it continues to be a reality still today in many parts of the world.

“The Greatest Story Never Told: Modern Christian Martyrdom” is the title of a sobering and thought-provoking article by Susan Brinkman, writer for the Catholic Standard and Times. She writes, “The average church-going Christian is not likely to know that 45.5 million of the estimated 70 million Christians who have died for Christ did so in the last century. That’s 1,246 Christians every day for 100 years. Christians are, in fact, the most persecuted religious group in the world today. The most atrocious human rights abuses are committed against Christians solely because of their religious beliefs – atrocities such as torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings, and even crucifixion.” How long before that comes to America? Afraid yet? Who you gonna call?

According to today’s text, you can expect some things to be afraid of including rejection, intimidation, persecution, and execution. But Jesus has “been there, done that” (vv 24–25). Jesus does not ask us to follow where he has not first gone. Because Jesus has faced every enemy that causes us fear, we can be sure that he understands our fears, can sympathize with all of our temptations to be afraid, and will provide mercy and love and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:15–16).

Fear is the great enemy of faith (apathy is a close 2nd), but Jesus has overcome every enemy that threatens to paralyze us with fear. Are you afraid of suffering? God is able to use it for our ultimate good and for his glory (Rom 5:3–5; 8:28). Sometimes suffering in life is God’s love and mercy in disguise as we faithfully trust and obey. Are you afraid of Satan and all his works and ways (1 John 3:8)? How about hell or death? Those too our risen Savior has conquered! Jesus is with us, intimately caring for us, even in every fear-filled situation.

Jesus has faced the source of every fear, has overcome every enemy that causes us fear, has promised to be with us and watch over us in every fearful situation and to guide us safely to our heavenly home, where sin, doubt, death and fear will be banished forever and ever. When you’re afraid, who you gonna call? It’s not Ghost Busters…His name is Jesus who is called Christ. Never, ever be afraid to call upon Him, for that is what he truly desires from you.

Happy Father’s Day everyone.

Amen.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

June 14, 2020

Matthew 9:36-38

“Workers for the Harvest”

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 the Gospel lesson from Matthew 9.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Next week marks a milestone in my life and I suppose it also marks a milestone in our life together. Next week on Monday (June 22nd) I will celebrate my 17th year in ministry in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It has been 17 years of ups-and-downs, victories and losses, joy and heartache. But here I am, now in my 3rd congregation…with no plans to leave anytime soon.

My first-ever sermon that I preached as a pastor was about sheep and shepherds based on Psalm 28. Since that Sunday in June 2003, I have preached another 1,116 sermons. At roughly 18 minutes apiece, that’s about 334 hours of preaching or almost 14 days of non-stop preaching; perhaps that’s why some of you feel like my sermons are 2 weeks long! Anyway, how appropriate it is that as we near my 17th ministry anniversary we are talking about shepherds and sheep one again.

Anniversaries and other accomplishments in life like graduation, weddings and so on are often charged with emotion. Showing emotion is a very natural thing for us to do, and people have been overrun with emotion the last 3 months: fear over COVID-19 and now anger over George Floyd. Emotions are natural things.

Our Lord Jesus also experienced emotion on many occasions during His earthly ministry. He experienced anger at those who were buying and selling in the temple. He expressed sorrow and grief at the tomb of Lazarus, and, in the short­est verse in the Bible, John records how “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He expressed anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane as He engaged in prayer with the Father, so that, as Luke records, His sweat fell to the ground as drops of blood. Jesus showed emotion repeatedly during His earthly ministry.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus expresses an emotion as He looks out over the crowds of people. Matthew says that “Jesus had compassion on them.” This word compassion is much more than a simple feeling of regret or sorrow. Instead, it denotes a deep anguish, a gut-wrenching type of anxi­ety and sorrow over the condition of people; a feeling of sorrow way down in the pit of your stomach.

What was the problem that was so troubling for Jesus? Matthew records that “(the people) were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This was a description of the spiritual lives of those who were living outside of the salvation offered by our God. But what does this description mean?

Think for a moment about actual sheep who are without a shepherd. A shepherd would lead sheep and make certain that they were where they could find a supply of food and water. But sheep without a shepherd have no direction. They can even starve to death or die of dehydration without a shepherd to lead them. A shepherd protects the sheep from predators and any­thing else that would be harmful to them. Sheep without a shepherd tend to wander off on their own and, being helpless and defenseless, become easy targets for predators. Sheep without a shepherd are in great danger.

From a spiritual standpoint, would the expression “like sheep without a shepherd” be an apt description of many people in America today? Absolutely! Over the last 20 years, American church membership and attendance has declined by 20% or more. And today we see the highest-ever amount of fear and anger and being “lost” than we have ever seen before in America’s history.

Directionless, helpless, vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, many people today are in the very same condition as the people observed by Jesus in our text from Matthew 9. “Like sheep without a shepherd” is an accurate description of the spiritual lives of many 21st centu­ry Americans, especially young Americans. They are more than just a little vulnerable. They are running on fear and anger and selfishness. They are directionless…like sheep without a shepherd.

Fortunately for all of us, Jesus did a lot more than just feel compassion for those in our text and for all people. Jesus went far beyond what any earthly shepherd would be expected to do for the sheep: Jesus laid down His life for us as His sheep. As the Good Shepherd, He sacrificed His own life in order to defeat the predators of sin, death and the devil. Thanks to this perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world and thanks to God’s working in our lives, we have a Good Shepherd who provides direction; leads us to green pastures, still waters, and will lead us down the path of life for eternity.

But, as He told His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” In short, there are so many people, so many souls at stake, and the labor­ers, those to proclaim the Word of God, are so relatively few.

Today, indeed, the harvest is plentiful. In 2020, around 2.3 billion people are Christian. That’s good. But, that’s only 29% of the world’s population. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that means 71% of the world is NOT Christian. That’s an abundant harvest field! And this abundant harvest field is not just across the ocean. It is also across the yard or across the street. The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few when compared with the enormity of the task at hand.

So what can be done? Exactly what Christ asks in today’s text. Pray that the Lord of the harvest would continue to raise up workers for His harvest field. Second, thank the Lord of the harvest for the way He answers the prayers of His people to raise up workers for His harvest field. God is responding in a wonderful way to these prayers. This spring, 188 calls and assignments were filled from both seminaries. God is answering the prayers of His people to provide men for the Holy Ministry, and we can give thanks to the Lord of the harvest for His gifts to us . Finally, encourage those who might be considering such service, whether it is as a pastor, a teacher, a director of Christian education or any other church-related vocation.

Pray for workers to go out and work in our Lord’s harvest field. Give thanks as God answers the prayers of His people and raises up workers. Encourage those who are express­ing a desire to do so. Had these things not occurred, I would not be your shepherd, a pastor for the last 17 years and your pastor for the last almost 6 years. I guess God does answer prayers both for the sheep…and for the shepherd. Be strong and stay safe, my friends.

Amen.

 

Trinity Sunday 2020

Trinity Sunday 2020

June 7, 2020

Matthew 28:16-20

“It’s a SmALL World”

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 the Gospel lesson from Matthew 28, a text known as the “Great Commission.”

My Dear Friends,

Garrison Keillor once wrote regarding love that, “we should not think that we have figured this idea of love out, because it is not a problem. It’s a mystery and it always will be.”

Doesn’t that strike you as odd? “Love is a mystery and it always will be.” Doesn’t it seem weird there are things in this life that we have not – and probably will not ever – figure out? We will never figure out an explanation for the events of the last 3 ½ months. It surprising there are still some mysteries in life because we have “figured out” so much already. I have a cell phone far more powerful than most computers I’ve ever worked with in my working career. We can replace a human liver or remove a leg and replace it with a mechanized prosthetic. We can send people into space and welcome them back home again but we can’t figure out love? We don’t like the idea that there are things that always have been and always will be mysteries to us.

The temptation to explain mysteries also exists with God as the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the great three in one. We would like one simple easily-understandable statement to explain the Trinity, which will answer all questions and then allow us to move on to the next mystery. I hate to disappoint you so early in my sermon, but I cannot provide you with that kind of statement today…or ever. I cannot fully explain the nature of a Triune God any more than I could fully explain love.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday in the church year devoted to a teaching of the church; what we know about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Gospel text appointed for today is from the last four verses of Matthew’s Gospel; a text commonly referred to as the “Great Commission” as Jesus gives us instructions regarding what we are to do as his disciples. It is not a long passage, but it is critical to our understanding of how the Triune God reveals himself to us.

Being as close to Disney as we are, even though it’s not currently open, we all know the song “It’s a Small World,” right? Well, did you see how many times the word “all showed up in the lesson today? All authority, all nations, all I have commanded you, and I am with you all the days. Let’s examine those four phrases, and see how they help us better understand our Triune God.

“All authority.” This authority that Jesus has been given had to come from somewhere. If any of us have authority, it must come from somewhere else: our boss at work, our government, our parents, etc. God the Father, creator and ruler over both heaven and earth, has given his authority to Jesus.

 

Well, who is God? THAT’S a loaded question! Normally we think of the work of creation as the work of God the Father. That’s why we had that LONG 1st lesson. God created all things, hence, he has authority over his creation. God is a spirit; he is a personal being without a body. As created humans we were made in God’s image, an image we lost after Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. It is God the Father who takes care of us by giving us all that we need for each day; our “daily bread.” God defends us from all danger and evil. God the Father provides and protects, just as a loving father cares for his loved children. God the Father is all authority and has all authority as the creator and sustainer of all things.

“All nations.” Jesus sends his followers out to make disciples of the eqnh or the “nations” meaning all people. How do we make disciples? We teach. The content of their teaching? Jesus Christ, of course! The disciples were to go and proclaim Jesus Christ to all people everywhere.

Well, who is this Jesus they were to proclaim? Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary.” We know Jesus is true God for he does divine works that only God can do. But he is also true man. Scripture clearly calls him a man, he has a human body and feelings. Jesus had to be true God so that his life, suffering, and death on the cross might be a sufficient sacrifice for all people everywhere at all times. He also had to man so that he might take our place as our substitute under God’s law and suffer and die for us. We sin, Jesus didn’t. We deserve punishment and death for our sin, but Christ took that punishment for us. This is the Jesus (2nd article of the Apostles’ Creed) that the disciples (and us) are to proclaim to all the nations.

“All I have commanded you.” In order to do all that Christ commanded, we need his help and that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. Jesus left this earth. After being on the earth 40 days after his resurrection, he returned to heaven to be with God the Father. But he didn’t leave us empty handed. Just as he promised, he sent the third person of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Spirit – our Advocate, Helper, Comforter, and Counselor. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we are brought to faith in Jesus and the Spirit keeps us in that same true faith.

The Holy Spirit does more than bring us to faith. The Spirit also renews our whole lives! With his aid, we are changed so that we strive to overcome sin, to do good works, and proclaim all that Jesus has done for us; “No one can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3) . We think, speak, and act in faith according to what God commanded us in his Word for the glory of God and for the benefit of our neighbor.

Jesus tells us in one last “all” phrase that, when translated literally, says “I am with you all the days.” In Matthew 18:20, Jesus tells us that “For where 2 or 3 come together in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus didn’t leave us alone…he left us together as his people, as his church. And whenever the church carries out its Greatr Commission of baptism, teaching, and making disciples, he is “with us all the days” through his words, through the waters of Baptism, through his body and blood of Holy Communion.

 

I don’t know how you feel about the song “It’s a Small World.” But it is our world. This is what God created. We are the ones Christ died to save. We are the ones motivated by the Holy Spirit to go and make disciples of ALL nations. Granted, we may not be able to explain the Holy Trinity – it will always be a mystery – but we can give ALL thanks and praise for God the Father who provides for us, for God the Son who died for us, and for God the Holy Spirit who keeps us in the one true faith with a love we could never explain, but will eternally celebrate.

Be strong and stay safe, my friends.

Amen.