Category Archives: Sermons

3rd Sunday in Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019
Luke 13:1-9
“Carpe Diem”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 13.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The Lain phrase “Carpe Diem” is commonly translated “seize the day,” though a more accurate translation might be “pluck the day.” A phrase like “Carpe Diem” means making the most of current opportunities because life is short.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus calls those around Him, and us, with a very real, very urgent message…”Carpe Diem! Seize the day and repent because judgment is coming!” Jesus’ words are a very serious wake-up call for those who refuse to repent of their wicked, sinful ways and just in case they didn’t catch what He meant, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate His point.
Our text begins with those around Jesus asking Him about some Galilean Gentiles whose blood had been mixed with their sacrifices. Pontius Pilate had these Gentiles killed while they were making their sacrifices as Pilate’s soldiers slaughtered them in a holy place. Just imagine a murder in here; imagine the carpet soaked with human blood mingled with communion wine. Most likely the people who approached Jesus about this tragedy were ordinary folk not look to make “small talk,” but hoping that Jesus will make sense of a tragic situation; that he will help them to understand why these Galileans suffered such a terrible fate.
In response, Jesus asks them to consider the 18 residents of Jerusalem – more than likely Jews – who died when the Tower of Siloam fell. Siloam was in the SE section of Jerusalem’s wall. The point is that whether those who died were Gentiles or Jews, the fact remains that they were all sinners who need to repent! In fact, Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v. 5). Jesus teaches that the conditions of your death matter not; it’s all about repentance and faith when the end comes; the condition of your heart.
Jesus’ parables are earthly stories that have heavenly meanings. The parable of the barren fig tree that Jesus told in today’s Gospel lesson is no different. The fig tree may have stood for Jerusalem, but it certainly represents any and all who sinfully rebel against God. The vineyard itself represents Israel specifically, but it can also be applied in terms of the whole creation. The fruit that is being sought is the fruit of repentance or the fruit that is borne out of faith in God. Of course, the owner of the vineyard stands for God. What the parable means is that those who do not repent before God of their sins and bear the fruits of faith will be cast out of the God’s presence. God’s expectation is that His people bear fruit as a result of faith, yet when He comes looking for that fruit He finds none. The tree is bare; the nation/people of God had not been bearing the fruits of repentance and faith.
What if God, the vineyard owner, were to come today and look at our country? What kind of fruit would he find? We are a people and a nation who have gone astray…a LONG way astray. I get it…we all want “progress.” But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be (C. S. Lewis). Is THIS where we want to be as a people? “Gender neutrality? Gender fluidity?” We’re teaching our kids this is a thing? NO…it’s not! This past week, our nation’s Midwest was ripped apart by catastrophic flooding and storms, but all you heard about on TV was the college cheating scandal involving some “B” list celebrity. Since when has the garbage coming out of Hollywood become more important than our nation’s Heartland and the good people in it? As a nation, and as a people, we no longer “seize the day;” we have exchanged truth for lies and then wonder why there is so much wrong around us. What should we expect?
If you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer to progress! If you are on the wrong road, progress means turning around – repenting! – and walking back to the right road. If I say “2 + 2 = 5, so +2 more is 7” and keep working forward with the wrong answer, I am NOT making progress. There is nothing “progressive” about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some BIG MISTAKES. Morally, spiritually, ethically, we are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back; as a people we need to repent and return to God and the truth of His Word, a truth that literally sets us free.
Yet, where God’s wrath against unrepentance is severe and just, grace also abounds. Just as the vinedresser pleads for the life of the tree, so Jesus pleads for us. He became the fig tree for us in our place, suffering the fate of the fig tree so that you and I might remain in God’s “vineyard.” He allowed Himself to be nailed to another fruitless, dead tree -the cross of Calvary – so that you and I and every sinner still has a sure and certain hope. We are promised that the wounds of Jesus have healed us; His sacrifice has brought to us the forgiveness of our sins before God. That great Gospel truth, that Jesus has died and risen again to save sinners from death and hell, calls us to faith so that we might produce the fruits of repentance; that we might behave as believers in Christ ought to behave.
In essence, Jesus calls His people to “Carpe Diem” – seize the day. What does that look like? St. Paul wrote in Galatians 5 that the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (v. 22 and 23). When we bear fruits of repentance and faith we do not hate our neighbor, but we love our neighbor as ourselves in order to help them in every way we can. We do not get bummed out and depressed at every little thing, but we find joy…joy that is ours because of God’s grace that is extended to us every day! We do not worry about the future or get all bothered about every little thing, but instead we exhibit patience and gentleness and self-control.
Jesus was very explicit in today’s Gospel Lesson: “unless you repent you too will…perish.” By God’s grace you can turn things around and bear the fruits of repentance. By God’s grace you can bear the fruits of a faith-filled life. By God’s grace, you can help your neighbor that they too may believe, repent, and live. By God’s grace you too can “Carpe Diem”…seize the day…and my friends, that for us as people of this nation starts with YOU and it starts NOW!
Amen.

2nd Sunday in Lent

2nd Sunday in Lent
March 17, 2019
Luke 13:31-35
“(Un)Finished Business”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 13.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

So…I’ve been asked about my weight loss and whether it’s intentional or not. I’m not sick – not that I’m aware of – and yes, I have been trying to lose weight. To date I have managed to lose about 20-25 pounds this year and in my adult life I am down to an all-time low of around 173 pounds after my heaviest weight ever of 295 back in 2001. So far I’ve been able to keep working at what I started, but I don’t always finish what I start. Chances are I’m not alone. Are there any unfinished projects under your roof or in your life? It’s one thing to start, but it is quite another thing to finish.
Finishing what we start. It sounds so easy and yet can be so difficult. In our Gospel text we see our Lord moving forward toward a goal…not a weight loss program, but the goal set before him is death, death on a cross in Jerusalem. In a short time He will reach that goal. This is the plan that has been laid out for Jesus; this is God’s plan of salvation. This is the plan to end all planning. However, in our text we see that not everyone wants Jesus to complete this glorious plan. And, regardless of any plans of men, Jesus faithfully finishes God’s salvation business.
Luke records an interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees. So what do we make of the Pharisees when they warn Jesus? On the surface, the Pharisees seem to have Jesus’ best interest in mind and they warn him to depart and continue on his journey, thinking that since Herod had killed John the Baptizer, he would want to kill Jesus also. However, we find out in Luke 23:8 that “when Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he long desired to see him.” So, it turns out that Herod did not want to kill Jesus. Were the Pharisees then lying to him? Did they just want to scare him into leaving His business unfinished and thus discredit his cause? After all, the Pharisees have consistently been portrayed as doubting and challenging Jesus, so to have them somehow NOW concerned for His welfare is totally out of character.
Ultimately, the Pharisees tried to turn Christ from bringing closure to the Father’s plan of salvation, but they are not the first. In His temptation (last week), we learn of Satan’s attempt to get Jesus to quit His mission before it even began. Peter inadvertently tried to turn Christ from his path as well. In Matthew 16, Jesus explained to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. But what is Peter’s response? “Never, Lord!” he said, “This shall never happen to you”. If Jesus heeds Peter’s advice, the plan of salvation is left unfinished. Even Pilate tried to stop the plan from being finished. In Luke chapter 23, “Pilate announced ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.’ Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Finally, a taunting voice is heard at the foot of the cross, one last attempt being raised up to persuade Jesus to leave God’s plan unfinished. “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:40).
Thankfully, none of these attempts were successful. Unfortunately, the same can be said for us. Our attempts are unsuccessful. We are not able to continue Jesus’ ministry as faithfully as He was able to. We are stuck in the rut of sin. Instead of loving focus on our Lord, we harbor thoughts of hatred and pride and selfish gain. We use our tongues to lash out against God and our neighbors when we should have offered praise instead. We lack the courage and strength to follow Jesus and following Him means following the way of the cross. Christ knew well what would happen to Him in Jerusalem but he finished God’s plan anyway through His death.
In the midst of death there is life. Jesus, handing over His life into death, won life for us all. Giving His body and shedding His blood, the Lord of life gave Himself for the life of the world. That long walk up the hill of Calvary dragging an instrument of death…that should have been us. Those nails that were driven into His hands…they were meant for us. That spear that thrust into His side…that should have been us. But it wasn’t. He took our place. He walked a mile in our shoes. “It is finished,” Jesus called out with his dying breath (John 19:30), and it was. When He died, all the power of sin and death died with him. In His death and resurrection, Jesus swallowed up death forever. That’s why the cross brings us life; it is the life of Christ, which is life from out of death, and THAT – eternal life by faith – is God’s finished business for you.
On January 1, 1994, Nebraska played Florida State for the national championship in college football. With 1:16 left in the game, Nebraska had a slim 16-15 lead. But then, FSU drove 62 yards in that final minute and kicked a field goal giving them an 18-16 win and the national championship. In the wake of their missed opportunity, Nebraska adapted a slogan that spring to inspire them for the upcoming football season – “Unfinished Business”. The scoreboard at the stadium in Nebraska read “18-16” all summer long during their workouts, and when the workout was over, they put another 1:16 on the clock and worked that much harder. That next season, the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers went undefeated and handily won the national championship themselves by defeating Miami 24-17. The slogan then changed to read “Finished Business” on all the T-shirts and merchandise that came rolling out minutes after the game was over.
Jesus had no such slogan but that didn’t matter. There were many outside forces that tried to stop Him but they were all unsuccessful. We now celebrate in that sacrifice and are strengthened by His Word and His Sacraments. Yes, we are going to face situations in which we feel too weak to finish the course set before us but we find strength in His Word and the glorious promise that it contains. We find strength in the waters of our own baptism. We find strength in His body and blood.
During this season of Lent we reflect on Jesus’ suffering as He finished God’s plan of salvation. Do you feel like you sometimes need a catchy slogan to keep going in order to finish what you start? “Unfinished Business” well, that may work but how about “He Died On A Cross For Us All” instead. And hey, if it works, I get first dibs on the T-shirt merchandising.
Amen.

1st Sunday in Lent

1st Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019
Luke 4:1-13
“To Boldly Go Where Every Man Has Gone Before”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today is the well-known Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 4 and what we know as “The Temptation of Jesus.”

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

On September 8, 1966 on NBC, a science fiction program aired for the first time. It was called “Star Trek” and this show was about a post-apocalyptic earth upon which humans had developed faster-than-light travel capabilities. This allowed the construction of a ship that could travel through space permitting humans to interact with a whole host of alien civilizations. The crew of this ship – the Enterprise – were led by Captain James T. Kirk who led them through the galaxy with a five-year mission: “to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Star Trek, in its original format, boldly lasted only three seasons and was canceled in June 1969. However, Star Trek and its legions of fans, were not ready for the mission to end. Six subsequent TV series have arisen around the original premise totaling more than 750 episodes along with 13 theatrical movies making Star Trek the 2nd most prolific science fiction franchise in history.
“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” That’s a phrase that I would like us to reflect on not regarding Star Trek, but regarding our Lord Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 4, Jesus is called to go where every man has gone before. Jesus, following His baptism in the Jordan, is now ready to begin His ministry on earth. Luke 4:1 tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. This is more than just some trip into the desert! This recalls significant Old Testament imagery. In Genesis, Adam and Eve faced temptation from the devil…and they failed. The ancient Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years – note how long Jesus was in the wilderness (40 days) – and they grumbled against God and failed to obey His Word. And so here is Jesus…going where Adam and Eve had gone before, going where the Israelites had gone before, but this time there will be a significantly different outcome.
First of all, the devil tempted in regards to food. In Genesis 3:1, Satan said “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Then, when he
tempted Jesus, he tried the same approach: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan knows how weak people can be when it comes to food. In America there is significant press given to the opioid crisis because roughly 60 people die every day or almost 22,000 a year as a result of opioid overdoses. That’s bad, but our obesity rate is 31% and every year obesity-related issues kill 300,000! Our daily bread, though, is about more than bread. It’s everything that has to do with the support and needs of our bodies. People are tempted every day by the allure of material things. We want more…bigger…better…faster…more expensive…more impressive. Our age is an age of immediate consumerism; we want more and more and we want it our way and we want it NOW! Why is the Westfield Sarasota Square mall so empty? People order so much today instead of shopping especially with free, 1-day delivery. We want what we want RIGHT NOW! This is a temptation that every person has faced and given in to with open arms! But Jesus responded, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,’ which is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3.
Secondly, the devil tempts in regards to death and having mastery over death. No one likes death; we’re afraid of death. Satan knows that, and he hits us where it hurts. To Adam and Eve he said, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). This was a lie, of course because die they did, but Adam and Eve fell for it. The devil tried the same trick with Jesus. In the second temptation he said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” from the pinnacle of the temple. Satan was asking Jesus to cheat death knowing that God would intervene. To this temptation, Jesus responded “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” which is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:16.
Lastly, Satan used power or dominion as the incentive to tempt humanity and Jesus. To Adam and Eve he said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). This one was too much for Adam and Eve to take, just as it is too powerful for us to resist. Who doesn’t desire power and authority over others so that we get our way all the time? Imagine how great life could be then! This is a strong temptation, but when the devil tried it on Jesus – to offer Him all the kingdoms of the world – he was met with “you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” This is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:13. When the devil posed these three temptations to Adam and Eve it was too much. They gave in, and sin poured into the world staining it ever since. But Jesus endured all three and resisted all three.
Jesus goes where every person has gone before, yet where we fail – daily – He prevailed. Jesus responds to the devil’s temptations not with divine strength or a light saber (oh, that’s Star Wars. I mean a phaser), but with the Word of God. In each case He responded with a quote from scripture. This is not the last time Jesus will be tempted in this manner. While He hangs on the cross, the voice of the tempter comes at Him once more: “…If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:40). Believe me…Satan would love nothing more! But once again Jesus does not give in to the temptation, and we will be eternally grateful that He didn’t. For Jesus stayed on that cross to win for us the forgiveness of all our sins, even for every time that we succumb to temptation. His mercy, His grace, His love perpetually forgives us. When we fail, He forgives. When we lose, He loves. When we show compulsion, He shows compassion.
In this life we can boldly go where we need to go. Yet Satan is going to be there to lie, twist, tempt, and generally cast doubt into our lives. As believers in Christ we are not perfect; we will give in to temptation. Although we are not perfect, though, we are forgiven; forgiven by the One who shed His blood for us, forgiven by the One who was tempted in every way just as we are, and yet never gave in.
Jesus has become the model for us when we are tempted. He responds to temptation with the Word. Yet how many Christians handicap themselves today, not knowing the Word, not studying the Word; we have removed from our lives the one effective weapon in our arsenal! Even if you have the Bible memorized, our strength and our heart will fail us…but Jesus prevails for us by going where every man has gone before to win victory over the devil and sin and death itself for every man. May His victory be your inspiration and your strength in every moment of trial and temptation in this life.
Amen.

The Transfiguration of our Lord

The Transfiguration of our Lord
March 3, 2019
Luke 9:28-36
“No More Doubts”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that we will consider for the sermon is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 9.

My dear friends,

Delta flight 1178 was supposed to leave Tampa International at 4:55 PM and arrive in Atlanta at 6:40 PM which would allow me to make my connection flight to Omaha at 7:28. Then flight 1178 was delayed until 5:25 PM. Then until 6:00 PM. Then until 7:00 PM Flight 1178 left at 7:40 PM, so unless we could fly so fast as to go back in time, I seriously doubted I would make my connecting flight to Omaha. Which I didn’t. I also doubted that Delta would care that I had to spend the night in a cheap room at Motel 6 until the next morning with nothing more than the clothes on my back.
Ben Franklin once said, “When in doubt, don’t.” Not sure how or if that pertains to Delta, but when it comes to the Transfiguration of our Lord, that is exactly the case. This event should remove ALL doubt about who Jesus is.
The Transfiguration of our Lord is the kind of event that should remove all doubt. In one brief moment in time, the glory of Jesus Christ was revealed visibly to men – to Peter, James, and John – and, as if that weren’t enough, the very voice of God Himself shredded any doubt about who this man was and is.
These same disciples who saw the Transfiguration had seen much while following the Lord Jesus. But they, like every other person, still had their doubts. Miraculously feeding 500 people, raising Jairus’ daughter, calming storms, healing lepers, casting out demons, and now revealed in His glory on that mountaintop? That should remove ALL doubt, right? Yet, when push came to shove, soon and very soon Peter will deny Jesus 3 times and when the swords come out, James and John will run off into the darkness. Because they doubted.
As present day followers of Christ, you have your doubts, don’t you? Does God care about you? If so, why do you have to struggle with problem after problem? If God truly provides for all your needs, why is your checking account balance so low or maybe why are there so many bills to pay? You have seen God come through for others, why hasn’t He “come through” for you yet? If God does care, why do you or your friends or your family members have to struggle with sickness, pain, and death? Why doesn’t God take my pain or fix this problem or why did that happen in the first place? Sounds like a lot of doubt to me.
Stop for a moment and think. You have heard His Word and its message of forgiveness, comfort, and hope for your life. You have been strengthened by His Sacraments. You have seen the hand of God at work in your lives. You know that things have not happened by chance. You know that God has answered prayer in your life. Think of all of YOUR life experiences…maybe they weren’t “loaves and fishes” miracles, but hasn’t God provided, and yet still you doubt?
The disciples needed to see a glimpse of Christ’s glory to calm their doubts. So do you. Seeing something like the Transfiguration would certainly give us newfound assurance that Jesus is the Christ. You were not there like Peter and James and John, but you still share in the vision: all 3 Synoptic Gospels provide us with this narrative (only John omits this…and he was there!). Jesus gave the disciples then and us now a glimpse of His glory on that mountain. He did so that there would be no more doubt, and every year before Lent begins, this is our vision too.
With the doubt (temporarily) removed, the disciples knew they were on to something big. They had beheld the glory of God…and they liked it! They wanted to stay. Why leave? At that time, in that place, bathed in God’s glory they were no longer surrounded by complexity and suffering of the world they knew every day. But they could not stay there. If Jesus would have stayed, there would have been doubts and lots of them. Jesus could not stay because something had to be done about sin and death. Once they leave that mountain, the cross begins to loom.
A little boy was out in his backyard, throwing a ball up in the air. An elderly passerby asked the boy what he was doing. He replied, “I am playing a game of catch with God. I throw the ball up in the air and he throws it back.” Now, I am in no position to comment theologically on God’s ability to play ball, but I do know that whatever goes up must come down.
And so it goes with our lives. We love to come to church, to our “mountaintop,” and share the experience of God’s glory, but then we, like Peter and the boys, have to turn around and leave. We also must go back down into everyday life in the world with its trouble, turmoil, trials, and temptations. Being here and experiencing the glory of God first-hand is not everyday living. Every day life is fighting with sin and flesh and death and suffering and problems at home, at work, in school, in the neighborhood, or wherever God puts you each day. NO ONE is exempt from the difficulties of life. What goes up must come down.
Jesus could not stay on the mountain. Something had to be done. And so He came down. He came down back into our “real lives” to do something about them. Jesus came down from that mountain and – not coincidently – began His final journey toward Jerusalem (v. 51). There in Jerusalem He would deal with all doubts. Once in Jerusalem Jesus had to climb another “mountain,” but this time up He had to bear His cross on His back. The radiant light of the Transfiguration was replaced instead with spit and blood and taunting. The vivid garments of His glory were stripped off and given to one lucky winner. That journey up Mt. Calvary would lead to an eventual conquering of doubt for all time. The victory over doubt is complete. Forgiveness of our sins prepares the way for doubt-free living. His victory over sin and death assures us – there is no need to doubt any longer.
Yes, ‘Tis Good, Lord, to be Here, but we cannot stay. Go down the mountain today when you leave this place and go back into your life in the world. In your life this week, LIVE THE VICTORY over sin and doubt through our revealed and transfigured Christ for His love and grace and mercy gives you no more doubts.
Is it good to be back in Florida after surviving a brutal Midwest blizzard and single digit temperatures? No doubt about it.
Amen.

6th Sunday after Epiphany

6th Sunday after the Epiphany
February 17, 2019
Jeremiah 17:5-8
“Cursed…or Blessed?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that we will consider for the sermon is the First Lesson from Jeremiah 17.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Wait a second. You will have to bear with me for one minute. You see, I’ve been losing weight and not eating much and I am REALLY hungry. I kind of thought this might happen, so I brought a fortune cookie from home to keep my strength up so hang on. Oh look, here’s my fortune for today – “Success and wealth are in your future.” Boy, is that a great fortune or what! Man, am I ever lucky! Not everyone has success coming their way in the future, but I do. The cookie says so; the cookie has spoken!
What does that mean…to be successful? And just how does one get successful anyway? There’s lots of stuff on-line that’s available. You can order the “innertalk” CDs ($150) and they will subliminally create success messages in your head to alter body image, relationships, parenting skills as you walk the fine line between love and fear as a parent, improve your finances, and so on. Or one can log-on for “paid online training to re-program your subconscious to help you reach the highest levels of your creative potential and tap into the deepest wisdom within you.” You can dress for success, take classes for success, download apps designed for success, or hire motivational speakers who would be happy to come and speak about unleashing unlimited but untapped internal power to be successful. I think I’ll stick with the cookie.
We live in a country where self-help towards success isn’t just a multi-billion dollar industry, but it is a “creed;” an underlying driving motivation for American existence. Being successful is American, and if you cannot do it, find someone who can help you be successful. Don’t kid yourself; ALL self-help gurus would have us all believe that we have unlimited abilities and capabilities to be more successful than we ever dreamed and they can help you achieve that…for a nominal fee, of course. However, in today’s Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah blasts a gapping hole in the self-help industry.
Jeremiah was a prophet of God who was active from 628-580 BC. This was a time of deep, emotional crisis for Israel. Isaiah, who we heard from last week, served as a prophet during a time of great prosperity, but Jeremiah was sent during great turmoil. The Assyrians were smashing and destroying the Northern Kingdom and not too far behind them would come the Babylonians. In chapter 17, Jeremiah, in the face of certain doom, told the people that when it came to success, they only had two options: they were either shrubs or trees. They were either cursed or blessed. They either trusted in themselves, or they trusted in God.
Jeremiah pointed out that the people wrongly put their trust in their own flesh. They trusted in their own abilities, their own capabilities, their own might. Their hope and trust was in their fortresses, their political alliances, their city walls. They trusted in human things; they trusted in things created by the weak arm of human flesh. They had turned their backs on Yahweh, the God of Israel, and instead sought to protect themselves through their own means, which wasn’t working too good. Jeremiah compared these people to being like a shrubs out in the desert. A desert existence is never a good thing for long periods of time. There’s no water. It’s hot. There’s no protection from the elements…sounds like a typical south Florida summer day.
What about today’s world? We don’t have the Assyrian or Babylonian armies breathing down our necks, but the dryness is still severe and just as difficult. Today the droughts of unsure politics, fragile social peace, immigration issues, an addiction and substance abuse epidemic, and sin in general turns our American lives into barren deserts. When tough times come, the “shrubs” of this world also dry up and blow away for they are “cursed” based on what God’s Word has to say. Oh, but they will try and help themselves through these times! Self-preservation mode kicks in and grasping for success becomes critical. If they just use their own unlimited potential they can be truly happy…just ask the cookie!
The problem is that the cursed shrubs of this world have no real strength. They have no direction to turn towards – nothing to cling to – when the hot, dry desert winds blow. They are hopeless and helpless in an empty sinful life in which they are always seeking further success or anything that relieves the spiritual thirst that they feel apart from a relationship with Christ.
But there is another side. There are also the trees of this world, the trees being planted by life-giving water, just like it says in Psalm 1. The people of Jeremiah’s day who trusted not in themselves even as they saw their everyday lives falling apart around them but trusted in God held to a promise of something better…far better…which was yet to come.
Jeremiah said, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” Blessed is the one who is not self-reliant, but who relies on the true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Additionally, in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus provides even greater insight into the one who is truly blessed, and it’s radically counter-cultural…almost un-American! It is not the one who is rich or well fed or the most popular. Instead, Jesus turns the tables and tells us it is the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, those who are hated, those who suffer, those who are rejected. They are the ones who are blessed maybe not in the eyes of the world, but blessed in the eyes of God.
And how are we blessed? We are blessed not because of our positions, power, property, prosperity, or politics. We are blessed by virtue of our faith in Christ Jesus. We are blessed by his fulfilling of God’s lawful demands on our behalf. By our faith in Christ, not by the works of our hands, we are blessed. In fact, it was his hands that blessed us: hands that blessed bread and wine and gave it to the disciples as Body and Blood, hands that healed the sick and the lame and forgave the sinner, hands that prayed earnestly for us, hands that were nailed to a cross for us. Those are truly acts of real help; NO self-help guru is willing to die for you…but Jesus was.
Don’t be a shrub; be a tree. The difference? The difference is its proximity to life-giving water. The cursed shrub relies on its own strength and capabilities to survive, but eventually it withers and dies. The blessed tree seeks life outside of itself and finds life in Christ. Blessed is the one who clings to the arm of faith, the strong arm of Jesus Christ who will never let you go no matter how strong the wind blows or the seas rage in this life. His arms were strong enough to carry the sins of the whole world. He is our strength and our support…no matter what any fortune cookie might proclaim otherwise.
Speaking of cookies, I’m still hungry; anyone got another fortune cookie on them? No? Okay. Then, I guess…
Amen.

5th Sunday after Epiphany

5th Sunday after the Epiphany
February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-8
“Let’s Get Busy!”

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 is the Old Testament lesson as previously read from Isaiah chapter 6.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

There is an old saying that goes, “be careful what you ask for…you just might get it.” For example, there was once a church that, like many churches, struggled financially until one day they were flabbergasted to find out that they had been left a memorial gift in excess of $800,000. A widow, whose family had made a fortune but lived a humble existence – almost meager; to look at her you’d think she didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together. No one imagined she had that kind of money. And she left all that money to her church…and the church almost closed their doors because of it.
As soon as people realized that the church had been given all that much money, the members promptly stopped giving; “why give? the church has so much money now!” Then came the animosity, the disagreements, the back-biting, the name-calling, and Satan had a heyday with those people. Finally, out of utter desperation, the church gave all the money away to good causes, and they were able to stay together, but the damage had been done and it took them years to heal. Be careful what you ask for…you just might get it.
No one ever said that church work or the mission and ministry of the church would be easy. In fact, it is anything but! Today we are mindful of how dangerous, difficult, and daunting it can be when God calls your name and you respond “Send me!” Again…be careful what you ask for.
The first aspect of God’s call into action is the actual extending of the call. Isaiah was called into ministry “in the year that King Uzziah died” so that means that this occurred probably around 740 to 739 BC. This was a prosperous time for Israel. The Assyrians had not yet risen to power, and neither had the Babylonians. The Egyptians were trying to rebuild their dynasty. Israel was a major player on the world scene and they grew wealthy and powerful. Less than 50 years later, the bottom would fall out and Israel would suffer greatly. This is the coming ruin of which Isaiah was sent to proclaim. As you can imagine, this isn’t going to be a popular mission. Isaiah isn’t going to get invited to many social events, but he still was called and he did respond “send me.”
Good Shepherd was also called into mission and ministry. It was the year that Bob Marley died and President Reagan almost died. It was 1981, and the name for a Lutheran preaching station on the south side of rapidly-growing Sarasota was selected. By May of 1982 the congregation that is Good Shepherd was called into existence. By 1983 this building was constructed. The original 95 members have grown to more than 300 with more people joining every month.
The second aspect of God’s call into action is that we have to humbly recognize our unworthiness in the face of the one calling us! We have been called BY NAME BY GOD…whoa, that’s overwhelming. Isaiah’s reaction was swift and complete. “I am lost!” Isaiah exclaimed, but in the Hebrew that construction means “silenced.” In his sinfulness, Isaiah was rendered speechless.
What about us here at Good Shepherd? Has God called us here together to be his people? Of course. Like Isaiah, are we unworthy – sinful – as individuals? Yes. Like Isaiah, has our sinfulness silenced us? Is our ministry “moving” or has our sinful, silent, embarrassment at times stopped us from reaching out to our community and world with the love of Christ Jesus? Exactly…insert collective “gulp” here, right?
The third and final aspect of God’s call into action is the action itself, the mission. Is it easy? Hardly! Is it glamorous? I don’t think so! Isaiah, in his enthusiasm, begged “send me!” The optional verses you didn’t hear, though, were verses 9 and 10, and tell us what to expect in our mission, and they really aren’t optional: “He said, Go and tell this people: Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.” In other words, we are being sent to an unresponsive audience that are going to reject what you say and do. Oooh…fun! Sound glamorous? You want a piece of that?
The same is true for our mission in this community. Does everyone like us? Maybe not everyone. When we speak, do they listen? Not always. Do they even know we’re here among all those trees? When you say, “Good Shepherd,” don’t people always say, “Where’s that?” It is not going to be easy to get people to come through those doors! But we have a mission. Our mission (2016) is to be a Christian family that models God’s love by connecting people to Christ and to one another, embracing our community and its needs, and by making a difference together. Friends, we cannot do that behind closed doors. We must get busy reaching out with the life-changing Word of God to open ears, eyes, and hearts giving the Holy Spirit a chance to work faith.
Isaiah carried out his mission and he was hated for it. Jesus himself pointed out that Israel was known as those who killed the prophets (Matthew 23:37). Jesus himself faced the full wrath of that rejection as the Roman soldiers nailed him to the cross. And instead of anger, he pleaded, “Father, forgive them.”
Apart from that cross we would be damned to hell – mission or no mission – but because of Jesus’ great love and sacrifice we are forgiven. This forgiveness empowers us to go forth and fulfill the mission that God has given us to do. Isaiah’s mission took him to the people of Israel and they hated him for it, yet he was faithful. We too have a mission in this community and people may also dislike us for it too. But we are prophets – forgiven sinners who proclaim the truth of God’s Word no matter what, and we live in the same forgiveness that we proclaim to others.
I’m not going to Nebraska. I’m staying…I’m in. Are you? Let’s get busy making a difference together. Here are WE…Send US and maybe we’ll get exactly what we asked for!
Amen.

4th Sunday after Epiphany

4th Sunday after the Epiphany
February 3, 2019
Luke 4:31-44
“Everything You Wanted to Know About Demons But Were Afraid to Ask”

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 previously read.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

In 1949, the Rev. Dr. Louis Sieck, then President of Concordia Seminary in St Louis (my alma mater) was asked to perform an exorcism on campus in what is now called the Chapel of the Holy Apostles. Having no previous experience with exorcism, Dr. Sieck was at a loss on how to proceed. Unfortunately, the only Lutheran writings on exorcism he could find had been written in 1684…in Latin.
After several unsuccessful attempts to expel the unclean spirit from the young boy, Dr. Sieck gave up and turned the boy over to Jesuit priests in St. Louis. After several intense efforts, the exorcism was successful. The boy eventually became a father and grandfather, a devout Catholic, and was never bothered again by the demonic. This well-documented case was the primary study for William Peter Blatty’s book (1971) and subsequent film “The Exorcist.”
We can’t really blame Dr. Sieck. Maybe we as Lutherans are ill prepared when it comes to discussing, recognizing, and especially fighting the demonic. Know how many books I have on the topic? One. In the last 15 years, CPH has published 1 book on the subject. But not so in the case of Jesus.
The 1973 film “The Exorcist” – based on Blatty’s novel – sadly provides much of the modern mindset in thinking of demons: evil spirits that cause people to levitate, speak in dead languages, turn their heads 360 degrees, shirk away from anything holy, and spit soup-like junk all over the room. This is simply not the case; that’s more Hollywood than Holy Land, and we would do well to know what is the truth – the real truth – about demons. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus casts out not 1, not 2, but many demons. Throughout all 4 Gospels, Jesus frequently battles against demonic forces – demons – but there’s no mention of pea soup. So, how much do we know about them and are we prepared to deal with demonic forces? That’s where today’s sermon will try and help.
And so, here is a little “demonology 101.” To begin with, are demons real? Yes, demons are very real. The Bible provides plenty of evidence that demons are real and are at work in this world. Just because our Lord Jesus has ascended back into heaven does not mean the demons went away!
Where did demons come from? Demons are angels that were created by God. God created all the angels to be good and holy and righteous servants and messengers of His will. But some time before humanity fell into sin, many angels followed Satan’s – another angel – lead. Of their own accord, they fell away from God and they constantly exhibit and exert their rejection of God. This is manifested primarily in their constant attempts to bring about the ruin of His beloved creation – mankind. They are also exceedingly hostile towards the church of Christ and they do their best to strike church leaders, spread false doctrine, incite persecution and strife against the kingdom, and lure hearers away from God and His life-changing Word.
Should we fear demons? Yes…you’d better believe it! However, we don’t fear them in the sense that we worry they will bodily possess us. That’s EXTREMELY rare. We should be afraid of what demons can do and why they would do it to us. Demons can teach or deceive people away from God by any means necessary. They can do minor feats which appear “supernatural” causing people to doubt God; doubt is Satan’s favorite tool. Do you know, and I’m not making this up, that a woman in Hollywood, Florida made and then sold 10 years later a grilled cheese sandwich that is supposed to contain the image of Mary, the mother of our Lord? She sold the item on-line for…$28,000. God doesn’t work through grilled cheese sandwiches, and demons probably laughed at the thought He would.
Demons give information – false information – to people who claim to then have “revelations from beyond.” Case in point, the “renowned” psychic Sylvia Browne, working with law enforcement, told the parents of Shawn Hornbeck in 2002 that their abducted child was dead in a wooded area. Shawn Hornbeck was later found in Missouri in 2007 alive and well, but Browne still received her consultation fee of $1000/hour! In 2004, Sylvia Browne told Amanda Berry’s mother that Amanda was dead. In reality, she was not dead but alive and being held captive in Cleveland for 10 years until she and 2 other women escaped in 2013 – the same year Sylvia Browne died (11 years before she predicted she would die). Is that the work of a demon or a con artist? Is there a difference? You tell me.
All right, how about this? Do people still get possessed today by demons? Demons possessed and afflicted people in Old Testament times, they did it during the earthly ministry of our Lord obviously, and they continue to do it now perhaps more through influence rather than physical possession. I will say this. Anything which lowers or impairs a victim’s ability to say “no!” to satanic intrusion can lead to demonic influence. Alcoholism, drug addiction, or any form of chronic substance abuse can make a person more susceptible to a demon wedging its way into their life. Demons can still possess people – rarely – and each case needs to be judged individually by very specific criteria.
So, what’s the point of all this information about demons? If nothing else, please know and remember today that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is stronger than demons! Demons cannot stand up to Him, defeat Him, or resist Him and His commands. We saw that in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus has power and authority unlike the demons. The death and resurrection of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins seals His power and His authority forever over and against the temporal, temporary power of any demon or demons. As Luther wrote in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God:” “this world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none, he’s judged, the deed is done.”
Jesus is the victor. He gives us the victory by our faith in Him. Will demons strike at you anyway? Absolutely. Will they try to harm you and your family and turn you away from God? Of course! Can they change Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and hell? No way. Jesus is the Holy One of God, and no demon in your life or in the life of this world can ever change that glorious truth.
Amen.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2019
Luke 4:16-30
“Not Just Another Service”

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 previously read.

My dear friends,

(Sigh). Just another week, just another church service. Out of curiosity, did you have that “Ugh…do I have to?” moment before you left? Even if we never say it, that’s what our old sinful nature thinks. It’s why we sometimes find ourselves dragging our feet to come to church with a heavy heart and no smile on our face. It’s why we find it so much easier to make a habit out of something—anything—else on Saturday night or Sunday morning. We justify it because there are so many “important” things in life, aren’t there? It’s why our daily devotions suffer and time in God’s Word suffers and prayer suffers…we have “too many other important things to do. Do we? Really? As the people of God, time with God – worship – should be the most natural thing in the world for us…but it isn’t. It’s not natural for us, but it is for Jesus.
Luke wrote “(Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (v 16). How about that? Jesus is the Word of God and Scripture is His Word! He attends services faithfully. His custom and habit is to hear and love His own Word. Wouldn’t that be something? To come to church not out of a sense of obligation, not as a “have to” or simply as a matter of routine, but to come out of love for being here! Whoa! That’s the life of Jesus. It was normal and natural for Jesus to be in church.
However, this Sabbath Day was different from others; it was not just another service. Having been baptized and undergoing His wilderness temptation and with His ministry now underway, this time Jesus wasn’t there to be a hearer of the Word. This time he went to the Nazareth synagogue as a teacher of the Word, a guest preacher in his home congregation.
“And he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ ” (vv 16–19).
“And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (v 20). Isn’t that a great description? All eyes in the church are fixed on Jesus. No dozing in the pew after a long day or late night, no wondering what I’ll announce at the end of the service or daydreaming about next Sunday’s Super Bowl, no stealthy glances at a cell phone or watch. Wouldn’t it be great if those words described us today? Jesus, here in our midst, and the hearts and eyes of all fixed on him! Now THAT would be a worship service!
With Jesus seated and all eyes fixed on Him, I bet you could hear a pin drop. Then came the sermon. It wasn’t a lecture on theology, a list of ten steps to a better you, or a rally for some social cause or issue. In a simple and profound way, Jesus applied God’s Word to the people right there: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v 21). In essence, what Jesus said was “You know that stuff that Isaiah wrote? It’s about me.”
Jesus told them He is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the long-awaited Christ. That’s why he went to the synagogue that Sabbath Day, and they couldn’t believe their ears! “All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ ” (v 22). No, not really. Truly, he’s “the Son of God” (Lk 1:35), conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Not the son of Joseph…the Son of God.
That’s why he comes to church so faithfully still, including today: to deliver the Good News of salvation to you poor and needy, to proclaim liberty to you who are in debt with sin, to give sight to you who walk in darkness of pain and anxiety and frustration, to set free you who are in bondage to addiction or loneliness or fear or sadness or hopelessness. It all happens “in your hearing”—literally in your ears. That’s how Jesus makes himself and his forgiveness, his love and his grace known to you. Today in your ears in this place at this time, this scripture is fulfilled again: Jesus, the Christ, comes with the Lord’s favor for you.
That, my friends, is the point of worship. Not to be entertained, not to be whipped into a spiritual frenzy. God speaks…we respond. Flesh-and-blood Jesus, true God and also true man, steps into our service to be the Word for poor, lost sinners like you and me. Worship isn’t about you and what you’re doing here, though it’s good that you are. It’s not about what I might do or might not do. What matters is that He’s here and what He says: words given for the depressed and despairing, for the sinner and the sinned against, for all who are oppressed, victimized, abused, taken advantage of, unsure, uncertain, and suffering. That’s the kind of God we fear, love, and trust. He is not a disinterested, disengaged, distant deity. He is here…forgiving, loving, and showing mercy to us each and every time.
The joy of life in the church is that it’s never just another service. Every week, Jesus himself uniquely proclaims the Lord’s favor for you using a variety of means (hymns, prayers, lessons, Sacraments, fellowship), showering you with his mercy and grace. Have you ever missed church for whatever reason and you felt “off” because you weren’t here? That because you were denied the chance to be overwhelmed with love and mercy and grace. Why would someone willingly deny themselves that opportunity? What’s the “down side” of attending church? There isn’t one! Being in worship is ALWAYS a good thing and Jesus makes it so.
Jesus is always in church, always in his Word, always flesh and blood, always crucified and risen for you, always with more forgiveness to speak and strength to give week after week after week. Unlike us, He faithfully comes every single time we gather in worship and He’ll do so until that day comes when we’ll be forever with the Lord – perfect, eternal worship – and I promise you’ll love every moment of it. Plus…just look at how much shorter Jesus’ sermon are than mine!
Amen.