St. Stephen’s New Web Home: ssbdwels.com

Our new website is up and running. www.ssbdwels.com has many new features.

  • Sermon and news blogs are now part of the website, not external. So that means that ststephenspulpit.wordpress.com has served its purpose. Go to www.ssbdwels.com and click on “Sermons” for the latest sermons from St. Stephen’s.
  •  “Church News” also replaces ststephensnews.wordpress.com for newsletters, weekly updates and special news items.
  • Sermons and radio services are now set to update when new material is published.
  • WELS Daily Devotions (very similar to Meditations) are now incorporated into our website, and include audio so you can listen to the devotions.
  • Better functionality on phones and tablets. www.ssbdwels.com is built with adaptive web design that automatically scales the screen and its contents to the size of your device.
  • The web calendar draws information from our Google calendar, and always has coming events listed on the front page, and as a sidebar on many of the pages.
  • We will also be adding new photographs of our events, and we will expand other features as we learn more about how the new system works.

The old website, www.saintstephen.org, is now set up so that it automatically redirects your broswer to www.ssbdwels.com. The school’s new website is still under construction, so www.saintstephen.org/school will still be the school’s homepage for a while.

We thank Rochelle Stibb and Design Advertising for all their hard work in developing our new website.

Come join us at www.ssbdwels.com!

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Be a Domino

Sermon by Prof. Souksamay Phetsanghane from Luther Prep on John 1:35-42 for Mission Festival / Worker Training, October 1, 2017

What do you know about the apostle Andrew? If your answer is, “Not too much,” there is good reason for that. Accounts of what he did and said do not come up a lot in the gospels. Things we know about him: He was a former fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. He is listed among the 12 apostles, but outside of that, there are only 3 accounts of him saying or doing anything else. He was the one who brought the boy who had the little bit of fish and bread that Jesus turned into more than enough food for over 5,000 people. (Jn 6:8-9) He also at another time, brought a few Greeks to Jesus, who wanted to see him. (John 12:20-22) And then there is what we have today, Andrew bringing his brother, Peter, to Jesus. (So in all the accounts of Andrew in the gospels, we have him bringing someone to Jesus, and today he begins at home.) But what I want you to notice is that Andrew is not the only one doing something here. He is rather just another domino in a domino effect.

I.

Where we pick up, we are in the middle of things. We are at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, he is right about 30 years old. The day before, John the Baptist, had spotted Jesus and called him the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) We begin on the next day, and we have John the Baptist there again, this time two of his disciples are with him. (v.35) We are not told who they are right away. But we are told, what John said next to those disciples, when he saw Jesus again that day, passing by. (v.36a) John sets off a domino effect. He says about Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (v.36b) That phrase would have had special significance for the Jewish people. A lamb was one of the most common, if not the most common, sacrifice in the OT. It would have been one that the people used and saw, day after day, in the Temple, burning on the altar. Also a lamb was the animal that they saw every Passover festival. For they all heard and knew the account. God told Moses and the Israelites to take a lamb, slaughter it, and paint its blood on their doorframes. That way God would pass over their houses in Egypt and not kill their firstborn. That lamb’s blood literally saved their lives. God had also promised that someone else would come to save their lives once again, not just their physical lives, but also their spiritual lives; not just at one time, but for all time; not just temporally, but eternally. When John calls Jesus, the Lamb of God, that would have all been called to mind in that one little phrase.

You see, that is why the two disciples leave their former teacher and start following Jesus. (v.37) They wanted to follow the one who would take care of them for time and eternity. As they follow, Jesus notices them, and asks the obvious question, “What are you looking for?” (v.38a) He has some strangers following him, so he wants to know what they are seeking? Notice their answer, “Rabbi (which means Teacher) where are you staying?” (v.38b) Rabbi means “Teacher,” someone who teaches you something. But rabbi means more than just that. The Jewish people, also use that word like our word, pastor, someone who preaches God’s Word to you. But rabbi means more than just that. A rabbi did both of those things, but you also would follow him around, you would stay with him. You would learn from him everything you could. You would spend as long as it took to learn all that he knew in order to follow his example and be a disciple of his. That’s why these two disciples asked where Jesus was staying. They wanted to become his disciples and have him be their rabbi. So what does Jesus say?

Come and you will see.” (v.39a) They saw where he was staying and they end up staying that whole day with him. (v.39b) We are told that it was getting late, it was about 4pm. A typical day for people at this time was from 6am to 6pm. Remember that this was a time without electricity and light posts at night. When it got dark or it got close to dark, you would stay inside the house. But what does one of those two disciples do, before it gets too dark?

One of the two disciples is named, finally. (v.40) Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, goes and finds his brother. Andrew and Peter were fishermen together on the Sea of Galilee, so it would have been pretty easy to find Peter. He would most likely be with their fishing boat, maybe counting and cleaning his catch for that day.

But the interesting thing that we are told about Andrew is this: the first thing, the very first thing, that Andrew does, after John the Baptist told him who Jesus was, after following Jesus, after spending the day with Jesus, he goes and finds that brother of his. (v.41a) Why? What does he want to tell him? Some exciting news!

We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).” (v.41b) The joy and/or shock of that statement may be lost on us today. But just put yourself into the sandals of Andrew. All his life, he had heard about the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. He had heard from the OT Scriptures. He had heard from John the Baptist, his former rabbi. But not only him, but all the Jewish people, for centuries, had heard and hoped to see their Savior, the Messiah. Each and every generation, had been looking, waiting, and hoping to see the one who would take away the sins of the world. And now, Andrew knows who that is: the one that the entire world had been awaiting. Andrew has some exciting news indeed. He had to share it and he shares it with his brother, Simon, someone he had grown up with, someone he had known his entire life, someone that he shared a job with. So someone that he cared a lot about. He wants to tell himabout his Messiah.

But Andrew doesn’t just tell Simon, he takes Simon to Jesus. (v.42a) He wants Simon to be a disciple of this rabbi, Jesus. Jesus looks at Peter and says, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).” (v.42b) Simon was this person’s given name, the name his father, John had given him. Jesus also gives him the nickname, Cephas, Aramaic, which means the same thing as the Greek name, Peter, both meaning “rock.” That nickname would be a little clue to how important Peter would be in the future. He would become the most vocal of the 12 apostles, if not their leader at times. Of all the apostles, we probably know the most about Peter, he comes up a lot in the gospels. We hear of his successes and failures. He becomes very important in the early Christian church. And Peter, this rock, this man we know a lot about, was first brought to Jesus by his brother, Andrew, someone we know very little about. And that is where the text ends. But you see the domino effect just in these verses. John the Baptist points out Jesus to Andrew. Andrew points out Jesus to Peter. One domino affecting another.

II.

It is just like in our own lives as well. All of us are like dominoes that have been lined up and then the first one gets knocked down. The next one is knocked down, then the next, then the next, then the next. God used someone to point Jesus out to us. God used someone to bring us before his Word so that the Holy Spirit could create faith in us. That domino that knocked us down, could have been our parents, who read to us from God’s Word, who made sure we grew up in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That domino could have been a friend, who lived and shared their faith with us, even when we did not want to hear it. That domino could have been the spouse that we married, who wanted us to know what the Bible teaches and had us go through BIC. That domino could have been a pastor or teacher we met, who shared God’s Word with us. Whatever the domino, it had an effect, because we all are here today, still hearing God’s Word.

And like all good dominoes that get knocked down, they make the next domino fall down. For what happens if one domino doesn’t fall just right, or doesn’t cause the next domino to fall down? The domino effect stops. No more dominoes keep falling down. It’s kind of disappointing. It just doesn’t look right.

That’s the same in our life as well, in our faith as well. Be like Andrew. He shared this message about the Messiah with someone that he cared so much about, Peter. But first of all, someone who cared about him, John the Baptist, shared the message of the Messiah. We can share that message too with someone we care about. The best message of all. We can share, because someone first shared that message with us. You are a domino in this effect.

And like any good domino effect, when all the dominoes fall down, you have a good design. All the dominos, having fallen just right, each having done their role, make something bigger, larger, better than themselves. So it is with us dominoes. After we have done our role in this effect, what is the better design? It is The CHURCH of God, the whole company of believers, past, present, and future, together in heaven, with Jesus, our Lamb, there with us. What a domino effect! Amen.

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“God’s Mercy Produces Results”-A Sermon based on Romans 12:1-8 for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 14/17, 2017

Sometimes we witness a cause and effect relationship between two events. One thing happens which causes a different reaction to take place. Some examples of cause and effect can be the following. I do not brush my teeth, which means when I go to the dentist, I will have cavities. If a blizzard brings three feet of snow, school will, hopefully, be cancelled. Hurricane Harvey and Irma brought divesting rains upon certain areas, which caused homes to be flooded and destroyed.

God has shown mercy to us. He showered us with love and compassion even though we do not deserve it. How will we respond to that mercy God shows us? Why will we want to respond in such a way? Should there even be results flowing from the mercy God shows us? It is some of these questions God answers for us today.

God’s Mercy Produces Results

  1. As we offer ourselves to him.
  2. As we offer our gifts for him.

 Paul opens up our lesson by saying, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice-holy and pleasing to God-which is your appropriate worship” (Romans 12:1). Paul spends the latter half of the previous chapter describing the wonderful mercy of God. Paul goes into great detail to show how God forgives sin, even though we do not deserve it. This mercy never was intended just for the Jews. God’s mercy reaches out the Gentile believers as well. His mercy knows no boarders or national boundaries.

Now, we see God’s mercy in our own life. We hear the wonderful news of the forgiveness of sins after we confess. As we see and hear about this wonderful mercy, it does produce results. God’s mercy leads us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to our heavenly Father.

In the Old Testament God’s people were very familiar with sacrifices. They would come to the temple witnessing all the sacrifices taking place. At the Passover they would choose one lamb from their flock which they would have to sacrifice. Sacrifice meant death. The priest slaughtered the animal placing the remains on the altar as a sacrifice to God as part of their worship life.

We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. God does not desire that we place ourselves upon the altar as a human sacrifice. God does not want dead useless sacrifices, but he wants living sacrifices. God wants us to actively live our life for him in all the things we do. God wants us to worship him with our bodies as living sacrifices.

What comes to mind when we think of worship? We probably think of what we are doing right now. We come to church. We sing hymns. We offer prayers. The pastor preaches. We bring our gifts to God. After this hour comes to an end, we walk out thinking that is the end of worship. We put in our time. God deserves no more. However, God asks for much more. God demands our life. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, we worship by offering ourselves as living sacrifices.

Our life of spiritual sacrifice glows directly from how we view God’s mercy. He looked upon me. He saw the stain of sin upon every square inch of my body. He beheld all the times I wasted my time rather than using it wisely. God saw the time I cheated to get ahead of the next person. He read my thoughts when they drifted off into things that should never be thought of.

For all of these, and the many more sins I commit on a daily basis, God should rightfully write me out of his book of life. This would be the right result for all the times I disobeyed God. Yet, God shows mercy and compassion. He even took all of those sins upon himself, so that they might be removed from my life. His death wins forgiveness for me and all people.

And so the effect of all this is a life of service to him. We cannot earn more mercy, especially since this is a free gift in the first place. So, why then offer our lives as a spiritual sacrifice? It shows thankfulness for all the things God has done for me. Our hearts overflow as a result of the mercy God poured into our lives.

God’s mercy also produces a change in our thinking. “Also, do not continue to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you test and approve what is the will of God-what is good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The ways of the world are easy to recognize. We followed those ways once. We lived only looking out for ourselves. We wanted to do things that would hurt others. We tore others down so that we might be built up. We wanted to take the easy road because that would mean success for us. Me. Me. Me. It is all about me.

God transformed our way of thinking. Transformation means a change, probably a huge change in our life. Someone goes on a diet and exercises, and they lose a lot of weight. They transformed their bodies. God cut around us taking off the baggage of sin we carried around.  Now, our entire thinking undergoes a transformation. The question no longer is, “What is in it for me?” We now ask, “How can I serve God and my neighbor with what I have?”

We no longer conform to the ways of the world. We want to perform the will of God. We want to serve others with what God has given to me. We want to test and approve God’s gracious will for our lives. This means that we need to open up our Bibles to see how God wants us to live. Our mind shifts focus from the things upon this earth to the things of heaven.

This might not always be the popular choice. Living for Jesus means we need to carry our cross. The world does not want us to be transformed. The world does not want us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. The world wants us to be selfish. It does not want God’s mercy to produce any results.

We need to follow the example of our Savior. He came not to be served but to serve. Jesus came into the world to give his life for me. Jesus came to show mercy to all. In view of God’s mercy, we will also offer our lives to him. It does not matter what comes our way we will live to offer our bodies as sacrifices in view of God’s mercy.

There is another way we can offer our bodies as sacrifices to God. Paul tells us about this way as well. “So by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think in a way that results in sound judgment, as God distributed a measure of faith to each of you” (Romans 12:3). One thing I have difficulty doing is filling out a self-assessment survey. If I put too high of a mark, it looks like I am full of myself. If I mark it too low, it looks like I cannot do something. Those surveys intend to make us take a hard look at ourselves. We need to be honest with ourselves. There will be things we cannot do; there will also be things we can do quite well.

God warns us to be thoughtful in how we interact with our fellow believers. God gives various gifts to every believer. We need to come to an honest realization of those gifts and use them. We do not want to get on our high horse looking down upon others because my gift is the best. Every gift, whether big or small, whether many or few, are given by a merciful God.

God gives those various gifts for a very good reason. “For we have many members in one body, and not all the members have the same function.” (Romans 12:4). Our bodies are amazing creations of God. It is made up of many parts, yet all those parts work together for the common good. If one part of our body hurts, it can be hard to do things. I can remember last year when my hands hurt before I had surgery. I lost strength. I couldn’t grip. I couldn’t open my hands. It is not like I could use my feet to type, write, or give communion, which I am sure all of you are glad I did not. If someone’s eyes do not work, we cannot replace it with an ear. We will not see. It just does not work. Our body is made up of many parts with each part having an important function.

“In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:5). God gives various gifts to his people in the church. Each one of those gifts serves a special and unique purpose. We are many, yet at the same time we are one. We live under the head, our Savior in the church. We live to help one another. We live to serve one another. We live to build up the church.

God, in his infinite mercy and compassion, showers a wide array of talents among people. Paul gives a partial list. There is service, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leadership. We could go on. Some people are good at crafts, musical talents, listening, solving problems, and we could go on and on. We need to take an honest look upon ourselves and recognize those gifts.

God’s mercy produces results as we use our gifts for him. It does not have to be just in the church. God wants us to use our talents and gifts in service to our neighbor. We use them to help support our family as we go to work. Yet, we cannot forget to use them in service to the church.

The church is always looking for individuals to use their talents. If someone is good with their hands, there is always something to be worked on. If someone has time, they can volunteer to help in our After hOurs program or stuff newsletters. If someone likes to talk to people, they can tell others about their Savior. The important thing is that God wants us to use our gifts.

God’s mercy drives everything we do. God has redeemed me, a poor sinner, to be his child. God has brought me from death to life in the gospel. God’s mercy produces results in our life. We offer our bodies in service to Christ and our neighbor. We offer our gifts in service to God and the church. We cannot ever give thanks enough for his mercy, which comes new to us every day. Yet, we see how God’s mercy produces results. Amen.

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“We Confess Christ” Sermon on Matthew 16:13–20 for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 7 & 10, 2017

  1. Jesus takes a risk. As a leader, it’s always very risky to ask. “What are the people out there saying about me?” Do you really want to know? Isn’t it better not to know? Jesus asks anyway. And it’s interesting the precise way he asks. Not just “What are they saying about me?” but “Who do people say I am?” “Who?” That means Who is this guy? And it can also mean intention, can’t it? Why is he here?  The answers the disciples give are strange and varied—all over the place. “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” The crowds had no idea who Jesus was. These answers tell me that some were over-generalizing. “Oh, he’s a desert preacher like John the Baptist.” “He’s some kind of prophet like Jeremiah.” What is sad is that this is after the Sermon on the Mount, after two times he fed crowds of thousands. They still didn’t have a clue. The first question, “Who do they say I am?” and the answers really weren’t important by themselves because they were wrong answers.
  2. The really important question comes next. “Who do you say I am?” Now it’s a question of personal faith. And Peter gives the right answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is not John the Baptist. He’s not a forerunner for someone else. He is the Christ—the one who has been promised from ages past. He is the Messiah, the LORD’s anointed, sent as a prophet, priest and king. He is the appointed servant of the Lord and Lamb of God, sent to bear the griefs and carry the sorrows and atone for the sin of his people.
  3. Who is Jesus? …is a relevant question today because like the crowds at that time, people today have all kinds of answers. A long time ago I heard a preacher from a different church say, “Jesus is a great teacher. And that is how he is our Savior, because he tells us how to live.” There are many teachers who tell people how to live. Only one is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. Only one is the Son of the living God who took on human flesh so that he could live a perfect life and die an undeserved death. Only one still lives and has promised to be with us always. (You see, this is why our worship words are important. The words of the liturgy are there to be repeated week to week to impress on our hearts and minds who Jesus is.)

I. Our Rock and Foundation for Faith and Life,

  1. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus commended him. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Peter wasn’t the rock. He himself could be very unstable—sometimes saying “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and sometimes saying, “I don’t know him” (Matthew 26:70) Sometimes saying, “Lord, let me walk out to you on the water,” and then panicking and sinking (See Matthew 14:28-30). No. Peter said something solid. The fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God is the rock on which the church is built. It’s our foundation for faith and life. If we don’t have that, we don’t have a foundation at all.
  2. Think back to what the other preacher said. “Jesus is a great teacher. And that is how he is our Savior, because he tells us how to live.” What if I didn’t follow the directions? What if I fell short? What if I failed? If we think God saves us because of how we live, then we are trying to be our own saviors. King David knew what it meant that God saves when he said “He restores my soul.” He lifts me up when I’ve fallen. “He leads me on the path of righteousness.” He guides me back. This is why Jesus is always telling us to trust him. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me” (John 14:1) He is the Savior. We are constantly stumbling in our lives of faith. That’s why we have to say “Forgive us our trespasses” every day because every day we have more. Like Peter, we can’t be the rock and foundation— Have you been good enough? Have you been committed enough? Were you sincere when you made your decision for Christ? –with us there is nothing but doubt. But this is our solid foundation— Was Jesus good enough? He’s the beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased. God himself said it—twice. (Matthew 3:17, Matthew 17:5). Was Jesus sincere when he made his decision for us? The marks in his hands and feet show us his sincerity.

II. Our Shield and Fortress against the Devil and Hell,

  1. Jesus said, “the gates of hell will not overpower it.” The devil himself and hell cannot overpower the church when it is built on the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. How can you stand up against temptation, despair and afflictions? You’ve got someone with you. “God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46;1). Jesus says, “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Martin Luther said, “He’s by our side upon the plain, (that is, on the field of battle) with his good gifts and Spirit” (CW 200:4).
  2. When we feel oppressed, afflicted or tempted—when we feel like everything has turned rotten, there is something that hasn’t changed: Jesus and his work for you. Long ago, some Christian minister poured water on your head, pronounced God’s name over you, and declared you to be “one redeemed by Christ the crucified—a child of God.” Does the lousy day or the lousy week change that? Does the loss or the personal failure change that? Does something you are constantly struggling with change that? No! You are still his. He is still yours. And when the devil comes tempting—trying to use the bad experience or failure as his way in to bring more despair—his way in to lead you away to something else that you think might give you some escape, you can slam the gates of hell on him. “I am still God’s child—because Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. I am still saved—because Jesus is the Savior. I don’t have to be dragged here and there by every temptation—because I am a sheep of the Good Shepherd. I will listen to his voice and not to your tempting.” “One little word can fell him” (CW 200:3). Jesus!

III. Our Key to the Kingdom of Heaven.

  1. Then Jesus tells Peter, this victory, this solid rock that the devil and the gates of hell cannot overcome were not just for him. All this is part of a ministry—something he would use and proclaim to other people: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” That’s the “Ministry of the Keys” in the back of our catechism. It’s something that we use at the beginning of nearly every service. You don’t need to have that load of guilt on your shoulders, because someone has pronounced that forgiveness to you. “Therefore, as a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That means heaven is open to you.
  2. We leave our load of guilt at our God’s throne when we repent, confess our sins and hear God’s word of forgiveness. Repentance, confession and forgiveness are the keys to the kingdom of heaven. What burdens people carry—living for self, living in sin, bearing the troubles and guilt all by themselves with no Savior, no repentance, no forgiveness. For them, the gates of heaven are still locked. That’s why there’s so much anger in the world. People are alone—bearing all these things by themselves. That’s why people call good bad and bad good—because that’s the solution that they came up with. You’ve got the real solution. The real keys to the kingdom of heaven—Jesus Christ, redemption, repentance and forgiveness through him. That’s a solid solution—the rock. So we confess Christ, and not ourselves, and we are his servants for the sake of everyone we meet (See 2 Corinthians 4:5). We put our confidence in him alone. Even the devil is powerless against him.

Amen.

Matthew 16:13–20

13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  15He said to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?”  16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overpower it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he commanded the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.  (EHV)

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“Make Somebody ENVIOUS Today!” – Sermon for 13th Sunday after Pentecost on Romans 11:13-15, 28-32

Romans 11:13-15, 28-32

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry  14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.   15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.  30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Dear elect of God by his mercy,

I recall sometime within the last couple years beginning a sermon by quizzing the congregation on what are the “7 Deadly Sins”. You did pretty well naming these sins or sinful attitudes that many centuries ago perhaps someone in the Roman church listed as “fatal” to faith and righteousness with God and eternal life.  In reality, the point is perhaps better stated that these attitudes are attitudes that underlie every possible sin; and every sin is fatal to the soul.  One of those “7 Deadly Sins” shows up in today’s lesson from Romans 11, though in this case IT’S NOT A SIN!!!

“Envy” is the attitude in focus here.  (In our Evangelical Heritage Version translation in your service folder Paul’s word is translated “jealous”, which is how a few other English translations also translate it.  The New International Version, which we’ve gotten used to over the last 40 years goes with “envy”.)  They’re similar – one definition for envy is “a desire for others’ traits, status, abilities or situation”.  “Jealousy” is also that, but it seems to lean toward attitude of rivalry toward the other; “envy” maybe conveys more of a self-pity when noting the situation of another.

The “envy” or “jealousy” that St. Paul desired to create in his fellow Jewish people is not sinful.  What the Roman, non-Jewish (Gentile) believers in Christ had was not something that the Jewish people shouldn’t have.  And it wasn’t something that, if the Jews were to get it, they wouldn’t be taking anything from the Gentile believers.  GOD WANTS THEM TO HAVE IT!!   IT’S FOR EVERYONE!!  That’s a main thrust of the other two lessons for today as well:  Isaiah 56 … “my house will be called a house of prayer for ALL PEOPLES”, and Matthew 15 – the Canaanite (non-Jewish) woman who told Jesus, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

Nothing has changed on this front.  Today, 1,960 years later there are still “THE HAVES” and “THE HAVE NOTS”:  saved believers and unsaved unbelievers.  And God’s will has not changed either, that “God, our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

As with the Apostle Paul in his ministry to the gentiles (non-Jews), a big goal in our Christian lives is to …

Make Somebody ENVIOUS Today!

      To intentionally make someone envious of you means that you first have to understand and cherish who you are and what you do have.  So, What Do You Have?   You have the greatest of treasures!  You are a recipient of the “mercy of God”, made yours through Holy Spirit worked faith in what God does in Jesus.  You are His child destined for an eternity of glorious life with him!  This is his gift of love to you.

Paul wrote in this section about the “disobedience” of the Roman believers to whom he was writing and of the “disobedience” of the Jews, his own flesh and blood people.  We must lump ourselves in with them.  We are “disobedient”.  We also were unbelieving regarding what God says is right in his sight and regarding HOW to be right in his sight.  And we are still disobedient in our daily lives – not always trusting what he says is true and right and therefore disrespecting life in various ways, dishonoring God’s institution of marriage in various ways, disrespecting God through our daily discontent with the earthly things we have in our lives, etc.  Our “disobedience” also is in our often-held attitudes that maybe I need to and can improve my living enough to meet God’s standards and to be acceptable to him.  YET ALMIGHTY GOD IS MERCIFUL IN JESUS!  God gave him to live the perfectly obedient life for us by believing and acting on every command and promise God has given for mankind.  God gave this Jesus to then take what our disobedience deserves:  physical death and the wrath of God in hell.  And then God raised him to life to assure us of his mercy and what it accomplishes for us.  THIS IS WHAT YOU HAVE BY GOD’S GRACE, Paul emphasized.

Those Gentile believers in Rome had that treasure, as a consequence of the Jews’ disobedience / unbelief / rejection of God’s mercy.  When Paul would come to a city, he would first seek out the Jewish community and share the Gospel of Jesus with them in their synagogues.  For the most part, he and his message were rejected, though some (“a remnant”) believed.  In some of those cities they even sought to kill him.  This was the Jews’ “disobedience”.  As Jesus had told him he would be, Paul then became the apostle to the Gentiles.  Here in his letter

Paul told the Gentile believers in Rome that he “speaks highly of his ministry” to them because it hopefully accomplishes 2 things:  1) Their eternal salvation; and 2) the saving of some of Paul’s “fleshly” people, the Jews.  So, Paul made much of his ministry to the Gentiles.  He rejoiced in it.  He talked about it.  He kept doing it with zeal.  And he hoped that the joy and peace the Gentiles had with God in Christ, and his joy in being part of that would stir up some envy among some Jews that they, too, might want and receive that great treasure.

Second them, in intentionally making someone envious of you and what you have is to also understand what should be the greatest need and desire of every human being created by God.   And What Should Others Want?

That same “salvation” you have in Christ!  To be saved for eternal life with God.  Remember that Jesus asked, “What good does it do a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his own soul?”

Salvation for eternal life with God IS what the Jews (Israelites) had wanted.  BUT, it didn’t take long for them to reject God’s way of receiving that treasure of life.  In a statement leading up to our section (Romans 11:7) he wrote how the Jews wanted that “salvation” but many did not obtain it:  … “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did.”  Most of them wanted it by their works.  Think of the Pharisees.  Some of them, the elect among them, received it by grace through faith.  In support of this Paul referenced what we heard in last week’s lesson from 1 Kings (19:18), “I have reserved 7,000 in Israel who have not bowed before Baal or kissed him.”  So, the vast majority of the Jewish people didn’t have what God wanted them to have; they had rejected it because they had rejected it as God’s gift.  BUT NOW A BUNCH OF THOSE GENTILES HAVE IT, AND PAUL (A JEW) IS SPENDING HIS EFFORTS ON THEM!!!!

It was Paul’s hope and prayer that this is how many Jewish people would see things and his ministry.  He hoped that many of his Jewish people might see how the Gentiles now have what God had wanted them to have … become ENVIOUS …and seek and receive by faith what God mercifully has for ALL People!

So, how about us?  Are we making others ENVIOUS of us and of the greatest of treasures we have?  How do you do that?  Take a look at Paul, and listen to him:  “I speak highly of my ministry.”  His life and work motivated by his salvation by God’s grace in Jesus “consumed” him.  He wasn’t shy about it.  (He also didn’t get sinfully proud of it, either:  “Not that we are competent…, but our competence comes from God” – 2 Corinthians 3:4-5.)  This is what his earthly life was all about!  First and foremost, above being of Jewish blood or of Roman citizenry, man or woman, adult or child, he is by God’s grace in Christ a saved, blood-bought, redeemed child of God for eternity!  Whether having some of the luxuries of this life or having the bare necessities, whether healthy or sick, whether left alone to live in peace or harassed for his faith and life; he is that same redeemed child of God!  He put it out there for those Gentiles, that they might have the same salvation and confidence.  And maybe, just maybe, by God’s grace, some of his own Jewish people might become envious and seek and receive what he and those Gentile believers had.

Do you express the confidence for eternity you have in Jesus?  Do you express the confidence you have in God’s good plan for you even when you endure difficult days?  Is your “light shining” with joy, confidence and godly living every day?

We’ve said it often, especially with the elderly who may not be physically able to do much anymore – even in a hospital or nursing home bed a Christian can “make someone envious” by calmly and confidently telling what Jesus has waiting for you.  What will be your opportunity today to make someone envious?   Will it be a struggle you must work through?    Will it be enjoyment of some earthly good thing that you credit to your Savior?

YOU HAVE THE TREASURE!   WHAT WILL YOU DO TODAY AND EVERY DAY TO LOVINGLY MAKE SOMEBODY YOU KNOW ENVIOUS OF THAT?

 

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“The Gentle Voice Calms Our Fears”-A Sermon on I Kings 19:9-18 for Christian Education Sunday, August 24/27, 2017

Various situations in our life arise when we need to use a strong firm voice. Outside at recess teachers need to be loud in order to call the students in to get back to class. When we see someone in the line of danger, we will want to use a firm voice to warn of what is coming. At other times a soft, gentle voice might be called for. When a child rushes into their parent’s room after a bad dream, the parents will not yell. They will speak softly to that child to alleviate their fears. A mother sings in a quiet voice to a newborn while putting them down for a nap. A soft voice does the trick in these situations.

A soft soothing voice goes a long way to make a person feel comfortable and at ease. A gentle word of encouragement reassures a person that everything will be okay. Today, God speaks to a prophet, not with a booming voice, but with a gentle whisper. In the same manner God continues to come to us with a soothing whisper producing the same result.

The Gentle Voice Calms Our Fears

  1. It points us to his strength.
  2. It reminds us he is in control.

 Elijah had enough. Perhaps no other prophet experienced a roller coaster of emotions in such a short time. He preached and spent his time in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The spiritual condition was less than stellar for these people. The kings of Israel introduced worship of various false gods. The people forgot all about the true God and followed their own desires. At the time of Elijah Baal, promoted by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, was the God of choice.

About a month before our lesson Elijah thought a turning point took place. He battled the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. At the end of this face off Elijah thought the tide would change to the worship of the true God once more. God won this battle decisively. Fire came down from heaven engulfing the altar and sacrifice. Elijah waited for the people to make an exodus from Baal worship back to God. Yet, his joy was short lived. The very next day Queen Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life.

Elijah fled. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him. God knew the journey was too tough. Elijah needed strength, and more than any human hand could provide. The Angel of the Lord prepared a meal for Elijah. After eating Elijah ran for forty days and nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Elijah still did not know what the future held. He spent the night wrestling with his thoughts. He wondered if he should still go on. The strength of Elijah slowly withered away. Then God came to him, “Why are you here, Elijah” (I Kings 19:9)? Elijah replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of Armies, but the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking to take my life” (I Kings 19:10).

Elijah had no idea why he was here. He felt like all his effort was in vain. He preached, taught, prayed, and did everything else the Lord wanted. It all seemed to no avail. The Israelites constantly fell away. Every prophet sent to them would be killed. Elijah had no strength to go on. He felt like throwing in the towel and having God bring him home to heaven.

God knew Elijah needed a little pick me up. “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is passing by” (I Kings 19:11). God would come to Elijah to pick him up in his moment of weakness. First a powerful wind came shattering the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. An earthquake shook the ground underneath Elijah’s feet, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Fire came, but the Lord was not in the fire either. In all of these powerful shows of force the Lord remained hidden.

All of a sudden a soft, whispering voice came. Elijah immediately pulled his cloak over his head. He knew who came. Here the Lord appeared to him. Again the Lord asked, “Why are you here, Elijah” (I Kings 19:13)? Elijah repeated his same concerns. God told him work still needed to be done. He gave him two kings to anoint and a prophet to take his spot. Elijah had to trust in God’s strength and not his own to get all these things done. In the moment of his weakness, God picked Elijah up. With a soft soothing whisper God reassured Elijah that all would be okay.

Do we have our hardships in life? Do we sometimes feel like we are all alone? Do we sometimes feel like God’s plans will no longer come to fruition? Does our strength leave us fatigued? Stop me when it sounds all too familiar. We experience those feelings all too often in life.

The world no longer listens to God. People forsake God to follow after the gods of materialism and fame. They tear down his altars by no longer wanting to come to church because they have other things to do. Christian education no longer is a priority it once was. All seems hopeless. Everything stands against us.

We ask God for some kind of sign that all will be okay. The problem is we want something really big from God. We want a sign with all the bells and whistles for all to see. God, if you really are in control then let us know somehow. We want God to come in the form of an earthquake, strong wind, or fire. We want all our enemies and stumbling blocks eliminated. When those signs fail to appear, our strength fails right along with it.

We spend so much time looking for those big signs that we easily miss the gentle whisper. God speaks to us in the simple words of the gospel message. They seem so simple, almost forgotten. However, those words pack a punch. We need to listen to that soft soothing whisper God brings to us.

Through those words of the gospel message God tells us he died for our sins. He reassures us that we are his children. God tells us to lean on his strength and not on our own. Our flesh leaves us weak. God comes to us and feeds us with his Word and his body and blood in communion. With these God lifts us up. He tells us to rely on his strength to accomplish what he has planned for us.

Listen to that gentle whisper! It points us to God’s strength. The gentle whisper also reminds us that God is always in control.

Elijah felt like the only one left. He could not see the fruit of all his labors. He felt like his preaching and teaching produced no results. He only saw the hatred and disdain many people had for God. God again came to him reminding him that he is in control, “But I have preserved in Israel seven thousand whose knees have not bent to Baal and whose lips have not kissed him” (I Kings 19:18).

Even though Elijah could not see it, God has his remnant in the land of Israel. Elijah’s preaching and teaching were not in vain. God’s Word would always accomplish the purpose for which he sent it. Not everyone in Israel chased after foreign gods. Everyone had not deserted for Baal. Seven thousand people remained faithful to God.

Elijah had work to do. Those seven thousand people needed to be fed. They needed to be strengthened. They needed leadership from someone. God was still in control and would not lose his faithful believers from the earth.

God’s work of faithful preaching and teaching continues today. We might think our efforts are in vain. We invite our neighbor to church time and time again. Each time they say they want to come. However, every week they never join us on Sunday morning. Pastors faithfully preach law and gospel. However, so many people continue to follow their own desires. They do not want to listen or come to church. Teachers feel like students would rather be playing video games than being in the classrooms. They talk with their friends about plans for the weekend, but they remain silent when answering questions about basic Bible history.

We might think all our efforts are in vain. We feel like giving up. Listen to that gentle whisper. God is still in control. God calls us to proclaim the gospel message. We cannot change hearts; the Holy Spirit does that. That invitation plants the seed. The fruit might not be seen for a while. The pastors proclaim law and gospel knowing that this is what God called them to do. Teachers do what they do because they want students to have the firm foundation in education, especially Christian education.

It all comes back to the question, “Why are we here?” I am not speaking about that philosophical question of why and where we come from. I am speaking about what is my purpose? Why am I in this place at this time? God has put us here. God has a plan for us. God has work for us to get done. We are here to proclaim God’s truths. We are here to pass down God’s word to future generations. We are here to do his work.

As we go about our work, listen to the gentle whisper. God brings his comfort to us calming all our fears. He tells us to trust in his strength. He reminds us that he is always in control. Amen.

 

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“All Means All…” Sermon on Romans 8:28–30, Pentecost 10, August 10 & 13, 2017

  1. Little children are always asking “Why?” Something I remember—I must have been about two or three years old—was asking, “Why doesn’t Grandpa have any hair on the top of his head?” Mom said, “Well, that’s something that happens. When men get older, sometimes they lose their hair.” “How did he lose his hair?” “It fell out.” “How did it fall out?” “It fell from his head to the floor.” “Okay.” Those questions can be cute—sometimes a little maddening for parents—but they’re part of a child finding out how the world works. After a while, as we figure out more, we don’t ask “Why” and “how” quite so much.
  2. When we become adults—there are still some questions. Especially when we’re trying to find meaning or purpose in the events of life. Romans 8:28 is a passage we learned in Catechism class, and it’s a passage we go back to when we’re asking those questions “Why?” In Romans 8 St. Paul tells us, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The NIV translates the verse to be more active on God’s part, “God works all things for the good of those who love him.” Either way, a word that perplexes us—and a word that should give us supreme comfort—is that one word All Means All…

I. The things that seem good to us, and the things that seem bad to us,

  1. “All things work together for good.” That’s what the Bible says. And it’s not hard to see the joyful occasions and successes as good. You have some accomplishment at work or you have a new job opportunity that opened up for you. You celebrate some milestone in life—a birthday or an anniversary. You have some joyful event, a wedding. The good is obvious. And it’s actually fun to imagine where some of these things are going. New job? More money. Success? Hopefully more success. More parts of the plan falling into place. A wedding? An addition to the family. Joy. The sticking point—the challenge—in that word all, “All things work together for good” is the things that seem bad to us. From the inconveniences and irritations, to the heartbreaks and hardships, to the tragedies. A highschooler asks “Why did my girlfriend dump me? How can that be good?” A worker asks “Why am I stuck in this dead-end job. It’s a drag. How can this be good?” A health problem makes everyday life more of a challenge. Some health problems cause serious setbacks. “I can’t do this anymore—or I can only do some of these things with difficulty. How can this be good?” And then there are the tragedies. In the last weeks we heard a news story about a mother and three young boys, members of one of our churches in northern Illinois who were killed when someone else failed to stop for a stop sign. “How can that be good?”
  2. There are two things we have to remember. The first is, What ‘good’ are you thinking about? Short-term or long-term? You and I can be pretty shortsighted when we think of our own good plans. Sometimes, after many years, we figure some things out: “That thing I wanted long ago—that I set my heart on so much—would not have been good.” It was disappointing that the one girlfriend dumped me, but that opened up the way for the one who has been with me for more than half my life. It was good that the better job offer fell through because that would have taken me away from a better, more solid career. Too often, our idea of good is focused on our instant gratification. How good is that? It gets us into more trouble, doesn’t it? I want it now! Drugs, sex, ambition, greed, all for now—not thinking of God’s commands or will, or that God has something better for us, for now and forever.

II. “For good” means God’s eternal purpose.

  1. The second is that God looks at all things from his eternal perspective. And his best goal for us is to have us in heaven with him when this life is done. St. Paul even says so here: “…those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called. Those he called, he also justified. And those he justified, he also glorified.” Because God’s point of view is eternal, a lot of his plans will be beyond our understanding. He even says so. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Because you and I are mere mortals, confined by time—time is our only viewpoint, and we always are living on that razor’s edge of The past lays open before us, but the future remains hidden.
  2. God sees it all. In his wisdom, he knows what good he is working out—in our inconveniences, heartbreaks, hardships, he knows what is better for us now—and what is better as he leads us to himself—what will keep us on his righteous path so we remain firm in his Word and in the faith as long as we live. And remember his highest good—that he wants us to be with him in heaven when this life is done. A good guess about God’s good plan and purpose in some of the worst hardships is that God is using that to train us and get us ready—to lift our eyes above all of our smaller goals and to set them on God’s heavenly goal. I told this story back in November, and I’ll tell it again. When my Dad passed away in September, it was after a pretty difficult year of decline. “Why so long?” we might ask? “Why so many losses? How can that be good?” Well in his last days, Mom told him, “You’re going home to Jesus.” He answered, “When!?” After the losses, he was ready. If everything in life went perfect, we wouldn’t want to let go. The hardship was training and readiness. The Bible calls it discipline. (Hebrews 12:5ff). Then there are those losses like the young family in the last weeks. Why would God take someone so early—too early as we see it. God does tell us about that, too. In Isaiah 57 he says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.” From his eternal perspective, God knows what he is sparing someone. He knows if there is something worse down the road awaiting for them. In doctrine classes at the Seminary, I remember reading that God determines the end of a person’s life based on his gracious will. The Scripture before us today (Romans 8:28) was one passage given to support that, and the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29). “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace.” God knows what time is best. It’s heartbreaking for those left behind—but also a reminder that our vision of the future is very limited.

Conclusion: I want you to think of the worst thing we celebrate. Good Friday. We have a reminder of it on our altar. I wear a reminder of it around my neck. Some of you have reminders of it on a wall hanging or picture at home. For God, Good Friday meant that God gave up his only Son. For him, it meant torture, pain, bleeding, suffering, heartbreak, and death. Look at that cross with the figure of Jesus on it and ask, “How could God bring anything good out of that?” Later in Romans 8 St. Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). We may not know God’s plan. We may never understand it completely. But this much we know, because God has promised it to us, that he does have a good plan and purpose for us. That he is working all things, good and bad, for the good of those who love him. Because this is a matter of faith, it means that we know his promise, accept it as true, and trust. It doesn’t mean we know all the details. Only that he promises good. His worst worked this good: our redemption. The forgiveness of our sins. Jesus was offered as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. He gives himself to us. He invites us and receives us to himself for the sake of Christ. This is the wisdom from on high. This is the precious treasure and pearl that are worth everything. Yes, we will still ask “Why?” But the answer we hear may be simply, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).

Amen.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose, because those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called. Those he called, he also justified. And those he justified, he also glorified.    (EHV)

 

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“Jesus Reveals His Truth” Sermon on Matthew 11:25–30, Pentecost 7, July 20 & 23, 2017

Today we have a very familiar portion of Scripture. It’s familiar to us because of its beauty. “Father, you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to little children.” “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Familiar and beautiful, but also packed with Gospel truth and meaning. There are three parts to this lesson—and they are arranged a lot like a sandwich—two very delicious pieces of the bread of life with some very substantial meat in between.

I. … to little children, but hides them from the ‘wise.’

  1. The first part is a very sweet piece of the bread of life: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from clever and learned people and have revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, because this was pleasing to you.” …and it reminds us of other times when Jesus praised children. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:13). “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). When Jesus talks about having a child-like faith, or “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” he is talking about how a child trusts. If you tell a child a Bible story or a Sunday school lesson and then ask the child ‘What does this story mean?’ the chances are very good that the child will then tell the story back to you. “Jesus walked on water. What does that mean?” “Well, it means that Jesus walked on water.” “How could he do that?” “He could do that because he’s Jesus.” “Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. What does that mean?” “Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He said he was the Resurrection and the Life. Now he shows it.” That is a child-like faith. That is God revealing his truth to little children.
  2. But there’s more in that first part—that first piece of the bread of life, isn’t there. Jesus said, “Father, you have hidden these things from clever and learned people.” How can clever and learned people have no understanding when a small child does? Well, clever and learned people have this thing, almost a compulsion, to say, “I have this all figured out.” “I know how this works.” And those thoughts can kill faith. You have probably seen this on TV or read this in newspaper or magazine articles—some Biblical account is mentioned, and a scholar explains it—but really empties it of all meaning. “Jesus walked on water. What does that mean?” The scholar says, “To understand Jesus walking on water, we have to understand the Messianic expectations of the Jewish people of that time along with the myths of the Greeks and Romans who had gods and heroes who did things like walk on water or raise the dead or walk through walls.”[2] What just happened? The story about Jesus is no longer about Jesus. The Gospel of the powerful Son of God is put in the mythology section along with Zeus and Hercules. The professor misses it. The child gets it because he takes the Gospel of Jesus at its Word.

II. …that he is our only way to the Father.

  1. And that takes us to the second part—the meat in the sandwich. It is just as important as the first part, but it really is the substance. “Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him.” Jesus makes his Father known. He reveals the heart and mind of God to us. This is both talking about revelation—where do we learn these things? Only form Jesus. Only from his Gospel, given to us in his Word. And it’s talking about salvation. The same thing Jesus was talking about later when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If you don’t have the Word, or if you know it but don’t trust it, you don’t really have Jesus. And if you don’t have Jesus, you don’t have God.
  2. In this second part, Jesus is telling us that faith is not a matter of child’s play. It is our connection to God. He is our connection to God. And we won’t find this kind of connection anywhere else. This is the doctrine of the means of grace. Are we close to God when we go out in the woods or sit by a lake? We are close to God’s creation. We can admire his handiwork. But the Word is where we meet him. It is where we get to know his mind and heart. It’s where we meet Jesus and hear his forgiving Word. His comforting Word. His refreshing Word.

 

III. …that he alone gives rest and refreshment.

  1. Now we are into the third part of the passage. Another very sweet piece of the bread of life: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” That’s one of our favorite passages, isn’t it? I know it’s one of mine. Perhaps you learned it as “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” What makes us weary? What makes us burdened? Life itself lays many burdens on us. There are health problems—eventually everybody is going to have some health problem. Family problems. Financial problems. Inward struggles—memories of failure, guilt, a low feeling of self-worth—and that’s just the personal burdens, the inward burdens. Then there’s everything we see in the world, the bad news we see on TV. That’s a burden. And then there is the conflict in our hearts when we know what is good and right from God’s Word—but we see the world going in a different direction, or we also hear the world telling us to follow and we know we can’t—and we also know that life for us is then going to be going against the flow. Swimming against the stream. What burdens we have in this life. (It sounds a lot like Ecclesiastes.)
  2. But what does Jesus say? “Come to me all who are weary and burdened.” He gives us an invitation—and that shows us what an amazing Savior Jesus is. He wants us to come to him, even with all our burdens—even with all our messes. What compassion Jesus has!—it’s above and beyond any love we have. Don’t we often try to avoid people with burdens, with messes, with complications? But to us, to those with burdens, to those with failures, to those with conflicted hearts, Jesus says, “Come to me!” and after that, he gives us a promise. “I will give you rest.” By “rest” Jesus is talking about a pause from the labor—but he isn’t exactly saying, “Come to me, you who labor, and I’ll let you take a nap or I’ll give you a La-Z-Boy chair and you can pull the lever and put your feet up.” Sometimes we need to do that. But the “rest” Jesus is talking about here is more constructive. We see in the rest of the passage. The rest Jesus gives is refreshment. A recharge of our spiritual batteries. A renewal of strength.[3] As King David says in the twenty-third Psalm, “He restores my soul.”
  3. The “rest” is not La-Z-Boy rest because next, Jesus talks about our task as his disciples. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” A yoke, Y-O-K-E, was a kind of harness that an ox would wear to pull a plow or to pull a wagon. There is indeed a burden with discipleship. We heard about that in last Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 10:38. “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” We bear Christ in our hearts. We have been called by Jesus to be salt and light in this world—to be different from the world and to make a difference because of our discipleship. We have been called to give up selfishness—to turn a deaf ear the world so we can listen to Christ alone—and to follow Christ—“good and gentle, more like thee.” Overcoming selfishness, pride and anger so that we can be like Christ is hard. But it’s much easier than giving in to those things. What happens when we try to deal with our burdens in self-serving ways? Maybe you’ve heard this, maybe you’ve said this to yourself: “I’m going to drink to forget—or do some drugs to cope with my problem.” What happens next? The thing you were trying to find your rest in becomes an even greater burden. You serve the solution which is really no solution—instead of the solution serving you. What does Jesus say, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.” Much lighter than the selfishness, anger and pride. Rest. Refreshment. Renewal. “He restores my soul.”

Conclusion: Without Jesus, we would have none of this rest, refreshment or renewal. And when we Christians dwell on ourselves, we have less of Jesus’ blessings than we could. Listen again to Jesus’ invitation. Cme to him. Believe the Gospel of his life, his work, and his promises–fully. Hear his gracious Word. “Come to me, and give me that burden of guilt—because I already have taken it away” (John 1:28). “Come to me with that burden of doubt—what’s going to happen next in your life—what’s going to happen next in the world. I already know it all. I already have my good plan and purpose working for you” (Romans 8:28). “Come to me with the anger and impatience. Cast those cares on me. Put love, peace, patience and kindness in their place.” “Come to me with all those feelings of worthlessness and failure. Because I have given you value by purchasing you with my own blood. This is what you are worth to me, my brother, my sister.” “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

Amen.

“At that time, Jesus continued, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from clever and learned people and have revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, because this was pleasing to you. 27Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him. 28“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (EHV)

[1] This is actually an ancient literary device called a chiasm, where a theme is introduced, then the main point is stated, and then the theme or a similar theme concludes. Psalm 23 also has this kind of structure: The Lord is my shepherd. I fear no evil for you are with me (main theme). The Lord is my royal host.

[2] See http://jdstone.org/cr/files/jesuswalkedonwater.html for an explanation that “along side” or “near” was confused with “on.” A comparison with Matthew, Mark and Luke with John makes it very clear. “On.” Also http://www.tahoeepiscopal.com/doc/sermons/WalkingonWater.html which says walking on water is simply a metaphor for holiness or something else, paralleled in Buddhist, Hindu, Greek and Native American myths.

[3] See the NAS Exhaustive Concordance. Also, Prof. Daniel Deutschlander noted that Luther translated “I will give you rest”  (Greek: anapauō) as “I will refresh you.” (German: erquicken.)

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“We Live for Christ”-A Sermon on Romans 6:1b-11 for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, July 13/16, 2017

All of us have something that we are passionate about. This passion might even become a big part of our life. We immerse ourselves in our passion.   We find ourselves seeking out all the information we can about a certain subject. We spend time in developing this passion in our life. We want to find out everything we can about this. It can range from just about anything from family, to a sport, to a hobby. People might even say that we live for our passion.

For us we could say that Christ is our passion. When we say this, what does that mean? We do not simply pay lip service to Christ. We live for him. Our entire life revolves around what Christ has done for us. Paul in this section of Romans tells us about this very fact.

We Live for Christ

  1. Who died for us.
  2. Who rose for us.

 Paul just finished a discourse on how sin and salvation came into the world. Sin has the world in its grasp. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden bringing sin into the world. They fell to the lies of Satan that their eyes would be open, and they would become gods. Their life changed, but it was not in the way they desired. Instantly death resulted because of their disobedience. We continue to see this today. We live under the shroud of death and sin in this life.

Just as death came through one man, life also came through one man. Jesus broke the curse of sin and death upon us. He lived an obedient life to God and his commands. He died an innocent death. He alone paid the penalty for our sins. He changed all that sin has upended in our life. Now we possess freedom from sin, since Jesus brought forgiveness and righteousness.

In all of this an excuse to sin might arise. Paul anticipates this right away. “Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1)? If God’s grace and forgiveness are always there, should we just keep on sinning? We can deduct that we would actually be doing a good thing because God’s grace would increase where sin increased.

This kind of temptation is always there. We struggle with it on a daily basis. We know God’s commands. We can recite those Ten Commandments from memory. However, we start to wonder that maybe, just maybe, we can break them because after all God will forgive us. I will cheat on this test. I will then ask God to forgive me afterwards. It will be okay if I drink a little too much alcohol at the wedding or party. God will forgive me in the morning. I can enjoy the blessings of marriage without being married. I will just ask God to forgive me. I can join in any sinful behavior my friends do, because God will always forgive me.

Paul stops that kind of thinking right away. “Absolutely not! We died to sin. How can we go on living in it any longer” (Romans 6:2)? We cannot even begin to entertain those thoughts. Those thoughts have no business to even enter our mind. God’s forgiveness does not give us a license to sin. We died to sin. That part of us has been put to death. Paul takes it a step further, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3)?

Usually we think of baptism as a life giving ceremony. God instructs us to bring a child to him in baptism for a new life of faith. The child is brought from spiritual death to spiritual life. However, there is a burial that takes place at baptism. Our Old Adam is drowned. A burial tells everyone that death is final. We might be able to deny the reality of death for a time, but as we stand over the grave, it hits us. As we stand over the burial site, it all becomes a reality. Death is inescapable.

Baptism makes us stand at the grave. It is not our grave, but it is sin that has died in us. Christ died for us. Our sin died at that time as well. We want to walk away from it and never return to it. God tells us, “We know that our old self was crucified with him, to make our sinful body powerless, so that we would not continue to serve sin. For the person who has died has been declared free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7).

Right there upon the cross our old self, that part of us that desires nothing but what is contrary to God’s law, which wants to join in sin, has been nailed to the cross. It died there. We want to leave it there. Our baptism, our entire life for Christ, is built upon his death. His death brings us freedom. We no longer want to go running back to sin saying that God will forgive us anyway. We will battle sin with God’s help. We will resist temptation while standing on God’s Word.

Christ died to pay for sin. We died with Christ to sin. Our service is no longer to our sinful nature. We do not live to gratify the sinful desires of the flesh. We have crucified that part of us. It has been put to death so that we might be free to live for Christ.

We live for Christ who died for us. His death brings us freedom from sin, death, and the devil. Death, although the final say in this life, never had the final say over Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead, which gives us all the more reason to live for Christ.

“We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life” (Romans 6:4). Easter Sunday shows us the triumph of Jesus. Sin has been paid for. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The devil has been crushed in a humiliating defeat. All of a sudden the disciples’ saw Jesus in a new light. His glory was seen. His mission understood. His death stands as a means to an end.

We too live a new life. Our old life was nothing but sin. We walked down a dark road. The devil takes us by the hand leading us down a path we did not want to go. We desired to live only for the joys of this world and nothing more. So many still want to live this way. Yet, we realize how empty it is.

We want to turn a new corner in life. This happens in our regular life as well. We find ourselves in a rut. We do the same thing over and over again. We grow tired of the monotony of life. We want something different from what we have been doing. The dreaded mid-life crisis hits. We feel like everything has been a waste. We long for getting back the excitement of our younger years. So, maybe a person changes jobs, buys a new car, takes an exotic vacation to break out of the crisis.

We were stuck in a life of sin. It dragged us down, and it would continue to drag us down all the way to hell. God has given us new life. Our life has changed. It has changed dramatically. We now live not for ourselves or our sinful nature, but we live for Christ. We live to serve him in all we do.

This means we have been bought out of our rut of sin. We live to please our Lord and Savior. We will not run back to sin. We will not take advantage of grace. We will live to please God. We will live for Christ in all we do out of thanksgiving for what he has done for us.

We are free. Do we take this freedom for granted? At times, yes. We think life was better on the other side. We might even want to go back to our sinful life. We need to go to the cross. We see Christ’s payment. We see our old self crucified with Christ. We run to him for help with all we need and seek his strength to overcome all sin.

Christ is our passion in life. He has died to free us from the captivity of sin and death. He rose giving us new life to serve him in all things. Our life is now full in every aspect. We live for Christ. Amen.

 

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Sermon for 5th Sunday after Pentecost – “Is Your Sermon Ready? What will you say?”

Dear fellow “preachers” for Jesus,

Several Pastors I know sometimes have had unsettling dreams the night before they preach.  These dreams seem to have to do with uncertainty and anxiety about being ready to deliver a sermon the next morning.  I remember having a recurring Saturday night dream, especially when I was a Vicar, about running around on a Sunday morning five minutes before start of service looking for my Bible and sermon notes.  The embarrassment that would be suffered if I were to stumble through the sermon because of not having my notes and feeling unprepared was probably the reason that often times in the dream I’d be half-dressed as I ran around looking for my Bible and notes!  As time goes on and a Pastor has preached for a few years and becomes more confident about being ready to preach, the dreams don’t occur as often.

Our lessons today (5th Sunday after Pentecost) are about being ready in our Christian lives to “preach a sermon”, especially when the pressure is on.  Examples are found in the “main people” in our lessons – the prophet Jeremiah with the people of Jerusalem (600 B.C.), the apostle Paul late in his ministry life, and Jesus and his 12 apostles as Jesus was sending the 12 out on their own for a few weeks to the surrounding towns and villages as his messengers.  These lessons and examples put this question before us, Jesus’ 21st century A.D. disciples and apostles …

Is Your Sermon Ready?  What Will You Say?

“I don’t know him”?   OR    “Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life”?

     “I don’t know him” are the disciple Peter’s words about Jesus, probably quite familiar to us.  Peter basically said this three times the night Jesus was betrayed and put on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (ruling council).  Peter was under pressure (so he thought) as he warmed himself beside the fire with the High Priest’s palace servants.  When asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples, his answer was, “I DON”T KNOW HIM”.

     Is that your sermon?  Is that what you say when put on the spot about your relationship with Jesus?

We’ve mentioned it often in sermons and Bible classes, and I’m sure you see it in your own life, that quite often the “sermons” we preach say:  “I don’t know him.”  The ways of saying “I don’t know him” often are “preached” with words.  For the most part we probably aren’t guilty of flat out saying, “I don’t know Jesus.”  But I’m sure that there have been times in all our lives when words came out of our mouths that shouldn’t come from the mouth of someone who knows and loves Jesus.

But our “sermons” that say “I don’t know him” aren’t preached only with words.  Sometimes it’s the lack of words that says as much as words themselves.  Sometimes it’s silently joining in activities that are against God’s perfect will for our lives as his children.  Sometimes it’s being silent when love for someone would have us speak up about God’s will, about their disobedience of it and their need of Jesus’ forgiveness for that disobedience. Whether spoken with words or without them, such “sermons” put us in the situation Jesus spoke of as he sent the twelve on their mission trip, “Everyone who confesses me before others, I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies me before others, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven”.  I deserve to have Jesus say at my judgment day before God, “I don’t know you; away from me.”

But this Jesus, the Son of God, became God the Father’s “sermon” to us.  His apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to call Jesus “the Word” (John 1:1) when writing his account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus’ entire life was the perfect “sermon”, always presenting in word and actions God’s loving truth to all people.  In our place Jesus always “made the good confession” about God, about his will for us, and about his selfless love for us.  Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin “preaching a sermon” to perhaps some of the same men to whom Paul would “preach” some twenty-five years later.  Jesus lovingly spoke God’s truth to them. (Much of what Paul said in Acts 23 echoed Jesus.)  In our place Jesus continued the good confession by silently enduring God’s just punishment on our poor confessionsFor us then, there is a resurrection to eternal life through forgiveness in Jesus; HE IS THAT RESURRECTION AND LIFE!

      Because of this we have reason to preach our sermon, and we know what to say!   “Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life”.  These, of course, are Jesus’ words, spoken to Martha just before Jesus raised her brother Lazarus from death (John 11).  But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is crucial in “preaching” about the forgiveness he acquired for us.  His resurrection is proof that, as Jesus’ said from his cross, “it is finished”!  So Paul had been proclaiming the resurrection of the dead.  Paul himself knew Jesus to be the source of his resurrection and eternal life; and he consistently said so.   Paul knew what to say.  Jesus’ disciples being sent out for a few weeks on their own knew what to say since they had been taught by him.

Focusing on the Apostle Paul in the lesson from Acts 23, we also observe that in addition to knowing what to preach, Paul also knew his audience.  In this instance Paul’s intellect and quick mind are on display.  He was on the verge of being beaten to death by members of the Sanhedrin.  But when he was able to get in a few words, he was able to take the focus of the group off himself and put it on them by exposing the divisions in the Sanhedrin.  Though they were all Jews and “members” of the Jewish faith, they had their differing belief groups – Pharisees and Sadducees (somewhat like the visible Christian Church today with its different denominations).  Paul had been a Pharisee before knowing Jesus as the Christ, his Savior.  He knew what the Pharisees believed and taught, as well as knowing the beliefs and teachings of the Sadducees.  In this particular instance, he was able to use that to his advantage regarding his physical safety.

The Pharisees accurately taught the Old Testament scriptures, correctly teaching God’s commandments for the lives of his people.  They believed from Scripture in the spiritual realm, in angels, heaven and hell, and the resurrection of the dead.  However, they also missed entirely the purpose of those commandments and the central message of those Scriptures.  They believed and taught that by living by God’s commandments a person could be acceptable to God and earn eternal life with him.  To “help” people the Pharisees came up with hundreds of smaller commands connected to God’s commands.  In reality, they hurt rather than helped, creating more guilt in a person as they saw ever more clearly their shortcomings before their holy God.  And then, they missed the central truth of the Scriptures, that the promised Messiah (Christ) would come to be the substitutionary Rescuer of people by being perfect in their place and by suffering God’s punishment deserved by sinners.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, taught the Scriptures as being somewhat mythological – denying the existence of the spiritual realm, of heaven and hell, of angels and of the resurrection of the dead.  They would be the equivalent of religious teachers and churches today that also deny those teachings of Scripture and who also teach that many teachings of Scripture don’t apply to these times in which we live.

So, Paul deflected the animosity off himself by saying that he had been a Pharisee and that he was on trial for preaching concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.  While the two groups began bickering amongst themselves, the military commander was able to get Paul out of the situation and to the safety of the military barracks.

In all this, however, Paul had “preached his sermon”; he proclaimed in word and action God’s message for those people.  The same was true regarding Jeremiah in our first lesson (Jeremiah 19:14-20:6).  Jesus was instructing his disciples about the same thing when he told them, “What I say to you in the dark, speak in the daylight…” and not to fear those who would not joyfully receive what they said and might even try to do them harm. (Matt. 10:27ff)

You, also, are prepared to preach your sermon!  Often we don’t think so.  But like Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus’ twelve disciples, you’ve listened to your Savior’s Word.  If you’ve been through Catechism class, the memorization of Bible passages was done so that when needed those truths are in our heads and hearts.

If you don’t feel prepared, there are things you can do – read more Scripture at home, asking simple questions of the section, like what is God telling me about myself here?  …about Him?  Come to a Bible Class – especially the current Sunday A.M. class on Bible teachings that were once again brought to the forefront in the Reformation of the Church, 500 years ago.

You are also ready with your “sermon” because you, like the apostle Paul, are usually familiar with the people with whom you have most of your conversations.  They may be in your family, or at work, or friends.  You know them.  You know their life situations.  You know their activities and behaviors.  You know their greatest need!  And you have the “sermon” for their greatest need – Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life!

In every setting may we then be ready with our “sermon” – that points out everyone’s need for a Savior and points to the only Savior, Jesus, the Resurrection and Life!   Amen.

 

Jeremiah 19:14 – 20:6

Jer 19:14 Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the LORD’S temple and said to all the people, 15 “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’ ”

Jer 20:1 When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, 2 he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’S temple.  3 The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The LORD’S name for you is not Pashhur, but Magor-Missabib a.   4 For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword.  5 I will hand over to their enemies all the wealth of this city—all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon.  6 And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.’ ”

a Means “terror on every side” in Hebrew.

Acts 23:1-11

Ac 23:1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”  2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.  3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?”  5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’’”

6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.  8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)  9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”  10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Matthew 10:24-33

Mt 10:24 “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!   26 “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.  28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

 

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