Saturday, April 18, 2015

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 19, 2015;

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 19, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”” (Luke 24:36–49, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples are frightened, and who wouldn’t be. A dead man is standing in front of them very much alive. The rumors, that he had risen, that they were just talking about are confirmed true. None-the-less they react to Jesus with fear. “He must be a ghost!” They think. Jesus proves otherwise. He shows them his scars, and eats a piece of fish. Flesh-and-blood Jesus has returned from the dead and appeared to them.

And he brings peace. Now, don’t suppose that this greeting “Peace be with you” is just a simple hello. It is not a formality. When Jesus speaks you actually receive what he says. Jesus’ words bring a blessing. “Peace” is it. Here he means that human beings have been reconciled with God through his life, death and resurrection. Forgiveness of human sin is a reality, “Peace” has come. The proof of what he says is him, standing right there in his living, breathing, flesh, and blood.

In the Gospel of John when the disciples had gathered with Jesus for the Passover, on the night when he was betrayed, before his death, Jesus talks about this very moment.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you I you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.” (John 14:25–29, ESV)

It is the fulfillment of angel song.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14, ESV)

This is the end-game that Jesus is born to do. He is sent by God the Father to make “Peace” happen. And it all exists right there in Jesus’ words. “Peace be with you.”

And Jesus’ Word is what this is all about. He is not content with bringing this peace to the disciples. He is all about bringing peace to every corner of the world. He lays it out for them. The bible is about him. It is the record of God’s peace come to the world, laid down in ink before he walked in human flesh. Point after point, the Word of God the disciples knew, was shown to be true and accurate, well beyond coincidence. It lays out what must happen, what did happen, so that Jesus could stand before them, once dead, but now alive, and declare God’s Peace.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are key. They are, in fact, the center point of the Christian faith. Without a dead Jesus on the cross, and a live Jesus standing before witnesses, there is no faith to be had. It is what St. Paul means when he says “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV) He is echoing Jesus. Sermons are about Jesus. His suffering and death and repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Our translation this morning doesn’t say it quite strong enough. It says:

and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47, ESV)

“Proclaimed” doesn’t completely capture what Jesus is saying. He’s talking about preaching. It’s the same word that Paul uses: “We preach Christ crucified”, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached”.

In the name of Jesus, pastors are to preach Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried and raised again. They are to preach repentance, that is the law that convicts people of their sin and need for forgiveness. And then offer Jesus’ peace, his forgiveness of sin, won by all that he does on the cross. Jesus is plainly telling pastors what they are to do. Jesus is plainly telling churches what they should demand from their pastors. The Lutheran Confessions, the writings that tell us what it means to be Lutheran, talk about what a pastor is:

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake. (AC: I, art. iv–AC: I, art. V)[1]

Jesus knows what you need. He is after all the Word of God. Preaching is about what you need, repentance and forgiveness. So, repent sinner! God wants you to know your position before him. His word tells you that all sin is against him and sin is fatal. Ezekiel 18:20a (ESV) “The soul who sins shall die.” We acknowledge it in our confession at the beginning of most of our worship services.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

Peace be with you!

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

That’s God’s peace to you. You are forgiven. You have been promised eternal life and resurrection of your body after death. The disciples are witnesses. What they heard and saw they passed down to you through the church and faithful pastors. It is all God’s gracious gift to you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[1] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 32–33). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 12, 2015;

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 12, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:1–2:2, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The apostle John doesn’t want you to have any doubts about what he is saying. Jesus was a real, live, breathing, talking, walking person. He and the other disciples heard, saw and touched him. He wasn’t a phantom, spirit being, or ghost, but instead a flesh and blood man. And at the same time this Word of Life was eternal God from the beginning. He was “made manifest” that means fully shown, heard, seen and touched in real life. John sets himself as a witness, along with the other disciples (“we” he says). It rings back to the Gospel of John. Words that we heard read just last week. John describes the blood and water flowing out of Jesus’ side as the spear pierces his heart.

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:35, ESV)

It is the truth of Jesus brought to you in eyewitness testimony. You see, we don’t look inside of ourselves to find the truth about God’s love for us. We don’t look for some “burning in the heart” or to some vague feeling of “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart” to be proof of Jesus’ forgiveness for us. That’s not Christianity, that’s a pagan religion called Gnosticism. That’s not Christianity that’s a false Christianity called Mormonism. Our proof of faith doesn’t come because we feel it to be true, but instead because reliable witnesses heard, saw, and touched Jesus. Real, reliable witnesses, heard him teach about himself. He said in no uncertain terms that he was God, himself in human flesh. Jesus enemies heard it and killed him for it. The charge they held up as the one deserving death was blasphemy. Saying things about himself and God that weren’t true. They knew exactly what Jesus claimed to be. The church leaders couldn’t have God running around in human flesh calling them sinners.

And notice how we confess our faith. The confessions of the church fall right in line with what John is saying here. There’s not a “feeling” expressed in them, only historical verifiable facts. Just listen to the verbs.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

See how it is set in real human time, “suffered under Pontius Pilate”. Martin Luther explains our faith this way:

By the grace of God I have learned not to turn my eyes away from that Person who was born to Mary, and not to seek or acknowledge another god. One’s eyes must be fixed on that Person who was born of the Virgin Mary. Where the Son of God is, there Christ is; where Christ is, there the Father is (AE 30:223).[1]

The one born is the one who was crucified. The one who was crucified is the one who rose from the dead. The one who rose from the dead is the one who promises resurrection to you. If Jesus isn’t a living breathing, dead and raised person, neither will you be. It is as simple as that. No other religion has such a physical, reliable, and verifiable hope, based on a physical, reliable, and verifiable person. John wants you to see Jesus as he saw him, because that is real faith in a real Jesus. We cling to the promises of Jesus. We cling to a Jesus crucified, dead and buried and raised again on the third day. We stand together confessing those truths and that is our fellowship. It is a fellowship with John, all those who heard, saw, and touched Jesus, and all those who together confess faith in that real Jesus. It is fellowship finally with God himself. That fellowship is only possible because of the forgiveness that Jesus gives you through faith in his death and resurrection. It is a putting away of sin, that creates a relationship, fellowship between you and God. And that fellowship is only as real as Jesus is real.

But John isn’t done. The reality of Jesus has effects in your real life. If Jesus is real, if his death and resurrection are real, if you are really forgiven, and you have a real fellowship with God, then things will happen in your real life. John wants you to be mindful of your sin as you live every day. He talks about living in the light. He means knowing the truth about yourself, sinner that you are. If you deny your own sin, you deny your need for Jesus. It isn’t difficult to see your sin. You have its effects around you. Poor heath, poor relationships, poor attention to God’s Word, poor care for your neighbors in need, poor selflessness, these are all signs of your sin. These are all signs of your broken relationship that is, lack of fellowship with God. But living in the light also means living in light of what the real Jesus has done. You acknowledge your sin that is, confess your need for forgiveness, because God forgives through Jesus. God is faithful and just, he forgives the sins of those who have faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for their sin. Your sin and mine have been put to death on the cross. We are promised resurrection to new life in Jesus resurrection. But it is only real for you, if it is real in history. If you deny your sin, you deny God’s work in Jesus, you deny God, calling him and his Word lies.

But they are not lies. Our sin is real and our Savior is real. We live in the light of Jesus, avoiding sin because it is God’s will for our lives. We hate sin, even as we can’t avoid it. We don’t want to sin, but we do. And so John gives us the good news. We have an advocate with the Father. And it isn’t some phantom, spirit person or ghost. It is a real, flesh and blood, human being, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. He is one who has lived as we live. He is one who faced death as we will. He is one who promises a promise based in his victory over death. He is one who promises forgiveness through his real life, death and resurrection. A promise of life without the threats of eternal punishment. A promise of fellowship with God, the Father. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[1] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (p. 2172). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Exodus 20:1-17; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 8, 2015;

Exodus 20:1-17; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 8, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”” (Exodus 20:1–17, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Always the most important thing to understand a given text of Scripture, is to know its context. This is especially true of the 10 Commandments. You can post the 10 Commandments on the walls of any state building you want, but it isn’t necessarily going to mean that the people who read them are really going to understand what God has in mind with them. The context, that is what was going on when God gave them, is critical in knowing what they’re all about.

The 10 commandments are a covenant, that is, and agreement between God and his people. You see it in the first words of our reading today.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

God rescued his people, the Israelites, from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. He rescued them with “a mighty hand”. You know the account of the 10 plagues that God used to convince Pharaoh to finally let his people go. The thing also to remember, is that they had done nothing to deserve God’s rescue. He claimed them, apart from anything they had done to earn their freedom. It was a gift of God’s grace.

God’s gift of freedom came with expectations. But they weren’t arbitrary. They were also a good gift, a great loving gift. They were a plan for enjoying their identity as God’s creatures and his children. God was saying, “Because I rescue you, you shall live this way.” It’s like a father who says to his children as they walk out the door, “Remember what family you belong to.”

God has those same expectations for you and me. It’s very similar to the people of Israel. God has rescued us from slavery to sin, death, and the power of Satan. He has given us an identity as his children. It is our adoption in Holy Baptism. God makes promises to you and me that are connected to the water in the font. Those promises that come directly from our Savior’s death on the cross. Forgiveness is ours because Jesus takes our punishment as his own. Life is there because Jesus rose from the dead and promises the same for us. Satan has no power over us because Jesus has taken away his greatest weapons, the threat of God’s eternal punishment. That’s what forgiveness of sins bring to us. And again, this is all God’s grace, his undeserved love. He saves us not through anything we have done, or could even do, but simply out of love. It is very important to understand all of that as context for the Commandments. They have been given us to follow, but they don’t determine whether we are his children. They don’t earn any special status with him. We do them because we have a relationship with him that he established. When we keep them, we are showing that we have faith in his word to us. He says, “Do these things and you show that you are my children.” Martin Luther incorporated this idea in his “Close of the Commandments” in the Small Catechism.

God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

The grace and blessing come because living according to the commandments will, in general, lead to a well lived, blessed life. As St. Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy:

… godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8b, ESV)

But we should also be aware that the law, especially the Commandments come with a “handle with care” label. While the law is certainly a good and gracious gift from God, our sinful nature twists it about until it is a dangerous thing.

Firstly, we like to apply it to other people. If you hear yourself agreeing with the preaching of the law in regard to someone other than yourself, you are falling into this trap. I most often hear it something like this. “Your sermon was good pastor, but the people who really needed to hear it weren’t here today.” You might have in your mind, “You get ’em preacher!”

But secondly, when we apply the law to ourselves, wanting first of all to keep them because of what God has done for us, we find it bites us and convicts us of our own falling short. I once heard one pastor say it like this: The law is like a wolf that you train as a guide dog. Good guidance, good protection, but you never know when it will turn on you. (James Nestingen) When we seek to keep God’s law and see our failure we end up with great guilt and shame instead of blessing. That’s what happens when with the law we focus on our sinfulness instead of recognizing that Jesus has taken our sins to the cross and the grave. He has adopted us into his kingdom through Holy Baptism. Living according to God’s commands is something that we do, naturally, because of whose we are.

This is what Paul means when he says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, ESV)

And

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV)

The power of God is living in the forgiveness of the cross. St. Paul also wrote to another pastor:

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. (Titus 3:5–8)

We are heirs, we have forgiveness, and we don’t need the good works of the Commandments for ourselves. We serve best when we look at what our neighbor needs and live according to the commandments for their sake, because of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2015;

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:12–18, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s a rough world, and getting rougher, it seems. As I look around the congregation I see lots of folks here who are struggling with difficult issues. Cancer and violence, money and work, family and future, disagreement and broken relationships. It doesn’t seem as if things are getting better. In fact, I think Satan is making specific attacks against you all. Trials are a part of the Christian life. If anyone sells Christianity as an easy life, full of riches and blessings, as if once you become a Christian life gets easy, they are lying. Certainly there are riches and blessings of a certain kind, to being a Christian, but not necessarily what is sold by preacher / hucksters.

And there’s more. We not only struggle with what the world has to dish out, we struggle with our own self-made troubles. When you are baptized into the Christian faith you gain a great enemy. He is bent on your destruction. He leads you down the path of your own choosing. He feeds your own desires. He lures you in, like the fish going for the bait on the hook. It feels dangerous, but you go right ahead because you can’t stop the desire. After all that, sin is born. The temptation isn’t sin, but temptation married to desire have sin as their offspring. And sin, set in the heart, after all its promises to satisfy desire, really only brings nothing but death. Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Your life is racked with it. Lost friendships. Regret that keeps you up at night. Hopelessness. You want to blame someone else, but as Pogo says, "We have met the enemy and he is us.” Just look at your own life and take inventory of the troubles you have that will only ultimately be resolved by death.

It’s the lifecycle of sin. Temptation, desire, sin, death. How many times have you lived that? How many times has it ended up where sin ends up? How many times in your life will you do it again? How many times can you count on God’s forgiveness?

Well, that’s the real question isn’t it? Does my temptation, desire, sin, and death lead to hell, permanent punishment, and separation from God, living in my sin and its consequences forever? Or is there some way out? St. James tells us carefully and directly, “Do not be deceived!” Temptation, desire, and sin are dangerous. The first place to realize some relief is early, when you are tempted by your desire. Recognize the lifecycle of sin, break it at the beginning. Recognize that sin is our own problem. We suffer the consequences. James tells us that when we “stand firm” we are blessed.

Now I’m not saying that you should work harder to overcome your temptations, as if you, by yourself could do such a thing. Pray harder, and endure your suffering stronger, be all that you can be! Look inside yourself and find the strength to beat down your temptation. The problem is in your heart. Your sinful nature drags you toward sin and its consequences. No, in your heart is not the place to find help against the lifecycle of sin. Your sinful nature is the very problem.

James actually gives you another idea, another place to look for help. He talks about good gifts that come from God. He talks about being “brought forth” by the word of truth. It’s a kind of lifecycle of salvation. Sin gives birth to death. Jesus, the Word of Life, gives birth to life itself. James is talking about being born of water and spirit just like our Lord says.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6, ESV)

Well, and don’t we have a great example of that very thing here today. Fritz Christian Carter, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Born of the Spirit, brought forth by the Word of Truth. Baptized into Christ.

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

LSB 594 © 1991 Robert E. Voelker. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100012735.

Good and perfect gifts that come from God the Father, reminding us that the lifecycle of sin is broken by the Word of Truth, Jesus Christ himself on the cross, the lifecycle of life. That is where James says to turn. Turn to the one who has paid the price for your sin already. Turn to the cross and your connection to it in New Birth, given in the water of Holy Baptism. Turn to the Holy Spirit, who pours into you His strength to avoid temptations pull.

The Word of Truth calls us to confess our sin, our shortcomings, our sinful desires, our inability to avoid, and our failure again and again. We confess, he forgives. That is Holy Baptism, the good gift that comes down from the Father of lights. It’s just like Luther writes in the Small Catechism:

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House, cph.org

That New Man is the “firstfruits” that James is talking about. A new man that avoids temptation and sin, not because he has some great power to do so, but because he has God himself, working, offering forgiveness, calming the guilty conscience, releasing us in that dear forgiving flood, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2 Kings 2:1–12; The Transfiguration of our Lord; February 15, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.” (2 Kings 2:1–12, ESV)

(From a Sermon by Glen Nielson, Winter 2012 Concordia Journal)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is ascension. We have the picture of Jesus, Moses and Elijah standing together discussing Jesus’ work, especially what he was going to be doing for forgiveness through the cross.

The Old Testament reading is about Elijah, one of those having today’s discussion with Jesus. Elijah was really and amazing fellow. Some of things that God did through him are simply incredible. He lived about 850 years before Jesus. He had a 15 year ministry, before that we don’t know much about him. But his calling from God was to turn the people way from the worship of Baal.

We heard about the end of his ministry in our first reading today. Even that was incredible. There at the Jordan River Elijah gave his cloak and struck the water, it spread apart and they walked across just like the Children of Israel did with the Egyptians hot on their trail.

Earlier he was ministering in Israel. There was a drought and food was scarce. Elijah met a widow and her son that were starving. They had enough food for one more meal, then death. Elijah asked the woman to use all they had to make him a meal. She did. But God made a miracle. Elijah told her that her oil and flour wouldn’t run out.

Then the widow’s son, her only son died. She wasn’t very happy with Elijah. She blamed Elijah of brining her sins to God’s attention. But what happened next was incredible. Elijah raised the boy from the dead. He had done one incredible miracle right after another. The widow believe that Elijah was great prophet of God.

Elijah’s biggest challenge came in his dealings with the king. Ahab was an evil king. His wife was even worse. Her name was Jezebel. She was a worshiper of the false gods Baal and Astroth. Ahab didn’t do anything to prevent her from setting up the false religion in Israel. She had hundreds of prophets for Baal and a bunch for Astroth.

God had Elijah challenge the prophets to a contest to see whose god was the true god. Elijah and the prophets (850 of them!) met on Mount Carmel. The test was simple. Build and altar, put wood and a sacrifice on it and pray. The God who lights the fire is the true god. The prophets of Baal started early in the morning and made a ruckus all day long, calling on Baal to light the fire. Elijah taunted them. “Shout louder, maybe he can’t hear you because he’s sleeping, or in the bathroom.” Nothing happened. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He rebuilt the altar, with the wood and his own sacrifice. He prayed, and immediately fire came down from heaven and burned the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones of the altar and left only a black charred spot on the ground. The God of Israel proved himself the only true God. Elijah took a sword and killed every one of those false prophets that day. Incredible.

Then came the end of Elijah’s ministry. Time to set his servant Elisha in his place. It was an incredible thing again. A fiery chariot came and took Elijah from the earth. He didn’t die. He was just scooped up and taken straight to heaven. The next time he was seen was standing on the mount of Transfiguration talking with Jesus.

Elijah was an incredible prophet who did incredible things. It seems like a long time ago, and very different from our day to day lives. It was a long time ago, 2900 years or so. Elijah’s life and ministry were incredible.

Our lives seem rather uneventful. Routine might even be the word. Children have to be taken to school, meals have to be set on the table. Food is plentiful for us, but we don’t often have the time to eat it. Not because things are incredible but because our lives are filled up with regular everyday things. Empty nesters have days that aren’t incredible but incredibly the same. Eat, clean, TV, errands. Apply, lather, rinse repeat.

But sometimes out-of-the-ordinary things happen. A trip to see the grandkids. A concert. A mission fest at church. A surprise party. A night out. But the excitement fades back to the routine. It all flies by quickly and we are back to the same old same old routine again. Nothing like Elijah’s excitement. We are still talking about the incredible events of his life 2900 years later!

Elijah—incredible. You and me—uneventful.

Except… Elijah was more like you and I than we might know. If you push past all the excitement you find a man who was most often lonely and afraid. Are you surprised by that? You would think that after all God had done through him, after all that he had seen he would be strong and confident. He had his moments, like on Mount Carmel. But much of the time he was alone. After he had killed all the prophets on the mountain he had to run for his life. Even after God’s great showing he thought he was the only person faithful to the true God. Elijah the incredible prophet had moments of weakness and doubt. Now weakness and doubt I can relate to, how about you?

There’s a cartoon. In it a young girl is talking on her cell phone. She’s surrounded by her classmates. And yet she says, “I’m so glad you called, I’m so lonely.” That’s life today, isn’t it? We are lonely in a crowd. We’re busy connected by Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, and Snapchat, but still alone in a crowd. We have so many ways to keep in touch but we are still lonely.

We are also afraid of many things. Most of them we can’t control. What are your greatest fears? Do they involve your children? Your health? Your job? Crime? Finances? Elijah was afraid. We are afraid.

Well, we are a bit like Elijah after all. He’s not quite so distant after all.

Back to the Transfiguration. Jesus is on the top of the mountain with his disciples and something incredible happens. Jesus changes. He is unbelievably, dazzlingly bright. Jesus’ glory, his divine nature, his God-ness shows out. He shows them clearly that he is in fact God-in-the-flesh. And Moses and Elijah appear. They talk with Jesus, but they aren’t the center of attention. Jesus is. God the Father speaks out of heaven, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus is left alone.

Jesus is the focus. Even when Elijah was doing all those incredible things all those years earlier it was the same. He did it all to show who the true God was. He did all that to bring people back to worship him. Elijah stands with Jesus to call our attention to him as the only true God. He was standing with Jesus, talking to him.

What were they talking about? Incredible things. Not the things that Elijah did, but the things that Jesus would soon be doing. Incredible things in Jerusalem. When Jesus comes down from the mountain, he heads straight for Jerusalem and the cross. He does those incredible things for you and me.

Jesus is alone when he does these things. The disciples start out with him but they fall asleep and flee like rats at the first sign of danger. Jesus will go to the cross alone. But there something incredible happens. Jesus takes our fears and loneliness. He takes our sins and our grief. He takes are moments of weakness. He holds them on the cross and takes them into his death. He makes them his sins instead of ours.

And then, as if that wasn’t incredible enough, something else happens. Jesus appears in glory again. Jesus’ grave is empty. He has risen from the dead. He is alive. And he promises to never leave us. It’s a bit like Elijah standing by Jesus. Jesus is always standing by us. He is ready to listen to all our troubles.

Yes, Jesus is standing beside us in all our uneventful, every day, dull moments. Errands, fast food, empty places at the dinner table and all. He standing with us when we have the same old, same old day we had before, and when something exciting happens. But most of all he’s standing with us in our loneliness and doubt. He with us in our fear and anger.

Now think again about Elijah. Even though he did some incredible things, I think he might tell us the most incredible of all was standing with Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration, talking to him about saving you and me through the cross. Elijah wouldn’t want us to focus on him, but rather “Listen to Jesus.” He would want us to focus on Jesus standing right beside us. He never leaves us, or forsakes us. That is very incredible indeed. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15–20; The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany; February 1, 2015;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’” (Deuteronomy 18:15–20, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.

Now there’s a sticky wicket. I’m not sure I like the sound of that at all. Sure it’s true that when I prepare a sermon I first have to figure out how the text applies to me, but this… well, it’s pretty obvious. And it is most serious. And it is speaking most directly to pastors… that’s me. But not just me.

We live in a country that has loads of denominations, and more every year. New little clusters of churches pop up with all kinds of different beliefs. Most of them say that doctrine, that is, what a church teaches, isn’t really all that important. In fact, you probably have friends and neighbors and relatives that say that. Or maybe you even think that it’s true. Most of these other churches / denominations / people say it’s how you feel about Jesus that’s really the key thing. What Jesus and his apostles taught is important, but not as important as what you feel about God, what you feel in your heart to be true. That is in spite of what Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20 (which happens to be our Mission statement).

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV)

Now, I want you to understand, it is good for you to have feelings about God and what he has done for you in Jesus Christ. It’s important to live out your faith with feeling, confidence, passion, and compassion. But faith comes through the hearing of God’s Word and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, not feelings that come up. Faith is created and grows as a result of the teaching of everything that Jesus taught.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard that we Christians in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod over-emphasize correct doctrine. I think it is true that we focus on doctrine / teaching more than any other denomination in the U. S. We have a written confession that emphasizes it. It’s called the Book of Concord. It spells out what we believe, teach and confess in great detail. Whenever you have a new pastor installed here, he promises to teach according to it. And you promise to support him in that effort. We get the rep of being legalistic. Most other Christians and maybe even some of you think that Closed Communion is over the top legalism. But practicing correct doctrine / teaching isn’t legalistic, really. It is being faithful to the Gospel that Jesus taught. We teach what he taught very carefully, because he died for us on the cross, and he rose again from death. He saved us from sin, death and Satan. So we want to do what he has told us to do. We want to teach what he told us to teach. We pray for this very thing every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. Luther explains the First Petition: Hallowed be Thy Name.

How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father! (LSB 323)

And notice how Luther sticks that prayer in the explanation that asks doubly for this to be done among us.

And, in 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament, there are specific instructions to beware of fals teachers and prophets. (Matthew 7:15, Mark 13:22, Acts 20:28ff, Ephesians 4:14–15, 1 Timothy 1:3, Hebrews 13:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1) Not to mention that the first sin was doubting what God said. Satan asked Eve, “Did God really say?” Not taking what God teaches to be true is literally the oldest sin in the book.

Now there’s lots of pressure on pastors these days. Well, the truth is, it has always been so. God’s Word calls upon pastors to be faithful to teach what God says. Just look at the text for today for an example. Pastors are to teach carefully with humility, love and gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24-25, Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 4:15, 1 Peter 3:15) And it is, in fact, the duty of the whole church to teach while at the same time doing it with gentleness and love. There is no excuse for being harsh.

So, who are you supposed to know if your pastor, or some television preacher for that matter is teaching according to God’s Word? How do you know if anyone who claims to be God’s teacher is not a false prophet? It is very important for you all to know what God’s Word actually teaches. You hear it read hear every Sunday. You have a bible at home. Bibles are to be read and studied. You actually pay me to read to you and teach you. I spend a great deal of time preparing Sunday morning bible study that most of you have never attended. You officers and board members really have no excuse. You are leaders of the congregation and you should be in bible classes. But there is more than that. Every Sunday we confess our faith together in one of the Creeds. They are a ruler you can lay beside anything a teacher says and decide whether he is teaching God’s Word. I quote Luther’s Small Catechism all the time in my teaching and preaching. You memorized it in confirmation. It also is a ruler for teaching. Do you regularly review it with your family? You should do that, too.

Now this text from Deuteronomy isn’t just about your pastor and other people who claim to teach God’s Word. In fact, it is about much more than that. Who is this new prophet that Moses is saying will come? After Moses, God sent many prophets. Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer. It is in John’s Gospel that we see clearly Jesus is the New Prophet.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14–17, ESV)

And at Jesus Baptism and his Transfiguration, God the Father says to listen to Jesus. Back to what Moses says is God’s promise.

And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

And so, pastors strive to teach what God teaches through Jesus, with your help. And what is that? Jesus is God and man who came to the world to forgive human sin through his life, death and resurrection. That he ascended into heaven and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. You have forgiveness in him. You are declared to be righteous, that is, without sin, because he has washed you clean in Holy Baptism. Through the promised Holy Spirit, also given in Holy Baptism, you are empowered to live your faith in a world that needs to hear what Jesus taught. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

John 1:43-51; The Second Sunday after Epiphany; January 18, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:43–51, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Nathanael speaks correctly. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” But Jesus wants him to get the big picture. “You will see greater things than these. In fact, you’ll see heaven opened and the angels of God going up and coming down on me.” Jesus isn’t making up new stuff. He’s referring to a dream that was dreamed centuries before. And the disciples knew it well. They were told the story by their parents. They heard it read in the synagogue. It was an important story about their ancestor Jacob.

Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance. He tricked his blind father into thinking that he was his hairy brother Esau by slaughtering a goat and covering himself with it. When their father died, Esau was out for vengeance. Jacob had to flee for his life. While he was running, he stopped to sleep on a mountain. While he slept shivering on a stone for a pillow, God gave him a dream. He promised the land he was on to his family. He promised that his family would be as “many as the dust of the earth”. God had not forsaken him, he would always be with him. In the dream there was a ladder going from the place where he was lying to heaven. And the angels were going up and down. Jacob called the place Bethel, meaning “the House of God”. The temple in Jerusalem was built on that very spot.

Now the disciples knew well what happened at the temple. God came to be with his people. Heaven and earth were joined together. Sacrifices were made to God for the sins of the people. Lambs were slaughtered and the blood was sprinkled on them. Prayers were offered to God. It was an amazing place. The link / ladder for God’s people to be connected to God by his very presence.

Jesus pulls it all together and makes it about himself. He says his disciples would see heaven opened and the angels going up and down on him. Jesus is claiming to be the link to heaven, the way that people have a connection with God. He’s saying the old dream the disciples grew up with was about him. Nathanael makes a wonderful confession about Jesus. “…you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” It’s correct, but I don’t think he has any idea of what it really means or what Jesus must do to be Jacob’s ladder.

The disciples did see greater things than Jesus miracle of seeing Nathanael under the fig tree. They saw Jesus turn water into wine. They saw Jesus healing a paraplegic. They saw Jesus feed 5000 men with a boy’s lunch, healing a man born blind, and raising Lazarus from the dead. All were greater than seeing Nathanael under the fig tree. And while Jesus may have been talking about these things he was more talking about the one greater / greatest thing he would do. The thing that he, the Son of God, God-in-human-flesh, had come to do. The place where heaven was opened and the ladder between God and man set up, Jacob’s dream fulfilled.

It was right after the Wedding of Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, that he turned the tables in the temple and chased out the money men. “This is a house of prayer!” he shouted. “This is the place to come to meet God, not a place to buy and sell!” The Jews asked Jesus what right he had to do such things. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He wasn’t talking about the physical building, he was talking about himself. Jesus replaces the temple. Everything that it was for people, Jesus is. Heaven and earth are joined together. Jesus is God and man joined together in one person. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and made man. He is the sacrifice made to God for the sins of the people. Suspended between heaven and earth, bound to the cross. Held there not with the nails that pinned his hands and feet but with the purpose he had come to accomplish. He is the Lamb of God slaughtered and the blood poured out for the people. He is the one who prays (still) for his people, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus is the greater thing that brings forgiveness, God sacrificing himself in the place of sinful humans, to satisfy the forever punishment due for sin. Jesus is the amazing place where God and man, heaven and earth, meet.

It is what St. Paul means when he says in Colossians:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15–20, ESV)

And it is still true. Jesus ascended into heaven to be at God the Father’s right hand, and yet he is not gone. He is still very present in this house of prayer. Jesus is after all God’s Word made flesh come to dwell among us. Here he does it. Jesus off the page written through the Holy Spirit and into your ears to tell you the Good News of your restored relationship to God through forgiveness. Jesus in the water of Holy Baptism, connecting himself, in his death and resurrection, to you. He promises resurrection there, rescue from hell there, forgiveness there. Jesus present in the body and blood that hung suspended between heaven and earth. The body and blood that poured out on the earth and into your mouth, bringing you a connection directly to God through forgiveness.

Jesus tells the disciples and Nathanael that they will see greater things. They do. He tells them

And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45, ESV)

In Jesus we see God who comes in grace and forgiveness. God who comes to earth to restore our connection to him. God who goes up and down on Jacob’s ladder, from heaven to earth and back again. Making the climb for us. He says it clearly to Nicodemus.

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:13–18, ESV)

Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.