Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Romans 8:18-27; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 20, 2014;


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

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:18-27 ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Listen, can you hear it? I think if you listen very closely, you will. It’s all around us. It’s groaning. No, it’s not just the groaning you’ve heard from the guy who just finished shingling the parsonage. No, it’s not just the groaning of the folks who come to church late and try to sneak in hoping not to be noticed. And no, it’s not just the groaning you will hear if you think the sermon is too long or I’ve picked a hymn you don’t know. Oh, all of that groaning is included, but it’s much more than that. There’s the groaning of nature, where animals live by the blood of their neighbors. Life brings life only through death. The weak feed the strong. Survival of the fittest, as Darwin coined the phrase. There’s the groaning in cities that have been wiped flat from tornados. There is the groaning of children who starve to death because their governments won’t distribute food. The groaning of mother’s whose children don’t return from the battlefield. There’s the groaning you hear in your own joints as age creeps in and makes work and play harder and harder. “Growing old isn’t for sissies,” one old man told me in the hospital once. There’s the groaning you still hear inside yourself from your child, mother, spouse, daughter, brother, sister’s death. There’s the groaning that comes when the corn price is low and the yield is high, or worse yet, then the price is high and the yield is low. There’s the groaning of the empty house that used to be filled with little footsteps that have grown and moved out… out of town, out of the county, out of the state. There is the groaning waiting for them to call. There’s the groaning from declining population; the groaning of the gas pump; the groaning of credit card debt; the groaning of lost family and friends; the groaning… well I think you get the picture. St. Paul paints the picture for us today in this reading.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:22 ESV)

Groaning together… he says. We groan because things aren’t the way they should be. The world doesn’t work the way we know it should work. Nature doesn’t live together the way we know it should live together. Our bodies don’t last the way we know they should last. We die. So we say the lie we know is untrue, that death is a natural part of life. But there is the desire to live forever. That desire comes from a knowledge that life should be permanent. That lie is in the face of the groaning we all know. The whole creation groans together… we groan together… because we live in a world that is difficult and broken and cursed to death and suffering.

But there is worse news yet. The creation out there groans because it was subjected to a curse. But it was curse not from its own fault but from ours. When God created the world, he created it for human beings to live in. It was perfect and good. When our first parents choose to disobey God, when they wanted to be god for themselves, they destroyed their perfect relationship to God. Corrupt and sinful humans couldn’t live in a perfect world so it was “subject to futility.” You see, every time things don’t work in the world, every time a tsunami destroys a city, every time an animal dies to feed another, every time a child starves, every time a bone breaks, every time age creeps into our joints, it’s our fault. It’s your fault. It’s my fault.

I know that seems harsh. But that is what the groaning is all about. Adam’s sin brought it all about.

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19 ESV)

Now here’s the thing. You might want to blame Adam for this mess, but if you were him, you’d have done the same thing. You don’t keep God’s law either. We’ve talked a lot about our broken relationship with God and our broken relationship with other people. That’s all a part of that groaning. Simply stepping through the commandments and realizing that they are not only talking about doing or not doing but they are talking about the heart, our desires and thoughts. All this shows us very clearly that we are sinful. We are sinful. We see its effects in the broken relationships. We see the effects in our lack of desire to help others. We see it in our lack of care and concern for the world that God has given us. Sin is the cause of all that groaning out there. That’s what St. Paul is confessing to us today.

But notice that St. Paul doesn’t end with the groaning… Listen again to the verse where he talks about it.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21 ESV)

The creation was subjected to this groaning in hope… even in our groaning we groan in hope… That’s the whole point of what St. Paul is saying.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

He’s saying that what we are headed for, the glory, is so much greater than the suffering we are undergoing now. He puts that in terms you can understand too.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:22 ESV)

Any woman will tell you about the pain of childbirth. God didn’t give this curse to men because he knew that we couldn’t handle it. Women suffer that pain. But it evaporates as soon as the child is in their arms. They understand the idea of no pain no gain. Many women even do it more than once. So great is the joy, the pain is forgotten. That’s what Paul wants us to see. The groaning it temporary, the groaning is part of the process, the groaning will be over, the joy will come, and the groaning will be forgotten.

That childbirth, that groaning inwardly, attests to the good news that is here. We groan because we look forward to the redemption of our bodies. That too, is what the groaning of Jesus was all about. He came not only to win our way to heaven, but also to restore the world to its pre-groaning state. He came not just to redeem you and me, not only to rescue you and me from hell, but also to rescue us to, and for a perfect world. The creation groans in eager expectation because it has been released from the curse of human sin placed on it. Jesus groaned on the tree, like that Good Friday hymn says:

Tell me ye who hear him groaning, Was there ever grief like His? (LSB 451.2)

Jesus’ pain and suffering on the cross is to release you and me, and the whole creation from the bondage to sin. Jesus knows about your groaning, he groans too. He comes to fix it. He comes to end it. He comes to restore a perfect world for you and me to live in, in perfect bodies for all eternity. It is all finished. The new world, our new bodies are on the way. That’s Jesus promise through not only His death but through His resurrection from death. That’s His promise that you will be raised from death, too.

In the meantime, what about all that groaning? Well, it’s not really going to stop. Right now things don’t work the way we want them to. Right now, there’s trouble, pain, and sorrow. Right now, we sin and or sin affects our relationships. Right now death stalks us. Right now nature seems to be out to get us. So we groan wanting it all to end. And Jesus knows what that groaning is like. He lived it too. He walked on sore feet. He was hungry when it was time to eat. He wept when His friends died. There’s nothing that happens to you that Jesus doesn’t understand. He is a human being. He groaned upon the earth. He knows what you need to overcome your troubles. And He delivers. He can because He is not just a human being, but God, too.

And look how the passage ends.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV)

So when your troubles leave you groaning and you don’t know where to turn. The Holy Spirit, God’s gift to you in Holy Baptism, is right there in the middle of your groaning, changing it into a prayer. And not just any prayer, but a prayer for just what you need. Amen.

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

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Funeral Plan for Rev. Jonathan C. Watt - (Reposted)

image But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thess. 4:13–14 ESV)
A few years ago I wrote an article for the Lutheran Witness titled "Thinking About Your Funeral."  In keeping with that idea I am posting my funeral plan here.

My Funeral Plan

This reminder to my family and friends.  My funeral is not about me but about Jesus
It is important to understand that a funeral is a worship service. We do not worship the person lying in the casket; rather, we worship the One who died and rose again. Jesus Christ is the center of all Lutheran worship—especially a funeral—because Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil is clearly proclaimed. The whole funeral service echoes this truth over and over, reminding us of what Jesus did for us at our Baptism. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
At the present time the best expression of a Christian, Christ-Centered, funeral service is the Funeral Service found in Lutheran Service Book (p. 278ff).  It draws its flow from the life of the Christian beginning with Baptism (Placing of the Funeral Pall), flowing through God's Word (readings) , prompting a confession of faith (The Apostles' Creed), Prayer, and the Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon, Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace, Luke 2:29-32) the Hymn of departure in Christian faith.  The service is punctuated with Christian hymns, the believers faith in Christ as the only Savior from sin, expressed in song. 
The funeral takes place in the Christian congregation as the Christian's life flows from God's gifts through Word and Sacrament to life everyday.


image I am baptized.  Through this precious gift, God declared me to be righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ.  My sin was given to Him.  He bore my sins punishment on the cross.  His perfect life, lived perfect in thought, word and deed, all that he did and all that he didn't do, were given to me.  God's name was given to me.  Along with God's name come His promises, forgiveness, life, salvation and the promise of the resurrection of the body.
This wonderful gift of Salvation is clearly symbolized in the placing of the pall over the casket.  In Paul's words:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5 ESV)

(I love the Lutheran Service Book Hymn (594) God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It. I addition to the hymns listed below it makes a wonderful funeral hymn.) 


As part of the church’s prayer book, a favorite Psalm can express the depth of our feelings, as well as confess our faith in a loving and merciful Savior. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
Psalm 130 (ESV) - A Song of Ascents
1     Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! 
  2     O Lord, hear my voice!  
         Let your ears be attentive
         to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  
  3     If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
        O Lord, who could stand?
  4     But with you there is forgiveness,
       that you may be feared. 
  5     I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
        and in his word I hope; 
  6     my soul waits for the Lord
        more than watchmen for the morning,
       more than watchmen for the morning. 
7     O Israel, hope in the Lord! 
       For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
       and with him is plentiful redemption. 
8     And he will redeem Israel
       from all his iniquities.
I love the absolute contrast in this psalm.  The expression of grief "out of the depths..." and the expression of faith "with you there is forgiveness"; "I wait on the Lord" and "with the Lord is plentiful forgiveness."  Words that mourners will need to hear and speak.  Grief is mitigated by the forgiveness offered in Christ. 


The Old Testament reading reveals God’s plan of salvation for His creation. Like us, God’s people in the Old Testament trusted in the Messiah who would come to save them from their sins and raise them to eternal life. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
Job 19:23-27a, ESV
23 “Oh that my words were written!
     Oh that they were inscribed in a book! 
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead
     they were engraved in the rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
     and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
     yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
     and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
     My heart faints within me!
Job 19 is a clear expression of the physical resurrection that Christians look for when Jesus returns.  "and my eyes shall behold," in other words, with these very eyes, in this flesh and body, I will see Christ. 
The Epistle reading has several purposes. It can give a clear confession of our Christian hope in the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51–52). It can show that not even death can separate us from God (Rom. 8:38–39). It brings out the peace we have with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins (Rom. 5:1–6). And it can state how in death, through Christ, we gain everything (Phil. 1:21–23). (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
Roman 8:31-39
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)

This text answers the question that those at the funeral will be asking.  Why?  It answers it by saying that God's perspective is very different from ours.  Death seems like such a defeat, yet, through Christ God says it is not a separation from God. 
In the Gospel reading, Jesus comforts us with His own words, deeds, and prayers. “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
John 11:20-27
So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:20-27 ESV)
What better words than the words of Jesus himself? at a funeral? Jesus comforts Martha with the truth about who He is and why He has come. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. His promises are true. He promises eternal life after death. He delivers on His promises.


The singing of hymns at a funeral service is the second part where the comfort of Christ is heard by those attending. Like the Psalms, hymns can express the depth of our faith. St. Paul says that through them God’s Word “dwells in us richly” (Col. 3:16). Your pastor may suggest that you select Easter hymns. Your favorite hymn may be beautiful, reflecting God’s work for us in Jesus, but Easter hymns speak so clearly to grieving hearts. (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 21)
LSB 490 - "Jesus Lives! The Victory's Won" by Christian F. Gellert, 1715-1769 Translated by Frances E. Cox, 1812-1897
Jesus lives! The victory's won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death's reign is done!
From the grave Christ will recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! To Him the throne
High o'er heaven and earth is given.
I shall go where He is gone,
Live and reign with Him in heaven.
God is faithful. Doubtings, hence!
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! For me He died,
Hence will I, to Jesus living,
Pure in heart and act abide,
Praise to Him and glory giving.
Freely God doth aid dispense;
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! I know full well
Naught from me His love shall sever;
Life nor death nor powers of hell
Part me now from Christ forever.
God will be a sure Defense;
This shall be my confidence.

Jesus lives! and now is death
But the gate of life immortal;
This shall calm my trembling breath
When I pass its gloomy portal.
Faith shall cry, as fails each sense,
Jesus is my confidence!

(Text Public Domain)
Jesus lives! This is the cry of faith in the face of death.  I love the picture in the final verse.  Life is slipping away, the Christian trembles in the face of this terrible enemy.  But Christ's triumph over death changes everything.  Jesus is my confidence! is the cry of faith.  Jesus has defeated this enemy for me. I cannot stop death from taking me, but my Savior promises it is the the portal to life forever.
LSB 563 "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness" by Ludwig von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760 Translated by John Wesley, 1703-1791
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in that great Day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully through these absolved I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

The holy, meek, unspotted Lamb,
Who from the Father's bosom came,
Who died for me, e'en me t'atone,
Now for my Lord and God I own.

Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which at the mercy-seat of God
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me--e'en for my soul--was shed.

Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made.

When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
E'en then, this shall be all my plea:
Jesus hath lived and died for me.

Jesus, be endless praise to Thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me,
For me, and all Thy hands have made,
An everlasting ransom paid.

(Text Public Domain)
I have come to really love and appreciate this hymn only recently.  One man, not a member of my congregation, came express his faith in Jesus for the first time in my hearing.  He was dying and during my visits to him, this hymn is what he wanted to hear.  It expresses what faith in Jesus is, a dependence on Him, totally for salvation.  It fits so well in a funeral.  I especially like how it begins as the funeral does:
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
This is a picture of the Funeral Pall being placed over my casket.
LSB 708 "Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart" by Martin Schalling, 1532-1608 Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart;
I pray Thee ne'er from me depart,
With tender mercies cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share,
Yea, heaven itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me.
And should my heart for sorrow break,
My trust in Thee no one could shake.
Thou art the Portion I have sought;
Thy precious blood my soul has bought.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
Forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.
Yea, Lord, 'twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord, grant that I in every place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And serve and help my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile
And Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford.
image Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my Fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
(Text Public Domain)
I've selected this hymn for the last verse.  It is a prayer of faith.  A confession of the hope of the resurrection. 

To the Preacher

 "When we listen to a funeral sermon, we listen to hear that this is one who was Baptized. The rest is chaff." Norman Nagel.
Your pastor’s primary task in the funeral sermon is to preach Christ crucified. His message may be made personal by showing how faith in Christ was revealed in your life. But remember, while your pastor may relate stories of your life during the sermon, that is not the reason for his preaching. The proclamation of God’s Word at your funeral service is to point those who grieve to Jesus and the hope that is found in Him alone.  (The Lutheran Witness, Vol 126, No 8, p. 22)
My confirmation verse is:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)
image Pastor, you may use my confirmation verse for the text of the sermon or another of your choosing.  The funeral sermon is to be especially about Christ.  Jesus is the center.  His life, death and resurrection for sinful men, of which I am one, are the main and only point.  Preach the law in its sternness (you'll never get a better example than my dead body lying in front of everyone as the wages of sin) and the gospel in all its sweetness, this funeral service is packed full of images you can use.

Waunita and I have arranged for burial rites at Zion Lutheran Church, Worms, NE

This is my funeral plan.
Rev. Jonathan C. Watt, pastor, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Romans 7:15-25a; the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; July 6, 2014;

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

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15–25a, ESV)

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

It is a persistent problem in the Christian church. Christians don’t seem to be any different from anyone else. We have the same temptations, same problems, and especially, the same sins. You hear people say, “You Christians are no different than anyone else. You are just hypocrites.” Well in one way it is true, we are no different from anyone else. We are sinners. Luther has it right in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Fifth Petition.

… we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. (http://sites.cph.org/catechism/lords-prayer.asp)

St. Paul has it right doesn’t he? “I do the very thing I hate.” “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I keep on doing.” You and I, as Christians, understand these statements. We live them every day.

And what’s worse, we who believe the Bible to be God’s very word, have to hold sin is very serious.

For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a, ESV)

The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20b, ESV)

And so our struggle with sin is a serious one, with serious consequences. Sinners, the Bible says, deserved death and hell. And that means you and me. We seem we deserve to die and go to hell. So why is it that we have this struggle? If we were truly Christians, wouldn’t we be passed sinning? If Christians sin, then what good is it to be a Christian?

Paul is explaining the issue. He says there is a struggle between “mind” and “flesh.” He says, in his mind, he wants to do what is right. But, in his flesh, he continues to do what is wrong. It’s almost as if it’s a struggle between two people, a good person and a bad person. And they’re both living in the same body. It is the reality of what life is like as a Christian. We want to do what God wants, but we continually sin and follow our own sinful desires.

As I’ve told you before, in the church when something is important, we give it a Latin name. The Christian church long recognized this struggle. It is called Simul Justus et Peccator. The word simul is where we get our word simultaneous. It means “at the same time” Justus you can see looks like the word justice. It means “righteous.” Et means “and.” And peccator is the Latin word for sinner. In other words, Simul Justus et Peccator means “at the same time saint and sinner.”

It means that Christians are two things, both sinful and forgiven. It’s not a contradiction but a paradox. These two things are simultaneously true. It’s not a half-and-half, as if we are half sinner and half saint. We are completely saved and made righteous through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are still the same old sinner we have always been.

Let’s try it this way. We sin so we are sinners. But through faith in Jesus Christ God imputes, that is transfers to us, Jesus’ perfect life. God sees us now as completely righteous. St. Paul says in Colossians that through Holy Baptism (the declaration of your connection to Christ) … you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, ESV) and in Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Or another way to think of it is to ask this question: Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I am judged by my own righteousness, everything is lost and I will spend eternity in hell. Because it is clear that, my life is filled with sin. But if I am judged by Jesus’ righteousness, everything good has been done for me. The righteousness that is mine is the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And can you see what good news that is? I am reconciled to God, that is forgiven of all of my sin, not because of anything that I have done or will do or can do, but solely on what has been accomplished by Christ.

Punishment for my sin, and my sin itself, is imputed or transferred to Christ. And on the cross, Jesus Christ paid the punishment in full for my sin. God does not negotiate sin. He doesn’t compromise his integrity. My sin is fully punished. I am saved by this double transaction. And it is all the work of God through Jesus Christ. And it is yours and mine through faith that what God has done is done for me and for you.

So even though I am forgiven in God’s sight my sinful flesh remains. So as God’s child, I want to do right but struggle to do it. I know what God has done for me, in Jesus Christ, and I want to please him by doing good, but my heart is full of sin and leads me astray and away from God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

It’s not like the old saying where if you teach a man to fish you feed him forever. We Christians realize that we need a new fish to be given to us every day. That’s what God does for us. Every day our old sinful nature, Martin Luther called it the Old Adam, is drowned to death. That’s what holy baptism is, a drowning of the old sinful nature. But we don’t believe baptism is a single event that happened in our past. It is an ongoing life lived. Luther again from 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.

Or as he said, the old Adam needs to be drowned every day because he’s a good swimmer. There is no trying to live a better life that will accomplish anything. There is only living in Holy Baptism. Living in forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross, and nothing else.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

We don’t focus on doing good, we focus on the good that Jesus has done for us. By faith, we look to the God-man Jesus Christ who gave his life for us on the cross. We don’t go out looking for good works to do; we do the good works that God has placed before us. And when we find sin in the good works we do, and we always will, we drowned them in repentance and receive forgiveness and the good work stands.

The struggle is there. It will exist in you until the day you die when you’re Old Adam is finally put to death permanently. Then your new creation will stand before God in righteousness and purity forever. The struggle will be over. Sin will be gone. And you rejoice in the salvation given to you as a free gift by God in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Psalm 46:1; The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (Observed); June 29, 2014;


God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1, ESV)

Herb had never felt this kind of fear before… He had walked this way home a thousand times, but this time was different… this time he was afraid. Maybe it was because his hip hurt more than ever… maybe it was because his cane felt heavier than usual… or that the ally was darker, there was surely someone there waiting to jump out and hurt him like before. Everything tonight reminded him of the night when someone did jump out at him, and knock him down and hurt him. That was the night he wanted to forget, but it was too much like tonight. “Give me your money, Old Man!” said the young man towering over him as Herb lay in pain on the ground. “I know you’ve got it…” Herb obeyed without a word. When he gave it to him, the mugger just looked at it in disgust… “Is that all you got, you stupid old man?” he said kicking him in the hip for emphasis. Then he was gone and Herb was left lying there on the sidewalk, alone. Now tonight, he passed by the very spot where it had happened. Herb walked as quickly as possible, whatever his hip would take. He looked down the street; he could see his own front door. The light there above it was on for him. That was where he wanted to be. It was where he was safe. It was his refuge.

Psalm 46:1–3,7 (ESV)

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Like Herb, we need a refuge, because the world is a dangerous place. There is trouble out there. The Psalm paints a picture of violence, the earth falling apart, mountains crumbling and oceans coming out of their banks sweep over everything in their path. It shows us dangers we can’t avoid… dangers that we can’t get away from, because they are too big. God is our refuge, it says, even in the face of these kinds of dangers.

God is our refuge… our safe place… when I was younger, I remember walking through our neighborhood and seeing a sign on some house, “Block Home.” “Dad, what’s a block home?” I asked. I sure I had in mind the block heads that some of you might remember on the Gumby television show, the one’s that troubled him all the time, or maybe a place where you go and play with blocks… “That’s a place you can go if you are in trouble.” He said, “It’s a safe place to run if someone is chasing you.” Around here, I see the blue stars in the window. In St. Louis, the fire stations all have signs up that say… “Safe Place” It is a refuge, somewhere to go in time of trouble.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when we are threatened by sickness, that lurks in the darkness to catch us when we least expect it. …threatens to jump out and knock us down… to take away our independence, our self-reliance, and ability to take care of ourselves. But, in sickness, we turn to God, who is our refuge. Like the woman who came to Jesus crying, “Heal my daughter!” Just like her, we come to our Refuge for healing. We come to this altar in prayer.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when other people threaten us. People we don’t understand… people who don’t understand us. It isn’t just thieves and muggers… it is people willing to put them selves in an airplane and strike a building full of people. People who are willing to kill thousands to satisfy their own ideals. People who have very different ideologies… very different theologies that threaten us. Herb was beaten on a dark street; Christians are often ridiculed on primetime. What we believe, teach and confess, is said to be hate speech. Positive portrayals of people of faith are hard to come by on television. And it’s getting worse. People of faith are under attack in the legal system… and the school system. There is an ever-increasing persecution of Christians in general and conservative Christians in particular. And when it happens, we run to our Refuge. “Help us, Father!” we cry.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. The ultimate trouble that faces us, the one that has been pushed into the forefront of our minds this week… is death. The old hymn “I walk in trouble all the way,” speaks of death ‘pursuing us.’

Death doth pursue me all the way

Nowhere I rest securely

He comes by night- he comes by day,

And takes his prey most surely

A failing breath, and I

I death’s strong grasp may lie

To face eternity for aye.

Death doth pursue me all the way.

Only a breath lies between life and death. A misstep… a mistake… during a trip to the grocery store, or home from work. The people working in the WTC were certainly caught of guard, Tuesday morning. Death walks along with us down the dark street… but God is our refuge, we turn to him when death threatens. “I walk with Jesus all the way,” the Hymn comforts. In Him, we find refuge.

The reformers who met at Augsburg castle to present their confession of faith to Emperor, Prince Charles understood what it meant for God to be our Refuge.. He demanded that no more “Lutheran Sermons” be preached. He demanded that they worship in the “Roman Way.” They refused. George, Margrave of Brandenburg spoke for all the Lutherans and for the confession presented to Charles. “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.” God was his refuge. God was his strength in the face of persecution. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ and salvation won for him on the cross. In his time of trouble, Jesus was his refuge.

Martin Luther knew also, the hymn we sang just before the sermon is base on our text for today, Psalm 46. Luther saw God as a “Mighty Fortress,” a place to run in danger, a place to be safe. Just like the “block home,” or the “blue star,” or the fire station. God is our fortress where evil things that are pursuing us can’t reach us. God was a refuge for Luther.

God is our refuge… we have run to him today… right here in this place. Even though this church might seem like a tiny speck of pepper in a vast ocean… whose waves threaten to drown it… we have come here to seek refuge. We come here, because this is the place that God tells us about his greatest rescue. Here is the place where we hear how he saved us from our great enemies. How he sent his own Son… how He endured pain and death. “Crucified dead and buried,” we say every Sunday. Jesus Christ died, but just when death seemed to have its victory, God reached out a saving hand and raised him from death. Rescued him from the grave…

But, we couldn’t turn to God as our refuge if Jesus’ rescue was only for Jesus himself. The rescue of Jesus is our rescue, too. His death is ours. His resurrection is ours. It becomes ours when God poured water on us… and “baptized us into Christ.” “Receive the sign of the cross both upon the forehead and upon the heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified.” It is all there because in Holy Baptism God places his name on us. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The wisdom of Proverbs says the same thing like this:

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10, ESV)

And the Baptismal liturgy says, “The promises are for you and your children” and “baptism now saves you.” Because of Jesus rescue and God’s promises found in His word and given to us in his name through Holy Baptism, we have our refuge in God.

The world is a dangerous place, but we have a Refuge, God is our Refuge, through Jesus Christ. So even if illness overtakes us, he is our refuge… we look to him for healing, but even if the illness ends in death we find refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. Even though there are people out there who hate us and threaten us, we turn to God for refuge. Even if they kill us we find our refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. And when death does finally catch us, when the pursuit is over, when darkness is closing in on us… we look to God, our refuge and remember the rescue, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in him we find refuge. Amen.

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

Saturday, June 07, 2014

John 7:37-39; The Festival of Pentecost; June 8, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37–39, ESV)

(Thanks to Rev. Reed Lessing, Concordia Journal, June 12, 2011)

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

Have you ever been in an airplane flying over one of those states that is mostly desert? You know, states like Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. There’s a reason they’re called “fly-over lands.” We fly over them to get somewhere else more important, places that have more interest. A few years ago, a politician called the Midwest “fly-over.” He seemed to indicate that our values are not as important and far less interesting, as those on either coast. Those of us in Iowa would disagree. We don’t believe we live in “fly-over land.”

You may not live in “fly-over land,” but we all have “fly-over lands” as part of our lives. We have bad memories, broken relationships, and regrets that we try to put in the back of our minds. We put them there because they are our failures brought about by our own sin. We don’t want to live in them. They are dry desolate places without hope. We don’t want to be reminded. We want to fly-over. After all, they are parched desert lands. Remembering them only makes you thirsty for things to be different.

Jesus says if you thirst you can come to him and he will quench you. What he means is that it’s time to quit denying our sinfulness. It’s time to acknowledge our pain. It’s time to acknowledge our dry thirsty “fly-over lands” and bring our sin to the one who can quench our thirst with living water. Jesus is the one who has living water to quench the thirst of our sin.

Jesus is no stranger to water. The gospel of John is full of him using it. In fact, his first miracle is changing water into wine (John 2:1–11). He heals a lame man in the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). He walks on water showing his authority over the elements (John 6:19). He uses the Pool of Siloam (John 9) to bring about site in a blind man. And, Jesus even washes the disciples’ feet with water (John 13:1-15, 15:3).

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8, ESV)

And here in our text for today, John links Jesus’ use of water to the ultimate gift of salvation at our Lord’s death. How does he do that? It begins with the last day of the feast, the seventh day. It’s the Feast of Tabernacles. This Jewish holiday has a very special connection to water. Each morning of the seven days of the festival, a priest fills a golden pitcher with water as the choir sings the words,

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3, ESV)

That water is poured on the base of the altar. On the last day, the seventh day, the water is poured seven times into silver funnels surrounding the altar. The altar is drowned in water. This last day is the day that Jesus stands up and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me for drink.” The prayers of the people, water for salvation, are answered in Jesus. He is the one who gives living water for thirsty sinners. It is from his side that the water of salvation flows.

It is out of Jesus living water flows. On the cross, the spear pierces Jesus’ heart and outflows life-giving blood and water. It is also the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of the Lamb of God as John describes it in Revelation.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:1–4, ESV)

Back in Exodus, the people complained about being thirsty. God instructed Moses to touch the rock with his staff. The rock split open and water poured out for the thirst of God’s people (Exodus 17:1-7). The hymn Rock of Ages is about this. Rock of Ages cleft (that means split open) for me. The Rock of Ages is Jesus. St. Paul makes that very connection in 1 Corinthians (10:4). He calls this split open rock, Jesus himself. It’s a picture of Jesus split open on the cross.

On the cross, Jesus suffers all the pain of human history. All the sins, regrets, and failures tucked away in our dry desert “fly-over lands.” The horror of it all, the punishment received, the hanging suspended between earth and heaven in God’s righteous wrath, is expressed clearly in Jesus own words, “I thirst.” This is the most ironic twist in all of human history. The one from whom flows the river of the water of life hangs suffering thirst. He dies. The Roman spear splits him open and outflows blood and water. Here is Jesus crushed and cursed and cleft by the sin of your life and mine. Here is the result of all the things we tuck away in our minds in those “fly-over zones.” Here is where we see the horrible cost of our sin. Here is where we see the seriousness of our sin. It cannot be overlooked. Sin must be dealt with. Just like the witnesses of the crucifixion, we may want to fly-over this scene. We can’t even bear to see Jesus on the cross. We want to skip the punishment and run straight to the resurrection.

The cross is necessary. We preach Jesus Christ crucified. His suffering and death are your suffering and death. His suffering and death make it possible for your thirst to be quenched. And Jesus says, “Come to me! I have living water for thirsty people.” This Jesus is crushed and killed but made alive for you. On the cross, he has earned forgiveness for you by taking the punishment you deserve for your sin. In his grave, he carries your sin into his death, your death. In his resurrection, he promises that forgiveness is yours. Look at the thirst-quenching water in your baptismal font. Here is where Jesus connects you to him through his living water. It washes you clean. It floods away your filth. It defeats your death. Jesus is here, from him flows living water to quench your thirst. He floods your “fly-over lands” with forgiveness. Amen.

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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11; Seventh Sunday after Easter; June 1, 2014;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11 ESV)

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

Today’s sermon is about the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But deliver us from evil. This text from St. Peter’s letter talks about just that. Turn to your hymnal on page 303. Go about halfway down the page and let’s read it together.

The Seventh Petition

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

Deliver us from evil. I like that part rescue us from every evil of body and soul… Martin Luther just had a way of saying things that rings true. When we pray this prayer, deliver us from evil we are asking a great big things from God, and there is nothing wrong with that, in fact that is exactly what God wants us to do… ask for big things. And there is hardly anything bigger that to be delivered from evil. Now in fact when Jesus gave the prayer to his disciples He said it a bit different. What he said is often lost in translation, although some versions of the Our Father reflect it. He said, deliver us from the Evil one. And that’s how we get from the Lord’s Prayer to our text for today. Deliver us from evil is all about Satan and his work in the world.

St. Peter paints a frightening picture. Satan prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour. He is out there, sneaking around waiting to pounce. Picture in your mind the lion hidden in the tall grass with unsuspecting gazelle grazing peacefully nearby. If the gazelle knew the lion was there it would have found somewhere else to eat. Instead, it eats its last meal without knowing the danger. The cat moves quietly and slowly on padded feet. It is patient even though it is hungry. Every tendon in its body is tense ready for action. Suddenly the gazelle senses something is wrong. It raises its head to look about sniffing the air for a scent of danger. It leans back on its haunches to spring away. Suddenly, out of the shadows of the grass the lion springs into action. Long sharp claws sink into the animals back as the full weight of the great cat brings it to the ground. Then the crushing jaws clamp onto the gazelle’s throat cutting off the oxygen it needs to live. Its death is certain and swift. The cat’s hunger is satisfied.

The warning is to be taken seriously. Satan wants nothing more than to kill you, to devour you, for you to spend eternity in hell. These days it isn’t popular to talk about Satan as a real being. In fact, in our minds we probably don’t even think he’s real. That’s the warning exactly. Satan does his best work in the shadows. He hides behind the actions of people we love. He skulks around whispering thoughts into our ears that sound so reasonable. His lies sound so truthful and reasonable. We want to believe they are true. And he even presents them in such a reasonable manner. “There are many ways to God, as long as you are sincere,” is one of his favorite lines. But it directly contradicts Jesus’ own Words,

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)

That’s Satan sneaking up, hidden by the reasonableness of the tall grass. He is ready to pounce. He wants only to satisfy his own hunger for your death. We graze ever closer to his hunting ground thinking we are safe, thinking that we have nothing to fear, until he sinks his claws into us and suffocates the life out of us with his lies. And we are helpless to resist.

In the Large Catechism Luther puts it very plainly.

Since the devil is not only a liar but also a murderer,3 he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He breaks many a man’s neck and drives others to insanity; some he drowns, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes[1]

And so St. Peter tells us to resist him, firm in faith. He’s telling us that when Satan strikes we have no defense but faith.

But here’s the thing we should come to grips with. Faith isn’t a quality that allows us to stand up to Satan and defeat him. Faith is trust in the promises of God. True faith, doesn’t look inside ourselves for something to use against Satan, for some inner strength to resist. True faith trusts that no matter what happens God is in control, even though Satan seems to be in charge. True faith trusts that no matter what happens God is allowing it for our benefit.

Go back to the first part of the text. He says; don’t be surprised if the fiery trial comes. It comes to test you. It comes to strengthen your faith. It is nothing strange for Christians to suffer.

But often that’s not what we want to hear. We want God, our god, to deliver us from all that we see as all evil. We don’t want to suffer. We want to live our life in comfort, far away from the trouble that other people go through. But this isn’t the faith that Peter is talking about is it? The faith he’s talking about is trusting in God’s promises in spite of what it looks like is happening. St. Peter says it this way in his letter:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

That’s right before he tells us that Satan is out there prowling around to devour us. He’s saying that God uses fiery trials in our lives. And that suffering has a purpose. God will use any means necessary to bring you to the realization that you are helpless to save yourself, even Satan who is out there wanting to destroy you. Humble yourself means the same thing as standing firm in faith. Submit to God’s will. Look for God in the suffering. Look for God in the pain. Look for God to reveal Himself. God shows Himself to you when you are helpless when you are at the point where you can do nothing else but to cast all your anxieties on Him.

How about an example: The example is this: Jesus lying on the ground in the garden of Gethsemane the night He was betrayed praying:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 ESV)

Jesus could have used these words, Deliver us from evil. They say and mean the same thing. And yet Jesus wasn’t delivered from the cross. He suffered there. Satan unfolded all his might to destroy Him. Satan pounced on Jesus and suffocated the life out of Him. He mocked Jesus through the lips of the thieves on the crosses beside Him. He died there. This thing isn’t the great evil that it appears to be. Even though the actions of all those around Jesus, the betrayal, the nailing, the mocking, and the piercing, were all great evil, God allowed them all and made it all our greatest good. Jesus suffering and death there brings new life and salvation to you and me. Satan does his worst to Jesus, but Jesus wins anyway. Death turns to life. Jesus opens the grave and lives again.

The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

At the right hand of God means Jesus rules over all things. He is in control. Jesus Christ has control over even Satan. Satan can only do what God allows him to do. He may attack you, but God turns his attack into your good.

And that brings us full circle back to the beginning of the text.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)

Satan is after you. He wants you dead and suffering in hell for all time. But God is in control. He loves you too much to allow Satan to destroy you. That means that when you suffer at Satan’s hand, God is doing something good in your life. That means that no matter how it looks, no matter how it hurts, when you have to cast your anxieties on Him, you can rejoice. He cares for you. He will deliver you from evil. Amen.

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

3 John 8:44.

[1]Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (435). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

1 Peter 3:18-22; The Sixth Sunday of Easter; May 25, 2014;

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

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV)

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

“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s a saying we’ve probably all learned in school. And we probably all would agree. We’ve seen people in power. We know how they get there. And is seems that the more power someone has the more they want. Worst of all the longer someone stays “in power” the more likely they are to be corrupted by it. The more likely they are to do something self-centered and self-indulgent. We all want power don’t we? Whether it is power to tell our boss that the project that is being done is stupid, or the power to make it rain on our own beans. We’d like the power to change the way our children act, or even the power to bring ‘peace’ to the world. But we know how we use power when we do get it. As someone once said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Today we are going to look at God’s power; especially God’s power in Jesus Christ. God’s power is different from the power we are used to. In fact, God’s power looks like weakness to the world.

If there is one thing that we can say about Americans, it’s that we really appreciate power. Just look at our army. It is the most powerful military force ever assembled. We are proud of the men and women who make it what it is. We are proud of their ability to do whatever is needed for our safety. We also appreciate financial power (maybe even more that military power!). Every year we look over the top ten richest people in the world and envy those who are there (probably wanting just a tiny fraction of their wealth!) And there is power in numbers…

King David was a powerful man also. Even though he was surrounded by hostile nations, he became a very powerful king. Even if you don’t remember much about the stories of the bible, you probably remember King David. We usually remember him for his power. The truth of the matter is that David wasn’t chosen to be the king of Israel because he was a powerful man. In fact, he was a lowly shepherd boy. He was the youngest son in a large family with a bunch of stronger older brothers. When the brothers of Jesse lined up to be considered by Samuel, David wasn’t even a contender. God had already chosen David. He was the very unlikely choice, the one no one else would consider. David was the king of Jesse’s Stem.

Jesus Christ is called the “rod of Jesse.” That’s a reminder that He too wasn’t the obvious choice for the Messiah. He wasn’t born the way kings should be born. His family didn’t have any power. Joseph, Jesus stepfather, was a regular blue-collar worker. He didn’t rule with an iron hand from a jewel-encrusted throne. Instead, His reign is from a cross. Instead of the kind of power people expect in a king, Jesus power is shown to us by His suffering and death. Jesus was selected by God for a specific task, just as David was. That’s why we call him the rod of Jesse, instead of the rod of David. Clement of Rome, one of the churches early preachers said it this way:

The scepter of the majesty of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared not with pomp of pride or arrogance, though well he might, but in humility (Clement of Rome, 16.2).

God’s power doesn’t work the way we expect power to work. It doesn’t even work the way we experience power, armies, money, or prestige. God’s power does something the world’s power can never do; it destroyed our greatest enemy, Death.

Worldly power, in reality, doesn’t get us too much that is of any real value. Think about the rogue nations of the world. They strut around showing force trying to project power. What has their show of power really do? Threats of war; People starving because the rulers of the country spend so much on the military. Greater division among the countries of the world. All that show of power doesn’t really gain anything. Worldly power rarely makes things better.

King David learned that lesson the hard way. He let his power go to his head. He thought he was above the law. Even though God said that David was a “man after God’s own heart” David let the temptation of power control him. He used his position to sleep with another man’s wife and then had her husband killed to cover up his sin. David’s heart was stained with sin, just like you and me. There was lots of good that he did as king; he worshipped God faithfully; and built a strong kingdom for his people. But just like any human, power corrupts. Really, in David’s case, just as it would be for any of us, power goes to our hearts when we are able to act on the sin that lives there. David misused even the power given to him by God’s choice, the power given to him for God’s purposes.

Is there anyone who could really use God’s power for only good? It is only God who can do it selflessly. Jesus Christ is the true Key of David. He succeeds where David fails. If we had God’s power, what would we have done with it? There’s a movie called “Bruce Almighty” with Jim Carey. That’s exactly what Bruce finds out when he gets to play God for a time. The power corrupts him. You and I would do the same. We’d take revenge on our enemies. We’d work out things to benefit only ourselves. But that is not Jesus. He even allowed himself to be put to death. We would have called down the angels to save us. But Jesus did not.

He used God’s power perfectly. He used God’s power in peace. He used God’s power in love. That’s why He has now “gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God” according to St. Peter. And he goes on to write “angels, authorities, and powers [have] been subjected to Him.” That means that heaven is now open to Him and it is open to us. Every one of us! Jesus is the perfect key of David. He used God’s power to open heaven to us and undo the power of death for us. In his cross, Jesus Christ brings to us the forgiveness we need for sinful use of power.

So we thank God for Jesus Christ; the Rod of Jesse and the Key of David. He used God’s power for us. He defeated death for us and opened up for heaven’s door. Amen.

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