Saturday, August 23, 2014

Matthew 16:13-20; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; September 24, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.” (Matthew 16:13–20, ESV)

(Thanks to Kyle Castens) 

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

It’s a very personal question, don’t you think? Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” In a way it’s a question that makes you put yourself in the story. Standing there with the disciples, listening to Jesus, ready to answer his questions. The disciples had just answered the question about other people and Jesus, now it was their turn to answer for themselves. Peter speaks up for them all. He’s the hero of the story. He says, “You are the Christ the son of the living God.” Of course if we put ourselves there it’s in Peter’s sandals. We get the question right. We get the blessing of Jesus. “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah!” Ah! Isn’t that a wonderful place to be? Basking in Peter’s glory. Even if ultimately Peter doesn’t get to take credit. Jesus clearly says also, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”. But still, if we would put ourselves in the story, he would be right there with Peter at that very moment.

But the really a small problem. If you going to be Peter you need to take all of Peter. It’s easy to be there with Peter when he makes that wonderful confession that doesn’t come from his flesh and blood, but from God. He says clearly and correctly who Jesus is. It’s the next part that’s a bit uncomfortable. We like the Jesus that says “Blessed Are You!” But this Jesus were not so sure about. And it may cause you to try to find a different place to be in the story.

It’s when Peter tries to tell Jesus what the Christ is. Jesus confesses it.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21, ESV)

Now Peter confesses with his flesh and blood. He takes Jesus aside. Apparently he doesn’t want to embarrass him.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22, ESV)

He does fine when it comes to who the Christ is. But he struggles when it comes to what the Christ is.

It’s pretty clear, that you wouldn’t want to be Peter now. But the truth is he’s more you then you might want to admit. The whole problem with admitting what the Christ is, is that, if the Christ must suffer and die requires there to be a reason. And the reason is you. God’s law clearly shows you that it’s you. God’s law shows you your imperfection. Like looking in the mirror and seeing your dirty face. The law comes down on you and condemns you to death. You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You have not lived perfectly according to God’s demand. You have neglected to share what you have been given with those who need it. You have sought to be your own God. You have been self-centered. You have agreed with human speculation and invention about how the world should be an ignored God’s Word. And there is only one solution for your sin problem. The Christ must die. That is what he is.

He has come to do the things of God. He has come to fulfill God’s law perfectly. Peter (that’s you) may not have the things of God in mind, but Jesus the Christ always does. It is those things that define exactly who he is. Remember that Emmaus road? Jesus walks with his disciples in discusses the things that have happened in relationship to who Jesus the Christ is. He puts his whole life, his whole death, and his whole resurrection, in the context of what it means to be the Christ. And he shows how God’s Word is the key to understanding who the Christ is.

“And beginning with Moses and all of the prophets, he interpreted to them in all of Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).

Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the son of the living God. What does this mean? It means the cross and death. It means the grave and resurrection. It means forgiveness and life forever. These are the things that do not come to you by flesh and blood but are revealed from God’s Word.

It’s okay to put yourself in Peter’s shoes. It’s okay to bask in the wonder of what it means to declare Jesus the Christ. It’s okay to live in the fact that the Christ died on the cross for your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation. After all Jesus says that this faith is the foundation of the church. After Peter’s great confession Jesus says to him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it.” This rock, his faith to confess who Jesus is and what he is. Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. St. Paul says it.

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:20–21).

You don’t really have to worry about putting yourself into the story. God has already put you into the story. The story of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his coming again, is your story. In fact you are a major character. The whole of his life was lived for you. You are the one who gains everything by what the Christ does. You are put into the story by means of the water poured over your head and the work of the Holy Spirit to give you “the rock” the faith to confess who and what Jesus is for you. Amen.

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hebrews 12:1-2; Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 17, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

(Thanks to Rev. Glen Nielson).

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

And they’re off, the race is on. But it’s hardly a fare fight, the hare is already out of sight and the tortoise has only taken a precious few steps. The race is already over, right? How did such a lopsided race ever come to be, anyway?

The hare boastful, proud and fast, taunted the tortoise for being slow. He teased him for being tardy. It’s easy when you have such an obvious advantage. Maybe the tortoise was tired of the teasing, maybe he just wanted to get it over with. It might be hard to understand, but the turtle gave in and the race was on. It was big news among the animals, although none of them doubted the outcome. A great cloud of witness gathered around to see the event. Of course they wanted the tortoise to win, hopeless as it was. They surely gave him advice, helped him train for the day, and encouraged him. The turtle was even encouraged by the support. Though the animals already knew the outcome of the race.

We know how it goes. The rabbit is out of sight but the turtle continues on step by step…. Everyone cheered the turtle on. Step by step he walked.

The hare, now miles ahead, pauses to look back. “That was easy, just like I thought” he said. And stopped for a cool drink. He becomes distracted from the race. The drink is cool and the conversation is good. He has, after all, already won the race, right? Soon his short brake becomes a long one, and he hears the steady step, step, step, step of the tortoise. He takes a final drink as the turtle passes him by. “Nothing to worry about!” he shouts as he bolts past the turtle.

After a time, his adversary is miles behind again and he slows his pace. “I’m hungry. Nothing wrong with getting a quick bite to eat, after all I’ve already won, right?” So he stops at a neighborhood stand and begins to eat. Again he is distracted from the race. The food is good, and he finds himself eating way too much. The quick bite became a full course meal. A short break became a long one. Not to mention that food and running aren’t a good combination. His stomach is bulging and his eyes are drooping for a nap.

Step, step, step, comes the noise from the road. The turtle has caught up again and passes the sleepy rabbit. “I almost forgot!” he says as the tortoise passes him by, step, step, step. “Nothing to worry about…” his voice trails of as he zooms down the road, fast, even when he’s over eaten.

But the bunny is sleepy. So when he’s miles ahead again he finds a soft spot to stop and take a quick nap. “Just a few minutes, sleep will refresh me, after all the race is already won, right?” So he lies down and soon is sound asleep. He is once again distracted from the race. The quick nap becomes a long one as the rabbit dreams.

Step, step, step walks the turtle steady but sure, and quiet… past the snoozing rabbit, toward the finish line. Step, step, step, to the end of the race.

After a time the rabbit wakes up. “What a nice nap.” He says, as he stretches his legs. Remembering the race he looks down the road to see the tortoise behind him. But there’s no sign of him there. Then up the road toward the finish line. Step, step, step the turtle is a mere few steps from winning the race! The rabbit fires off down the road… toward the turtle as fast as he can run. Step, step, step, step go the turtles feet crossing the finish line with the rabbit only a whisker behind… but still behind. The tortoise wins!

let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

St. Paul is talking about running a race is faith, and we aren’t the hare. Step, step, step is the idea. It’s a long race. There are not short cuts. No quick dash to the finish line. Step, step, step with Jesus! Step, step, step to the finish line and the winner’s circle.

That’s right I said the winner’s circle. Did you know how the race between the tortoise and the hare was going to come out? Of course you did. The tortoise wins by steady plodding on. So do those who run the race with faith in Jesus. The prize is eternal life, together with God and all those who finish the race.

Ah, but we’re not finished yet. We’re still in the race. Step, step, step we go. And you know how it feels. You know how the tortoise felt.

What was it like to walk by the rabbit while he was having a cool drink? Was the turtle distracted? Was he tempted to stop and give up?

There are lots of things that distract us from Jesus. A few years ago Newsweek magazine said that we have more free time than ever before, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. We get distracted from pretty easily. Some 80 percent of our free time is taken up by screen time. That’s TV, movie, and computer time. What are we watching? Are these things distracting us from Jesus. Are the things we are filling our minds with pushing out time for serving others? Do we have little time left for anything else, like prayer, devotions, and reading God’s Word?

What was it like for the turtle the second time the rabbit stopped? Did he want to stop then? Was he hungry? Jealous?

There are so many things to buy. It’s interesting how the urge to get grows as Christmas grows closer. There are so many things we’d like to have, and rarely enough money to get them. So we work a little more, to get a little more. We see something else we want, so we work a little more to get a little more. Pretty soon, we have more junk than we know what to do with, and the maintained of everything takes so much time. We are weighed down with all this stuff, and the debt we went into to get them. It’s hard to run when we’re weighed down.

Finally the hare stops for a nap. I’m sure the tortoise was tired. Did he want to call it off then?

It’s easy to quit and run away from our problems. Our schedules are piled high with events. We are so loaded down that Jesus and the Church are only added burdens on our already over burdened schedule. We are so tired most days we just want to collapse. Running isn’t any where near the top of our list. Our faith even seems slow or even stopped in its tracks. We just can’t go on.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith

Watch Jesus start the race. He’s in the desert tempted by Satan. Will he give in? Money, Power, Fame… will he be distracted? No, he keeps his eyes on his goal, what he has come to do for us. He keeps his eyes on finishing the race.

Watch him as people try to get what they want from him instead of what he has come to give. They want a king to feed them. They want someone to heal them of their sickness. They want miracles. Is Jesus distracted? Does he give up? No, he keeps on going. He keeps his eyes on the cross.

Yes he’s watching the cross. He endures the cross, all of its suffering and pain; all of its humiliation and sorrow. No sleep, no relaxing, no stopping. He finishes the race. And wins the prize with a dying breathe as he says, “It is finished!” The race is over.

Then on Easter morning he rises from the grave alive again. He ascends to God’s right hand the victor, in the winner’s circle. Alive and risen right now he waits for you and me there!

But, we’re not there yet. We’re still in the race. We’ve still got some race to go. Every step we take now leads to him. Every step of the race of faith takes us closer to the winner’s circle. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus to get there and not be distracted, step, step, step on we go.

  • Step – we are baptized, the race begins and God gives us faith to run the race.
  • Step – we’re studying God’s Word in Sunday school and Bible class. We learn about God’s love for us in Jesus.
  • Step – We’re confirmed and we promise not to be distracted from Jesus no matter what.
  • Step – Youth Group, we learn that there are other Christians out there running along with us, to encourage us and support us.
  • Step – We worship week after week. We hear of God’s forgiveness for us in Jesus.
  • Step – We walk to the Lord’s Supper. We receive bread and wine, Jesus very body and blood for strength in the race.
  • Step – We read and Study the Bible. The Word of God enters our minds and we are focused on Him.
  • Step – Prayer. It’s time to talk to our Lord.
  • Step – Church. We support one another, and keep each other going.
  • Step – The Last Day. Our race is over. When we die or Jesus comes again. We’re in the winner’s circle.

That’s it the race. Step, step, step, steady and sure. Worship, bible study, the Lord’s Supper, keeping our eyes on Jesus. Just like the tortoise step, step, step toward the winner’s circle. Amen.

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Matthew 14:22-33; The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; August 10, 2014;

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

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”” (Matthew 14:22–33, ESV)

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

Now I don’t know about you, but you wouldn’t find me walking on the water in the middle of a deep lake. I like to fish, I like boats, but I’ve always been uncomfortable out there on the water. You see, I don’t swim. Oh, I took swimming lessons when I was young, but they didn’t seem to take. Swimming seems, well, just a little unnatural. I kind of feel like those who talk about skydiving, “Why would you what to step out of a perfectly good airplane.” “Why would you want to step out of a perfectly good boat?” That’s what Peter does. He steps out of a perfectly good boat and expects to walk on top of the water. As I like to say, “not this little grey duck.” But that is exactly what Peter does. Not that it’s more amazing than what Jesus has done. Peter takes a few steps and sinks like I would. Jesus has treaded out to the middle of the lake against the wind and the waves. The Sea of Galilee is 7-12 miles wide and the text tells us that the boat was ‘many stadia from shore’ probably a mile or more. Jesus walks out there as if it’s a walk in the park. And if you still think that’s not much, just look at the disciple’s reaction, “when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!” I’d also like you to take note of the fact that they weren’t afraid before they saw the “ghost” on the water. There’s not great big storm threatening to drown them. “They were beaten by waves because the wind was against them.” The going is tough, they weren’t making good time in the crossing, it was the middle of the night (3 am), and they were dead tired. The last thing they expected to see was a person walking on the water. When they saw that, they were overcome by fear. Well, and who wouldn’t be? They didn’t know who it was. They weren’t thinking about Jesus, they were thinking about getting across the lake. Out there on the waves, in the dark of night, the disciple’s faith wavered. That’s what happens when we lose sight of who Jesus is.

Peter, nicknamed the Rock, sank like a stone. At his first steps, everything was ok. He was kicking out on the water, eyes on Jesus, doing what Jesus was doing, by invitation. But the wind driven waves were more than he could ignore. Maybe one lapped up a little farther and made him uncomfortable. In the end, it was fear that gripped him, out on the waves his faith wavered, and down he went. He shouts the shortest prayer known to man. “Lord, save me!” Jesus reached out his hand and saved him. When the man was a goner, Jesus rescued him from death. When it was all over, when Jesus carried Peter back to the boat and the wind made its miraculous stop, the disciples knew something they didn’t know before, something they’d forgotten. They knew Jesus for who he was. They fell down and worshipped him, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

What kind of waves cause your faith to waver? What waves make it tough to keep going? It’s easy to forget about Jesus and who he is when things get hard, isn’t it? We just look to getting through the trouble, putting it all behind us. We focus on the shore instead of looking for Jesus in the midst of our troubles. When the waves push against us, our faith might waver.

When money runs short, we panic and look for an easy way out. More money must be the answer. The waves make our faith waver and we are afraid because we don’t see Jesus at work there, pushing us to depend on him in all things, wanting us to trust him, to look for him, even in our finances. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, ESV)

And whose faith is strong enough to hold even when facing death? And yet Jesus comes to us especially then. Cancer kills; Bones break; Arthritis doesn’t give up; Diabetes has no cure; God doesn’t always take it all away. The introit today speaks to us about being afraid when we waver. I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4, ESV) At times like these, we don’t have to go it alone; Jesus comes to us and deals with our fear.

It’s easy to forget that Jesus has his own purposes in mind for our church. When we look around at the pews and there isn’t the attendance we think we should have. When we wonder why parents don’t bring their teenagers to church. When the crying baby is an oddity. When nothing we do seems to make any difference in the numbers in the pews. The fear comes from forgetting about who Jesus is and why we are here. It’s easy to forget about Jesus… we are tempted to try anything try anything to ward off the fear, change what’s most important about who we are, set aside what we believe to be more appealing… But we are here as a church because of Him. We aren’t here so that we have special social events to attend. We aren’t here just to maintain this building, and keep it open until we die. We aren’t even here to provide income to a pastor. We are here to focus on Jesus. We are here to bring Him and His Word to bear in this community. We will be successful in that only through faith in Jesus. If we turn out attention from Jesus, if we fail to see Jesus at the heart of all we do, we’ll be just as the disciples were, afraid and bound to fail.

Jesus doesn’t leave us to go it alone, just as he didn’t leave the disciples to go it alone. He comes to us and reminds us who he is and what he has done for us. Out there on the sea, He walked on water. Jesus comes to us in water. Just think of the hundreds of times He’s made promises to our children right here at this font. And remember he made those same promises to you. In the Small Catechism Martin Luther placed prayers for morning and evening. At the start of each he reminds us of our baptism and says,

In the morning/evening when you get up/go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. A literal translation says God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, watch over me.

When we are reminded of our baptism, it’s like Jesus saying to us, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. He has come to us and claimed us as His own by placing His name on us.

Jesus comes to us in wonderful words of encouragement, too. His Word brings Him to us even in our fear. It’s echoed in the hymns we sing:

Evening and morning, sunset and dawning,

Wealth, peace and gladness,

Comfort in sadness;

These are your works and bring glory to you. (LW 419)

And He even comes to us in His body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. All of this he does to remind us who he is, and what he has done.

You remember how Jesus reached out his hand to save Peter. Jesus saved us when we were goners. When our sins weigh us down and we feel like we are far from God trying to go it alone sinking like a stone, Jesus reaches out his hand to save us. We cry out that simple prayer that means, “Jesus, forgive me for my doubts and fears.” “Lord, have mercy!” Forgive me and save me. He does. And not because our faith is so strong, but because he is who he is. This Jesus who saves us through his innocent suffering and death and his holy and precious blood shed for us on the cross. He gave himself to free us from sin and and death and fear.

We can count on him because… well he’s the one who walks on water. The disciples reacted by saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” We say it like this: very God of very God

who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven

and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man;

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.

He suffered and was buried.

And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures

and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.

And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead,

whose kingdom will have no end. (Nicene Creed)

I could say to you, “keep your eyes on Jesus and he’ll calm the storms of your life.” But the truth is Jesus isn’t going to calm all the storms. He invites you to look for him to come to you when then the waves cause you to waver. He invites you to see him for who he is, especially when you are sinking. He wants you to know him as God, who will never leave you or forsake you, even when the going gets tough. He wants you to place your faith in Him and what He has done and continues to do for you. Amen.

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Romans 8:28-39; The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost; July 27, 2014;

 

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

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 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 8:28–39, ESV)

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

This passage is so familiar. You may have heard it at your hospital bed. It is so often read for the comfort of those who are suffering. “All things work together for good” nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” it’s a beautiful passage, but right in the middle is something, if you think about it, will take your breath away. Right in the middle is something that you might not like.

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

It’s almost as if Paul has to throw in this comment to keep us off balance. Paul, can’t you just stay positive? Can’t you just give us what we want to hear? I mean look at the text. All things work together for good; firstborn among brothers; who is to condemn; who can separate us; and then boom. “For your sake we are being killed.” We are sheep to be slaughtered. What happened? I thought Jesus was around to solve my problems. I thought Jesus was there to give me what I needed. I thought Jesus was there to make my life happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. That works with the “all things work together for good” but not “sheep to be slaughtered.”

Everything is fine and well when life is easy, and we have all that we want, and what we believe is not in conflict with our society. We are very much like James and John. You may remember the account. James and John come to Jesus and ask him to be on his right and left when he comes into his glory. They want the reward of following Jesus. Jesus asks a telling question, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus is referring to his suffering and death. “Can you bear the burden of persecution for following me?” Is what Jesus is asking. We think we can. But we don’t like the idea of losing everything we have, or even anything. John and James thought they could. They answered “yes.” But sitting at Jesus right and left in his kingdom was reserved for the two thieves on the crosses at Jesus right and left. James and John would certainly suffer for the faith, but not yet.

One thing that we seem to forget in our westernized, pseudo-Christianized culture is that persecution is part of being a Christian. Listen to Jesus from John’s Gospel.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20a, ESV)

The servant is like the master. The servants suffer for the sake of the master. Long before Jesus was born, Isaiah talked about the master.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV)

St. Paul puts a lot of background before the text we are considering today. In essence, he says that we are connected to Jesus. He is our Savior through his life death and resurrection. Through faith in what he has done, given to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are his children. And as God’s children, we are obligated to live as his children. Living as his children will be at odds with the world. But we are not alone. We have the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. We have the Spirit who prays with us in our groaning. Our whole life is a bearing of the cross of Christ. It was placed on our four head in our heart in Holy Baptism. It is ours to carry to eternity. St. Paul urges us to flee from those things that get in the way of serving Jesus and the forgiveness that he brings through his cross.

Martin Luther called this the Theology of the Cross. The idea being that we are closest to God when we see our need for him most clearly. And at no time in our lives do we see it more clearly than when we are suffering. Enduring the cross doesn’t save us. We are saved and connected to our Savior; therefore, we bear the cross. Saved people seek the Savior’s cross. Jesus puts us on the cross with him as participants. Again, listen to Paul’s take on his suffering.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—” (Philippians 3:8–9, ESV)

We can see this also, in The Book of Acts when the disciples were beaten and told not to preach Christ any longer.

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41, ESV)

If you have been following the news in Iraq, you may have heard of something similar. The Arabic letter nun has been used to mark the houses of Christians. The letter is the first in the word Nasara or Nazarene. It is how Muslims refer to Christians. And it is now taken as a sign of honor by the Iraqi Christians. In the town of Mosel, they have indeed lost everything. The ones who did not leave everything behind were killed, some by crucifixion.

Dear Christian friends, do not underestimate the evil that brings this persecution. If you think that we are safe because we live in the United States of America and you have not heard the words of your Savior.

We do not like suffering. We want the Lord to bring us the comfort of the world. We want him to make life easy. We want the joy of life instead of the joy of Christ. But that is not necessarily the kind of comfort that goes with the suffering of Christ, with Christ. We generally seek freedom from pain and want. But God uses these things to craft us into what he wants us to be. It is when we are weak we see our great need and claim ever stronger to the cross for life.

Now we see the great comfort, or shall I say the greater comfort, in the words of St. Paul. That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That all things happen for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. That we are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. That through the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross there is no condemnation for us. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That includes tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.

Jesus is the answer. He has given us the Holy Spirit to bear up under all these things. He has gone to the cross willingly to bear our suffering. He has taken on our burdens and sorrows. Because he has suffered our punishment, we have a forever relationship with God. We are his children. And nothing in the world can separate us from God’s love.

Jesus is our great example. He suffered and yet he served. He suffered and went to the cross. He is our master, we strive to follow his example and do the same. Our suffering does not save. But even in our suffering, there is opportunity to serve. We are sheep. We are subject to slaughter. We have the privilege of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others. We organize our priorities and our lives for the sake of Christ and his church.

We are sons, heirs, when the sacrifice is over we have a forever place with God. Amen.

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

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.

Baptism

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.) 

Psalm

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. 

Readings

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.

Hymns

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.