Saturday, May 16, 2015

Acts 1:1-11; The Ascension of Our Lord; May 17, 2015;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:1–11, ESV)

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

Life changes in an instant. A flash of lightning, a tornado siren, an ambulance ride. Everything that was in front of you instantly vanishes. Everything that seemed so firmly set on a foundation is changed and shaky. This is life in our fallen world.

But today we celebrate and observe the Ascension of our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, we can take to heart His Word of promise. There is nothing in this world that will be able to separate us from His pierced and loving hands.

The disciples were in their last earthly moments with their Savior. They know who he is. They know what he has done. They know why he has done it. They have seen his love, compassion, forgiveness, healing and anger. They have been with him through it all, in spite of denying and abandoning him. Even though they didn’t stick with him, he stuck with them. He forgave them and restored them. He even appeared to them and gave them words that helped them be steadfast— “שלום עליך.” “Peace be with you.” This is what Christ came to give us and even more…to reconcile us to God.

The ascension is Jesus crowning in glory. His returning to the Father with the job done, finished. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father. It is no set place in heaven, but God power to do what God intends and promises. He intercedes for us. This is why our prayers are heard before God. Jesus hears them. This is why we can be sure that all that happens is in our best interest, even painful things. Jesus, our Savior and Advocate is in control of all things.

And he did not leave the disciples alone, or us either. He sent the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate that sending next week at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ presence among us. The Holy Spirit is God in, and with us, for us. He comes to us in Word, and Water, Bread and Wine. We are washed in the water, connected to Jesus. We have God with us in the Holy Spirit. He keeps us looking at Jesus on the cross for our forgiveness.

But instead of looking to Jesus, we look to our own welfare. We want things, and stuff, and money. We strive but seldom get what we strive for. When we suffer we turn in on ourselves and mourn the loss of things we think we deserve.

Think of the farmer who plants the field. He looks ahead at a fixed point, not a moving one. He doesn’t look back. If he doesn’t he won’t get straight rows. If the point is fixed you will reach it, but if it is a moving target you will never get it. That is why it is so important to look up to see what is ahead.

Jesus told the disciples to do that. He tells us to do that. Keep your eyes on Jesus, no matter what. But we turn back on what was, rather than what IS…often we look down rather than up. We always think we know better. We always try to help God out. We even try to figure out a way without letting the Savior lead and guide us.

Jesus’ ascension is important because of what it reminds us. It is the day when he took back all that was his, all his power, all his glory, all his everything that belonged to him, that he set aside when he took on human flesh.

Remember! Even though everything in this world will be taken away from us and or left behind when we die; we need not be consumed with worry. Jesus calls us to look up to him and put our hope and trust in him alone. Jesus is able and he will, supply all of our needs. He is faithful!

Life can be full of trouble and worry. It would be even worse if didn’t know that God was in control, working out His plan for the nations and us His baptized children.  Instead, He has told us that when these things begin to take place, to “lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Listen to Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Our help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth. Though all these be shaken. We have the promises of the crucified one, the ascended one. He sits at God’s right hand able to everything that is necessary.

So we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is coming back soon. Amen.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

1 John 4:1-11; The Fifth Sunday of Easter; May 3, 2015;

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

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:1–11, ESV)

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

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

It is a difficult thing, to love one another. Ernest Hemmingway once said, "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." The thing is, love is self-giving, self-sacrificing, and we are not. We think like Hemmingway, we are the intelligent people and everyone else is the fools. In fact (and I think it is true now more than ever), we are thoroughly narcissistic. That means lovers of the self. Listen to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):

· grandiose sense of self-importance

· fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or love

· believes they are so special and unique that no one else can fully understand

· enjoys excessive admiration

· a sense of entitlement and does this go back to the cheese

· little empathy

· takes advantage of others to promote their own desires

· envious of others and believes others are envious of them

· arrogant behavior and attitude

It’s right there. You and me. We the church, the thinking goes in the exhibit those traits. Well maybe not to the point of Disorder but certainly to the point of sin. When God says “Love”. We say “not him” or “not her” or “not them.” We stand with Hemmingway above the fools God calls us to love. We pretend well. We make a great showing. But love, real biblical love, just isn’t always there. “Love one another” is one of those all-inclusive commands. It’s mostly easy to love a spouse, a child, a parent, even a good neighbor, but what we truly love more than all, is ourselves. And loving God, well that just doesn’t happen.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; (Isaiah 53:6a, ESV)

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10–12, ESV)

Psychology and Theology agree. People are self-lovers. We are just too busy loving ourselves. It is a sign of the times.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1–5, ESV)

And there is no use denying it. You see these in other people but some of those traits listed there are you. Don’t worry, I include myself in the list, too. You and I are people to be avoided. The worrisome point is not you and me avoiding each other. The worrisome part is that God should avoid us. It is what we deserve from him. He says “love” and we can’t do it. Lighting should strike us dead where we stand. Our smoking soul should fly straight to hell, “do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

Standing in the shame of our own sin, we can only hide from God’s anger. We cannot love the angry just judge. We are Adam and Eve, hiding in the bushes, covering our nakedness. Not reaching out to God. Not showing love to God. But God reaches out to us. “Where are you?” he says to Adam and Eve and you and me. He knows. We are hiding in our own sin and selfishness. It is right then that God promises to love us in a way that is very different than the love that we know, the love that we have, the love of the world.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9–11, ESV)

God’s love is sending his only Son into the world to bring us forgiveness of sins. Even our narcissism. We don’t love God as we should. He loves us by being the sacrifice, the punishment, the propitiation for our sins. And it isn’t just our sins. Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again for the sins of the whole world.

And there is nothing for us to do. God’s love isn’t because we deserve it or love him. God’s love is because Jesus deserves it and loves us. There is no command in this good news. Jesus does what needs to be done for us, without our doing anything. C.F.W.Walther writes:

The Gospel issues no orders. Rather, it changes people. It plants love into their heart and makes them capable of all good works. It demands nothing, but gives all. Should not this fact make us leap for joy? C.F.W. Walther Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, CPH 2010, p. 20

When other people love us, it changes us. I think about that movie, “As Good as It Gets” with Jack Nicholson. He is changed by the woman. “You make me want to be a better man.” Love changes him from a cranky old man to something better. It has happened to you. Love of another person makes all the difference in your life. Now God’s love for you is even stronger. God’s love for you is even more powerful. God’s love for you is shown in Jesus hanging dead on the cross and knowing that it should be you.

And there’s the encouragement to live better, and love better.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Look, it starts by calling us “beloved” that is “Loved by God”. We love because he first loved us. We love in practical ways. Mowing our neighbor’s lawn. Visiting a sick friend in the hospital. Offering a ride. Providing for our family. And our neighbor isn’t just your pew neighbor. It’s your family neighbor, house neighbor, your work neighbor, and your city neighbor. And there’s more. The love that God gives flows out in forgiveness. We are forgiven on the cross. Our neighbors are forgiven on the cross. When we are sinned against we have the great privilege of proclaiming that forgiveness to the very same one who hurt us. And when we sin against our neighbors, through our lack of love for the, we can confess and ask for forgiveness. That gives them the opportunity to show love, too.

It all begins with God, in Jesus Christ. The one who live, died and rose again for you. The one who first and most loved you. Amen.

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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the fulfillment of angel song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace be with you!

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

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

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


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

Saturday, April 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, March 07, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what Paul means when he says:

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elijah—incredible. You and me—uneventful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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