Saturday, October 26, 2013

Revelation 14:6-7; The Festival of the Reformation (observed); October 27, 2013;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”” (Revelation 14:6–7, ESV)

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

There is a little problem in this text. It's the clash of two phrases that hit our ears in a very difficult way. First, there are the words "eternal gospel". We know that the "gospel" is "good news". But how can it be "good news" when the "hour of judgment has come." It doesn't sound like good news at all to say that it's time for judgment.

For you and me, those who live in repentance and faith, we have no reason to fear judgment. It is "good news" that our Savior is coming to bring completion to all that he has begun. His life, death, and resurrection are all put together to restore the whole creation when he returns. It is the full goal of the Christian life to see that day. But for those who do not listen, those who have rejected the Savior, those who do not live in faith, the time for repentance will end. And in fact after this text the description of God's judgment is stark. The pronouncement of judgment on those who reject him is full. So again, how can that be "good news"?

God's announcement of judgment leaves no middle ground. There is no wiggle room when the angel's voice booms out of the sky. Jesus doesn't talk about separating the sheep from the goats and having another nice little category of people who are really nice but don't quite believe. (See Matthew 25:31-46) It just sounds pretty harsh. It seems a little bit overly judgmental. Especially to our modern ears that hear from every other source that "Love Wins" and "Who am I to judge?" And these days, when everyone seems to be divided, we don't really want to hear another voice added with that kind of separation. What we'd rather here is "God is the God of second chances." Is the church just another voice urging separation and division?

The truth is the world is broken by sin.

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.” (Romans 8:22–23, ESV)

We groan because the world is in need of restoration. We groan because our bodies deteriorate because of the effects of sin. We groan looking forward in eager anticipation of our redemption. We groan because something is wrong and Jesus Christ is the only solution. The redemption only happens in Jesus Christ. Those who reject him only have eternal separation and condemnation. There are no second chances when the end comes. There will be no time to say "Oops, I didn't understand." The sickle is about to be sent to the fields. The harvest will happen. The weeds will be separated from the grain. The weeds will be burnt in unquenchable fire. Then, the time for repentance will be ended. So again I say, how can that be "good news"?

Well, the "good news" is that the day is at hand, but it has not yet come. Today, in your hearing, The Word of Grace is being proclaimed. Today, the sun still shines, the night has not yet come. The ax is laid at the root of the trees. The trees are not being cut down, yet. Today, there is still time.

The stark reality of eternal separation from God and eternal punishment in hell is a frightening proposition. Especially in light of an honest appraisal of our own sinfulness. If we brush away our protective shell. If we look beneath the mask of goodness that we present to the world. And we see the sin that lurks in our hearts. And we compare it to God's righteous demand of perfection. There is little we can do but turn to God for mercy. With the judgment coming on our own, in our own condition there is no hope. We say what St. Paul says,

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV)

Where is our confidence? It is in Jesus Christ alone. He has changed our judgment from hell to heaven. He is the one who saves us from our body of death. His death on the cross removes the punishment we deserve. We cling in faith to Jesus promise that all that he has done is ours. Faith alone in Jesus Christ. It is not what we deserve. It is grace, God's undeserved love. In the face of pending judgment there is no place to turn but the cross, and Christ, and the forgiveness that he gives to us there. This is the "good news."

And there is more. This is not only "good news" for you and me. It is good news for the whole world that the time is coming but is not yet here. We have time to do what we have been called to do.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11–12, ESV)

St. Paul is not just urging us to do good things. He's urging us to proclaim good things, "good news". The judgment is at hand. Now is the time to wake from sleep. Satan and his agents are working full force in the world. They are determined to drag all creation into the abyss that was created for their eternal punishment. And the only weapon available is Christ himself. He is God's promise that he has not forsaken the world. He is God's promise that in the end all that is evil will be destroyed.

It is the very thing Jesus told his disciples to do. To proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. (Luke 24:45ff) There is no time to delay. This is what the Reformation is all about. A clear, concise, truthful proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. A clear, concise, truthful proclamation that God has done everything necessary to avoid the coming judgment. We have this message to proclaim from God's Word alone. God is gracious and merciful. He saves us in Jesus Christ alone. He gives us this gift by his grace, that is his undeserved love, alone. It is ours when we cling in faith alone to Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation.

So the angel's proclamation of judgment is "good news". It is good news because God is faithful, he forgives sin through Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. And it is all done for you. In it is all here for you now. Repent! Believe the Gospel. Cling to Jesus Christ alone. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost; October 20, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 3:14–4:5, ESV)

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

This little text is a small part of a letter from St. Paul to young pastor Timothy. Paul has taught Timothy how to be a pastor. He is his "spiritual" father. Paul is near the end of his life facing execution in Rome. He's giving his last instructions, passing down his best pastoral advice, to his beloved friend and "spiritual" child Timothy. But, this letter is far from advice only to a pastor. Paul's care for Timothy goes to his personal spiritual condition. That's what makes this letter applicable to all of you, not just your pastor.

What is so striking about this text is how Paul connects Timothy to God's Word. He reminds him how his grandmother and mother taught him the Scriptures. It's the Old Testament Saint Paul is talking about. The account of God working among his people from creation through the late Prophets (everything before Jesus was born). These are the foundation on which Timothy is to be a pastor to the people. It is not far-fetched to assume that Timothy knew well Paul's words about preaching:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22–25, ESV)

Paul wrote these words to the congregation at Corinth nearly a decade before. It was certainly a part of Paul's regular preaching. Even based on the Old Testament, preaching in the church is to be Christ centered and cross focused. This preaching from the Scripture, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the power of God. The Old Testament connected to Jesus Christ, with him at the center, is able (and not just able but powerful) to make you wise for salvation. The Holy Spirit working through the Word to bring faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Paul says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)

Paul refers to God's work at creation of breathing life into human beings. That same breath is what makes the Word of God able to do exactly what Paul is saying. When Scripture is preached with Jesus Christ as the main point this is what makes it powerful to do what Paul says. It is the Holy Spirit living an active in the Word, the breath of God.

And Paul even tells Timothy how to preach. He says, "in season and out of season" and "reprove rebuke and exhort" and "with complete patience and teaching." The in season and out of season means whether people are listening are not. Timothy (and all pastors for that matter) have the obligation to preach. In the best of times and the worst of times. Whether people are listening to God's word whether they're denying it. To reprove, rebuke and exhort is another way of saying use Law and Gospel. Reprove and rebuke mean to convict people of their sin and then, having cut them to their heart, exhort means give them the sweet Good News of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of those very sins.

For the time is coming, so St. Paul says, when people will no longer listen to the Word. And in fact will be hostile to it and those who bring it. But instead they will use the Word for their own ends. And anyone who speaks the word to reprove, rebuke and exhort will be ignored or worse. That's why St. Paul's advice includes for Timothy to endure suffering and do the work of an evangelist.

So what about our itching ears? What do we want to hear God's word say? St. Paul says that we are incorporated into God's story. The story of God working in the world from creation through redemption. Timothy was incorporated into God's story by the faithful teaching of his mother and grandmother. They filled his ears with God's Word. They told him of the Messiah that would come and save him from his sin.

What itching ears would rather do is make God a part of our story. My life is busy, but I do have a place for God. As long as God sticks to Sunday morning. As long as God does what I want him to do. As long as he makes me healthy, wealthy and wise. As long as God gives me purpose and tells me what I'm here for. As long as my life is trouble-free. As long as I can live an extraordinary life, right now. As long as God doesn't embarrass me with demands that are way too old-fashioned. As long as I'm not inconvenienced by the church, I'll listen to everything that God has to say. As long as God doesn't interfere in my politics. And as long as God doesn't insist that the Bible is the only place where I can hear his voice. I'd much rather listen to my own heart. I'd rather let my feelings tell me what is right and wrong. I'd much rather listen to what everybody else is listening to. I would much rather listen to authors who claim direct connections to God. And I would rather listen to them even if they disagree with what God's word says.

Those who claim direct communication with God outside of his Word are lying. Those who tell you that thus and so is true because they feel it in their heart are deceiving you. When Jesus said "my sheep hear my voice and they know me." He was speaking about his Word that comes from Holy Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture will you find him saying depend on your heart and do what it says. Instead he says

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”” (Mark 7:21–23, ESV)

You put your faith and your salvation in jeopardy when you look inside yourself for the truth. What God does he does outside of you, for you. Jesus brings you forgiveness of sins through his life, death, and resurrection. It happened on a bloody cross, on a bloody hill outside a small Jewish town. The Good News is that in spite of the sin that lives inside of you, that pushes you to trust in everything but what God has given you to trust in, God saves you in Jesus Christ. And he brings this Good News to you from the outside. God makes you wise to salvation through the Word of God that travels through the air and strikes your ear holes. All Scripture is breathed out by God. You do not have to depend on slippery emotions and feelings to tell you what is right and wrong. And when people tell you that something is right because they feel it in their heart, or God spoke it to their heart, you do not believe it if it disagrees was Scripture.

God has given you a pastor as a wonderful gift. His job, as Paul tells Timothy, is to help you see Jesus in the Word. His job is to help you see your sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. That you can live your life as part of God's story. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ruth.1.1-19a; Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost; October 13, 2013;


Ruth.1.1-19a; Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; October 10, 2010;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (Ru 1:1-19, ESV)

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

Two men were traveling in a deep woods. All at once they were confronted with a huge bear. One of the men, thinking only of his own safety quickly climbed a tree. The other, who was unable to climb, was now unable to fight t ferocious animal by himself flopped on the ground and played dead, because he had heard that bears won’t touch a dead body.

It must have worked because the bear sniffed at the man for a moment and then being satisfied that he was indeed dead, left him be. When the danger was past, the man in the tree came down, saying, “It almost looked as if that bear whispered something into your ear!”

“He did,” answered the other. “He said it isn’t wise to keep company with a person who would desert his friend in a moment of danger.” The story is one of Aesop’s fables.

There’s an old joke about a motorcyclist who took a girl named Ruth for a ride, hit a bump and so he continued on “Ruthlessly.” Really there’s more of a pun there than most of us realize. You see, the name Ruth actually means “friend” or “companion” so the ruthless biker was also “friendless.” But the name can also mean “to be satisfied” or “refreshed.” It’s actually what we find in the book of Ruth that God has given to us. In that account we see that Ruth is a true friend, in the very best sense of the word. She refreshed Naomi her mother-in-law even when Naomi was old.

The story is a particularly wonderful one. It takes place at a time before Israel had a king, some 400 years before Jesus was born. There was a man named Elimelech. He lived in Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. When a famine struck the area they packed up all they had and moved to Moab (which was on the exact opposite side of the Dead Sea). Moab was a well watered highland so the drought and famine didn’t affect the people there. While they were there, some ten years, Naomi lost her husband. We don’t know why he died there is no reason given. Soon afterwards it seems, the sons married Moabite women. Their names were Orpah and Ruth. Then tragedy struck again and the two sons also died. Again we aren’t told why, weather it was a plague or an accident, doesn’t really matter. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left to themselves. Now since she heard that the famine in Bethlehem was over, Naomi decided to return home.

At first the two women joined her. But Naomi insisted that they go back to their parent’s homes, where they could begin their lives again. Both women refused the first time but after a second pleading Orpah did exactly what was asked. Ruth, however, vowed to stay no matter what. And here is where we find the words that we most often associate with Ruth. “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV) These words are words of true friendship; they go far beyond family loyalty and duty. Ruth lives up to her name by becoming Naomi’s friend, companion and comfort.

Naomi and Ruth seem to have a remarkable friendship, almost twin like. Similar to the bond we sometimes see in “identical” twins. Some of you may have been fortunate to have that kind of friendship. For some it is in marriage. Some find it in bonding with a child who has grown. Still others find this kind of relationship in old school mates, co-workers, army buddies, neighbors, fishing companions, or teammates.

These people are people you trust. You enjoy their company and seek out times to be with them. You enjoy the same kinds of activities, talk long into the night, relax, work, laugh and cry together. Most of the time and in most ways… you are true companions. There is something wonderful about that kind of partnership, that kind of relationship. They are a glimpse of the kind of relationship God would have with us.

But there are always times when friends can’t be in complete agreement. Imagine two people standing in a rowboat. If both of them leaned over the same side of the boat they’d both end up in deep water. Sometimes friends, too, have to disagree and “lean the opposite way” for the benefit of both. None of our earthly relationships are trouble free. When we expect that we usually end up alone.

Many people expect that their relationship with God will be trouble free, too. You have maybe been guilty of that, just as I have. It’s easy to say that we should turn our troubles over to God, when we really mean that we intend to give them to God so he can fix them and fix them now. And then we get disgusted with God when he leans the other way. And our troubles persist. What we really want from our “friendship” with God is someone who’s bigger than we are to take care of the things we can’t handle. And sometimes we forget that God’s ideas, plans and expectations for our lives may be very different from our own. It can be very unpleasant when God leans the other way.

But, God is more than just our good friend. His love and care for us is way beyond our understanding. He fixes our problems in ways that we never could understand. Sometimes, because he knows what is best for us, He even allows problems to persist in our lives because it helps us to understand that we need him beyond the need to be free from pain or trouble. Because he is more than only our friend He doesn’t always allow us take the easy road.

It’s a picture of God that we see in Ruth’s friendship with Naomi. There was no guarantee that she would be better off with her mother-in-law. In fact, quite the opposite was true. When she said where you die I too will die be buried, she may have well expected it to be soon. Such was the fate of widowed women in those days. Yet, she sacrifices herself not just for the sake of their friendship, she gives her very self for the old woman. It seems she loved Naomi more than she loved herself. Her willing sacrifice turns out to be their salvation. For Ruth it all paid off in the end. She married a wealthy Jewish man, had children and lived a full new life. But, it was no accident. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and an important link in the line of the promised Savior. She was a part of God’s plan to build a friendship to you.

God’s love for you is no accident either. In fact, God guarantees your future through the Savior who was Ruth’s distant great-great-great-great… grandson. God builds a relationship, a friendship with you through His own self sacrifice. We hear Jesus echoed in Ruth’s words… “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people… Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” That’s what Jesus did. God, himself in human flesh, lived where people live, walked were people walked, ate and slept where people ate slept. And most importantly died as people die, and was buried. That’s God extraordinary love for you and me that he lived as any man would have lived, except he lived as a perfect friend, always loving completely, always giving completely. That giving completely is most clearly seen on the cross where he dies, like any human being would die, except not like any human being. It’s there that Jesus shows that His friendship is so much greater than any friendship we could ever hope to have. Jesus death on the cross is not just Jesus giving himself for one friend, or a certain group of people. It’s not just Jesus taking care of you and me. It is Jesus bleeding and dying for the sins of all the people of the whole world. It is a complete and total giving of himself for everyone. We don’t have friends like that, we aren’t friends like that. But Jesus is. He is because His love compels him to be.

Ruth said to Naomi. “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” It was a promise she made probably slashing a finger across her throat, as if to say, “I’ll die before I desert you.” Jesus promises you and I even more than that, with his friendship. And he seals his promise in his own blood. One way to look at it is this. Ruth could have died for Naomi. If she did it would have been a wonderful self sacrifice. But Ruth still would have been dead the next time Naomi needed help. Jesus isn’t dead. That’s the most powerful thing about what he has done for us. He died, but didn’t stay dead. He suffered death for you and me, but he got up and walked out of the tomb. That’s exactly why Paul could right these words for 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. (Ro 8:38-39, ESV)

Jesus is our best friend because he dies on the cross for us. But He’s our greatest friend because he rose from the dead, and lives with us right now, in every day of our lives. He does something no human begin could ever do.

It still doesn’t mean that in whatever you choose to do he won’t lean the other way. He doesn’t promise that your life is going to be easy and free from trouble. But what he does promise is that He is your Ruth, your friend, your companion, your comfort. He is right there right in the middle of your pain and suffering. And he also promises one more thing that Ruth couldn’t promise Naomi. He promises that through it all you he will be your friend, it won’t last forever, and it really will be alright in the end. And the proof of that promise is seen in the empty tomb… Jesus empty tomb… and yours. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Luke 17:1-10; The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; October 6, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”” (Luke 17:1–10, ESV)


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

The cartoon Agnus Day (only found in the large print bulletin today) pictures Ted and Rick. Rick is standing with his cup of coffee, watching Ted frantically searching through his pockets. "What's the matter?" Rick says. "I think I lost my mustard seed!"

"I think I lost my mustard seed!" The disciples are saying that to Jesus. Jesus has tweaked them with the law. He's given them some examples where their faith falls short of God's expectations. He tells them that they will be tempted to sin. He tells them that if they are careless and cause their brothers in the faith to sin it would be better for them to be drowned in the sea. He tells them that they are to forgive seven times a day when there brother sins against them and asks for forgiveness. And they instantly see in themselves small faith. A faith unable to handle the temptations that are coming. A faith that could easily cause others to stumble. A faith that refuses to forgive. "Jesus! Increase our faith! We think we've lost our mustard seeds"

Jesus uses the comparison of faith and the mustard seed. But I want you to look at the text very closely. And listen while I read it again.

If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

What is it that you heard that I didn't actually read? It's likely that you heard "if you had faith as small as a grain of mustard." But that's not what Jesus says. He's referring to the parable he told earlier. Listen to it from St. Matthew's Gospel:

[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”” (Matthew 13:31–32, ESV)

Notice the point of the parable of the mustard seed. It's not that the seed is small. It's that the seed starts small and grows very large. Jesus says the kingdom of God starts very small: a baby born to poor parents in a tiny stable in a tiny town. 12 disciples following an itinerant preacher. The dead Jew bleeding on the cross. Tiny churches dotted all over the Mideast. But it grows to incorporate all those who are called by God to faith, numbering thousands of thousands, a number no one can count, according to the book of Revelation.

So when the disciples say, "Our faith is so small, increase our faith!" Jesus answers with the parable of the mustard seed. In other words Jesus is saying faith is like a mustard seed. It starts small and grows. No one starts with "big" faith. Jesus is not saying small faith moves mountains. He's not saying small faith uproots trees. In fact it's the point of comparison. The disciples are expecting that their faith should be able to avoid temptation and forgive. Jesus says it grows to that. No one with a small faith can uprooted tree and cause it to be replanted in the sea. That's big faith. It comes through the work of God in us.

At first you may think that the last part of today's reading is not really connected to the rest. Jesus is continuing the point. Jesus is saying, do what you been given to do. Faith grows through the work of God in us. As we practice that faith we will see it grow. There will be temptations. We are given to resist them. We will be given opportunities not to harm the faith of others but to help it to grow. We are given to help each other grow in faith. We will be given opportunities to forgive. We are given to forgive.

Jesus is describing this community of faith. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa. First Lutheran Church, Mount Ayr, Iowa. Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament. Christians caring for each other as we see each other's needs. Christians forgiving one another as we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ on the cross. Christians growing together in faith as we receive from God strengthening of our faith through the means that he has given us. Christians doing what we have been given to do in this time and place.

So what have we been given to do in the face of temptation? St. Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11, ESV)

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:17, ESV)

It is the Word of God that resists temptation. In this community of faith we have been given to hear the word of God and apply it to our lives. We resist temptation when we focus on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection forgive our sins. The gospel is the power of God for those who believe.

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)

A regular dose of God's word put into our ears is the means of resisting temptation.

What do we do to keep us from causing others to stumble? Practice forgiveness! Forgive as we have been forgiven. Don't give sin the opportunity to fester. The greatest thing a community of faith can do for one another is to forgive each other. We will sin against one another. That's what sinful people do. Jesus commands us to forgive. Don't expect that forgiving is easy. It comes with practicing what Jesus says to do. It comes with doing what is our duty to do. It comes with focusing on the forgiveness that we have received, instead of the sin that we have received. The whole armor of God is the Word of God. In that word, we receive forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross, by hearing again and again that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins. When we see the depth of our sin and the greatness of the gift of forgiveness for us, we cannot help but want to give that forgiveness to those who sin against us. And in terms of sin, our sin against God is great, and the sins of others against us are small.

Our mustard seed faith is faith that grows. Our prayer to our Lord is this: Lord, make my faith like a mustard seed. It's small now. Make it grow. Amen.

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