Sunday, May 02, 2021

John.15.9-17; Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021

John.15.9-17; Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021 Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; (From a sermon by Glen Neilson) As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:9-17, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Jesus calls us his friends. Right in the middle of this reading we hear him say to us, “you are my friends.” Right there in the middle of all that talk about doing what I command, obeying the Father, bearing fruit, Jesus says we are his friends. He says that he has a relationship with us, actually being our friend. We all know how precious and rare a good friend is. We all need someone to be friends with. There are times when we need a friend to discuss the troubles in our life. We all need someone to sit with for a cup of coffee, shop with, and even commiserate about life, kids, work and school. We know how important it is to have a good friend to do all those kind of things with, and yet, we also know how really rare, good friendships are. Today, friendships seem to be extra hard to build. They take time, and time is a luxury we seem to have so little of these days. Everyone is so busy, with school, work, family there’s little time left to develop a good friendship. And even when there’s time, we often lack the energy. Life today is full… There’s another problem too. Lots of people really don’t know how to be a good friend. All too often people use relationships for their own benefit, and their own purposes. People want you around and call you a friend when you can do something for them. They want you to be there when you can make them feel good, but as soon as a little trouble starts or as soon as you’re not useful anymore they split. Friendship is difficult when you get used, in the process. Friendship makes you vulnerable. That’s just the nature of the beast. Friends see us for who we are, with our masks removed. We let our guard down and tell them things we don’t tell anyone else. When the true you comes out you put yourself in a position to be hurt easily. That’s another reason why friendship is rare. Friendship is so rare that maybe it makes Jesus’ offer of friendship a little difficult to accept. We do what him to be with us, after all we gather together here Sunday after Sunday to come into contact with him. We want him to listen to our problems and he promises to do just that. He promises that nothing is too small a matter for him, and we can confide in him anytime. He always has time for us. He always treats us right. He promises to give us whatever we ask in his name. He actually was the friend who gave his very life for his friends. Jesus loves us, in spite of who we are. He promises to fill us with joy. He knows us for who we are and never turns us away. Jesus is the kind of friend we really want. What a precious gift it is to be chosen as a friend of Jesus. “You are my friends” Jesus says. Unfortunately, we aren’t good friends in return. We don’t spend the time and energy necessary for this friendship. We know what the pressures are. It’s difficult to get everyone up and around in the morning, just in time to catch the school bus, or off to work. Who has time for adding an extra half hour, or even fifteen minutes? for devotions? Sunday is a day to rest and catch up. It’s a day to relax and do nothing. No wonder our minds wander from the task at hand in worship. There’s so much to do today, especially with Memorial Day weekend approaching. Dinners in the oven or being picked up at Sven’s. And with meals are all too often around the TV instead of the table. Family devotions don’t fit very well during commercials. With all this busyness, with all this eating on the run, it is our friendship with Jesus that suffers. No time. No energy. No will to do it. Maybe his friendship with us isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Does he really treat me right? Does he really hear my prayers? All of them? Being chosen as a friend of Jesus hasn’t made my life any easier. Where’s that joy that he promises anyway? I’ve got pain in my life, and lots of it. And Jesus, “my friend” seems a long way away. My friendship with Jesus is filled with doubt. Jesus, our friend, shows us all our weaknesses. It’s painful when we compare ourselves with him. The bible tells us that He is perfect. We know that we are not perfect. He does everything right. We constantly fail. He loves perfectly. We give our love with conditions. He is a good friend. We are simply friendly. Who wants to hang around someone who is always opening those wounds? Who wants a friendship with someone who’s better than we are? It’s easier to avoid Jesus and let that friendship with Jesus die. And we’d let it die. But Jesus is too good a friend for that. Jesus considers His friendship with us so precious that He won’t let it die. He didn’t choose for us friends so that we’d wither up and die, like dead branches on the vine. He wants us to bear fruit. He promises joy and that’s what He gives with His friendship. Jesus is a true friend. He gives his time to us fully. As a matter of fact, he lived his whole life only for us, His friends. Jesus is no earthly or worldly friend. You don’t have any friends that are anything like Him. He did what was best for us even when it meant his own death, even when it meant sacrificing himself. He has that “greater love” that he was talking about. That’s true friendship, to lay down your life for your friends. He offers Himself, His very life for you. That’s why He took on human flesh. You and I are lousy friends. That’s because sin lives in our hearts and makes us selfish instead of selfless. The sinful nature that lives in our hearts doesn’t even want anything to do with God. That selfishness, that rejection of God, that lack of friendship, deserves punishment. God’s only punishment for rejecting Him is death. I know it seams harsh. We don’t run around killing people who don’t want to be friends with us, but God is different. He is perfect and holy. Rejection of God means rejection of everything that He is and stands for. There is only one place for people who reject God and His holiness. That place is hell. Because of that sin that’s in here, without friendship with God we are hell bound. But that’s not acceptable to God, so in steps Jesus, our friend. He leaves His Father and is born as a human being. He’s a perfect friend of God. He’s a perfect friend to the people all around Him. And He’s a perfect friend to you and me. You see, He gives his very life for us, even when it meant death and execution. Jesus laid down His life for you, His friends, on the cross. His friendship takes him to the darkness and pain of death. His friendship causes Him to suffer the punishment of hell for us that is the eternal separation our sinful nature really wants. So, you and I don’t have to face hell and its punishment. Jesus our friend has paid the price in full for us. But His friendship doesn’t stop in death. He takes His life up again. That’s where the joy is. It’s Easter joy! Jesus’ friendship for us didn’t die in the tomb. He rose again and came alive. He isn’t a dead friend who gave up everything for us. He is alive. A dead friend isn’t a good friend at all. Jesus is our friend forever. He’s a friend that is able to do whatever we need. He proves it by dying and rising again. That’s how He shows us that He will never leave us or forsake us. He knows who we truly are, and He is still our friend. He knew us before he died. He knew us on the cross, and He still died for us. He knows us now and still calls us his friends. What a friend we have in Jesus! Do we need a friend to talk to? Take it to the lord in prayer. Do we need a friend to walk with? He comes to us in His Word, right here. All we have to do is open your ears and listen to Him. Do you need to be close to your friend, Jesus? He comes to us in His very Body and Blood at this altar in the meal He gave us to eat. All we have to do is open our mouths and eat. That’s the personal touch of friendship that only Jesus gives. So, we’ve got lots of friends. If we rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, Jesus is 1,000,000. He’s the best friend that you will ever have. Do you need a friend? I do. You do, too. We need Jesus as our friend. A friend who has such great love that He lays down His life for us. A friend who has such great love for us that He give us the forgiveness of sins that we need. He is our true friend. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

John.10.1-10; Fourth Sunday of Easter; June 23, 2021;

John.10.1-10; Fourth Sunday of Easter; June 23, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:1-10, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. What’s the picture you have of the Good Shepherd? Do you see a man in the field bearing the weight of a sheep on his back? Do you see him rescuing a sheep from a dangerous rocky place? Do you see him sitting among the sheep embracing them and lovingly stroking their wool? Or like stained-glass windows you may have seen in churches. The Shepherd standing holding a little lamb gently to his breast. Those are all good pictures to hold. Those are all good ways to see Jesus our Good Shepherd. They are certainly part of who Jesus is. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. A Psalm of David. (Psalm 23, ESV) Today, I have a different image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, that I want you to think about. It comes from our text today, but it’s a little bit hidden in there and will take some teasing out. Once I got an email that said this was found on the internet. “Men fix their problems with duct tape. God uses nails.” And it fits, God solved the problem of human sin using the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross. So today along with all those other pictures of the Good Shepherd you have in your mind, I’d like you to add another one. It’s a nail about nine inches long. “Well, Pastor.” You say, “You’ve finally completely lost it. There is no way that we can connect that nail with the Good Shepherd. Shepherds don’t use nails. They aren’t a tool you’ll find in the sheep pen. We know that Jesus was crucified for our sins, but what does that have to do with Jesus, the Good Shepherd? Besides, that’s not the way we want to think about Jesus. The cross and its pain and suffering isn’t the thing we want to focus on, we want to focus on the good feelings of knowing that Jesus is here with us, whenever we need Him. One of my favorite hymns is "I am Jesus little lamb; Ever glad at heart I am; For my shepherd gently guides me; Knows my needs and well provides me; Loves me every day the same; Even calls me by my name.” No nails there. No pain and suffering, that’s the Good Shepherd we want to hear about. Well, I must admit there’s nothing more comforting than knowing that God is taking care of everything we need. But the image of the Good Shepherd isn’t just about hugs and green pastures and still waters. It’s also about the shadow of death. Jesus is talking about his own death here as he talks about gates and sheep pens. He is, in fact, obsessed with his death. He talks about it all the time, especially in the Gospel of John. It’s what has caused some people to say that the book of John is the Cruciform Gospel, the “Cross Shaped Gospel.” We like the image of the tender Good Shepherd because we so often find ourselves in need of comfort. But the comfort of our Shepherd is found in the fact that He did lay down his life for our sake. Through His death on the cross, he takes our sins and drops them in the sea of forgetfulness. There is nothing that stands between your Savior and you. He is there when you need comfort. Now, when is it that we need the most comfort? When is it most important to us that we have a Good Shepherd? It’s when we face death. I know it’s true because hardly a funeral goes by that we don’t have the Good Shepherd psalm read. That’s exactly why it’s a favorite. It speaks to us in the face of death. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, has done something about our great enemy death. What we are talking about here is the Joy of Easter. Not only the joy of having a Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep but having a Good Shepherd who has also risen from the dead. Jesus says he leads us out through the gate. He leads us through death. He does it first. That’s why the nail is a good sign of the Good Shepherd. With his death on the cross, when he is nailed to the cross, he bears the punishment of our sins. The nails pierce his hands and feet, but they don’t hold him to the cross. He was mocked by the crowds when they told him to come down from the cross and they will believe. He could have come down. But the Good Shepherd willingly gives his life for the sheep. He loves them and cares for them. He bleeds and dies going through the gate of death first. There was a tourist to the middle east. She had been told that Holy Land shepherds don’t drive their sheep but walk before them leading them. But the first flock of sheep she saw was being driven. The man driving them cursed, pushed, prodded and beat them with a stick. She spoke to the tour guide. “I thought shepherds here lead their sheep. Look at that one he’s driving them.” The tour guide said softly. “Oh, I see. You don’t understand. That’s not the shepherd. That’s the butcher.” Our Good Shepherd leads us. He calls us by name. Just think of all the examples where he did that. Thomas stood in unbelief in the upper room after the other disciples had seen Jesus. “Unless I put my hand into Jesus side, where the spear pierced him, I’ll never believe.” Jesus calls him back to faith. “Thomas, see my hands and my side. Come over here and put your finger and you hand in the holes. Believe in me.” When the pressure was on, all the disciples fled from Jesus side. But Peter denied Jesus in public, even cursing to prove his point. When Jesus appeared to again, he said to Peter. “Peter, Son of John, do you live me more than these? Feed my sheep. Follow me.” When Mary was overcome with the grief, she didn’t recognize the Risen Jesus standing before her. She thought he was the gardener. She said to Jesus, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15). But when Jesus called her by name, she knew him instantly. Jesus calls you by name, too. In fact, he calls you by name and gives you his name in the bargain. When Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls you by name, you can be sure that there is faith given with his words. This Wednesday we’ll listen to the 8th graders confess their faith in Jesus. They’ll tell us all about baptism. What benefits does baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. The Good Shepherd calls you by name; through faith in him we follow him, even through the valley of the shadow of death. And there’s that nail again. There is a hymn that says it like this: In death’s dark vale I fear no ill With thee, dear Lord, beside me, Thy rod and staff my comfort still, Thy cross before to guide me. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV) In the text for today, he says he’s the door. Through Jesus, we have a way to the God the Father. Through Jesus, we have a way to life. (Just so you know, the Greek word for life is Zoe). I came that they may have life (Zoe) and have it abundantly. He says though him we will “find pasture.” That’s a way of saying that even though we’ll have to go thorough death there’s life on the other side. I think it’s really what Psalm 23 is saying too. Think about the psalm as a journey. Before the shadow of death Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads us and cares for us giving us all that we need, green grass, still waters and rest. Right in the middle, he leads us through the deep dark valley. He’s right there with us calling us by name, through the fear. After that, we have the table prepared for us, and we live in the “House of the Lord” forever. The whole psalm describes the life that Jesus gives us, care and comfort on the journey, through even the dark valley of death, right to God’s very own table as an honored guest. I know this nail isn’t really a sign of the Good Shepherd. I don’t think I’ve started a new trend. But you can’t separate the Good Shepherd and all those pictures that we have in our minds of him from the death that he dies for us. Because it’s through that death that brings us into the pleasant pastures of life forever. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 18, 2021;

Luke 24:36-49; The Third Sunday of Easter; April 18, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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 declaring 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) 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  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.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 11, 2021;

1 John 1:1-2:2; The Second Sunday after Easter; April 11, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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). 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 to return again and 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.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Exodus 20:1-17; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 7, 2021;

Exodus 20:1-17; The Third Sunday in Lent; March 7, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Romans 5:1-5; Second Sunday in Lent; February 28, 2021;

Romans 5:1-5; Second Sunday in Lent; February 28, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5 (ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have been "justified" by faith. That's what St. Paul tells us. Justified. We see that word all over Paul's letters. And it is no wonder; this word is at the very heart of our faith. If we are not justified by Christ, we are still in our sin, St. Paul tells us. But I wonder if sometimes we see it and just kind of pass it over, because it's a word that we think we should know what it means. Do we really understand what it means? And do we really know that we have been justified? First let's make sure we understand what the word "justified" means. The picture is this. We stand before the judge guilty. There’s no plea bargain. There’s not fancy lawyer to get us of easy. We deserve the punishment that is coming our way. The worst part is we are standing before the most severe judge there is. He never lets anyone off that deserves punishment. “You realize your crime deserves death.” He says. We have to agree. Just when the judge is about to pronounce the sentence Jesus steps forward. “Father, this one is mine. I have already paid the price. I have already suffered his death.” “Ok, my son, with you I am well pleased.” the judge responds. Then to you he says. “I declare you to be not guilty on account of the punishment already paid. You are free.” What we are talking about here, being justified is what Jesus Christ has done for us. It's His life, death and resurrection that do it. We are declared to be righteous. That is sin set aside. Sin removed. Sin taken care of. My sin taken care of. Your sin taken care of. Whenever we talk about being justified it's important that we remember that we are indeed sinful people. We are born that way. We need to be justified. No one who's been a parent can really believe that children are born without any sin. The smallest child will bear this out. Of course, they need the attention they demand, but they are the most self-centered people on the planet. As they grow older, we tend to overlook the selfishness, or think that it's cute. Go to any playground anywhere and you'll see the bald truth that children have to be taught not to hurt one another. I know the folks who you see on TV don't agree. But in spite of what they say, children do not have to be taught to hate, they have to be taught not to hate. I have a teenager in the house. I think the teenage years are the time when all of us struggle the most trying to balance selfishness and living in community. That struggle between what we really want and what is best for us and the people around us is what makes those years so difficult. Even when we get older some of us never get over the fact that we are supposed to share our toys. We are sinful people. Earlier in Romans Paul says it this way: 10as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13"Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15"Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known." 18"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18, ESV) The lying tongue, the bitterness, the anger, the pushing God out of our lives, we all have to admit that there we are, right there in the middle of the pack. We'd like all those "theirs" in there; "their tongues, their feet, their paths, their eyes, to be "theirs" that is someone else's. But we know that we lie, even if it's just those little white one that pop up in conversation to make us look better to our friends. And who hasn't been bitter about the nice things in life that other people seem to get so much easier than we do? And talk about no peace, even in our Christians families, yelling and anger are regular features of our lives. Just feel the tension as we try to make any decision at a voter’s meeting. But worst of all, we could walk around all day and simply ignore the fact that we are sinful people. We get into our everyday and everyday, and simply think that God will just ignore our sin because we do. But God won’t ignore sin. In fact, sin deserves punishment because it is an affront to God’s purity. God is perfect and holy, we are not. In order to be tolerated in God’s presence we have to be perfectly perfect, “without spot or blemish,” without any sin of any kind. To stand before God in sin is to stand before the judge who will condemn. "None is righteous, no not one" points out our need to be justified. When we realize that the law Paul wrote is talking directly to us, then that's when those first few words "Since we have been justified…" come to us as pure Gospel, that's when it's not simply Good News, it's Great News. "Since" Paul says. The word “since” means "in view of the fact that…." It's true. It's a fact. It's yours and it's mine. "Since we have been justified…" Even though we are sinners we have been made holy. We have been declared righteous. That selfishness that controls us from the time we are conceived through our adolescence and right into our adulthood, and even old age, is taken away. God has seen to that by sending Jesus. From His adulthood all the way back to His conception He wasn't a sinful person; He was never selfish; He never spoke lies; He wasn't ever bitter about His place in life; and He always kept God in His mind and always thought of other people’s needs. That law that Paul preaches to us "no one does good, not even one." applies to everyone except Jesus. Jesus never sinned. And yet, there is a way that all of it does apply to Jesus. He does something about our sin because we can’t do anything about it ourselves. We are helpless to change. We are born with sin and in order to get rid of it, it has to be killed. Paul talked about that too in another letter he wrote. 21For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV) And in the verse right before our text he says, 25[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses... (Romans 4:25, ESV) All that sin, which deserves God’s punishment, was put on Jesus. He became the target of God’s anger. Jesus, God’s only and perfect Son, was killed because of it. He became sin… our sin… your sin… my sin… Jesus, the world’s only perfect person is also Jesus the greatest sinner who ever lived, not for sin of His own but your sin and mine. You know the sins that we wish weren’t ours. The ones that we wish were only “theirs” Their lying tongues that are really ours. Their bitterness that is really ours. The lustful thoughts that we love to have, but then regret when they are over. Our hating the judge for requiring us to be perfect. That sin that we wish was someone else’s really does become someone else’s in Jesus. In Jesus, our sins are put to death. In Jesus they are sent to the grave. In Jesus they are under the punishment and anger of God. Jesus dies on the cross and takes the punishment for our sin. And He gives to us the righteousness of God. When Jesus takes our sin, and when he becomes sin for us, he gives us his perfect life, we become his righteousness. All that living right, all that doing good, all that not sinning is given to us in exchange for our sin. Jesus becomes sin, we become justified. So that’s what it means to be justified. We’ve had here the best object lesson about justification that there can ever be. It has happened right here over and over again. Right here at this font the words are spoken. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When a pastor says it here, he isn’t speaking for himself he is speaking for God. He does exactly what God has commanded us to do. And little children, born in sin, become God’s children. All the promises of God are now true for them. God justifies them through the cross of Jesus Christ. In that moment God declares the to be justified, not guilty of the sin they are borne with. Now remember Paul’s word, that little word “since?” It means “in light of the fact.” All that happens here at the font is in fact, founded on Jesus. It’s all because of what Jesus has done. You see it. You have a real picture that you can’t miss the meaning. The sin is washed away by water connected to God’s Word. You witness it. You see justification in action. It is one of the reasons we do baptize publically, and why we recognize the private baptisms here during worship. There is no better picture than being justified and not lifting a finger to make it happen. Jesus comes and takes our sin and gives us his perfect life. Jesus lives perfectly. Jesus dies. Jesus rises again. When ever we see God working in baptism it is one of the clearest ways that we see that we have nothing at all to do with our justification. It is given to us through the work of God accomplished by Jesus Christ. And given to individuals given to you and me through water and God’s spoken Word and promises. Do you know that it’s true for you? You do if you’re pointing to Jesus. You do if you are remembering that in your baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, God declared you to be not guilty. Because in that baptism Jesus took your sin to death on the cross and in your Baptism, he gives you his perfect life. You’ve been justified. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2021;

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2021; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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. You know people who are struggling with difficult issues. Some of you are struggling also. 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. 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) We have a great example right here at the font. 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. 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 “first fruits” 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.