Saturday, August 23, 2014

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


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

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

(Thanks to Kyle Castens) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

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


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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

(Thanks to Rev. Glen Nielson).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evening and morning, sunset and dawning,

Wealth, peace and gladness,

Comfort in sadness;

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

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

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

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

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

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

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.

He suffered and was buried.

And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures

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

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

whose kingdom will have no end. (Nicene Creed)

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

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