Sunday, December 24, 2023

Romans 18:25-27; The Fourth Sunday of Advent; December 24, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:25–27, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is a very interesting phrase in Paul’s doxology here. “The obedience of faith.” At first glance it looks like doing things that are in agreement with having faith. i.e. getting rid of sin by confession, serving our neighbors, providing for our families, and bringing the Gospel to people who have never heard it. In other words, doing the things that show you are a Christian. But it is much simpler than that. Before the phrase Paul specifies what has “been disclosed through prophetic writings” and “has been made know to all nations.” That is the Gospel. The account of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection. In fact, if you step back a few verses, Paul makes it very clear (context, context, context).
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:17–20, ESV)
He speaks about the “doctrine you have been taught.” Doctrine is a biblical word (διδαχή). It means the teaching about what scripture means. Jesus talks about doctrine a lot. In Matthew 28:20 he says,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:20a, ESV)
The word teaching the same Greek word as doctrine. Many people say that doctrine is secondary to the Word. And in one sense that is correct. But it is also necessary. When doctrine, or the teaching about scripture, conforms to the Word, they are one and the same. You can’t have the Word without teaching what it means. You can’t have correct teaching without the Word. Correct doctrine is not opinion about what the text says, it repeats what the text says. False doctrine does not say what the text says. True doctrine says what God says, false doctrine says what man says.

It is up to the Christian to discern true doctrine. You can’t reject doctrine just because it is doctrine. But you must reject doctrine that doesn’t say what God’s Word says. You do that by comparing what has been said with the Word itself. The difficulty comes in because false shepherds preach what you want to hear, it sounds true because you want it to be true.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching (διδασκαλία yes, doctrine!), but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions (2 Timothy 4:3, ESV)
True shepherds teach what is true, that is, what scripture says. Sometimes you won’t like what a true teacher says. But that is because it is God’s Word, that he preaches, not his own. It is one reason why we spend so much time on the doctrine of the church. The truth is, the church is about teaching, teaching the doctrine of the Word. That is, what the Word says and what the Word means.

What is even more interesting, in our text, is the word “obedience.” The Greek word is υπακούν. What is so interesting about this word is where it comes from. Its root is the word ἀκούω. Which means to hear and listen. So, to obey is to hear, listen and react. Obedience has as much to do with what is heard (what is taught) as it does with what is done. The obedience of faith literally translated is the listening of faith. It is when someone trustingly hears and follows what is said. This obedience isn’t sanctification (that is the actions that come after coming to faith, obedience that results from faith), but this obedience is justification (that is, obedience that consists of faith). That is, the obedience Paul is taking about is justification not sanctification. It’s about coming to faith, not growing in faith.

What Paul says brings about the obedience of faith is the Word of God, specifically the Word of God about Jesus.
the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations. (Romans 16:25b-26a, ESV)
and earlier in Romans he says,
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:16–17, ESV)
You guessed it, obeyed is the same Greek word from our text υπακούν. The obedience of the Gospel and the obedience of faith are one and the same.

There is only one way to obey the Gospel. That is to believe and to confess. It is as simple as what is said in the churches doctrinal summery, the Apostles’ Creed. And [I believe] 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.
Faith is the result of hearing the Gospel. To obey the Gospel is to have faith, that is, to believe that what Jesus did he did for you. The moment you do that, you have obeyed the Gospel, you have the obedience of faith.
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9–10, ESV)
And just what is the result of that faith and confession? It is exactly what the angels sang,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke 2:14, ESV)
Peace. εἰρήνη. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings the only real peace that human beings can find on earth. Peace between God and man. The peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7 ESV). The cancelling of the hostility of God. Namely, the forgiveness of sins. The baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12 ESV) brings it.

Paul says this about that baby in his letter to the Philippians.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)
To use a tired cliché, Jesus is the reason for the season. He is Lord. He brings forgiveness. He delivers it through his story. He became your servant, to give you eternal life. He humbled himself to die on the cross for your punishment. And God raised him from death, highly exalted him for your justification, that is to make it just-as-if-I’d never sinned.
but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:24–25, ESV)
When you trust what Jesus has done for you, you have the obedience of faith. You are justified, you are forgiven, you have peace with God. Amen.

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

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Psalm 126; The Third Sunday of Advent; December 17, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
When the LORD restored the fortunes of | Zion,* we were like | those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with | laughter,* and our tongue with | shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great | things for them.”* The LORD has done great things for us; |we are glad. Restore our fortunes, | O LORD,* like streams in the | Negeb! Those who | sow in tears* shall reap with | shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for | sowing,* shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his | sheaves with him.
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This Psalm is one of the Songs of Ascent. When the people approached the holy city, Jerusalem on festivals they chanted these psalms together. They are Songs of Ascent because when you come to Jerusalem you have to go up the hill to the city, up mount Zion.

This particular psalm has another approach in view. Some six hundred years before Jesus, God’s people were conquered and sent into exile in Babylon. It was God’s discipline for their sin of rejecting him. After a great many years, God finally acted on their prayers for return and allowed a small band of them to come home. You can imagine this psalm being spoken by them as they climbed the holy hill once again. It was like a dream. They had waited so long. God had finally begun to fulfill his promise. Their mouths were filled with joy. God had done a great thing for them, they were glad.

And yet, not all was well. The land and the city were in rubble. There had been no crops sown for many years. The vast majority of the people were still back in Babylon. The psalm is a not only a prayer of joy for what God has done, but a plea for him to continue to do more. Bring the rest home! In this way it’s another one of the complaint Psalms, a lament. Those who were there had much hard work ahead of them. There would be sowing in tears. There was weeping for now, but great joy in the future with God’s promise.

This is the perfect song as we approach the end of Advent. It’s a reminder that we are not just preparing for a quaint family holiday, the reason for the season isn’t that we gather together and exchange love and presents. The baby in the manger is the beginning of our return from exile. We huddle around the crèche because it is the beginning. The angels sang, “God and sinners reconciled” because God was present among sinful people to do away with sin and death and the power of Satan. Christmas is God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. God, in Jesus, born in a manger. God, in Jesus, feeding at his mother’s breast. God, in Jesus, growing in wisdom and stature to be a full-grown man. God, in Jesus, living and working with his family. God, in Jesus, preaching and teaching. God, in Jesus, arrested and beaten. God, in Jesus, crucified dead and buried, under Pontius Pilate. God, in Jesus, paying the eternal punishment for all human sin on the cross. God, in Jesus, dead and buried. God, in Jesus, raised from the dead on the third day. All of that, God, in Jesus, reconciling sinners, bringing them home to God himself from their exile to sin.

So, the laughter we experience as we gather with our families is part of the joy we rightly feel because of God and Sinners Reconciled. Joy to the World. Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him, Gloria in Excelsis Deo! All that we will sing in a bit more than a few short days. It fits well with the first part of the Psalm. In some ways it is like a dream for us also, too good to be true. When we see the depth of our sin, when we know what sin does to us and to those we love, and we realize the rescue God has made for us. We sing for joy!

And yet, not all is well. Death, the wages of sin, still haunts us, breaking our joy. There is more of Jesus to come, even though he has totally captured the victory and yet there is more to do. In the psalm we call on God to finish it. The crucified baby in the manger has risen from the dead has done great thing for us, and he promises to do even more. We weep now, but we will renew our shouts of joy even louder when the sky is filled with Jesus and his holy angels returning. We lament our sin and suffering. We long for a time when human beings can really live together in peace on earth. St. Paul says it:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26, ESV)

Tears turned to joy. Weeping turned to shouts of joy. Jesus “making all things new” (Rev 21:5, ESV). And so we repeat our Advent Prayer. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Isaiah 64:1-9; The First Sunday in Advent; December 3, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:1–9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah has a dream, and it is a big one. God’s people are mired in sin. They are ignoring him, but more importantly they are ignoring God. His dream? That God would show himself in power and fix everything. He knows already that judgment is coming. He is afraid for the people. You do not trifle with God’s anger over sin. When the one who made the heavens and the earth displays his anger, there are earthquakes and lightning and fire and darkness and the rivers boil. A little of that would go a long way to the people seeing their sin and confessing. Isaiah makes no bones about it; the people are sinful. Even the good stuff they do is polluted like a bloody rag. Their sins make them dead and dry like a leaf that will just blow away in a breeze. But the people don’t see it, at least they won’t confess it. They refuse to call upon God’s name for mercy. Their sin has blinded them to their need for forgiveness. Isaiah confesses for them and then begs God to be the merciful God that Isaiah knows he is. There is no other god who acts in mercy toward those who wait for him. What that means it that those who stand in faith, those who wait for God to act in mercy toward them, those who see their great need for forgiveness, are given mercy and forgiveness. Isaiah reminds God that his people are his children. They were created by him, just as he created everything in the very beginning. Please temper your anger, Lord. He says. Lord, have mercy! He says. Look at us in mercy and forgive.

What could be better at Advent? We get a bit confused because we think Advent is all about the little baby in the manger. But it really is about waiting for God to act. Isaiah was waiting for God to act in mercy, to come and fix everything. Isaiah wanted God to come in person. And he did. He came in the manger in Bethlehem, the little baby that the song says doesn’t cry. But Advent is about his coming for a purpose, it is Isaiah’s dream. Jesus comes to bring mercy for those who are caught in sin. But Jesus also comes to bring God’s wrath against sin, lighting and thunder and earthquakes (all seen at his death). Jesus is God who acts. The baby goes to the cross. There is the full anger of God played out. God, the Father, turns his face away from Jesus, his Son. Jesus quotes Psalm 22. His words on the cross are haunting. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, ESV) The Psalm continues to make the point.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14–15, ESV)
It is so much like what Isaiah wrote.
There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:7, ESV)
It is God, coming in Jesus. It is Isaiah’s dream, only better. Isaiah wanted the law to convict the people. Jesus comes and stand convicted for the people. He takes on God’s wrath in full. God executes justice on the cross, all justice for all time, for all people. It is the awesome thing that we didn’t look for. Forgiveness of sins when we were not calling upon his name, but enemies of God instead.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8–10, ESV)
God does it, he pours out his great wrath on Jesus so that his people can have Isaiah’s dream, so that he can:
Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:9, ESV)
We are God’s people. Made so by God’s name placed on us in Holy Baptism. Made so through faith in the baby made sacrifice for us. And yet we are sinners, too. Isaiah’s dream needs to be re-read again. We live our lives not calling upon God’s name but trying our best to get along without him. We do our good deeds for our own benefit. Sin spoils everything. Even the good things we do are polluted by false motives. We need God, himself to come and be present and fix everything. We need Isaiah’s dream again.

And Jesus comes. Word, water, bread and wine. He is here. He is present here just as he promises to be. And he comes for forgiveness. We confess our sin along with Isaiah. Please temper your anger, Lord. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Look at us in mercy and forgive.
… in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
… take eat this is my body … take drink this is my blood… for the forgiveness of all your sins.
God present in an awesome way we would never expect. Forgiving our sin through his very presence.

And that’s not all. Advent is about God coming to fix everything. He is coming yet again. He will fix everything then, by first destroying all that is corrupted by sin.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:11–13, ESV)

It is God acting in mercy for those who wait on him. Sin and suffering, death and disease, done in. So, we wait for God to act for us. And while we wait, we act in holiness and godliness. That means serving the world as it needs to be served. Doing our daily work for the sake of our neighbor. Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus who forgives sins through his cross and resurrection and return. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Joel 2:30–32; The Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 26, 2023;

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” (Joel 2:30–32, ESV)
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

“A great and awesome day” is coming, so says the Prophet Joel. I don’t want to second guess the translators of the ESV, but I think they are pussyfooting around the harshness of the text. If you look at the context, Joel talks about the great day.
Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.
But in context I believe the translation is better stated “a great and fearful day” The word in Hebrew is the same root word that is used in Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV) While it can be translated awesome or respect, fear is much more appropriate for those who will not be saved. It will be a great day for those who call on the name of the LORD, but decidedly not for those who don’t.

The scene is set,

signs in the heavens and the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be dark and the moon blood.
And then comes the judgement. It is in that context we have our gospel lesson for today. Jesus, the Son of Man coming in glory “to judge the living and the dead.”
In this little parable of the Judgement, the sheep and the goats are judged based on what they have done. The sheep, on the right, those who have faith in Christ and the goats, on the left, those who do not. The contrast is a big one.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34, ESV)
That will be a great day for them.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41, ESV)
That will be a terrible and fearful day for them.

And the judgement seems to be clearly based on what both the right hand and the left hand have done. Jesus goes through the same litany.
I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison.
Those on the right have fed, welcomed, clothed, and visited. Those on the left have not. “Come” he says to the right and “depart” he says to the left. It is Jesus’ sheep who do those things, the goats do not. It is a fair question to ask, “What about me? Which am I?” In fact, I believe that is exactly what Jesus wants you to ask. But we will get to that answer after a bit.

In 1 Corinthians surrounding our epistle reading for today, Paul talks extensively about the resurrection. It is all tied together with the Judgment. His argument goes something like this.

If Jesus in proclaimed as risen from the dead. Then the dead are raised. Since Jesus did rise, everyone will. Because of sin all people die. But because of Christ, his life, his death, and especially his resurrection, all will be made alive again. That is all the dead will be raised from death. And death, the last enemy of everyone, will be destroyed. After the end, no one will ever die again. Jesus was the firstfruits to rise, then those who have died in faith (Paul says those who belong to Christ). Then the end comes. That is where the judgment of the living and the dead happens.

We Christians often miss the point of the judgment and resurrection rather focusing on the in between state. The resurrection is the culmination of all of God’s promises in Jesus. The ultimate Christian hope isn’t to die and go to heaven. It isn’t to shed our sinful bodies and remain with Christ forever. It is to shed our sin, and live with Christ forever in our sin free, perfect, resurrected bodies. The idea comes from the Philosopher Plato. He viewed all things physical and worldly as evil, and all things spiritual as good. We should be very careful to state the Christian hope clearly. We respect the body as a creation of God. Jesus redeemed the whole person, both body and soul. The resurrection promises a restoration of a whole person. If you look at the service of the comital of the body, we carefully place our brothers’ and sisters’ bodies in the ground in God’s keeping until the resurrection. It says this,
May God the Father, who created this body; may God the + Son who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
For those who have faith in Christ, the judgment and resurrection of all flesh will indeed be a great day!

However, there is the other side of the coin. It will be a fearful day for those without faith. For them the resurrection brings a sin free, perfect, resurrected body that will spend eternity in hell. There, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in a physical body.
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:49–50, ESV)

That brings us back to the question, “How can I assure myself that that fate will not be mine?”

It is at the very end of our text from Joel.
and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
So, our assurance comes from God’s call. I could go with some Christian traditions that say,

“Look inside yourself to see if you really love God.”

“Look at your life to see the fruit of faith.”

But that would be nothing short of Pastoral malpractice. How many times have you doubted your salvation? How many times have you fallen short of the fruit of faith? The problem is that you are a sinful imperfect person. If you look truly inside yourself, with honesty, you will only find sin. You will not find comfort there.

Rather than looking into yourself and your actions, you should look to Jesus and his actions. … those whom the LORD calls.

Your actions and faith will always fall short. But God’s actions never will. He has called you through Holy Baptism. His work is always sure. In Baptism, God has connected you to Jesus. His life, death and yes, his resurrection is given to you by grace. You will never deserve it. You will never earn it. You will never add anything to it. Your faith in Jesus is the result of only God’s doing.

You will notice in the parable of the sheep and the goats, that the sheep don’t see the fruit of their faith.
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matthew 25:37, ESV)
In other words, when they searched their hearts, they did not see the good work they did. They didn’t see the proof of faith. They didn’t count what they did as worthy of salvation. The goats on the other hand put all their trust in their works.
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’” (Matthew 25:44, ESV)
It is the difference between looking inside yourself and looking to the Cross of Christ.

So, for you, who have been called by Christ, the day of Judgement will be a great day. On that day your body and soul will be rejoined. You will see Jesus with your very own, these same eyes (Job 19:26).
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25–27, ESV)
So, with Job, you will live a physical life forever with Jesus. How it will look is beyond our comprehension. That’s why Job says.
My heart faints within me!

But as much as we don’t know, we do know a little part of the joy we will feel. It’s why we did the Psalm instead of the Introit today. It is a song of praise in what God has done. We can place this psalm on our lips at the resurrection. It clearly puts all the credit where credit is due. As I read it take special note of the last verse. Listen to it again.
Psalm 95:1–7 (ESV) 1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

1 Timothy 2:1-6; Thanksgiving Eve; November 22, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It seems like such a simple thing. Throw away words even. "I'll pray for you." A bit like "Hello, how are you?" The question is asked when we greet someone, but we really don't want to know the whole story. A bit like Andy Warhol's (im)famous Campbell's Soup can painting. When people see it, they say things like. I have a can just like that in my kitchen! It's too simple. I could have done that! That's not art!

How can prayer do anything? It's too simple. Words spoken into space. Our Sunday prayer list is long. We've heard the names so many times. How can these short petitions mean anything. Wouldn't a long meditation in the heart be more meaningful to God then speaking these prewritten words? And besides, often our well-meaning promises of prayer go unfulfilled. "Please pray for me", "Of course" slips off the tongue as easily as "The Lord be with you." is answered by "and also with you."

To pray is a part of what it means to be a Christian. Christians pray. And yet prayer is difficult. St. Paul urges young pastor Timothy to lead his congregation in prayer. And not only that, but he tells him what should be prayed. He uses four words that are similar but have different nuances. Prayer is to cover all the bases. Supplications are asking for things. Prayers are speaking to God about our thoughts and desires. Intercessions are praying for those in need. And thanksgiving well, that's why we're here this evening. We give thanks to God for all the wonderful blessings that he's given. We are to pray for all people, says Paul, especially those in authority. We are to pray that God would move them to do what he has given them to do to care for their people. Prayer is about all these things.

It's next though, that Paul gets to the heart of the matter. Prayer is pleasing to God because he wants all people to be saved. At the heart of our prayer is to be prayers for God's word to be proclaimed to all people. At the heart of our prayer is for those that we pray for to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus after all who prayed for you and me. He desires our salvation more than we do! During his life on earth and even still at the right hand of the Father he continues to pray for his church. And those prayers were answered whenever faith was given to you through the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and water. Those prayers are answered every time you open your mouth and Jesus Christ passes over your lips as you eat the bread and wine and, in, with, and under is his very body and blood.

But as faithful as Jesus is, and was, in prayer we are not. In fact, most often our prayer comes at the point of necessity. And most often our prayers are self-centered. We only pray for those in need when we are asked and even then, our prayers are lacking. Paul gives instruction on prayer because we are unfaithful in it. He tells us what to pray and who to pray for because we need to be told. And he tells us why we pray. We pray because Jesus is the faithful mediator who lifts our prayers to the Father. Through faith and the work of the Holy Spirit we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are children of God through faith and the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ on the cross. And God the Father promises to answer the prayers of his children.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them the "Our Father." It is the simple perfect prayer. It asks for what we need and want. It's like Warhol's deceptively simple Campbell's tomato soup can. We pray for God's will and his kingdom. We pray for our daily bread. All of it in a simple way that we can remember. The Lord's prayer is always the perfect prayer. And when we pray it, we pray for ourselves and all those who need the things that are prayed.

And at the center of that prayer too, is forgiveness. Forgiveness puts the "our" in "Our Father". Listen again to Luther:
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
This petition is the center point of faith. We receive forgiveness because the Father forgives us through Jesus sacrifice that satisfies our need for forgiveness. Jesus’ death on the cross is the punishment we deserve and what we don’t receive though faith that what he did he did for us, in our place. We receive forgiveness freely through Jesus, even though we don’t deserve it. It is God’s grace in action. So therefore, we are to forgive in the same way, freely without cost. That means without requiring anything in return. Without requiring a changed heart, in those who sin against us. Without requiring that they not sin against us in the same way. That is what it means to have mercy. That is grace given freely to those who don’t deserve grace. When we refuse to do this, we show that we believe we deserve forgiveness, and others don’t.

The Lord's Prayer isn't a backup prayer to pray when you don't know what else to pray. The Lord's Prayer is prayer as St. Paul commands Timothy. It's the tomato soup of prayer. Simple, nutritious, easy to use. These words are words to pray because God, our Father promises to hear. These words are words to pray because we, as Christians, live them.

This is what St. Paul means when he says:
that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
No matter what words we pray, whether the Lord's prayer or other prayer, our lives become the prayers we pray. We pray for God's will and daily bread. God uses us to provide these things to our neighbors. We pray for forgiveness, and God uses us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ here, in our community and around the world.

We shouldn't dismiss prayer (especially the Lord's Prayer) simply because it seems too simple. Like those who dismiss The Soup Can painting. It is a simple but necessary part of our Christian life. So, as you gather at the Thanksgiving table this week, remember to pray. Maybe pray the Lord's Prayer this year. It is everything that Paul tells us here to do and it recognizes all the gifts we have received so graciously from God, our Father's hand. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Matthew 25:14-30; November 19, 2023, The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Uh Oh! I know that story. We’re about to be hit with a “stewardship” sermon. With the new church building on the horizon Pastor is about to tell us the church needs money. He’s about to tell us that this parable tells us not to waste the “talents” (as in money) we’ve been given. Here we are in the middle of an international financial crisis and we’re going to be told to open our wallets and give to the church.

Well, the truth is, the church does need the money and you shouldn’t waste the talents that God gives you. The church does need money to operate. Your pastor needs a paycheck. But, in fact, this parable isn’t about money or stewardship at all. It is probably one of the most misinterpreted parables of all time. That’s because, despite how you might have heard it before, this parable isn’t a stewardship parable. One reason for the trouble is the word “talent.” In Jesus day a “talent” was an average daily wage. We confuse that word with the things that we are able to do. The varying gifts we’ve been given to do this or that. I think we would better understand this parable if the word “talent” were replaced with the word “coin.”

One pastor I know says that a parable is a story that’s not talking about what it is talking about. You know a parable about shepherds and sheep isn’t talking about how you are to be a shepherd. A parable about plants and gardening is about how you get to be a prize-winning gardener. A parable about a father and his two sons isn’t about parenting. A parable about money isn’t about finances. So, this parable about money isn’t really about money.

So, what is it about? Matthew, the Gospel writer, tells us, but we must go back to verse three in this chapter. The disciples and Jesus sat around talking. The disciples ask a question and Jesus answers it. The question is,
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt 25:3, ESV)
The guys want to know what the signs that Jesus is coming again will be. He tells them by stacking up a bunch of parables. This one about the “talents” or “coins” is one of them. So, according to Jesus, this parable is really about Jesus and his return, not about us and how we are to be faithful with our talents. That fits the rule I told you about parables too. If we find a way to make Jesus the main character then, then we’ll be much closer to understanding what the parable is all about.

In this parable then Jesus is the man who went away and left his servants in charge of some of his money. Some invest it and one hides it in the ground. When the master returns, he has praise and criticism for them. When Jesus praises people it is always because of faith. Jesus criticizes unbelief. The guys who invest the money do so because they believe that the master will return. They have faith. They’ve been given something to do, and they do it because they believe the master is coming back. The servant who buried the coin in the ground lacks that faith. The task they’ve been given is to take the master’s money and use it in the community on behalf of the master. When they invest it must be in the master’s name. The guy who buries the coin is unwilling even to put it on deposit, because that too must be done in the master’s name. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s connected to the master. Better to bury the coin and forget all about it. He can go about his own business in his own name. He doesn’t really believe the master will return. He has no faith in the master. He doesn’t believe he will have to be accountable for what he’s been given.

So, this parable is about faith and Jesus. Faith shows itself is the fruit it bears. We either work for the Jesus, who has given us good gifts to share in his name, or we work for ourselves. We either anticipate Jesus’ return to earth with joy or we will see him as a cruel judge when he does return.

But I think one thing more than anything else makes this parable come alive. And that’s pushing the coins as far away from the word “talents” as possible. If we look at the gifts, the coins given freely, as the forgiveness that God gives us freely for the sake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, I think it all comes clear. When we see it this way, the gift and the giver become the most important thing in the parable. The master who goes away is Jesus who gives us forgiveness of sin. He is going to return. Each person receives, by God’s grace, the forgiveness that is needed. Forgiveness always comes from the cross. Jesus always gives forgiveness freely because he paid the price for our sin. It’s not about the amount but the grace, the giving, the gift. The gift flows out of us to everyone around us. We pray this in The Lord’s Prayer, forgive us as we forgive. When we believe we are forgiven, when we receive the coin, forgiveness flows out to others. Two coins turn into four. Five coins turn into ten. It isn’t our work at all, it is God’s work. It’s the coin doing what coins do; forgiveness doing what forgiveness does. (and much of it we don’t even know is happening. But that’s left for a fuller discussion next week with the parable of the sheep and goats.) All the modern translations hide this point when they add the word “done” to the master’s reaction to the increase (it isn’t in the original Greek). ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,” Would be a much better translated, “Very well, my good and faithful servant.” “Well done” places the work in our laps and puts us at the center of the parable instead of Jesus and his forgiveness given freely.

So, what about the guy who buried the coin? He is rejecting forgiveness.

Dear Christians, make no mistake about it, this is us when we are shown our sin and refuse to see it clearly. This is us when we carve out exceptions for our own sin. We think God makes exceptions for us and our sin because we’ve earned it, because we are good church members, fill the collection plate, or through our hard work and perseverance have keep the church doors open. “If I come to church faithfully on Sunday, I can do whatever I want on Saturday.” And this is us when we think that our suffering, our trouble, or our pain entitle us to continue to live in sin. “Doesn’t God want me to be happy? This is about love not rules.” This is just burying the coin, rejecting forgiveness. And let’s be clear here. You are probably looking around for your favorite target of this condemnation. “Go get ‘em pastor. I know someone who really needs to hear this.” But before you point your finger at your friend / neighbor / relative point it first at yourself. You are guilty of burying the coin, rejecting God’s forgiveness, continuing in your pet sin, and wanting to live for yourself. You and I live every day as if we really don’t believe we are accountable for what we’ve been given. We live every day as if Jesus really isn’t returning. And what does Jesus say about that?
‘You wicked and slothful servant! … take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Hell bound. That’s me. Hell bound. That’s you. Well, at least that’s what would be true, except for the gift, except for God’s grace, except for God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This is exactly why God’s grace is grace. We are lost on our own. We would reject the gift of forgiveness completely, outright, because we have no faith without it being given to us. We would have no way of holding on to forgiveness unless the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to show us our sin and our need for it. And that he does.

The coin, forgiveness is given to you. God has given you faith, first to see that you need it for yourself, and then to see that what you need your neighbor needs, your children need, your parents need, your pastor needs, in fact the whole world needs. And here is where five coins makes five more. Where forgiveness is freely given, it is freely given again and again.

Jesus is really returning. He has given us the greatest gift we could ever have. We have it for ourselves. We have it for our neighborhood, and town, state, nation, and world. As we share what we’ve been given, God makes it grow. It will be seen clearly when Our Savior returns and says, “very well, good and faithful servant.” Amen.

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

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Matthew 25:1-13; The 24th Sunday after Pentecost; November 12, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:1–13, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Be prepared. Watch therefore… Jesus says. That’s what this parable is about. The ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom. Five came prepared, five came unprepared. Five brought enough oil for a long wait. Five didn’t. It is that simple. If the ten virgins are the church (and they are), the church should be ready for the bridegroom to arrive at any time.

There are so many passages in the bible that talk the same way. In fact, in the passages just prior to this parable, Jesus sets the stage. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:38–39, ESV)

Everything will seem normal. The world will be going about its regular business and be caught unaware. He continues,
Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:40–44, ESV)
Speaking to us, he says he is “coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Anyone who says they know when Jesus will return, doesn’t. He will come when he is not expected.

So, what are we to think of the conflict in the middle east. What does it have to do with Christ’s second coming? Isn’t it a sign that the end of time is at hand? It is a common misconception (especially in Pentecostal circles) that the current nation of Israel is equivalent to the Old Testament Jews, as God’s chosen people. Modern Israel, as a nation is not the chosen people of God. Nor are modern Jews, who are not Christian, God’s people. That privilege falls on the church. The prophecies of the Old and New Testament that talk about Israel are not talking about the current Jewish people or the Nation of Israel founded in 1953. They speak of the Church of God in Christ Jesus. These wars in the middle east are no more a sign of the coming than any war. The church of God, God’s chosen people, have never been defined by boarders or bloodlines, but by faith. And that faith has always been faith in the forgiveness of sins delivered through Jesus Christ on the cross. In the Old Testament they looked forward to Jesus, in the New we look back on him.

Jesus did, however, speak about war as a sign of his return.
And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet.” (Mark 13:7, ESV)
Don’t you think the people who lived during WWI and WWII thought that the end was near? Those conflicts were far bloodier than what is happening now. What Jesus says is “do not be alarmed” and “be prepared” for you won’t know when it will be.

The fact is that every war, since Jesus ascended, every earthquake, every environmental disaster, every mass killing, every pandemic, every sinful act of human beings, are all signs that Jesus return is eminent. As we march through time, we are certainly closer to his coming today than ever before.

And what should our reaction be to all these signs? Jesus calls us to be prepared, be ready, always. In terms of our parable, bring enough oil for a long wait, because we don’t know how long it will be.

How exactly do we do that? Martin Luther was asked if he knew for sure that Christ was returning tomorrow, what would he do? He said, “Plant an apple tree.” What he meant was that he would continue to do exactly what he was doing.

So, should we continue to build a church? Should we hunker down and wait for Jesus eminent return? We should continue to do what we have always done. Preach the Gospel of Jesus. Call for repentance. Offer baptism for those who God calls to faith. Live at the foot of the cross. It is there we receive the promises delivered by Jesus. The forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. As Luther said, “Where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation.”

And what of the terrible things we see around us? They should drive us to the cross, in repentance and faith. Faith that God is in control, and the time will come when all these things will end. And they should compel us to tell the world about the solution for distress, trouble and evil. That solution is faith in Jesus.

Only faith in Jesus overcomes evil. Only faith in Jesus allows us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Only faith in Jesus allows conflict in our personal lives to end. Only faith in Jesus gives us comfort in the face of death. Only faith in Jesus allows us to see war for what it is; a horrible consequence of sin. One that has its only solution in Jesus, and his death on the cross to forgive that sin.

“Always be prepared.” I think the Boy Scout motto goes something like that. It is what we are to do also. And to be prepared we do what we have always done. Trust Jesus. Trust his word. Trust the gifts he gives us in the sacraments. And proclaim his forgiveness to the ends of the earth. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Matthew 5:1-12; All Saints Day (observed); November 5, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” (Matthew 5:1–12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what happens to people (even Christians) after death. There is a new movie “After Death” that seems to be a bit of a problem. Firstly, it uses experiences that can’t possibly be verified, to try to prove the existence of heaven. I’m not going to say these subjective experiences didn’t happen, but nothing earthly, aside from Scripture itself, can prove heaven exists. When what is said agrees with scripture we can say, “maybe”. When they disagree with scripture (and most of the time we see that in these near-death experiences) we say “no”. It is simple a case of taking the word of a sinful heart, and human experience above God’s own word on the subject. It would be best to simply avoid this movie.

Some of these misconceptions have invaded Christian thinking. You can even hear Christians say things like: “Grandpa is fishing with Jesus.” Or “Aunt Nelly is knitting up a storm, thinkin’ about all her grandchildren joining her in heaven.” Or “Joe, just loves the auto races they have there.”

Well, I can’t say anything like that. Actually, what scripture tells us about those who have died in the faith is very lacking in our eyes. Much less than we’d like to know. Here’s what we do know. They are dead. That’s kind of strange to say, but it is true. They are dead Christians. Dead means, their souls have been separated from their bodies. Physical death is the part of the wages of sin we are not able to avoid. So, they have suffered that. Their bodies are in the cemetery, an urn on the mantel, missing in action, or what ever. That’s the bad news. The good news is that their souls are with Christ. What that means is just this, they are safe, sin isn’t a concern for them any more, they don’t have any pain, they don’t have any sorrow, they don’t care a lick about what’s going on here, and most importantly, they are waiting for the resurrection. Because that’s when God will make them a whole person again, body and soul, flesh blood and spirit. A perfect spiritual physical body, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. What they have right now, in the in-between time is better than what we have, but it’s not the best it’s going to be. What they have right now that we don’t have is that they are “with Christ.” They see his face first hand. They will never again doubt his Word, his promises of life and salvation are sure for them. But sure and certain isn’t complete. God’s promise for us isn’t only that when we die we will be in heaven. God’s promise for us is that through Jesus Christ, we will be raised from death to live as perfect people with him forever. Completely perfect human beings, physical body and soul together forever. This is what we really have in common with our friends and relatives who have died, and in fact all Christians over all time who have died and will ever die. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… we are all looking forward to the resurrection, Jesus coming to restore the earth to its full glory and give it to us again as a perfect place for perfect people to live. And so in the meantime, we wait.

Actually, waiting is what the Beatitudes are about. Jesus is not talking about things we should do (this is how most likely you’ve heard this text preached before). Since you are God’s people you need to be meek, righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers… the problem with that is we could never live up to those expectations. And if we could what in the world would we need a Savior for? What Jesus is talking about is how it is with us now and how it will be for us in the resurrection. In fact, do you realize that the very first word Jesus speaks in this sermon is this salvation word? “Blessèd” One modern translation uses the word “happy.” Well, that falls way short. These are not the “Be happy attitudes.” Instead they are about our emptiness and how God fills our emptiness. Another way to say “blessed” is “saved”.

All the beatitudes really fall under the very first one.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
All of the beatitudes, all nine, follow the same pattern. There is the part before the “for” and the part after. Another way to say that “for” is “because.” Someone who has a need is blessed because God gives them what they need. Now look again at the first. “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” All the rest says “they shall… all the way to the next to last that says “is” again. Do you see what the “is”, is about there. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t have to think about this very hard at all. The word “is” means right now, and forever. The ones who are poor in spirit (we’ll talk about that in just a second) have the kingdom of heaven now and forever. The way that Jesus has opened and closed this list is to say that all these things are describing what it means to have what we have, what it means to be in the kingdom of heaven right now… and forever.

Ok, pastor, what are you saying that we are “the poor in spirit”? We’re not poor. Look at all that we have. Our little corner of the arrowhead is a great place to live. There’s housing and food. We’ve got a great church that seems right on the cusp of exploding into something really great. What else do we need? Are you saying we are the ones who are poor in spirit? Yes, tThat’s precisely what Jesus is saying. In fact, unless you see yourself as “poor in spirit” you’ll miss everything that God has to give here.

If you have any doubts get out your bible and look up the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the Beatitudes. In it Jesus sets some pretty high standards. He says if you are angry you are guilty if killing your neighbor. If you look at a man or woman lustfully you are guilty of adultery. Divorce is always evil. Leave payback to God alone. Love your enemies and do only good things for them. And oh, just so you don’t miss it he finishes all these commands off with “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” (Matthew 5:48, ESV)

You see all these things that you do or don’t do really reveal a spiritual problem. You are sinful. You cannot be perfect. You deserve only the punishment that Jesus describes in this sermon.
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ” (Matthew 5:22, ESV)
That’s what it is to be “spiritually poor” bound for hell with no way to change.

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, most of us, you and me have been in God’s grace for our whole lives. God poured water on our heads in Holy Baptism and since then we have had God’s gifts and blessing so long that we have no idea what it was like to be without out. In fact, we may have even come to think that we deserve these things and we could never be hell bound. But the thing is, if God were to for one moment withdraw his grace, there would be nothing here (in your heart, or mind, or spirit) that would save you. You are blessed, saved by God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ and nothing in you or about you. Because he does for you what you are unable to do for yourself. You are spiritually poor, without any resource to save yourself. Standing on the forgiveness of sins you have in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and nothing else. No work or merit, no goodness in you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is salvation in Jesus Christ without any conditions, or limits, without any thing you must do to earn it. It is a gift given for you, oh you who are poor in spirit.

And just what is it that is given? The kingdom of heaven, or as one of my seminary professors says, the “reign of God.” Jesus describes it like this.
““Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ” (Matthew 5:4–9, ESV)
Actually it’s exactly Jesus; sins forgiven; blind people see; deaf people hear; lame people walk; and here’s the thing that ties it all together with All Saints; dead people live!

Yep, that’s what we really want to see isn’t it. That’s the comfort we have as mourning Christians. Our dead in Christ will live again. Oh, they have it great right now, no sin, no sorrow, no crying, safety in Christ. That’s better than what we’ve got, sorrow, sin, pain and death. But what they have will be even better “they shall receive” Our Lord says. What we have in Jesus will be even better “we shall receive” our Lord says “the kingdom of heaven.

And it all begins for you in Holy Baptism, when you receive on your for head the sign of the Holy Cross to mark you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified. All the promises of God are true in Jesus, true for you now; the reign of God is at hand.

Did you ever wonder though why the sign of the cross? Of course it points to Jesus there and his death as your death, his resurrection as your resurrection. But there is more.

All described also in the Beatitudes. The sign of the cross on you means that the life of a Christian is one of suffering.
““Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV)
You are blessed, you have the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing just what he promised for you. You can’t always see it because sometimes it looks like mourning, meekness, hunger, and so forth, but it is true for you. But there is always the “because”; because mourners will be comforted; unrighteousness will come to an end. Mercy will be given and shared. There will be peace and we will see God! Face to face in resurrected bodies; standing with our loved ones hand in hand rejoicing in Jesus. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 22, 2023

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost; October 22, 2023;

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1–10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I think it is fair to say, there is some conflict here. I’m not talking about the church at Thessalonica, I’m talking about the church at Grand Marais. I am not discouraged by it. It shows we are growing. By God’s design, we have strong personalities here with strong opinions. The topics of conflict, whether it is Closed Communion or whether we should have a full kitchen in our new church, or even how much the church will cost, are important. We care about them. Conflict over issues isn’t a problem, it is what we do with the conflict that is important.

Our problems may have seemed small to the Thessalonians, after all they were suffering under daily persecution. They were primarily a gentile church in the middle of a pagan community. They had members of their church who were martyred. They were mistreated by their own countrymen. How did they respond to their issues, Paul makes it clear. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6–7, ESV)

They received the Word of God, in affliction, with joy. Their response carried to the other churches in the area, so that they became an example of faith in Christ. When Paul hears about it, he writes this letter offering comfort and support.

He talks about their history,
“turning from idols to serve the living and true God.” (9)
Where once they served things of wood and stone, who were powerless, they now worshiped God, in Christ, who is able to comfort and sustain them even in persecution. In the power of the Holy Spirit,
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:8, ESV)
They fearlessly proclaimed the Word of God. And we shouldn’t imagine that that word was some generic word, but the instead the story of Jesus Christ, crucified, dead and buried, risen, and returning.
“…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10, ESV)
Make no mistake, the message that was proclaimed to them, the one that gave them comfort in persecution was the message of Jesus. Paul said it to another church,
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2, ESV)
Now Paul is very pastoral in this letter. He wants to encourage the congregation. He begins by reminding them who they are, where they came from. They were idol worshipers who heard the Word and came to faith in Jesus. Trouble came, but they remained full of joy in the Holy Spirit. So much so that the word about their joy spread to other congregations in the area. They were living out the truth from Scripture that Paul had taught. They were focused on Jesus and all that he had done for them. Paul makes it even stronger, building on the strength. (Ever wonder why we talk about strengths and weakness in our Strategic Planning? We take after Paul.)

In Chapter 4 he says,
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, ESV)
“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,” (1 Thessalonians 4:9, ESV)
The Gospel is indeed the power of God. They heard it regularly and they were walking the walk and talking the talk. They were treating each other with love and respect. Even in the face of great trials. When Jesus says,
“Love one another”
They were doing it. And yet, Paul encourages them to continue. Continue in your sanctification. Abstain from sexual immorality, control your bodies, don’t transgress and wrong your brother.
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7, ESV)
for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,” (1 Thessalonians 4:10–11, ESV)
In other words, he was saying, “Continue to live in light of the forgiveness you have received from Jesus.”

So, how would I as your pastor, encourage you as St. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians? What is going well? What are we doing that is right? What are our strengths? It begins right here. By the work of the Holy Spirit, God’s word of forgiveness is spoken in Jesus’ stead. Sinners are confronted with sin, and his forgiveness from the cross is proclaimed as the solution. We have comfort in the fellowship that only comes from forgiven sinners loving each other as Christ has loved us.

Speaking directly to our church conflicts, they are covered with sin. Pride makes me think (and you) that my ideas and opinions are the only good ones. But continually hearing God’s word, allows me to see my neighbor as one for whom Jesus shed his precious blood. It helps me to temper my ideas and to see things from his perspective, and to compromise when appropriate. When I see sin in everything I do and hear that Jesus has indeed covered my sin with his blood, I can forgive my brother and sister in Christ when they sin against me, because I know that the same is true for them.

When you look at each other, do you see the Holy Spirit at work in their struggles with the word? You should. No one changes overnight. It is the continual showering of God’s mercy that does it, over time. The continual blessing of Holy Baptism and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who uses the word to change our hearts. That’s what happens here in this place that God has provided. God showers us with love through the gifts of the word about Jesus. Jesus crucified for your sin and mine. Jesus raised from the dead to assure your future with him. Jesus admonishing us to do the right things. Jesus giving his body and blood in, with and under bread and wine, in the most intimate of ways, to strengthen your faith. The Holy Spirit prompting you to give your hard-earned gifts to the church, they are your tangible response to God’s gifts. You do it because you see the value of them, and you want these gifts to continue.

And think of this. Life in Christ is a unique church. Our location here in Grand Marais is by God’s design. He has already built on a strength. As he assures the Gospel is preached here in its truth and purity, as he provides the forgiveness of Jesus proclaimed into each ear. He provides a place for guests and visitors to receive it also. We have lots of visitors, most of them will never become members. But while they are here, God pours out his love in Jesus through you and me. He pours grace into their ears though his word, though song, through action. And all that we gain through God’s gifts are here for our visitors as well.

This, I think, is the answer to why we want to build a new church building. We are reacting to what God has provided. He provides benefits of membership, the proclamation of the word, fellowship, encouragement, and comfort in times of trouble. He provides these also for his children who visit this part of his beautiful creation. We want a place that shows how important all of this is.

Will our church conflicts end? I rather doubt it. Just look at us, who we are, where we come from. We are Norwegian, German, Irish, or just plain old self-confident Americans. We are all stubborn beyond belief, and me more than any. But we can survive. Not by ourselves, but by turning our attention to Jesus on the cross. By reflecting on his blood shed for you and especially for those you are in conflict with. When you lay your sin at Jesus’ feet, and it is really all you have to offer him, he takes it into death on the cross and destroys it. His forgiveness pours over you. You see things with new eyes, Jesus’ eyes. And his eyes see your adversary in love and forgiveness. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Matthew 22:1-14; The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; October 15, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”” (Matthew 22:1–14, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s a bloody mess, this wedding feast. The invited guests don’t want to come. They have other work that is more important. They kill the messengers. The king, understandably, is very angry, he kills them all and burns their city. After his gracious invitation, they responded with indifference and violence. He returns it in kind. But he isn’t done. The slain are not worthy of the feast, he has prepared everything for a joyous occasion. They rejected him, his son the bridegroom, his rule, and his kindness. But, everything is ready. The feast must proceed. So, he sends his messengers to the open road to invite everyone they can find. The servants did just that and brought in a new crowd of people. And the wedding hall was filled with folks, “both good and bad.”

Then this parable takes an interesting turn. The king came to look over the newly gathered guests. A man was there with no wedding garment. We might think that the man had an excuse. After all he was brought in from the highway. He wouldn’t have time to go home and dress for the party. But in those days, the special wedding clothes were provided by the host. He was in common street cloths, not fit for the celebration. He has dishonored the bridegroom, by his refusal to wear what was provided. He too is met with violence. He is tied up and cast out.

Jesus can hardly be accused of subtly in this parable. In fact, he has piled it on. According to St. Matthew, Jesus is teaching in the temple, in full hearing of the Scribes and Pharisees. When he gets to the line,
But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.” (Matthew 22:5–6, ESV)
I imagine him lifting his eyes and looking directly at the religious leaders for “and killed them.”

This is the third parable in a row where Jesus is talking directly to them. The first about the two sons, the first who says he will do what is asked and doesn’t. The second who says he won’t and then does it anyway. The second parable is the one about the owner of a vineyard who the tenants react with violence and kill the heir. After that one, Matthew tells us,
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.” (Matthew 21:45, ESV)
It is rather obvious; Jesus is accusing them of murder. They would have arrested Jesus, but the crowds prevented it. And after this parable about the King’s wedding fest, they try to trap Jesus into speaking against paying taxes to Caesar. They will stop at nothing to get rid of Jesus. They want the Romans to do their dirty work.

I would remind people who see Jesus as an always loving, non-confrontational, itinerant preacher, Jesus was not only controversial, but he was confrontational. It was not above Jesus to bind cords together and beat people with them. That’s what he did when he drove the money changers out of the temple. Here he seems to be deliberately provoking the religious leaders to act against him. They do, and when they get the chance, with the help of the Romans, Jesus is nailed to a cross. I think they full well knew Jesus was the promised messiah. But he was not the one they wanted. He didn’t hold them up as examples of goodness and law keeping. Instead, he attacked them and rightly accused them of being hypocrites and murderers. Their response to God was, “Try again.”

As we look at this parable, what does it say to us? I had a seminary professor (Dr. Gibbs) who told us that our congregations are not the Pharisees. What he means is that they rejected Christ, but those gathered around Word and Sacrament do not. Well, this is a Kingdom parable. That means it tells us something about the Kingdom of God. Jesus says,
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,” (Matthew 22:2, ESV)
The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast. We see this feast in our Old Testament reading for today.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” (Isaiah 25:6, ESV)
It’s a glorious celebration. The best food will be offered. “Rich food” Isaiah says. It’s a celebration of Jesus and all that he has done for us. Specifically, death is defeated. “Death is swallowed up forever.” He puts an end to all mourning. He puts and end to the “reproach of his people.” That means he removes their sin. If ever there was a cause for celebration, this is it. It is what the Kingdom of God is all about.

But there is more. After being rejected, the King offers the kingdom to everyone. Even the “good and bad.” If it were not so, we would be out. He gathers his people from the far corners of the earth. And the wedding hall is full.

The parable of the seeds tells us about this. The reckless farmer spreads the seed of the Word everywhere without regard to how it will be received. Rocky ground, the path, shallow soil. But some fall on good ground and produce fruit. God is gracious in his offer to join the kingdom. But not all will receive it.

Our parable goes even further. God provides what we need to be there. A wonderful wedding garment. As I said before, the guest who refused to wear it is cast out. That is a rejection of Christ. Jesus knit the wedding garment with his own blood. He bound it together with the cords of his righteous life. The gown is the robe of the righteousness of Christ. He shed his blood on the cross for our forgiveness. He exchanges our filthy rags with his own robe of the perfect life he lived. It is provided without anything we do to earn it. We are invited. We show up. The robe is given, and we are forgiven. When God looks at us then, he sees Jesus. He sees a glorious robe that covers all our sins. That’s why the man who refused to wear it is cast out. God sees his sin, his filthy rags. He in essence is saying, “I don’t need a new robe. My clothes are good enough.” Martin Luther explains the rejection.
“The cause for this contempt for the Word is not God’s foreknowledge, but the perverse human will. The human will rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Spirit, which God offers it through the call. It resists the Holy Spirit, who wants to be effective, and who works through the Word” (FC SD XI 41).
For us, who are in the kingdom, this is telling. Our task, like the king’s servants, is to offer the invitation, through the Word. We are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sinful people, to people everywhere. We are not to regard the rejection. We should expect it (hopefully without violence!) We are fighting against the perverse human will. But it isn’t our fight. That fight belongs to God, the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word.

In a little bit we will be discussing the gifts that God has given us here to do just that (afterwards we’ll have a feast!). We have the Word, Christ himself, present with us. This Word is the means by which the Spirit works. We have the sacraments, Holy Baptism, and the Holy Supper. The Holy Spirit also works through these. If we are proclaiming the truth of Scripture, if we are administering the sacraments according to Christ’s command, we are doing all that is necessary. If we are meeting regularly to receive his gifts, we are doing all that is necessary. If we are working individually in this community to show God’s love and forgiveness, we are doing all that is necessary.

But with God there is always more. We have this property, graciously given to us for his use. How will we use it to increase what God does here through the Holy Spirit? How will we use it to further teach God’s Word about Jesus? Well, those are the questions we will ask ourselves. And with his grace accomplish what he has set before us. Amen.

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

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Isaiah 5:1-7; The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 8, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1–7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you, from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s harsh. The law is harsh. It is meant to be. There is no way around it. There seems to be very little Gospel in this text. God means to destroy the vineyard. It is like the text in Revelation 3.
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:16–19, ESV)
God is angry about sin. He has always been so. He will always be so until the end when it is finally completely gone. He sets his law before people, and they break it. The Old Testament uses the image of God’s nose burning in anger against sin. It is important to note here in both these passages God is talking about the church. Of all people who should keep God’s law, it is God’s people. With love and care, God set up the vineyard, that is the church, with a hedge to keep trouble out. But when the church acts no different than the world, he tears down the hedge. The church is trampled by foreign invaders. The crops are destroyed. They were only sour grapes anyway, but none-the-less, they are trampled to nothing.

It is easy to see this in other churches that have forsaken God’s law. He tears down the hedge and they are further driven from it. Lawlessness begets lawlessness. The churches teachings are sour grapes, with the hedge gone, they are no longer even grapes. But we should not so quickly discount our own church, especially how we reflect on the law. Our particular sin, as Lutherans, is to sometimes see the law too lightly. To live in our own sin as if it didn’t matter. Divorce, living together before marriage, greed, selfishness is rampant in the church. Care for God’s servants is lacking. The poor go hungry. The homeless are ignored.

We are a gospel church, an evangelical church. Evangelical means “good news preaching”, and we do indeed preach the good news of Jesus our Savior. Jesus canceled our sin on the cross. Jesus fulfilled the law for us, so we don’t have to. Jesus rose again from death to save us from eternal punishment. It is a sweet message. But so often the way we say it comes across as making light of sin. Your sin and mine, cost our God a great deal. He suffered hell for you and me. Our Roman brothers and sisters get this sort of right, with the stations of the cross. They emphasize the worldly suffering of Jesus. They contemplate what it cost Jesus in pain to take our sin to the cross. But it is only half of the story. Jesus suffered, not only pain and death on the cross, but also your eternal punishment and mine. The eternal punishment due to all people for all time. The abandonment by God the Father. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” We can’t comprehend the cost. The Father grieved over the death of his Son. The angels wept. And the sins the Jesus suffered and died for are not only those in our past, but also the ones we haven’t even done yet. Mel Gibson, in the movie the Passion of the Christ, is said to have used his own hands to film the scene as the one who pinned Jesus to the cross with nails. It was a reminder that he caused Jesus’ suffering. Every sin we commit is painful to Jesus on the cross.
Ye who think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great Here may view its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, See who bears the awful load; ’Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God. (LSB 451 )
It is only natural to want to pass over our sins very quickly and turn the Gospel. They are ugly and terrible. They leave our life in shambles. But our sins deserve more than a cursory examination. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, should make us hate our sin and make us dread committing them. The prophet Micah makes it personal; he speaks directly to individuals.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV)
Oh man of God, oh woman of God, God has these requirements for you. It’s that walking with humility that is key here. To walk humbly with your God means to understand all that he has done for you in forgiving your sin.

We say it with our confession,
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, ESV)
If you believe you have conquered sin, if you believe that your sins are of no account to God, you are deceived (by yourself). The truth is not in you. That is not to walk humbly with your God. You don’t understand the depth of your sin, and you have a misunderstanding of the price Jesus paid. You can quit sinning on the surface. Sin is a darkness in your heart that makes you want to defy God. You can’t and never will destroy that until the old Adam in you is put to death permanently. The passage, our confession continues,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, ESV)
This is not a one-time thing, (the “if” is better translated “when”) it is continuous. Luther said that the Christian life is one of repentance. That means struggle against our human nature. A struggle against sin. An ongoing trip to the cross of Christ. An ongoing receiving of forgiveness offered there. Apply, rinse, repeat. If we could get rid of our sinful nature, we would only do the confession one time and be done with it. But that would make God and his Word a liar.

The bible is full of God’s faithful people struggling with sin and loosing. Adam, Eve, Moses, David, the Prophets, The Disciples (both before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus), Paul, and more. If you think you are spared this ongoing struggle…

Paul finally calls this what it is, a “body of death”, after talking about his own ongoing struggle with sin. You should expect, as a Christian, to continue your struggle with sin.

The church is a grace place, a mouth house where God continually tells you of Jesus and his life on your behalf, his death for yours, his resurrection promised also to you. God’s sure promise that your sin has been dealt with and it doesn’t mean eternal death for you. The condemnation of the law, that which says you should go to hell, is erased. There is no condemnation for you. You will not go to hell. Further in the church, God himself is present with you in your struggle against sin. The fight against it isn’t yours alone but through his word and promise he gives himself again in the Holy Spirit. He directs you against your sin. He gives you the power to resist thru the Gospel. And when you fail, he gives the comfort of the Gospel. It is the Trinity at work in your life. The Trinity at work in your struggle against your Old Adam, your sinful human nature.

We, as Lutherans, get very nervous when we hear about what God requires. We default to say, “Nothing, Jesus has done it all!” It is very true. Jesus has lived a perfect life in your place. He has satisfied God’s justice for your sin. You are destined for heaven and in the resurrection, you will rise to new life. But scripture is replete with calls for Christians to obey God and keep his commandments. Would these admonitions be there if there was no struggle, if we could in this life overcome our sinful nature? This admonition has nothing to do with your salvation but everything to do with you living as who you are. Because Jesus has done everything for you, you are now required to live a different life. Because we are one with Jesus, sin has no control over us, only when we (our sinful nature) allow it.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” (Romans 6:1–12, ESV)
Notice how Paul pushes everything back to Jesus, your baptism, the death of your sinful nature, and your resurrection to a new life. You are his, you should live differently. And when you fail, and you will, you drag yourself back to the cross and receive forgiveness there. That forgiveness is the power to live your life differently. That forgiveness is life changing. Amen.

So, next week we will be having our Strategic Planning Seminar after Church. Is it a fair question to ask what God requires of us? Of course, it is. Especially considering all that he has given us. God has defied all odds here. We are not the church that should survive on the North Shore. Instead of liberal theology we believe, teach, and confess, the truth of Holy Scripture. He has graced us with this property. We are in the most ideal place for a church. He has even placed for our view a symbolic hedge of trees around it. This is all God’s work, a gracious gift from his hand alone.

• Will this be a place where God still defies the odds, and brings the Good News of Jesus to the community?
• Will this be a place where God’s word is continually and always taught in its truth and purity?
• Will this this vineyard be a place where people hear God’s law and Gospel, to convict stubborn hearts and gladden troubled hearts?
• Will this hedged in vineyard be a place where Christians can go with the trouble of their sin and find relief?
• Will this be a place where the Gospel compels us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?

If the answer to these questions is “Yes” (and I believe it is), we have a lot of work to do. Amen.

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