Sunday, February 26, 2023

Matthew 4:1-11; First Sunday in Lent; February 26, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” (Matthew 4:1–11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

Amid the lush vegetation of the Garden, a “son of God” was confronted with temptation. He stood casually by and watched… and listened… as his wife was spoke to the serpent. “If you eat of it, God knows you will be like Him.” Hissed out the Serpent. The words floated in the air with promise.

“Is it really possible,” thought the man. “That I could be like God, himself? Doesn’t that mean I would be God?” The serpent’s lips curled into a smile of victory as the woman’s hand reached for the temptation. “Well, it won’t hurt if she just looks at it… touch it…” her husband said to himself as she pulled it from the tree. “I wonder how it tastes?” as her teeth sunk into the soft pulp of the fruit, and soon the sweet liquid ran from his lips too. In that very instant this son of God, went form being His loving, obedient, trusting son, to being a suspicious, guilt-ridden, fearful stranger of God. He didn’t become God’s equal; he became God’s enemy. He was no longer even what God had created him to be. Adam had failed the challenge, and he failed it miserably. He had decided not to be God’s son. And he condemned all of his offspring from that moment on to the loss of son ship that accompanied that decision. All those born after him, that means you and me, share in that loss, we too, are born as suspicious, guilt-ridden, fearful strangers of God.

Another Son of God faced temptation, too. The people of Israel, the chosen Son of God, marched through the hot desert. Forty years God led them there. There were times when they were hungry. The question was this, would this son trust in the Father to give him the bread he needed? Would this Son trust in God’s word and promise? They, too, failed. “Did you bring us here to die in the desert, of starvation?” he cried out. And later again he failed to trust the provision of God, by demanding water. And still again when he entered the land God had promised him. He worshipped the false gods of the people he was to conquer. Over and over again we read of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Over and over again we read of his failure when he was tempted. This son also chose not to be God’s son.

Unfortunately, that failure is not limited to God’s ancient sons. God’s son today, the new Israel, his church, fails, too. When we look at the failures of Adam, when we look at the failures of the Children of Israel, we know that we often have the same responses. Even though God has specially chosen us, even though he has richly provided all that we need, even though he has over and over again demonstrated his great-undeserved love for us, we re-enact the failures of our ancestors. We repeat the choice not to be God’s sons. We want proof that God will provide for us as the economy begins to turn sour. We wonder how we will survive among the rumors of bankrupt businesses and lose of income. We want proof of God’s love for us when we are ill. We doubt his love when our loved ones suffer and die as we watch helpless; and when trouble comes into our family relationships. And when things are going well; when life is good and doubts are far away, we push our Father to a small place on Sunday, in reserve for when we need Him. We set ourselves up as the god of our lives. When we do these things, just like Adam, just like Israel, we chose death and permanent separation from our Father. We choose not to be the Son of God.

But, fortunately for us, fortunately for Adam and Israel, there is another Son of God. This one is the Son of God. He was faced with temptations, the very same temptations we are faced with. Whenever he was faced with the choice to be God’s son, he always willed to love, trust, and serve His Father. But, Satan, the very same serpent who had success in the Garden, did his best to tempt Jesus into repeating the failures of God’s other sons. He set before Him the temptations that lured Adam and Eve, the Children of Israel, and the temptations he sets before you and me. But Jesus Christ didn’t fall to them. Even though he was
“… tempted in every way, just as we are—yet [He] was without sin.” (Heb 4:15)
The Father, Himself, spoke about Him and said, “This is my son, whom I love, in Him I am well pleased.” Because of Jesus, because he was the perfect Son of God, His Father once again declares us to be His Sons.

This Son of God endured the temptations of Satan. The Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness, and He was there without food for forty days. Satan pounced on the opportunity to have Jesus doubt that His Father counted Him as His Son. Satan asked if God would really supply all that was needed. “Turn these stones into bread. Take matters into your own hands. Satisfy your hunger.” But unlike Israel in the desert, this Son had absolute confidence in His Father. Instead of turning stones into bread he turns to the Bread of God’s word and relies on the Father. “Man shall not live by bread alone!” Jesus said, choosing to be God’s Son.

Satan gave no rest for the Son of God. Next, he tempted Jesus to ask His Father to prove that He was present with him. It had worked with God’s other son in the desert. Israel demanded water as proof of God’s presence. “Cast yourself down, God will prove that He is with you.” But this Son refuses to test God. Instead of demanding a sign of water, the true Son, the true Israel puts His trust in the words spoke at His baptism: “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!” And again, Jesus chooses to be God’s Son.

Finally, Satan offers what is not his to give. “These kingdoms I will give you! All the glory, all the honor, all the authority. Be like the first son of God, make yourself God’s equal, be like God. Worship me! Be like Israel and give obedience and worship to one who is not God! But Jesus again chooses to be the Son of God, not a worshiper of Satan. He yields to God’s will. He will accept glory, but His glory will come through suffering and death. His glory will come when He stretches out his hands on the cross to die. He cannot be turned from the course His Father has set before Him. Satan’s temptations have failed. Jesus, God’s Son, is stronger than the tempter. His power and reign are on earth is coming to an end.

Jesus Christ chose to be a son of God (a trusting, obedient, and loving man). He is the second Adam. He is the true Israel. He does what they had failed to do. He doesn’t fall to the temptations that caused them to turn from their Father. He consistently chooses to be the Son of God, He does it for them, He does it for us!

Because of Jesus the words that God spoke over Jesus at His baptism are spoken over us at ours. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” God accepted the perfect love and obedience of His Son, Jesus, and that obedience and love is accepted as ours. Looking to God’s word spoken to us we can know the power of it in our lives. We have the assurance of the Father’s spoke word. We can resist the Serpent when he speaks to us and tempts us not to be God’s sons.

Jesus also chose to be the Son of God, even when it meant that the Father punished Him instead of us. When Jesus hung on the cross, the Father disowned him and rejected Him. He did it so that we wouldn’t be disowned for eternity. We celebrate this Son’s victory over sin and death every Sunday, and especially at Easter. God the Father raised Him from death as proof that the punishment of this only begotten Son sets all the other sons free from punishment forever. There is nothing better than being God’s sons. Armed with that knowledge, Satan’s voice has no sway over us.

Jesus “sympathizes with our weaknesses” when we are tempted. The Son of God invites us to approach the throne of God with confidence, where He speaks for us. “These are your Son’s. These are those for whom I died.” There we receive grace and mercy. There we receive strength to overcome whenever we are challenged to be or not to be God’s sons. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Matthew 17:1-9; The Transfiguration of Our Lord; February 19, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”” (Matthew 17:1–9, ESV)
Lord it is good for us to be here.

Sometimes, I think if things would just stop for a moment, and I could catch my breath everything would be all right. If only for a moment, I wasn’t so busy then I’d have the strength to go on. There is so much these days to keep us busy. Community activities, soup dinners, strategic planning, building committee. There are activities for church, activities for home, activities for the community, nothing is busier than Grand Marais in the summertime. All of these activities can keep us running from morning till night. It hardly seems we have time to sit and take a break. There is so much to do… sometimes we just want to catch our breath, sometimes we just want it all to stop. You’ve seen the commercial that shows a family at breakfast. There’s food spilled on the table, kids dressing and eating as they head out the door, mom frazzled, and dad in a daze. How well does this picture fit your family? Sometimes, we all need a “time out.” At time to catch our breath, a time to recharge, a time to stop and just be still.

Maybe we need a time-out like in basketball. (this is for Bob) I like basketball. Especially when a game is close, and there’s lots of tension and the outcome of the game is uncertain. The players are at a fevered pitch, battling for control of the ball, giving all they have for a few seconds of possession. Sometimes tempers rage, sometimes panic. Everyone in the crowd is focused on the floor. Emotion flows out of every pore, of every player. People in the crowd sit at the very edge of their seat, ready to leap into the fray and help. But, sometimes in a game like that its best to try to calm the players down, let coolness prevail and cancel the panic. Sometimes, a good coach knows, it’s time to take a time out. During a time out, the action completely stops. The ball, that was the focus of so much attention, bounces slowly to a stop on the floor and is ignored. The refs talk about the weather and last nights NBA scores, and the crowds sit down and take a drink of pop or finish off that last bit of popcorn. The coach gathers his players around him, and gives a few instructions, and the players breath deeply and recharge. It’s only a few seconds, but during that brief few seconds, life goes into slow motion, time drags out to a slow crawl. Then the buzzer interrupts, and the time-out is over, the crowd returns to its feet, the congregation of refs breaks up, the players take a deep breath and return to the floor, and the game picks up again… soon everything is back to where it was, the focus, the action, and the passion. Some of the players are more focused, maybe just enough for an advantage in the game.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s a kind of a time-out. Here we are still with the lingering joy of Christmas. The altar was covered with white, for the joy of Christmas, we’ve been talking about all kinds of wonderful things like, Epiphany (when the Magi visited Jesus), Jesus Baptism, and of course the gifts that God brings to us because of Jesus. But ahead of us is Lent. Soon the colors turn dark purple. There’s sorrow ahead as we begin a walk onto the dark shadow of death. There’s guilt ahead as we contemplate our sinfulness and the great cost the Jesus paid for us. Lent begins a contemplative season when we think about these kinds of things instead of the joy of Christmas. Standing here right now and looking ahead, it’s good to be here, at this little time-out after Christmas, before Lent.

Jesus and his disciples took a time-out, too. He had been instructing them about what was ahead of them, sorrow, suffering, and even his own death. It was Peter who spoke up for all of them.

“No, Lord, none of that will ever happen to you!”

“Yes, it will.” Was Jesus reply, “Yes, it must.”

And the disciples were left scratching their heads, trying to understand. Everything was going so well, everything was so focused on the people around them, the healing, the feeding, it didn’t make sense for all of that to change. Jesus knew what was ahead. Jesus knew how things would go from then on. So, he gathered Peter, James and John and headed for the hills… for a time-out. That’s what they needed; Time to recharge, time to reflect on what had happened the past, and time to focus on the task ahead. I don’t know what the three disciples expected, probably not what they saw: “and he was transfigured before them there.” It was a metamorphosis. Jesus’ face glowed bright, and his clothes. And God’s representatives appeared, Moses and Elijah. And they were talking to Jesus. It was, I’m sure a glorious site, a heavenly site. Here was Jesus in the company of Moses and Elijah, the great prophets of God. What a wonder! Peter and his companions didn’t want the sight to end. This may have seemed to them as the pinnacle of their time with Jesus. But, in truth it was only a time out. But they didn’t want the timeout the end.

Peter says, “Lord, it’s good to be here. Let’s stay and never let this end. We can live here in all this glory, in all this light. Here in the company of Moses and Elijah. Let’s forget about what’s ahead. Let’s forget about all that you have told us about, the suffering and especially the death.”

But without all those things that Peter wanted to avoid, and not think about, without the suffering there would be not death, and without the death, there would be no resurrection. And without the resurrection there would be no restoration of human beings to God. What Peter wanted to avoid was the very purpose for which Jesus came. It was through pain and death that he would restore human beings to God, and through his resurrection that he would give them hope for the future. Jesus and his disciples couldn’t stay there on the mountain. God had a plan…

There are times when we all think like Peter. “It’s good, Lord, to be here…” I’m satisfied with things just the way they are right now. I’m satisfied with my faith. I don’t really need it to grow beyond where it is right now. That growth may come with pain and suffering, it’s good to be here right now without it. I’m satisfied with my church. I like the way things are right now. So small and intimate. No expectations for extra work. No expectations for extra giving. I don’t need another stress in my life, especially from the church. We don’t need any new people around here. We don’t need any more activities to fill my calendar. I think things are just fine the way they are.

I’m satisfied with my prayer life where it is right now; I don’t need to speak to God about all that’s happening in my life. He knows more about it than I do anyway. I’d rather continue to deal with these things myself.

I’m happy drinking the milk of your word. I don’t need to be in bible study, I don’t what to have to chew on the meat and think about what may still be wrong in my life. I don’t really want God to poke around in my life and show me sins that I’m become comfortable with.

There is always the danger of loving the moment, being satisfied with the status quo…. Living in the timeout. Change can be painful, and moving forward always requires change.

Peter wanted to hold on to the glorious vision of Jesus Christ on the mountain. Moving from there meant pain, suffering and death. But what God wanted to give Peter and his friends, what God wants to give us is the greater Glory of Christ. The glory we find in a stronger relationship with him. A relationship that was begun when Jesus Christ suffered died and rose again for us, a relationship that will find its completion when he returns to claim us as his own. When we want to stay in the status quo we are locked in our sinfulness, instead of looking to the forgiveness that Jesus Christ has won for us.

When the cloud came to the mountain, Peter, James, and John were faced with the presence of God. They fell to their faces in fear. They knew they were sinful people only deserving God’s wrath. The wonderful, heavenly vision couldn’t be theirs without Jesus Christ. The wonderful, heavenly vision couldn’t be theirs without what Jesus was about to do. They couldn’t stay there. The timeout was over.

The cloud left them… time began again. It was time to move forward… forward with God’s plans… forward to suffering… death… but also forward to Resurrection and Life!

The timeout is nice, but the game goes on, life goes on. The timeout isn’t the game, there’s so much more to do. God’s plans for our future require change. They may even include suffering. But forward we must go. Forward into Lent to contemplate what Jesus has done for us… forward to an uncertain future but armed with the vision of the transfigured Christ. Armed with the knowledge of what he has accomplished for us. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Matthew 5:21-37; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 12, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. ” (Matthew 5:21–37, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is being very difficult here. He pushes the law to the point where no one can possibly keep it. I mean, just look at the “You shall not murder” commandment. None of us is as bad as a guy who would kill a convenience store clerk, mother of 10, in cold blood for a few measly dollars, But Jesus isn’t happy with that. He says you can’t be angry with anyone. I don’t know. I’ve been angry already today! How about you? Kids or wife not get around as fast as they should have this morning. Did someone hog the bathroom and prevent you from getting your business done? And though we don’t have much traffic here in Grand Marais, how about the last time someone did a bonehead thing while you were driving. You know the thing that almost put you in the ditch. Oh, but even that isn’t good enough for Jesus. He pushes even harder. You can’t say people are fools. Everyone knows how foolish most people are. Author Douglas Adams said (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy),
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” (
Just open your eyes and look around it’s hard, maybe impossible to not say something about foolish people all around. Why is it that the folks who can least afford pets seem to have more pets than they need? It seems that every respiratory therapist I’ve ever met smokes like a chimney. Seems foolish for someone who should know better. (We won’t talk about pastors who smoke today) And Jesus says, I can’t point this odd fact out without breaking the commandment? And condemning myself to hell! And then there’s the adultery commandment. Now Jesus is getting downright personal. It’s not just running out and having an affair I have to worry about. It’s not just sleeping together or living together before getting married that’s the problem. Just looking and getting the idea is enough to damn me to hell. Talk about utter helplessness. I mean, guys, you know what Jesus is saying here. Just walking down the street on a summer day is gonna wind you up in hell. I wonder what he’d say about stealing, coveting, speaking false witness. Jesus makes the commandments impossible to keep.

At first, we may want to take the teeth out of what Jesus says here. It just seems a bit too much. Obviously, no one can do what Jesus says. He gets way to personal here for me. The divorce thing just seems to be pouring salt on the wound. The “d” word has become common place in our society. We think it’s the solution to whatever ales a marriage. But Jesus speaks very strongly. A man who divorces his wife makes her (the innocent party) an adulterer. (It goes the same for the woman too!). The only ground that that God gives here is “except on the ground of sexual immorality.” It’s way too narrow for us. Actually our participation in divorce makes us guilty of adultery, weather it’s being silent, or giving our consent. And adultery, Jesus says, makes us bound for hell.

This text is deadly serious. Jesus isn’t pulling any punches. All too often we take our sin lightly. We tend to sweep it under the rug of forgiveness and pretend that it’s nothing. But sin isn’t nothing. What our sin deserves is exactly what Jesus says, the hell of fire, God’s everlasting burning anger over our rebellion. We can’t ease our way out of it. We think that just because there are no bodies buried in our back yard, just because we’ve managed to keep out of the wrong bedrooms, just because we’ve not been divorced (present company excluded) we aren’t really all that bad. And God forgives anyway. We think our sin isn’t really all that big a deal. It is everyone else’s sin that a problem. That’s why sometimes we think that Jesus is talking metaphorically when he says to gouge out our eye if it causes us to sin. We think he really can’t mean it. Well, he’s dead serious. The problem is that getting rid of our sin isn’t that easy. We could cut off our hand and then we’d have to cut off the other one, and then our feet, and then our elbows. We’d gouge out an eye and be guilty of the same sin with the other before the bleeding stopped. Our tongue would have to go next and still we’d be suffering under our own sin. It runs deep, to the very heart. That’s why Jesus says what he says. There is no cure for sin that we can accomplish. There is no cutting it out because it’s more than the things we do, it’s more than the things we think. We say it in the confession, we are by nature sinful and unclean… we have sinned in what we think, do, and say, by what we have done and not done. And we stand condemned under Jesus words. Whoever does these things is subject to the hell of fire. If it were possible for us to gouge out an eye to save ourselves, we had better get gouging.

Thank God, he saves us from that. It is when we stand at the edge of hell looking in, facing our own deserved punishment, realizing that we are lost and condemned creatures that we see clearly what God has done for us. It is when we see our utterly lost state that the good news of Jesus has its full impact. Cutting off our hands and gouging our eyes won’t do. It takes so much more than that. It takes God himself, to sacrifice himself. It takes God become man in Jesus Christ to set our relationship with God on a proper footing. It takes God, in Jesus Christ, not cutting off his hand but allowing his hands to be nailed to a cross. It takes God, the Father, turning his back on his only son Jesus, and allowing him to suffer the full anger of his punishment, far more then the pain of nails and suffocation on the cross. It takes God, declaring that Jesus suffering and death on the cross is enough to cover our sin. It takes God giving us credit for the perfect life lived by Jesus. It takes God’s grace and mercy and only that to cover up our inability to do anything at all to save ourselves from hell.

Now listen to Saint Paul’s experience. Some people will tell you that he’s talking about himself before he was a Christian. But he’s not. All of his verbs are in the present tense. He’s talking about his life now as he’s writing. He’s talking about the attack of the law on him. He’s talking about Jesus’ words of law cutting him to the very heart.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ” (Romans 7:15–25, ESV)
No room for eye gouging, it wouldn’t work. The sin runs too deep in Paul, it runs too deep in you. There is only one thing that saves you from this body of death. There is only one thing that saves you from the fires of hell so well deserved. It is God, though Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection for you are what you need. His perfect life; his loving God with his whole heart soul and mind; his loving his neighbors, feeding them, healing them, caring for them; his shed blood on the cross; his death and burial; his three days in the tomb; his resurrection from death and his coming again to claim you and the whole world again for himself. All of this is yours, oh baptized Christian, beloved child of God. All of this God did for you in Jesus Christ because you are helpless to keep the law, any part of it. All of this God did for you out his Fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in you. No eye gouging necessary, only faith. Faith that what was done by our Lord he offers to you freely. Unearned. Uncoerced. Unforced. His loving gift for you. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 05, 2023

1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 5, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. ” (1 Corinthians 2:1–16, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is difficult for a pastor to talk about Christian maturity. The problem, for a pastor, is this: many of you will think you are spiritually mature. Your first thoughts on this topic are to think that you’ve obtained some spiritual level higher than your brothers and sisters in Christ. You’ll think you’ve put away certain sins evidenced by the fact that you no longer struggle with them. You joyfully participate in the activities of the church, give your fair share to the budget, say good things about your pastor, and pray through the whole prayer list in the bulletin. You’ve weathered the storms of church politics, pastors with problems, and a long vacancy. You look at the blessings of your church, life, family, work, security as proof that you’ve been blessed by God because you are spiritual, because you have stood firm, because you have run the race and won. Obviously those who struggle to give anything to the church with joy haven’t reached that level of maturity. Obviously those who struggle with sexual temptation haven’t reached that level of spiritual maturity. Obviously, those who… how does the saying go? “I don’t smoke, drink or chew and I don’t date girls who do.” If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times. “Before I came to the Lord, I insert your favorite sin here, but now I don’t even have the desire to insert your favorite sin.” It just all sounds vaguely familiar.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ” (Luke 18:10–11, ESV)
You see, the Pharisee thought he was spiritually mature. He’d conquered all those sins. The tax collector hadn’t. Obviously, he was spiritually lacking, immature. Maybe if he just worked a little bit harder, attended church on a more regular basis, dropped just a bit more in the collection plate, sat closer to the front of the church, worked building committee, maybe then God would clear all those sins out of his life.

You see, that’s the problem with talking about spiritual maturity. Whenever we, sinful human beings, begin to think about growing up in the faith we naturally turn to ourselves. We look to what we must do to make it all happen. And then we boast in our accomplishments and congratulate ourselves on our spiritual maturity.

Paul calls this the “spirit of the world.” And it had invaded the church at Corinth. There were divisions in the church. Some claimed to be more mature because they followed Paul or Apollos. Some thought that they were spiritually mature so they could do whatever they wanted (one man even married his father’s wife!). Paul’s letter to them points out these errors in thinking. He doesn’t go easy on them either, calling for excommunication for open unrepentant sin. It is chilling, “Hand this one over to Satan.” (5:5) he says. For a Christian to live according to the “spirit of the world” is a very dangerous place to be. For a Christian to live in unrepentant sin is to be on the path to denying Jesus Christ. Our own confessions say, But those who walk according to the flesh [Galatians 5:19–21] retain neither faith nor righteousness.

Paul’s warning comes from a firm hand, as does my pastoral warning to you. Beware of your sin, beware of your pride, and beware of your natural tendency to put others in their place while ignoring the log in your own eye. There is only one thing that can be done with a sinner. He must die. Shall I say it even stronger? There is only one thing that can be done with a sinner. He must suffer hell’s punishment. So beware of your sin, Christian. It can only lead you to one place, eternal separation from the Holy God.

Now, dear Christian, I would be neglecting my job as your pastor, if on the heels of that strong law I would direct you to yourself as a solution. “Try harder!” “Do these ten biblical principal and you’ll remove temptation to sin.” “Read your bible every day and God will make you strong enough to overcome.” “You can be victorious if you pray everyday.” “Of all the things Jesus talked about he talked most about money. The bible tells you more about managing your money than anything else!” These are actually more of the same. These are reflections of the wisdom of the world creeping to the church. In fact, if I preached these kinds of sermons, you’d soon be nodding your head in agreement. “Yea, that’s what I need some practical stuff to make a difference in my life.” But that’s not Paul’s solution to the problems of spiritual immaturity in the Corinthian church. What does he say?

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (2:1)

In fact, this is exactly what St. Paul calls spiritual maturity. It is seeing the foolishness of the cross of Jesus as the solution over and against the wisdom of the world. Not our doing anything. Not our working out our own way out of sin. But clinging to the cross, to Jesus and Jesus Christ crucified as our solution for sin. Spiritual maturity is here at the font, here at the altar, here in the pew when Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross is poured out on you and spoken into your ears. The two most important words you will ever hear in this church are “for you.” This is the Spirit of God at work against the spirit of the world.
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (2:12)
So what are the things freely given? The forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross, life and salvation. For as the Catechism says, For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ” (Galatians 6:14, ESV)
So there it is spiritual maturity as defined by God’s Word. It is not my victory over sin; my improving life. It’s not my best life now or my pursuing the purpose God give me in my heart. It is not thinking that there is something I can do to deal with my own sin. It is seeing that my sin is over my head. It is seeing the absolute danger of my sin and fearing the eternal consequences of it. It is also seeing that God has done what it necessary to remove it. It is seeing Jesus Christ bleeding and dying on the cross as the only answer. It is clinging, in faith, to Jesus as my savior and boasting in Jesus Christ crucified for me. Amen.

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