Sunday, July 30, 2023

Matthew 13:44; Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; July 30, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, there it is in black and white… well in some bibles it’s red and white, because it is Jesus words… Jesus tells us that if we want the treasure of the kingdom of heaven, we should be willing to sell everything we have. Get out your checkbook and write the big one. You know the check that leaves the big goose egg in your account. Don’t worry you’re going to put some more in there anyway because you’ve still got your house to sell… that new car in the parking lot… the new computer you got last month with the ‘free money’ the government gave you to stimulate the economy. And you farmers get your deeds in order that farmland has to go too… all of it. Ladies your mother’s good china that dad brought back from Korea. Your knick-knacks; your quilts; Guys your tools; trucks; tractors; lawnmowers; etc. It’s all gotta go. Don’t forget your personal jewelry, wedding rings, rings you inherited from your father, and the clothes; yep, all those extra shoes in your closet; the pants that fit; and even the ones that don’t. Am I forgetting anything? Well, if I am that’s gotta go also. And then write out another check and close up the account. ‘Cause that’s what Jesus says. Isn’t it? Well, that’s what the parable says:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 ESV)
When you read this parable, you read that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure in a field. “The kingdom of heaven”, isn’t that our salvation. Isn’t that all that Jesus came to bring to us? So be like the guy in the parable and sell everything you have and buy it. That’s what this guy does, isn’t it? He finds that valuable treasure in the field and he sells everything?

Well before we get out our garage sale signs maybe we should back up and talk just a minute about this short parable, so we understand it right. So, we understand it like the folks Jesus was talking to. How would they have understood it? Well, those days were not like these days in a lot of ways. First, be clear and understand that this guy in the parable isn’t doing anything illegal or underhanded. Back then when you owned a plot of land you didn’t own everything in it. Not like today with mineral rights and all that. You didn’t own anything in the field that you didn’t know about. So, the treasure doesn’t ‘belong’ to the guy who owns the field just because it’s in his field. He doesn’t own the treasure because he doesn’t know about it. And there’s another very small detail to take notice of. The story doesn’t say that the guy picked up the treasure. It says he found it and covered it up again. That’s because, if he’s a hired hand, working in the field, everything he does he does on behalf of the guy he’s working for. So, if he picks up the treasure it belongs to his boss. So, he covers it up instead. Then he goes and sells everything he must get possession of the field, and since he knows about the treasure, it’s his. Jesus’ listeners would have thought this man very wise, very smart. No one would have accused him of doing anything underhanded. It’s the way anyone there would have operated. This guy in the parable is the “good guy.”

Ok, so now back to our reading of the parable. Jesus says (doesn’t he?) that if you find the kingdom of heaven, you should be willing to sell all you have to get it. You should be as shrewd as this guy, as smart as this guy. You should be willing to sell all you have and buy treasure. Now if the treasure is God’s Kingdom, Jesus Christ, and all that He has done for you, you know exactly where to find it. You know where to find Jesus. He’s here. Right here in his Word and Sacraments. The treasure isn’t even hidden in a field. So, get crackin’; get sellin’; get moving the merchandise. Right?

Well, let’s ask a simple but important question. What if you sell everything and you don’t have enough to buy the land? What if you’ve disposed of all your wealth, all your possessions, all your worldly goods but the clothes on you back and you still don’t have enough to get the treasure? Well, that’s a real problem, isn’t it? And in fact, that is our problem. The Bible tells us that we can’t earn our salvation or purchase it in any way. Our good works aren’t good enough and our money is worthless. So maybe Jesus doesn’t mean exactly what He’s saying here. Maybe the parable isn’t about ‘getting’ the treasure but just about ‘wanting’ the treasure. Maybe he’s saying that we should be willing to sell all that we have to get the kingdom, or to get Jesus. Yea, that must be it. “I’ve Decided to Follow Jesus” as one hymn says. “I’d give up anything for Jesus.”

Hey, there’s a story about that in the bible isn’t there? Yea, it’s in Matthew 19.
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:16-24, ESV)
Well, there’s a guy who just doesn’t get does he. He had the chance to do exactly what the parable says, and he tanked it. Jesus showed him the “treasure in heaven” he’s asking the right question, isn’t he? What must I do to have eternal life? But in the end, he walks away simply because he’s unwilling to sell everything he has to get it. Well, that’s rich folks for you; all they think about is their money. He could have easily spread the love a bit and made all those folks around Jesus happy, you know like the movies where the money from the stingy rich guy gets thrown in the air and everyone around gets a handful. But no, he thinks more of his money than the Kingdom of God.

Ah, but wait a second. Look at what the disciples say when Jesus says, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They don’t say, “those silly rich people. They think too much of their money.” They say, “Who than can be saved?” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:24-26 ESV)

You see, the disciples see something; hear something that we don’t see at first. When Jesus talks about a camel going through the eye of a needle, he’s talking about something that doable, he’s talking about something that’s impossible. You can tell by the disciples’ reaction. All the sudden the disciples are afraid for their own salvation. And Jesus tells them they otta be. “With man this is impossible.” Jesus says. “You can’t do it, guys.” You can’t sell enough stuff to buy it. You can’t do enough good stuff to earn it. “For you it’s impossible,” Jesus says.

And now guess what? Jesus words reach right out of the pages of the book and grab you by the throat too. You can’t do it either, dear Christians, fellow members of Life in Christ Lutherna Church, Grand Marais, MN. No matter how much you sell, you can’t sell enough to buy the field the treasure is in. You can’t do enough good stuff to make God like you and save you. You are a poor miserable sinner, deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. No matter how hard you try you can’t do enough to earn the treasure. And I’m not just talking about money either. You can write checks till you’re blue in the face. You can come to church every Sunday. You can sing in the choir (if we had one). You can teach Sunday school for years. You can be better, cleaner, less arrogant than the whole town of Grand Maris, but none of that will get you one lick closer to the treasure. You can want the treasure more than anything else, but you can’t have purchase it, because you don’t have enough, and you aren’t good enough. Because for you Jesus says, “this is impossible.” It’s because the price of the field is too high. The cost of getting the treasure is too much.

If the treasure is salvation, the Kingdom of God, then the only way you could earn it is to be perfect. Jesus tells us that, too. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” Look how he pushes that rich young man to the brink of despair. Jesus keeps upping the ante until what he’s looking to get by his works is out of reach. Jesus does that in other places too. He tells people if they call people stupid, or even think it they deserve hell because it’s just the same as killing them. He says that if you look at a woman with lust in your heart it’s the same as sleeping with her, and you deserve hell. You see. To buy the field you’d have to do more than you can do. You’d have to sell more than you must sell. And just wanting to do it, just having the desire to have the treasure won’t get you the treasure either. So… what are we to think? What are we to do? What is Jesus trying to do to us here? What kind of a parable is this anyway?

You know, it occurs to me that we might just be reading this thing all wrong. Well, at least I hope we are reading it all wrong. What is it I always say about reading the bible? Jesus is at the heart and center of it all. If you want to understand what the bible is talking about you’ve got to put Jesus Christ crucified for you at the center of your thinking. You know what, when I read the parable with me as the guy who finds the treasure that puts me at the center. How would I read it, so Jesus is there instead? How about this? Jesus is the guy who finds the treasure. Jesus is the guy who sells everything he has and buys the field and then rejoices in the treasure. Then what is the treasure?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)
Now remember that “for God so loved” in this passage isn’t talking about the amount of God’s love but rather the way that he showed his love. God loved the world in this way… Jesus Christ humbles himself to be a living breathing man. He leaves God the Father’s side, the glory of heaven to suffer the same things that all people suffer. He cried. He had sore feet from walking, and he was hungry. He was tired and weary, needing rest. He lost loved ones to death, and was hated by enemies, and betrayed by friends. And this is where Jesus is different from you and me. In all of this he didn’t sin. He didn’t give up his relationship to God, the Father. He constantly obeyed God’s will for his life. He loved people selflessly always. In fact, Jesus’ human life, was perfect in every single way. That’s where you and I fall short. We aren’t perfect. We can’t be. We can’t sell enough to buy the field. But Jesus can. And he does. On a cross, a perfectly horrible means of punishment, created by Satan himself, Jesus bore the sin of the whole world, giving his perfect life in the place of imperfect people. He suffered punishment for all sinful, imperfect people everywhere. He bought the field. He purchased it with his holy and perfect, sinless, priceless death on the cross. He bought the field with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. St. Paul told it to our Christian brothers and sisters in Philippi like this:
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 made himself nothing, 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. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
Why in the world would Jesus do that? Well, to get the treasure, of course. So, what’s the treasure? What is so valuable to Jesus that he would is willing leave heaven and walk the earth as poor, humble man? What has so much worth to Jesus that he suffers a criminal’s death, a sinner’s death, the punishment of hell for all human sin? What does Jesus’ love so, that he makes sure the story of what he did is told over and over again? What is Jesus’ treasure, the thing that he joyfully sold all he had to have it for himself? You. Amen.

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

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Matthew 13:1-9; Seventh Sunday after Pentecost; July 16, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:1-9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wow this is such a familiar text… that makes it hard to preach about. First, we’ve all heard it so much we think we know everything there is to know about it. Second, there’s the real danger of saying something that disagrees with a long held and favorite understanding. “That’s not what pastor so-and-so said it meant!” That’s the burden of a preacher. Just like the sower my job is to sow the Word.

You’ve all got some corn this morning. We’re going to talk a little bit about that in just a moment, but I gave you corn because it’s obvious the seed that the farmer is sowing in the parable is corn. Who can tell me why? The clue is right there in the text… Well, it’s obviously corn because after the parable Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” I couldn’t give you all a whole ear… but he who has ears let him hear. Just hang on to that seed a little longer, we’ll get back to it.

Let’s talk a little about this parable. It’s been called the parable of the sower, or the parable of the soils. Now both have their merits. The seed lands on the soil and it grows according to what kind of conditions it finds there. Jesus is telling us that he casts his word out upon human beings, and they react differently depending on their soil type. Originally, I was going to stick the corn onto different colored pieces of paper, so that each of you would get different colors. But it didn’t seem quite right. After all I’m assuming that if you hear in church, you’re here to hear God’s Word, and have it sown on you. So, you must in some sense be “good soil.” We could go into a detailed description of all the kinds of soil there are. Accusing those who aren’t here of being the path or rocky or weed infested. “Shame on you!” we could say about them. But the truth is that we all have those same kinds of problems. We reject God’s Word that we hear, it just bounces off us especially when it tells us of sinful behavior we don’t want to change. Satan comes and snatches it away, “you don’t need to worry about that little sin. God isn’t really talking to you. There are so many people who are so much worse than you are, that one little weakness doesn’t matter.” We all at times don’t have God’s Word deeply rooted. Trouble and hardship in our lives, that should push us to Christ, instead our faith withers. Instead of looking to Christ and saying that without Him we are lost, we look inside ourselves to find the strength to go on. And we all have those weed that threaten to choke out God’s Word, too. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of coming to church. Life is busy all year round not to mention our “summer schedule.” And there’s even the temptation to think that we come to church to be entertained. It’s easy to think that God’s Word by itself isn’t enough to do the job, we’ve got to make it more acceptable, by doing something flashy. All of it serves to distract us from hearing the simple message of God’s love for us in Jesus. Those weeds seem to grow up before we know it and choke out our interest in worship, and bible study, and prayer, and even a five-minute devotion from Portals of Prayer. And then there’s the good soil… we’ll talk about that later. You see how it really doesn’t matter what type of soil we are. We’re really all kinds of soil. Jesus is describing where the seed of His Word falls. He’s describing human beings, just like you and me. Without faith in Jesus, we’d all reject His Word. Satan’s word to us would always sound like the truth. Without faith in Jesus, we’d all get scorched by persecution and trouble. Without faith in Jesus, His Word would always be choked out of our lives.

Well, I think there’s different point being made by this parable. When we are looking at the soil, we are looking at us. Whenever we look at ourselves as the answer to any problem, we’re looking in the wrong place. God doesn’t promise that you’ll have the strength to do whatever you want or need to do. He promises that He’ll give you whatever you need. When we look at ourselves, considering the soil the best we can do is say, “Let’s be good soil!”

In my previous congregations there were lots of farmers. That’s not the case here, but I wonder can any one of you tell me what the dirt does to be good dirt? Can the rocky soil get rid of the rocks? Can the earth beneath the bean field zap its own weeds? Can the soil that lacks nitrogen get it on its own? Of course, it can’t. But a farmer can do something about it. I served in Frankentrost, MI, the farmland there was all swamp. In order for it to be arable, the farmers hand dug tiles that drained the water. But the land couldn’t do it by itself.

On the other hand, I don’t think this parable is so much about the soil as it is about the Sower. In fact, one way of interpreting parables is to look for the thing that’s out of place, look for the thing that people would never do. When you find that crazy thing, you’ll usually find what Jesus is saying about himself. So, what’s the thing out of place here? What’s the thing that someone would never do? Let me ask you this question. What’s up with this Sower? What farmer is going to run his planter over the road? What farmer is going to through his best seed corn in the fence row? What farmer isn’t going to do something about the weeds that are growing up among the plants he planted? You see, this isn’t a proper Sower. He’s very reckless with His seed. He seems to throw it all over and He doesn’t care where it lands.

What Jesus is saying is that He, as the Sower, is very generous with the gift of His Word. He spreads it all over, without regard to where it’s going to land. His Word is for all people, those who out right reject it, those who let the concerns of the world choke it out, people who don’t take is seriously, and even those who don’t hold on to it and treasure it. You see, that’s God’s great love for all people. He wants all people to know what He has done for them in Christ. He spreads His Word high and low to all people. That’s the God we have. He loves to give and give in amounts and ways that are more than we can fathom. We see the generosity of God in Jesus. Not just that He feed people who needed food. Not just that He healed people who needed healing. But mostly that He gave His very life on the cross for sinful people. There were those who were there at the cross who mocked Him. His death was even for them. You and I are sinful people who need the generosity of Christ. Our sins and failures keep us from a relationship with God. But God tells us in the seed of His Word that Jesus blood covers our sins. And that even though we aren’t “good soil” in the sense that we can earn His love, He gives us the forgiveness we need as a free gift for the sake of Jesus.

How about a concrete example? At the very beginning of the service, we confessed our sins to God. Well, He knew them all already. He knows even the ones we don’t know and the ones we keep hidden very deep in our hearts. But have you ever noticed that God’s forgiveness isn’t conditional? The Word of God that I speak to you from Christ’s lips isn’t “I forgive you some of your sins.” Or “I forgive you only the sins you know about.” Or “I forgive the sins of those of you who were in church last week.” No Jesus says through me, “I forgive you all your sins…” I’m not offering you my forgiveness. That wouldn’t mean a thing. I’m offering you Jesus forgiveness, in His own Words. You see that’s the Sower sowing the seed. It’s as if it took that corn and threw it over all of you. Not caring where it lands. Not being specific to throw it at anyone. But to everyone. That’s the reason God has given you a pastor. He wants you to hear and see God forgiving you of all your sins. He wants you to be sure that the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished on the cross covers the 2000 years of history and gets to you right here and now. So, look at that corn in your hand. If you didn’t get any raise your hand now and the usher will give you some. Think of that corn there like God’s Word given to you, God’s forgiveness, just as if I’d thrown it out and hit you in the head.

I think that’s what the OT lesson is talking about too. Did you remember that phrase, “seed to the sower and bread to the eater?” (Isa 55:11) When you are hungry for forgiveness, when you are starving to hear God’s Word, when you know that you are doomed without God, He gives you the Bread that you need. He offers you forgiveness in Christ. He offers you comfort in the promises found in His Word. That’s bread to the eater. Eat the gifts of God here and be satisfied! God loves to give bread to the eater.

And there’s another thing. It’s in that “seed to the sower.” You know what God offers to you. You’ve received it today through God’s Word. Think about the Sower again. He sows all over without regard to the reaction, without regard to the reception, without regard to the fruitfulness of the soil. You see that corn in your hand, that’s for you, and it’s for you to spread around. You see, there’s plenty where that came from. God sows His seed Himself; He doesn’t need you to do it. But He gives you another gift in that Word that He gives. He gives you the gift of sharing that Word with other people. He gives you the seed to sow right where you are. Now your first thought it that you’re supposed to find people to share the Word with that don’t know Jesus. But that wouldn’t be like the Sower in the parable, would it? The person right next to you needs to hear about Jesus too. They already know about the forgiveness of Jesus. But they need to hear about it again. I need to hear it again. So, take one of those kernels of corn in your hand and give it to a person sitting next to you. And when you give it say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Now take a kernel to someone across the room, and say “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Wasn’t that easy? What a privilege to give the Word of God to someone who needed to hear it! Now this week you take that little pile of corn with you. Find just one person (it doesn’t matter who!) to give it to and say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” When you are helping your neighbor, given them one of those kernels. They’ll look at you funny, but you can blame it on me. Tell them that your pastor made you do it. Don’t forget to say, “He wants me to tell you, Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” And when you are making out your offering envelope you can put one of those kernels in with your check. That’s to help you remember that the money you give to the church here is for the sowing of God’s Seed. And the money that you give to support missionaries and mission projects is God’s gift to you to sow God’s Seed. And just think, Jesus doesn’t tell you to worry about the reception of the Seed. That’s His department, that’s His worry. Some of that Seed will produce fruit and some won’t. But God promises that it won’t return “empty” but will do what God wants it to do.

Well, even if you don’t give any away… remember, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Amen.

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

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Romans 7:15-25a; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 9, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
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!” (Romans 7:15–25a, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is a persistent problem in the Christian church. Christians don’t seem to be any different from anyone else. We have the same temptations, same problems, and especially, the same sins. You hear people say, “You Christians are no different than anyone else. You are just hypocrites.” Well in one way it is true, we are no different from anyone else. We are sinners. Luther has it right in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Fifth Petition.
… we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. (
St. Paul has it right doesn’t he?
• “I do the very thing I hate.”
• “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
• “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I keep on doing.”

You and I, as Christians, understand these statements. We live them every day.

And what’s worse, we who believe the Bible to be God’s very word, must hold sin is very serious.
For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a, ESV)
The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20b, ESV)

And so our struggle with sin is a serious one, with serious consequences. Sinners, the Bible says, deserved death and hell. And that means you and me. We seem we deserve to die and go to hell. So why is it that we have this struggle? If we were truly Christians, wouldn’t we be passed sinning? If Christians sin, then what good is it to be a Christian?

Paul is explaining the issue. He says there is a struggle between “mind” and “flesh.” He says, in his mind, he wants to do what is right. But, in his flesh, he continues to do what is wrong. It’s almost as if it’s a struggle between two people, a good person and a bad person. And they’re both living in the same body. It is the reality of what life is like as a Christian. We want to do what God wants, but we continually sin and follow our own sinful desires.

As I’ve told you before, in the church when something is important, we give it a Latin name. The Christian church long recognized this struggle. It is called Simul Justus et Peccator. The word simul is where we get our word simultaneous. It means “at the same time” Justus you can see looks like the word justice. It means “righteous.” Et means “and.” And peccator is the Latin word for sinner. In other words, Simul Justus et Peccator means “at the same time saint and sinner.”

It means that Christians are two things, both sinful and forgiven. It’s not a contradiction but a paradox. These two things are simultaneously true. It’s not a half-and-half, as if we are half sinner and half saint. We are completely saved and made righteous through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are still the same old sinner we have always been.

Let’s try it this way. We sin so we are sinners. But through faith in Jesus Christ God imputes, that is transfers to us, Jesus’ perfect life. God sees us now as completely righteous. St. Paul says in Colossians that through Holy Baptism (the declaration of your connection to Christ) …
you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, ESV)
and in Galatians:
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)
Or another way to think of it is to ask this question: Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I am judged by my own righteousness, everything is lost and I will spend eternity in hell. Because it is clear that, my life is filled with sin. But if I am judged by Jesus’ righteousness, everything good has been done for me. The righteousness that is mine is the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And can you see what good news that is? I am reconciled to God, which is forgiven of all my sin, not because of anything that I have done or will do or can do, but solely on what has been accomplished by Christ.

Punishment for my sin, and my sin itself, is imputed or transferred to Christ. And on the cross, Jesus Christ paid the punishment in full for my sin. God does not negotiate sin. He doesn’t compromise his integrity. My sin is fully punished. I am saved by this double transaction. And it is all the work of God through Jesus Christ. And it is yours and mine through faith that what God has done is done for me and for you.

So even though I am forgiven in God’s sight my sinful flesh remains. So as God’s child, I want to do right but struggle to do it. I know what God has done for me, in Jesus Christ, and I want to please him by doing good, but my heart is full of sin and leads me astray and away from God.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)
It’s not the old saying where if you teach a man to fish you feed him forever. We Christians realize that we need a new fish to be given to us every day. That’s what God does for us. Every day our old sinful nature, Martin Luther called it the Old Adam, is drowned to death. That’s what holy baptism is, a drowning of the old sinful nature. But we don’t believe baptism is a single event that happened in our past. It is an ongoing life lived. Luther again from Small Catechism
What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Or as he said, the old Adam needs to be drowned every day because he’s a good swimmer. There is no trying to live a better life that will accomplish anything. There is only living in Holy Baptism. Living in forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross, and nothing else.
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)
We don’t focus on our doing good, we focus on the good that Jesus has done for us. By faith, we look to the God-man Jesus Christ who gave his life for us on the cross. We don’t go out looking for good works to do; we do the good works that God has placed before us. And when we find sin in the good works we do, and we always will, we drowned them in repentance and receive forgiveness and the good work stands.

The struggle is there. It will exist in you until the day you die when you’re Old Adam is finally put to death permanently. Then your new creation will stand before God in righteousness and purity forever. The struggle will be over. Sin will be gone. And you rejoice in the salvation given to you as a free gift by God in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Matthew 10:34-42; The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 2, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

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

Coming back from vacation is always a shock to the system. You know how it feels. You always feel more exhausted than when you left. You have a mountain of work to do to catch up on (I had over 700 eMails to dig through… so much for AntiSpam software!). I must admit it would have been nice to have an easy week, something light weight to think about, but no… I sat down on Tuesday morning to study the lessons for today and look what I found…
34"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

You know, life would be much easier if Jesus hadn’t said things like, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” It really doesn’t sound much like “good news” does it? To you and me and our everyday lives “good news” would be an end to conflict, and an end to trouble. And just try to explain words like this to those skeptical relatives that we all have. You know; those people who would just love to point a verse like this and ask you to explain what Jesus means. What are you going to say?

After all, when I read it, it sure sounds like Jesus, the “prince of peace,” says that he’s come to bring strife and trouble into our lives and not only that but to break up our families… Listen again; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. …to set children against their parents, parents against their children. He’s come to make enemies inside of families. It’s a difficult verse for us to swallow. Jesus can’t mean what he’s saying, can he? Does Jesus, the baby in the manger sleeping in “heavenly peace” surrounded by angels singing about peace on earth, bring peace or strife?

Well, many people believe that Jesus comes to bring peace. In fact, in general people, even those who don’t call themselves Christian think highly of Jesus. They love Jesus when He tells stories about how to get along with each other, and to care for those who are less fortunate than we are. They love Jesus when He says, “love your enemies.” They love Jesus when He tells a good story about how we should care for other people, like the “Good Samaritan.” But they don’t want to hear from Jesus when He says that without Him, without His death on the cross, they are lost. They don’t want to hear Jesus when He says that without Him, they face an eternity of God’s punishment in hell. People don’t what to hear Jesus when he says stuff that causes conflict and trouble.

Think about the family that peacefully co-exists with one another, until one of them becomes a Christian. Suddenly the family is in conflict. Those who don’t know Jesus don’t want to hear about Him as their only Savior. They don’t want to hear about sin and repentance. They don’t want to hear about changing their lives to conform to God’s will. From the outside, from the world’s point of view this family was better off before the “good news” came to them. The members of the family will push the new believer to compromise and leave them alone, “for the sake of peace.” “You keep your Jesus to yourself.” The problem is, Jesus calls us all to be witnesses of what He has done. He calls us all to bring the life saving Word of Jesus to those who don’t know Him. He never promises that it will be easy. He does call us to be faithful.

There was an event that happened over 500 years ago, on June 25. The reformers faced the Holy Roman Emporer Charles. He demanded they give up the Gospel they had discovered. They stood in the face of certain death to testify about the truth of Jesus. It would have been easier, more peaceful, to compromise their faith. Instead they confessed what the bible teaches about Jesus clearly and strongly. Some of the most important words confessed that day were these:

Our Churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by there own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight. (Romans 3:21-26; 4:5);

But don’t think that they were successful because they had the power in themselves to confess Jesus to kings. They were clinging to the promise of Jesus. A promise that He also makes to us today in this text. After all, if all Jesus said to us today was that there would be conflict that wouldn’t be very much good news. Listen again to what Jesus says:
40"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matt 10:34-42, ESV)

At first you might miss the promise here. But look carefully at what He says. Whoever receives you receives me. You see, Jesus doesn’t expect you to go out there and speak about Him by yourself. In fact, He knows exactly how difficult it is. He knows how you’d rather keep silent at work when people speak about Jesus, because you don’t want to cause problems. He knows how you’d rather “keep your Jesus to yourself” during family discussions to keep the peace. He knows you’d rather not speak about the errors in other denominations for the sake of community togetherness. But Jesus promises to be with you at all the time. He promises that when you speak the truth about Him and what His Word teaches, He’s right there with you. It’s the same promise He gives at the end of St. Matthews Gospel:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

If Jesus says He’s always with you that means always. That’s Jesus right there with you during the discussions in the break room at work. That’s Jesus right there with you around the family table. That’s Jesus right there with you at the community coffee table.

The real good news is this. Jesus is with you… always. And even though Jesus wants us to speak up, He’s not going to skip out on you because you get cold feet. He’s not going to punish you because you get weak kneed and fail to proclaim Him in public. You and I are sinful people we fail all the time. That’s why we need a Savior. That’s why Jesus lived a life that was always headed for the cross. He didn’t just die on the cross; He died on the cross on purpose. When He was pinned up there on the wood, He had you in His heart and your failures and sins on His shoulders. He died to take your sins away and give you a new life free from sin. That’s what St. Paul was talking about. Through faith in Jesus Baptism makes you dead to sin. Dead as Jesus was in the tomb. Dead as all sin deserves. That’s how you were with Jesus on the cross, dying to sin. That’s how He is with you now living a life that isn’t controlled by sin. You are alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:1-11) Not alone, ever.

So, you know what? You’re going to see some conflict when you talk about Jesus, when you dare to confess the truth about Him. That’s ok, that’s to be expected. In a way it means that you’re on the right track. Martin Luther once said that when everything was going smoothly in his life, he worried that he wasn’t doing anything to get Satan’s notice. The thing to remember is that Jesus is with you, He has given you a new life through baptism into His life and death and resurrection. Amen.

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