Sunday, October 25, 2020

Fear God, and Give Him Glory


Revelation 14:6-7

And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."

Sermon for Reformation Day 2020 (Observed)      10/25/20

Fear God, and Give Him Glory

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Revelation is a challenging book.  Lutherans don't preach it much because it is not as clear and easy to teach from, because so many reformed Protestants twist it in their apocalyptic fervor, it is easier to avoid confrontations and controversies about it, and because it is not a regularly a part of the lectionary, historically, except for Reformation Day.  But today we observe Reformation day.  This is our Reformation Day first lesson, chosen by our Synod's worship department, and so, we will take look at it this morning, drawing our theme from the words of the angel flying in mid-heaven, Fear God, and Give Him Glory.

This is the old, traditional Reformation Day Epistle because except for Roman Catholic scholars, the angel mentioned has been interpreted almost universally to be a symbol for Martin Luther.  He is interpreted as the angel for a number of reasons.  First, the word "angel" means "messenger".  Earlier in the book of Revelation, the Apostle John speaks of the angels of the churches in Asia Minor, and they are clearly understood to be the pastors, and not merely spirit beings assigned to specific locations.  So, here Luther is understood to be the messenger of God.

The second reason that it is thought to be Luther represented here is that the angel has an eternal gospel to preach, and that was the burden of Luther.  Luther's focus was not Law but Gospel.  Every other reforming movement in the church seems to have its grounding in the Law, but Luther was grounded in the Gospel, in the justification of the sinner before God.  While most Protestants speak of the sovereignty of God as their fundamental doctrine, and Catholics tend to find the doctrine of the Church as their most basic doctrine, Luther said that the doctrine of Justification was the "articulas stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae" -- the doctrine on which the church either stands or falls.  

The focus of the Lutheran fathers, beginning with Martin Luther, was to return the church to her first love, the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified.  The Confessions go out of their way to demonstrate that Lutherans have nothing new to say, but only teach what the Christian Church has always taught, when she is faithful.  Therefore the Gospel which this angel bears is eternal, not new, or modern, but the ageless and eternal Word of God.

The apostle John, in his vision, sees this angel flying in mid-heaven.  Those who write commentaries tell us that this because in the vision of John, the earth is the domain of the beast and of Satan.  To be on the earth is to be within the grasp of the devil and his hoard.  Being in mid-heaven places this eternal gospel beyond the reach and wrath of the devil, the Antichrist, and the devil's minions.  He is bringing down from heaven a glorious treasure, and he is not in contact with those forces that would destroy him and kill the message.

Of course, that is not how it felt to Luther.  He was in constant danger.  But he was preserved by the Lord, and during his lifetime, no one could stand against him.  The power of the Papacy and of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire we insufficient to threaten the life of this one man.  God was with him.

And God was with His Gospel.  It wasn't Luther's Gospel, actually.  It is God's.  The plan was God's, and the proclamation was God's, and the success was God's.  Everyone who is a Christian acknowledges that the Gospel Luther proclaimed is true.  Frankly, if they do not acknowledge it, they are not really Christian.  Luther invented nothing.  He simply uncovered what had so long been hidden.

What darkness reigned in the days before Luther!  Men who could not read or write were taught legends and fairy tales in place of the truth.  They were given phony relics to worship, and made-up saints to pray to, and taught that they could not approach God.  They were told to do certain "good works" to earn their way to heaven, to spend money to buy the forgiveness of sins, and never to question their Church.  Bibles were withheld from the people not just because they were so very expensive and that they were before the advent of printing presses but because the teachers of the church believed that the people could not be trusted with the Bible.  They feared that too many Bibles in the hands of laymen and laywomen would create too many questions and too many heresies.  Sadly, their teachers did not spend much time in the Bible either - or understand much of it very well, at times.

Not that things are much better today.  Five centuries after Luther, people still prefer the fables and myths to the truth.  The fables have changed, but there are still fables.  Today many people prefer a theology where life is a mystery which rarely makes sense - and religion is all about being good, and being involved in the lives of others.  People want the easy religion of ecumenism, where we can ignore the fact that those around us are hurrying to hell with false teachings and false gods.  Some will pray with just anyone, and want to pretend that everyone is welcome to commune with us, and comfort themselves with the confession that "at least I know what I believe."

Today the danger to the truth is not one religion or another.  It is the false idea that I make the difference, that I can decide, that I can measure up, somehow.  It is the loss of the doctrine of "church" to the American philosophy of radical individualism.  It is the loss of the doctrine of the ministry to the American pride which says that I can know it all just as well as anyone and that God must deal with me directly, and not through any messengers or sacraments.  It is the loss of the very concept of truth to the American ideal of pluralism and to an American pragmatism that says what I do is more important than what I believe:  deeds, not creeds.  The danger is more the Pentecostal fascination with how and what I feel rather than who and what I believe.  The danger we face is the idea that I am the judge and measure of all things  and so we surrender the authority of Scriptures to the authority of my personal opinion.

In short, the dangers we face are precisely the same as what Luther rebelled against in his day.  It is the darkness of the medieval papacy dressed up in the clothing of the modern television evangelist.  But it is the same flight from the truth of God.  And we see modern Lutherans even in the Missouri Synod many times in full flight from the Truth.  The Reformation "Sola's" are as important in our confession of the truth today as they were five hundred years ago.

By grace alone, holds before our eyes the truth that we were chosen by God, not the other way around.  We were chosen for His purposes and not for our own.  We were chosen because of His will and not because of who we are or what we have done.  We are saved by grace alone!

Through faith alone, stands to remind us that all that we receive from God we receive through faith.  We don't earn it.  We don't reach out and grab it.  We don't make ourselves worthy recipients.  "It is the gift of God."  We trust God to do what He has promised that He will do, and through such faith, He pours into our hearts and lives all the rich blessings of Christ and all that He has promised in connection with Him.

In Christ Jesus alone, gives us the heart of it all.  Jesus.  He came to do what we could not do, and would not have done for ourselves even if we were able.  Our nature is sin and evil, and we hated God from our conception.  But Jesus Christ came and took our place, actually became one of us for our salvation.  He kept the whole will and law of God for us.  He did not fail, He did not sin.  He obeyed where we had rebelled.

Then, when He had earned life everlasting, and health, and peace with God, He died.  He chose to take our place, according to the will of His Father, and die a death He did not deserve, but we did, so that we might inherit from Him the life He had earned.  His resurrection is the event in which God announced before the whole world that our sins have been atoned for, paid for entirely, and forgiven.  The Law of God has been removed from the equation of everlasting life.  It is the gift of God, poured out on everyone, and received only through faith by those who know the truth which God goes to such pains to reveal, and who take God at His Word, and trust in Him and in Him alone.  As Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but through Me."

Your salvation is already complete, done up for you, and presented as a gift.  You don't need to feel anything special to get it, or make certain decisions, or pray special prayers, or visit certain relics, or anything to earn or deserve it.  You can't.  You lost the ability to earn it with your first sin actually before, by inheriting that original guilt and sin.  But when you rebelled against what is right and true for the first time, you earned death and hell for yourself.  When you sinned, you became unable to earn and joined the ranks of humanity as those who have no right, and can never deserve anything good from God.

But God is good, and sent Jesus to earn it, and pours it out on us all to be received by faith.  And how can I be so sure?  It is through God's Holy Word.  Scripture alone is my authority.  That is the final Reformation "Sola", By Scripture Alone.  It is the Word of God.  Nothing that it teaches can be ignored, and nothing that contradicts this holy Word may be believed.  It doesn't matter how it seems to me, or how I feel, or whether it makes sense to me immediately or not.  If God reveals it, it is true, and I must also accept everything He teaches me, because it is His Word, and because it is true!

Scripture, trusted as the very Word of God, is the answer to all the confusion and independence, and uncertainty of our age.  It is not my theology, it is God's Word.  It is not my opinion, it is His truth!  It is not up to me or my feelings, but God has established it in His holy Word.  We can argue about precisely what this or that passage means, but we must start by agreeing that when we understand the Word of God, it is the truth, and we will humble ourselves, our reason, our minds, our ego's before it.

And that is what we celebrate when we celebrate the Reformation.  We celebrate knowing God and knowing the truth.  We celebrate the faith once again clearly revealed.  We know and confess clearly that He is All and all, and all glory belongs to God alone for our lives and our salvation.  In other words, we hear, and we heed the message of the angel flying in mid-heaven we fear God and we give Him the glory!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Not What Most People Expect


Genesis 28:10-17
Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set: and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity 10/18/20

Not What Most People Expect

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

So, what did you expect? That is the way so many responses to situations in life begin. Usually, this is the response to a situation when life gets ugly. Something costs more than you anticipated. So, what did you expect? Murphy s Law proves itself true one more time. So what did you expect? A politician fails to keep his promises and do the things we need him or her to do. So, what did you expect? Something goes wrong and everyone holds you responsible. So what did you expect?

Then we come to God. What do you expect from God? This isn't a frivolous question, nor should it be the sort where you give the answer you are certain I want to get. The answer to the question "What do you expect from God?" doesn't have a right answer or a wrong answer. It only has an honest one or a dishonest one. In our text, we see God presenting himself in a way that doesn't fit the real expectations of most people, not even of most Christians. Our theme, then, is "Not What Most People Expect."

Most people, to illustrate my point, don't expect God to be good, kind, loving, or generous. They may have the theological expectation of grace and mercy and blessing, but generally, they do not have the real-life expectation of the goodness of God. It's like we know what we should say, but we don t really believe it. People expect sickness. They expect pain. They expect that God is going to punish them for what they have done wrong.

Many people don't expect those things right off the bat. We usually start by expecting to be healthy and happy and successful. That expectation isn't necessarily connected to our faith in God, either. The truth of our experience is that God is so faithful and good and we so consistently experience His blessings that we naturally - not religiously, but just as human beings - begin to believe that we are something special, that we just somehow deserve to go from one good thing to another. This expectation is about us, and not necessarily connected to any thought about God or blessings at all! I imagine that was pretty much how Jacob dealt with life. His father was rich, and life was about as good as it could get. He probably expected it. He was accustomed to servants, and nice clothing, and abundant and good food. I suspect he never imagined that it would be any other way.

Then he listened to his mother, and deceived his father, and stole his brother's birthright blessing from him, while Esau was out hunting. Suddenly, his life became something entirely different. Now he was on the run. He was off to try to find his mother's brother. He was not going to be the beloved son of a rich man, but the uninvited nephew of a man that we learned from later in the book of Genesis was not so very nice, or so very honest. He was on his way to becoming something like a hired hand, something like an indentured servant. At this point, I would imagine that Jacob began to expect life to deal him a "not-so-nice" hand.

That is more or less what happens to most of us. To be honest, not everyone ever expects life to be good. Some people are born with troubles, born with deformities, or born to abusive parents, and they never expect life to be just wonderful. But most of us walk along with the dream that it can only get better and that we are going to have it made. But eventually, later rather than sooner for some, hardship, illness, or sorrow finds our door. We discover the pain of life, and it challenges us and our faith, and it often twists our perspective on what life is supposed to be or going to be.

That is when we might begin to expect God to be less generous. That is when we sometimes begin to greet bad news with, "Well, what did you expect?". We have been sick before, and we just expect that it will come back. We run from that expectation, but it is there. Or, life takes a left-turn, and we have one problem after another. It could be about money. It could be neighbors causing us trouble. It could be one friend or beloved relative after another passing away. It is always something, and the devil always knows where our heart is, so he knows where he can hurt us most with the least amount of trouble. And so, we may begin to expect it. We always figure that God has a hand in it, and we usually connect it to our sins because we know our sins, we feel our guilt, and often hidden away from everyone else, our shame is always right there.

You see, we are sinners, and the law is so natural to us that we cannot escape the sense that the bad things in our life are deserved somehow. The awareness of the law is just natural to us — but the keeping of it is not. It is, in point of fact, impossible for us. We cannot do it, and we know it. There is a part of every one of us that feels the guilt of our sins and knows that we deserve nothing good from God. This reality is part of the reason why people who suddenly find fame and wealth have such a problem dealing with it. It is part of the reason so many turn to drugs and outrageous behavior. They cannot escape the feeling that they don't deserve what they have, and it seems so transient and temporary to them. They have a sense that it is going to disappear on them just as suddenly as it appeared. They expect something unhappy and unpleasant from God, even if they never consciously frame the issue in those terms.

The result of all of this is that we all eventually come to "that certain place" in our lives, and lie down with Jacob, with the rock pillow, and expect justice from the most worthy Judge eternal.

And we get justice — but not what most people expect! We get justice from God, but it is poured out on Jesus. He goes to the cross — went there already, actually. He bore our guilt and shame and sin to the cross and died there in your place, and in your place, and in my place. He is our Substitute. Vicariously we pay. Vicariously we die. Vicariously we receive every awful thing that we have earned and deserved by our sins. Jesus takes all these things for us and dies our death. And then the Father proclaims that the payment made and the death that Jesus died was enough and more than enough for our sins by raising Jesus from the grave on Easter morning.

That is why God did not tell Jacob how grievously he had sinned. That is why God did not curse or threaten Jacob. Instead, God did what most people would not have expected; He promised good and blessing to Jacob. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to This land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Of course, the promises to Jacob were the land, and the family, and the Messiah coming through His family line. Those promises were for Jacob, but this promise is for us all.

God promises by Himself to be with us, to keep us wherever we go, and not to let go of us until He has done all that He has promised to us. Now, He did not say here that this promise was for each and every one of us. He said it in the Gospel. It is just that the promise is so well-stated here, and so clear. What God promises us in Jesus Christ is that He will be with us to bless us and keep us until He has accomplished all that He has promised us. Until God accomplishes His will for us, He is with us to take care of us. And what is the will of God for us? [Our salvation.]

That is absolutely correct! His will is that we rise from the grave just like Jesus did. His will is that we live with Him eternally, just as Jesus does. His will is also that we know Him and His love, and trust in Him, and have no fear. Which is what He was telling Jacob. But this is just not what most people expect. This is not even what most religions teach. Men are still looking for the justice, even though they fear it and do not want it. We just naturally expect it.

Now God wants you to expect the unexpected. He wants you to expect His love. He wants you to expect that He will be with you in everything. He has explained in the Scriptures that He is not going to turn all of the troubles of life away from anyone. He wants us to know, however, that He is right there with us when we are sick, or in trouble, or in sorrow, or whatever. It is a difficult thing to keep that straight. Look at Jacob. After God appears, and says all these things, and makes him such marvelous promises, how does Jacob react? "Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." And he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven! It is the house of God because God's people worship here, and God comes here to be with us. Here God speaks with you through His servants who are called to preach His Word. Here God invites you to the feast of Holy Communion. It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This meal, of course, is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of salvation - sort of like God took from the table in heaven and gave us just a taste before we actually come to that heavenly feast. In doing so, however, God has delivered to each of us personally forgiveness and righteousness and our share in the promises — including this promise today that He will never leave us or cease to bless us and keep us until He has done all that He has promised to us. You know that it is a promise meant for you when you receive the body of Christ, and you drink His blood, hidden beneath the forms of this bread and wine. It is given and shed for you, and sealed to you in this heavenly meal.

Many people think that our worship is what we do, and we make this place a church — but it is all from God. He comes through Word and Sacrament to claim us and to bless us and to cleanse us and to bestows His gifts of life and righteousness and salvation. It sounds like we are doing something here, but it really God at work, assuring us that He loves us, and He is with us to bless us and keep us until He has accomplished everything that is in His will for us, everything He has promised us. This place and this worship is just like the Gospel, Not What Most People Expect.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Realistic Perspective

 Deuteronomy 10:12-21

"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  and to keep the LORD'S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?  Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.  Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.  Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.  For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe.  He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.  So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.  He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen."

Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity                  10/11/20

A Realistic Perspective

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

People often try to make a deal with God. Times are hard, or circumstances are frightening, or the challenge before us is too big to be faced with anything like confidence, and we try to make a deal with God.  "Oh God, if only you let me succeed, if only you help me, if only I pass this test, if only . . ., then I will be or do such and so, and I will make this bargain with you, if only."  

Such bargaining is based on false doctrine, that is, on a false perspective on God.  One mistake is that it assumes that we have to bribe God to be good to us and to care about us – we have to make a deal with Him. The other false idea is that God can be bribed or that He can be coerced into doing anything that is not in His will. Our text disposes of both of those ideas.  Our theme is A Realistic Perspective.

What does the Bible say about our relationship to God, and His relationship to us? It says, first of all, that God expects you to be His people. And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you. but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?  These words were first written to the children of Israel, people He had chosen to be His own and rescued from bondage in Egypt.  He quite reasonably could set before them His command to them to be His people.

Nonetheless, these words are preached to you today.  God has placed you in a rich and profoundly blessed land.  He has rescued you from sin and death.  He quite reasonably sets before you the command to be His children.  After all He bought you.  And He expects you to be delighted to be His children because He has rescued you and richly blessed you.  So, He commands your love.  What does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him.  But you will notice that He is requiring the sort of love that is demonstrated by keeping His will – walking in all His ways.  It is as Jesus said in John 14:15:  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

God doesn't simply demand our love because He is God and Creator and such, although He deserves it for that, and for all the good He does to believer and unbeliever alike.  No, He has another reason for commanding your love.  The foundation for that love is to be the grace which He has poured out on you, choosing you to be His own.

He wrote these words to the children of Israel, through Moses, Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.  See, that is the part about His being God – but that isn't listed here as a reason to love Him.  It is stated to set up the wonder of the next part of the passage, Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day.

He says to Israel that even though He is God of all, and has created all things, none-the-less, He has chosen them to be His people, and set particular affection on them, rescued them and loved them.  For all of that, He reasonably expected them to love Him, and willingly, even eagerly, serve Him by keeping the covenant and doing the things that would mark them as His holy people.

He could have written the same words to us – and in fact they are for us as well.  He doesn't need us or anything we can bring to Him.  He created all things and everyone and everything belongs to Him.  In our sins, we earned and we deserve to be thrown away, discarded and destroyed.  But that is not what God did.  Instead He set His affection on us, to love us.  We might be tempted to think that He merely loved a bunch of people and that these passages are generically about all sorts of people.  But they are about us – you, and you, and me – in particular.

God didn't just choose our race – He chose us and set His love on us, and called each of us personally, by name.  Our names were written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world, but He spoke each one of them softly through the lips of His servant in your baptism.  In Baptism, your pastor said, and God was speaking through him!!, Irma, Gene, Lora, Barbara - He spoke Your name - I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  And just like that, God called each one of you by name, and set His affection upon you, to love you – and chose you to be His child both now and in eternity – and forgave you all your sins through Jesus Christ – actually connected you quite literally to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to His glorious resurrection – and made you His child and heir.  And now He requires of you that you be His child, and live as His child, and love Him as your heavenly Father, just as He loves you.   It is as John wrote in His first epistle, We love because He first loved us.

He has revealed to us that His love for us is to be returned by you showing compassion and consideration to others.  You cannot do anything for God that He needs.  You cannot kiss Him or cuddle Him.  You cannot give Him what He lacks, for He lacks nothing.  So, He would have you pour out your love for Him on others, even those most difficult to love.  You serve your neighbor and the stranger among you and in so doing you show love to God and serve Him in the only way He will accept.  

Now, God knows that this is not easy or natural.  He has heard the worldly proverbs we have all heard – you know, "take care of Number One first;" or, "There is no such thing as a free lunch," and the like.  He knows that our sinful flesh is selfish and greedy and resists these noble impulses strenuously.  So He warns us: Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.  Don't be so stubborn and hard-hearted, but show love: do justice for the helpless, show love for the alien as God does by providing for them in their need, and act out who you are and what you believe by being the child of God He would have you to be.  This is what we mean by a realistic perspective.

Why would you want to live this way?  Because God is God.  He has played favorites with you already.  But if you continue to behave as those who do not know Him, and act as those who have never seen His love and have only Number One to take care of, then He will treat you like He treats everyone else who lives that way.  If you live as His enemy — as one who does not know Him or love Him — He will deal with you that way as well.  For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe.  

He is not partial.  The wicked and the selfish and the unbelieving all go to hell.  And that is not referring to three different groups – the wicked are the selfish and they are the unbelieving.  They all face His wrath because He has loved them, and purchased them, and yet they continue to pretend He does not exist, or that He does not matter.  They live as though they were God, and they blaspheme His name with every self-serving statement, with every time they mention Him without faith, with every time they refuse to believe His love or to embrace His grace.  They offend His love by every instance in which they don t show love for one another, as He has already shown love for them by blessing them, and by sending His Son to die for them, and by sending preachers to proclaim His love –  preachers whom the enemies of God despise – and ignore – and attack.  

And God will not take a bribe.  You cannot buy your way out.  Salvation is a free gift, but you cannot buy it for any price.  You must receive it as His gift — or do without.  And just saying, "I m a Lutheran," or "I went to church now and then,"or "I know all about Jesus," isn't going to buy Him off at all.  He doesn't take a bribe – of any sort! As Jesus said once, in Matthew 7:21, Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,  will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.

And what is the will of God for you?    [Our Salvation.]

And, the will of God for you is also to live as His people.  He wants you to live in forgiveness – and think about what that means to your personal conduct, your morality, and your willingness to forgive others around you.  His will is for you to live in His love, and consider how His love for the sinner that you are should color how you treat others who are in need, or undesirable, or even your enemies.  He wants you to consider how love and thanksgiving can shape your desire to give back to God by being a blessing to those God places around you for you to serve in His stead.  This is life in the grace of God from a realistic perspective.

He will be your God and you will be His people – or – you will abandon Him and deny Him and He will deal with you accordingly.  That is the message of the text.  It is a promise, and it is a warning.  He is your praise and He is your God – those are the words of the last verse of our text – or He is not.  Either all that He has done for you is precious, and you know He can be trusted and you walk in that faith, or you are like the unbelieving world – and like them you face His wrath.

Remember, He does not show partiality or take a bribe.  Remember Ephesians 5:15-16, Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  And Titus 3:8, This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things 1 want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds.  These things are good and profitable for men.  

And for your blessing, strength, and help, God has given us this Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, given and shed on the cross for your redemption, that by it we may be equipped to live as His children here and now – and in eternity.  This is one of those great and awesome things He has done in your sight.  So come, eat and drink and be refreshed, and then walk as His people without fear and without doubt, showing forth His glory in Jesus Christ!  That is life lived from a realistic perspective.

We are nothing special, except that God has loved us and chosen us to know Him and His love.  So we live for Him just as we live from Him.  And we live confident in Him, knowing that we don't have to bargain with Him for His love – it is ours already in Jesus Christ.  That is a realistic perspective.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, October 05, 2020


Proverbs 25:6-14
Do not claim honor in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of great men; for it is better that it be said to you, "Come up here," than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen.
Do not go out hastily to argue your case; otherwise, what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?  Argue your case with your neighbor, and do not reveal the secret of another, lest he who hears it reproach you, and the evil report about you not pass away.
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.  Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.  Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters.
Like clouds and wind without rain Is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely.

Sermon for the Seventeenth after Trinity              10/04/20


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Preaching on the Proverbs.  It is a difficult task.  As you heard the words of our text, what did you hear?  Yes, you heard the Word of God.  Yes, it was true and wise.  But did it have a unifying theme?  How did it sound to you?  Can you tell me where these seemingly disconnected proverbs are going?

Obviously, this set of proverbs was chosen because Jesus used them, or the same wisdom, in the Gospel lesson this morning.  He, too, said that it would be better to be invited up into higher glory than to be humiliated before others.  But the rest of it – it speaks about arguing with your neighbor – real disputes that could land you in court.  These proverbs address keeping confidence and not being a gossip.  They speak about faithfulness and about both reproof given and reproof received.  Finally they speak about boasting falsely.  What they have in common is Wisdom.  Our theme this morning is "Wisdom".

My dictionary at my desk says, "[Wisdom is the] power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, understanding, etc.".   My favorite definition says that Wisdom is defined as the proper application of knowledge.  I want you note that neither definition said that wisdom is the  "best" or "most useful" or "most expedient" use of knowledge.  The point is that Wisdom is proper, good, right, and helpful, but it is not always what seems "best", whatever that means.  Wisdom is not always going to be popular.  It is simply ‘wise'.

Wisdom is the point of Proverbs.  Some proverbs address specific pieces of wisdom and some talk about wisdom itself.  Our text today talks about specific points of wisdom.   If you think about them, they mostly speak about humility.  Be humble before the king, be humble with your neighbor – at least humble enough to deal directly and personally with your neighbor rather than some other route.  It also says not to reveal the secrets of another, another way of saying that we should let our grievances be between us and our neighbor, and not the subject of public gossip.  Our text reminds us to be humble enough to receive reproof when it is spoken to us, and to treasure anyone who has the wisdom to offer us "wise reproof".  We are urged to be humble enough to be faithful, and finally reminded not to boast, particularly falsely.

Wisdom is contained in those words, and yet they are recorded for us to teach us, that we may be wise and exercise wisdom.  The very thought of wisdom in the abstract begs us to ask the question, "What is the best use of the information contained in these very proverbs?".  How do we apply these proverbs in our lives wisely?

The answer is – or at least the answer begins with – listening to the proverbs and taking them to heart.  We can profit from them only if we apply the lessons to our own lives and to what is going on in our world today.  It is applied by doing precisely what Paul says in our Epistle lesson today, "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

We need to remember who we are and how we got to be here, as part of the body of Christ.  We are sinners.  The word is thrown around so much in churches that it seems to have lost its sting.  "Of course we are sinners," you say.  We say it as though it means nothing.  What it really means is that we are not nice people.  We are not good or wholesome.  We are not the kind of people we want others to think we are, that we like to pretend to be.  We dress nice, and we live in swell homes.  We drive nice cars, and we hang out with "church people".

But we judge others.  We gossip.  We do things with no thought for the other person.  We also say things for our own advantage or our own reasons without thinking how we would feel if we were the recipients of such words or behavior – or how our doing or saying such things might play out in the lives of those around us.  Everything we do or say is not evil or destructive, but there are times and places in which we take care of number one first, and forget the other guy.

Most people feel pretty good about themselves.  They haven't actually murdered anyone.  They haven't stolen things out of their neighbor's garage or house.  They don't do drugs – leastwise not illegal drugs.  We manage to keep our lives outwardly respectable, and publicly decent.

But God sees the heart.  He sees the secret thoughts and desires, like the desires to dominate, the desires to injure, the desires to be just like someone else, or to be utterly different from them.  He sees when we do or say things to get our way without considering how it impacts others.  He sees when we put ourselves and our goals above others, or above Him and His will and His Ways and His Word.  God sees our sins even when no one else does.  He knows the truth that we can hide from others by putting a good face on and speaking very pleasantly.  He even knows the truths that we manage to hide from ourselves.

Yes, we are sinners.  We are not nice people.  If we saw one another as God sees us, I suspect we could never trust one another, or particularly like one another.  We would know that most of the time other people are trying to take advantage of us for their own benefit, and putting another face on it and calling it "business," or "friendship," or "being helpful."  

And I am sure that most of you are grumbling inside right now and saying, "How cynical!  I am not like that!  I am genuine with my family and my friends."  And sometimes you are, but sometimes you are not – that is what being sinful by nature means – and I can see the truth of it in myself, so I know it fits you as well.  Listening and believing what I tell you here is what our text spoke about when it said "Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear."  Solomon wasn't writing so much about the reprover here, as he was about the wisdom of listening to the truth, even if it doesn't strike one as happy news.

So, wisdom reminds us that we are not God's people because we are so good or such swell men and women that we just had to belong to that select group.  We are God's people because He forgave us, and called us to be His own through the preaching of the Gospel, and has kept us as His own by Word and Sacrament ever since.  We didn't come walking in the front door, God snuck us in past the purity sensors and washed us clean in Baptism, and refreshes us each week with the holy meal of Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament.  There, but for the grace of God  .  .  .  we would be just like everyone else outside of the church – lost and condemned.

So humility is appropriate.  It isn't fun, but it is the proper use of the knowledge of who we really are, and how we got to be God's people.  So, we walk in that "manner worthy".  That means visible humility toward others – even toward those we don't think deserve it, or who are "just not our type of people."  It means gentleness with someone, even if we think they are a jerk! – or wrong! – or evil and manipulative.  After all, we aren't so clean ourselves, except that God cleans us regularly!  It means patience with one another, and with the processes that we go through in life.  The "manner  worthy" means that we bear with one another for the sake of one another and for the sake of the unity of the body of Christ.

Paul says that we do this "in love".  We do it in love toward God, and from God.  We also do it in love for one another.  That wisdom stuff should teach us that we are all alike, and connected by God's choice of us.  It isn't just the "other guy" who doesn't belong here!  We are the ones who desperately needed to be redeemed, restored, and forgiven.  We have been called out darkness into Christ's marvelous light of love and salvation!  The others, however we may perceive them with our flesh, are just like us, chosen and select of God, fit into this great puzzle together.  None are too good, and none too evil for our association.

Of course, that is all within the congregation.  Of course there are people outside who are too wicked for our casual association.  We can witness to them of the love and salvation which is in Christ Jesus, but we do ourselves a favor if we don't make professional criminals our associates, or hang out with the drug crowd, invite prostitutes into our homes.  We can invite them here, with the hope that they will hear the Word of God and be saved – but outside of that, there are undesirables out in the world.

But within the church, here in the congregation, every single person is family.  Every one here has been called by God, and their presence is God's choice, just as ours is.  And when we are tempted to doubt that, or act as though it is not true, wisdom teaches us humility.

And knowing the Gospel, that Christ died on the cross for you, to pay the penalty you earned by your sins, Wisdom works within you by the power of God to comfort you when you feel the pain of your sins.  Knowing the love of Christ for you, and the gift that He has given you in this blessed Sacrament,

Wisdom brings you faithfully to the altar to receive that gift and be strengthened in your faith and in your life in Christ day to day.  Knowing that you have been Baptized, called by name by God, through His chosen servant, and forgiven, having been cleansed by the washing of water with the Word, you can daily return to your baptism and find strength and comfort there by contrition and repentance.  Luther tells us in the Small Catechism that  you can daily drown that old sinful self in the waters of your baptism, and allow God to raise up that new man of righteousness, to walk before God each day.

All of these things are wisdom, the proper application of knowledge about Jesus Christ.  Our text speaks about wisdom and humility.  As Jesus said in our Gospel lesson today, "everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."

Our text says, "Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters."  You know how refreshing a little cold air is in the heat of the harvest-time.  God's Word is what we need, Wisdom.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say "Amen.")