Monday, October 25, 2021



John 4:46-54

He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him, and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe." The royal official said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies."

Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives." The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off. And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.' So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed, and his whole household.

This is again a second sign that Jesus performed, when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Sermon for 21st Sunday After Trinity 10/24/21


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There is believing -- and then there is believing. I can say that because the official, whose son was healed in our Gospel lesson, discovered several different ways of believing. The Bible itself speaks of believing in a number of different kinds, and not all of them are viewed as saving faith in the Scriptures. This morning I would like to take the opportunity of the text to look at what the Bible says about believing. So, that is our theme: Believing.

In our Gospel this morning, an official comes down to Cana from Capernaum. He is called a royal official, which tells us little. This Official's son was sick. We don't know what illness he may have had, but it was thought to be potentially fatal, and that it was about to end the life of the child. The man appeared to be completely out of options, so he went to see the local miracle worker. He had undoubtedly heard things about this Jesus-Rabbi, and so he came to where Jesus was – in desperation. How do I know this? Jesus looked into the man and saw that there was no real faith yet, just mainly desperation. "Unless you see signs and wonders, You will not believe." Clearly, the man did not yet believe - although he believed enough to come to seek out Jesus. I suppose that is a kind of believing. He was desperate, and little more, "Sir, come down before my child dies." The man did not say, "Come down or else my son will die," but "Sir, come down before my child dies." He still seemed to expect the boy to die, down deep in his heart.

Then Jesus said, "It's taken care of." "Go your way, your son lives." No waving of the arms. No mysterious chants. No potions. No signs and wonders. Just the Word of God, "Go your way, your son lives." And John writes that the man believed the word which Jesus spoke to him, and started off. There is believing. He heard, and he took Jesus at His word and headed home. What faith!

On his way home, his servants met him. Cana is twenty, maybe thirty miles from Capernaum. Since they did not yet have cars, and even with a horse (if they had one) thirty miles is a long way, it took the man the rest of the day – with an evening resting under the stars or at some inn somewhere – and part of the next day to get home. Before he made it all of the way, however, he was met by his slaves coming to meet him with the happy news that his son was now better. He asked at what time the boy began to mend, and they said it was about 1:00 P.M. – the seventh hour (since they started their daily hours at about 6:00 A.M.). The man recognized that it was just about at that time that Jesus had said that his son was going to live. Then John writes the most peculiar thing – ". . . and he himself believed, and his whole household."

I thought that the man had believed in the first place, but Jesus saw that it was not real faith but more a sort of desperation. Then Jesus promised that his son would live and the man headed home, with John writing that the man believed. And now, all of a sudden, having heard that his son is recovering, the man believes. Apparently, there is believing, and then there's believing.

What we are seeing is different kinds of faith. First is the half-believing, half-disbelieving, skeptical but desperate kind of thing that brought the man to travel for two days to get to Jesus. Next, we see a faith that kinda-sorta believes. He took Jesus at His word, but it still appeared to be a wait-and-see kind of thing. He got what he could, and went home with hope, and not much else. How do I know? Because when he heard that his son had recovered, he had to ask when he started to get better. Even with the news that his son was well, he couldn't quite believe that Jesus was responsible for it. He had to double-check. He had to ask.
Then he really believed. He discovered that the fever broke at the moment Jesus said that his son would recover. Now there was no doubt. He trusted Jesus for far more than just this healing. Now he understood who Jesus was and what that meant for his life.

Our experience of coming to faith in Jesus Christ is often similar. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us by the Word of God. That is instantaneous and complete by God's power, but our experience of it, our consciousness of it often feels much like this man's path. When God proves Himself to us, then we believe.
Many Christians, so-called, have that historical faith. That is faith like the Bible says demons have: "You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder." They never learn to trust God. This is the faith that one professor of mine once said was nothing more than the intellectual assent to propositions of low probability.

What is missing from such faith is trust. God has forgiven you all of your sins. He paid the cost of your sins by killing His Son of the cross instead if you. He made Jesus bear your pains and your guilt and your shame. Jesus died for you, and, as a result, God has forgiven you every sin. He demonstrated the sufficiency of the death of Jesus for your redemption by raising Jesus from the dead. Saying that this is forgiveness real is one thing. Trusting it is another. There's believing, and then there's believing.

What does it mean to trust in God? It means living in confidence about God and in God. It means answering your fears with God's promises and with the knowledge that God loves you. It means doing what you know to be right even if it doesn't seem safe or practical or popular. It means that you force yourself to stop listening to the devil accuse you about anything and you start giving thanks instead for the forgiveness of your sins.. It means that you calculate the forgiveness of sins by its cost – the very lifeblood of the Son of God and that you measure the seriousness of sin by that cost. Doing that would mean that you judge your willingness to sin, or to be unconcerned about sin, by the cost of your salvation, not by the comfort of the next moment or by the pleasure offered by the next temptation. It is all part of believing.

Do you trust God? Then you forgive, as He has told you He would have you do. Then you set your priorities as you know God would have you set them, and not as they appeal to you, necessarily. Then you put first things – God's things – first.

Do you trust God? The official came to pray to Jesus, but he clearly was prepared to go home without what he asked for. He didn't really expect that Jesus could heal his son, or that Jesus would, so when he prayed to Jesus, he was doing what I call and "just in case" prayer. You know, just in case God is listening, and just in case He is interested, and just in case He wants to help, I will pray. Do you pray like that, or do you pray with confidence that God will answer?

Do you pray expecting God is going to take care of things? God does not always give us precisely what we want, but if we ask for His will to be done, then we ALWAYS get what we pray for! That's believing.

What does it mean to trust in God? It means living in confidence about God and in God. It means answering your fears with God's promises and with the knowledge that God loves you. It means doing what you know to be right even if it doesn't seem safe or practical or popular. It means that you force yourself to stop listening to the devil accuse you about anything and you start giving thanks instead for the forgiveness of your sins... It means that you calculate the forgiveness of sins by its cost – the very lifeblood of the Son of God and that you measure the seriousness of sin by that cost. Doing that would mean that you judge your willingness to sin, or to be unconcerned about sin, by the cost of your salvation, not by the comfort of the next moment or by the pleasure offered by the next temptation. It is all part of believing.

Do you see what I mean? Simply acknowledging the truth is not the same as trusting in God.

Now, does God demand that every Christian be a radical Christian? YES.

"Radical" means "to the root". We are to be rooted in Christ and hoping in Christ, not in this world. We are to lean on God and trust in Him and not trust our own wisdom, or strength, or understanding. When we do that, we will do everything in the light of that faith, ruling our actions and our words and our attitudes by our trust in God and hope in forgiveness and expectation that we will rise from the grave to live forever. That's believing.

The man in the Gospel saw Jesus in action. He trusted from that moment on that Jesus could and would take care of him, his family, and his needs.

You, too, can let every pain, every crisis, every need rest in the hands of Jesus. This faith is more than just believing that it is true, it is believing that it is for you and that God counts you precious to Himself and watches over you, and will bring you through all things safely.

That is believing.

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

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Called - And Chosen

 Matthew 22:1-14

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son.  And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.  

"Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."'  But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.  But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.

"Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'  And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

"But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?'  And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

"For many are called, but few are chosen."

Sermon for Twentieth Sunday After Trinity                                    10/17/21

Called – and Chosen

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Many are called, but few are chosen.  What a difficult saying.  We like to think that if we hear the call of God and join His people, we are "the chosen ones".  This passage puts that in doubt.  We feel called, and yet this seems to suggest that we may be among "The Called" without being among "The Chosen".  Look at the man in the Gospel lesson this morning.  He was invited, he came, and then he was thrown out.  He wasn't one of those who stoned the prophets.  He didn't rebel.  He just wore the wrong outfit, and, whammo!, he is cast out into that outer darkness.  What could this mean to us?  Let us take a look – our theme is Called – and Chosen.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son.  This is a parable.  We have to assume that every detail is not significant, but we can align some of the images Jesus uses in this parable to what the Old Testament used, and see what Jesus was saying.  The King, for example, represents God – the first King of Israel, and the only true King.  Until the people rejected God and demanded Saul, God was King, it is called "a theocracy."

The Son is the Son of God.  Pretty easy stuff, so far.  The wedding feast is the fulfilment of the Kingdom and the outpouring of salvation which we see as the Church.  We even talk about heaven as the wedding feast of the Lamb with His bride , the Church, even today.  God was all set to fulfill the Messianic promises, and to send His Son and to work our salvation, and when He sent out word through His slaves, the Prophets, to the people of Israel, those who, according to the story Jesus was telling, had been invited but were unwilling to come.  They ignored the summons of the Prophets.  They ignored the call to repent.  They were all so busy with their lives and the blessings which God had poured out on them that they had no time for – and no real interest in – the God who had blessed them and made them a people.  Too many choices, too much wealth, too much to do to pay much mind to God.

Was the King to be deterred?  No.  He sent even more slaves.  Still, the people would not listen.  Their farms, their businesses, their pleasures, and their families were just more important.  In fact, they found the crying of the prophets growing more irritating by the day until they could bear it no longer and they began to punish and finally to kill the messengers.  "How dare they tell me I am sinful?!"  "How dare they tell me that my priorities are out of place?!"  "How dare they preach repentance to me?!"  "But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them."

Many are called, but few are chosen.  It is interesting to note that the Jewish presence in the Christian Church died out about one hundred years into the life of the Church after the death of Christ.  The whole nation had been called, and so few ever believed and received eternal life.  In fact, the destruction of which this story speaks was Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and destroying of the independent kingdom of the Jews which happened in 70 A.D.  "But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire."

"Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.  ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.'  And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests."  Ahh!  Here we are.  These three verses cover the whole of the next two thousand years of history.  This is the Christian Church.  God has sent out His servants to invite everyone we can find to the wedding feast.  That means the preaching of the Gospel.  Anyone and everyone who would accept the invitation and come to the feast is welcomed.  But keep in mind how many - who call themselves Christians today - believe something other than the Gospel we proclaim, the Gospel that the Scriptures teach.

Remember the call that went out in the parable.  It is the same call today.  "Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."' The dinner is prepared.  Jesus has taken our sins to the cross, and paid for them and met the justice of God in our place with His death on the cross.  Our sins have been forgiven, and God is pouring out eternal life to all who hear the invitation to the feast of salvation, the wedding feast of the Lamb to His bride, the Church.  All is ready, or as Jesus put in from the cross, "It is Finished!"  The cry of the prophet is the same message as the proclamation of the pastor, "Repent and believe."

Now – this second part of the parable takes us forward to the final day, what many call Judgment Day.  The King comes in to look over the guests.  The guests are all of those who have come into the church – but not the holy Church as the assembly of all those who believe, and only those who believe.  This is the church as we see her on earth, with believers and hypocrites mingled together.  There are those who are truly Christ's, and then there are those who are represented by that one man without the wedding garment.

In ancient times, the kings provided the wedding garment to everyone who came to the wedding.  These clothes were festival clothes, sometimes brightly colored, always brand-new.  One of the benefits of being invited to such a wedding was that you got a new outfit.  This was in a world where people generally wore their entire wardrobe everyday.  New clothes was almost better than money – and often served in the place of money, for those who could afford it.

God has clothed each one of us who believes with the wedding garment of holiness, the robe of Christ's righteousness which is ours in the forgiveness of sins.  In other words, you are both called – and chosen.  To keep this image clear, remember Adam and Eve in the Garden.  When they sinned, they were naked.  Sin is nakedness, and God's forgiveness, and the gift of righteousness which is ours in Jesus Christ, is true clothing.  The wedding garment, then, is the forgiveness of sins, and salvation, and the righteousness which is the gift of grace to all who take God at His Word and trust Him – in other words, to those who believe.  That is what tells me that this man was the hypocrite among us.  He was in the wedding hall and among the wedding guests, but he was not wearing the wedding clothes.  This is not just any unbeliever.  They did not enter the wedding hall.  They are already outside in the darkness throughout the story.

The question was simple.   "Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?"  If you are in the church, you are expected to be wearing the righteousness of Christ.  Can some in the Church not wear the garment?  Sadly, yes.  They are in the vicinity of the Church, and look to be part of the Church, but they are not, they are merely part of the visible church - the local congregation.  Some belong to churches that claim to be Christian, but teach dependence on one's own works - or on one's own preparation for salvation –  or on one's own decision and prayer for salvation.  They think they have heard and accepted the invitation to the banquet, but they came in without the garment of the grace of God in the Gospel because they never really heard it - but they were told they were just as Christian as anyone else - more Christian, even.

On the other hand, how can anyone who actually hears the Gospel regularly not wear the wedding garment?  Answer:  They do not believe.  One group of this sort does not believe that they are all that bad – you know, sinners.  So they do not really ever repent, and therefore they never have forgiveness as their own, because they don't see any point in it.  The Gospel has no value to them, and they don't bother with actually believing.  There are people like that in the church.  They think everyone else is just like them.  They come for the music, or how it makes them feel to come to church, or they come for the social interaction.  They never understand that they are different – except for being not like those religious fanatics who make them feel uncomfortable with all their God-talk and exaggerated (to them) piety and stuff.

Others don't wear the garment because they don't believe, period.  They don't trust God.  They want to earn it all for themselves.  They don't understand this forgiveness stuff – after all, they know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Some of these people believe some of our doctrines, but they know that they can't accept all of that nonsense that the pastor preaches.  They say, He has his opinions and they have theirs.  It is a matter of interpretation, right!?  They like the crowd, they feel comfortable in the congregation, and, so what if they don't believe all of that stuff the pastor preaches?  They look around themselves and see that it is obvious many in the Missouri Synod don't believe it either.  They tell everyone they meet that they are just as good a Christian as any of them, and they pretend that they belong as much as the next man, and they are hypocrites.

Still others just can't stop moving long enough for the Gospel.  They have their riches.  They have their pleasures.  They have their sins.  Surely God isn't going to hold them accountable for that.  They don't repent because they don't need to.  They have a "right" to their sins, their unfaithfulness, their lukewarm-ness to the Gospel.  They don't need to be in church every Sunday.  They don't need to go to Bible Study to get into heaven.  They give God that one hour out of the 168 He gives them, and they are sure that they have done what they need to do.  They never look back.  They never examine themselves.  They never give God another thought as they do that Old Testament thing of getting lost in the blessings and forgetting the One who blessed them.

The important point is that however they make it to the wedding – that Last Day – without every really wearing the wedding garment they have been given.  They may have even worn it for a while, but it got too hot, too restricting, too old-fashioned, and they took it off and never looked back.  When the King enters, He will know the difference.  He can see what we cannot.  He can see who is wearing the wedding garment and who is not, who is real and who is just faking it.  The result, the outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, is hell.  It is eternal misery and torment, augmented by the knowledge that they are cast out into it because they did not take care to wear the garments of salvation which Christ has won and God has freely given to everyone to wear.  And notice that there is no excuse for not wearing the wedding clothes.  He was in the hall, he clearly had been given the garment.  Not wearing the gift is a deliberate act of rebellion, just as unbelief in the church is never an "OOOPs, I didn't realize" but always a cold-hearted and wicked rejection of God, of His grace, of His love.  Jesus said, And he was speechless.

Many are called, but only those few who place their hope and their confidence in Jesus and what He has done will enter the wedding feast of eternal life in glory with Christ.  Those who trust in Him are also called "the Chosen".  The number of the saved will not be small, it will just be few in comparison to those to whom the invitation has been given.  The hypocrites will be separated from the people of God by the only Person who can see the difference, the person of the Son of God, who sees into your heart and knows what you believe and who you trust.

The feast is ready.  You are all seated in the banquet hall.  We have the foretaste of the feast here at the altar today.  Today we invite you once again.  Everyone who enters this church and hears the Word of salvation is invited - called.  Each of you has been presented the wedding garment, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.

Take care to wear the garment of salvation.  Examine yourselves daily, whether you are in the faith, and cling to Christ in His Word and in the Sacrament.  For many are called – all of humanity, in fact, – but few are chosen.

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

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Look of Faith and of Unbelief


Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat, He crossed over, and came to His own city.  And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed; and Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven."  And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes."  

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, ‘Rise, and walk'?  But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" – then He said to the paralytic – "Rise, take up your bed, and go home."  And he rose, and went home.  But when the multitudes saw this, they were filled with awe, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity                               10/10/21

The Look of Faith and of Unbelief

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel, this morning, is one of my favorite Gospel lessons.  Jesus demonstrates His power to heal, and His authority to forgive sins, and He puts His adversaries in a quandary, and He does it all with such style and simplicity.  It is a marvelous text, and I love to preach it, and I have preached it often.

This morning, I want to focus on one specific element of the account.  These men carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus.  Mark and Luke also tell of this moment, and they tell us the other details - about how crowded it was around Jesus, and how the men climbed to the roof of the house that Jesus was in, and how they tore up the roof tiles and lowered their friend into the room near Jesus.  Matthew did not tell us these details, but they help us understand what the text says, that Jesus saw their faith.  That is our focus this morning, the look of faith - and of unbelief.

It is an exciting account!  Jesus has begun to draw crowds wherever He goes.  He is home in Capernaum, where He lived during His adult life.  Once people found out, Jesus was swamped.  The crowds around Him were so thick that these friends of the paralytic could not shoulder their way into the presence of Jesus.  So, being creative, and convinced that Jesus could heal their friend, they climbed to the roof of the house and lifted the roofing material out of the way.  It wasn't like one of our roofs, all nailed down and weather-proof, but it took some work - and they had to fix what they tore up later, but the Bible doesn't go into that detail.

Anyhow, they lower their friend into the room.  He was undoubtedly lying on a stretcher-type thing.  It made for easy transport, and it made for easy lowering into the room.  Just a rope at each corner, and they could lower him safely, as though it were an elevator of sorts.  Jesus saw how desperate they were to bring this man to Him, and how hard they worked to do it.  He could look into their hearts, too, and see what drove them to such extremes, but it was clear that they just knew that Jesus could heal their friend, so they came on.

Jesus' response tells us that He saw that they believed that He was the Messiah, the Savior promised for so long.  I can tell that by Jesus' first words, "Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven."  Why would Jesus speak these words of comfort and encouragement, except that He saw that they would be met with faith?
His bold pronouncement was met with immediate anger by the Scribes.  They didn't say anything out loud, but they were thinking, perhaps even muttering to themselves, that Jesus was blaspheming.  They judged Him so because it was a fundamental article of their faith that only God could forgive sins.  By saying, "Your sins are forgiven", Jesus was declaring that He was God, or equal to God, which to the Jews of Jesus' time was the same thing.

Jesus could see that, too.  The text says "Knowing their thoughts" Jesus said, "Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,' or to say ‘Rise, and walk'?"  The difficult part of the question was that only God can do either thing.  Of course, it would be easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven".  No one could see if it was true.  That was the basis of the charge of blasphemy.  Who could tell?

On the other hand, "Rise, and walk" required that the paralytic be healed, made whole, and be able to get up and walk away.  I would guess that this paralyzed man was known in the community, perhaps well-known.  They knew that he could not simply get up and walk.  So, the answer was obvious, but no one could have spoken the answer out loud without also being charged with blasphemy!  But Jesus doesn't wait for any answer.  He never tempts people to think or speak evil.  He made His point with the question, and then He proved His authority.  He said to the Scribes, "‘But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' – then He said to the paralytic – ‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home.'   And he rose, and went home."

Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, just as He has the authority to heal.  That is where the authority of the absolution you heard this morning comes from.  Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, and He has given it to the Church and commanded us to do so, in His name.  That is why you hear me say, "I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins."  It is the command of Jesus, who had the authority to forgive!  Your sins are forgiven, when I speak His absolution on your confession, just as surely and as truly as that paralyzed man got up and walked home, healed and whole!

What I wanted to take note of was that Jesus could see the faith of those men.  He could see it in their actions.  He could see that they believed that He had the power to heal, and He could see that they believed that Jesus was the sort of God who was willing to heal.  That they thought He was God showed in the fact that they asked Him to do what only God could do!  Their faith - even specific things that they believed about Jesus - was clearly visible in their actions.

The unbelief of the scribes was not so readily visible.  Jesus could see it, but many others might not have.  They were simply accepted as good and faithful church members.  They were leaders.  Some may have had their doubts about them, but there was no outward sign.  Evil doesn't always leave an outward sign.  It shows ultimately, but it can lie in wait for a time, and simply fester in the hearts and thoughts of evil men.  But evil is evil.

Their evil was simply unbelief.  They doubted that Jesus had the authority to do what He was doing.  They dismissed the power of the Word He spoke.  They accused Jesus of a terrible sin – and all of that falsely, because they could simply not accept Jesus for who He was, nor believe the truth that He spoke.

It is the same today.  Faith cannot help but work, doing things that reveal the specific things that the believers believe.  Do you believe that your sins are forgiven?  That faith will show in how you handle guilt, and how you deal with your sins when you come to see your behavior as sinful.  You don't hide it or deny it, not even to yourself.  You confess it, and repent, and believe the gracious words of forgiveness which Jesus speaks to you.  

Do you believe that the will of God toward you is good?  Then the hard parts of life are not so spooky and confusing.  Yes, pain is still pain.  When it is your loved one that dies, it is still a tremendous sorrow.  But You know that God is working all things for good for those who love Him, for those whom He has called according to His own purposes - and those purposes are good.  They are life and salvation!  So, when sickness raises its head, you know that God is still with you and will hold you by the hand and sustain you.  It doesn't make the illness less, it simply means that it doesn't rob you of the comfort of knowing that everything will be all right, in God's good time and way.

Do you believe that God has the power to heal, repair, and put things right?  Can God guide the course of your life?  If you believe that, and you trust that His will toward you is good, then prayer is one action that shows your faith.  Faithfulness is another - because you know that what it looks like and what it is may be two different things!  God can make anything possible, and turn every situation into blessings.  He doesn't call on us to win every battle, or to feel good at the end.  That is how fairy-tales work.  This is real life, lived in the presence of God, who loves you enough to send His Son to die a gruesome death in your place, and who pays such close attention to you that He knows the number of hairs on your head at any given moment!

Faith shows.

And so does unbelief.  It looks timid in the face of challenges.  It may roar with false bravado, but it cannot face the guilt of sin, so it pretends that good is evil and evil is good.  Unbelief cannot trust God to fix things, so it has to fix them, often by denying God and doing what is wrong, rather than counting on God to make it work out all right.  Unbelief does not expect God to have a good will toward itself, and so it rails against God and grumbles about blessings and difficulties alike.  It expects no good thing, and so it gets angry, just like the Scribes in our Gospel.  Unbelief expects no healing from God, and so it falls victim to despair.

And every one of us stumbles at one time or another into the behavior of unbelief.  We do not believe as we should, and our flesh works to overthrow the Spirit that God has given us.  When we discover that we have been less faithful and less believing that we know we can be, it is no good to pretend that it is not so.  We need to confess our weakness and our sin, and ask God to create that "clean heart" that we sing about so often in our services.  We need to humble ourselves, and acknowledge our sins, and ask for forgiveness.

"And when we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  It is that simple, and it is that hard.  Have you sinned?  Then repent, and hear the word of forgiveness - Your sins are forgiven!  Those are the same words Jesus spoke to comfort the man who lay paralyzed before Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  But don't stop with my words, come and kneel at the altar, and ask God to give you His assurance.  He will, you know.  He will feed you with the very body He nailed to the cross in your place so long ago.  He will give you the blood that He shed for your sins, to drink.  He will fill you up with Himself, and cleanse you of your sins.  And when you eat His body and drink His blood you can have no illusion that maybe it was meant for the man or woman next to you, and that God did not intend to be gracious and forgiving to you.  He places His body in your mouth, and His pours His blood through your lips for you, so that you may know with utter certainty, and you may be confident that Jesus loves you!  Your sins are forgiven.

Then you may arise and go home, just like the man in the Gospel lesson.  You can walk, and walk in the way of faith, comforted by forgiveness, and living out your trust in God.  That is the look of faith.

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

Sunday, October 03, 2021

God Means What He Says

 Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"  And He said to him, "‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.'  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity                    10/03/21

God Means What He Says

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This morning I intend to preach on only half of the Gospel lesson.  It is not that the whole Gospel and all of the words are not important - it is just that I want to focus on the answer Jesus gave about the greatest commandment in the Law.  For a change, I don't want to talk about the context of the lesson or what else may have been happening in the Gospel - just the words.  These words of Jesus mean the same thing no matter what other context you apply.  They answer the question more completely than the questioner probably intended.  The message I want you to take away with you this morning is the title of my sermon, "God Means What He Says."

Of course, God means what He says.  Why else would He say it?

But if He means what He says, why do so many people act as though He has not spoken - or say that they know what He has said, and then act as though He did not really mean what He said?  When Jesus gave this answer, it was uncontroversial, according to scholars.  It was the answer anyone would give to this question.  When Jesus faced this question according to the account in Luke 10, He challenged the Lawyer who asked it to answer it for himself, and the answer the lawyer gave was the same.  The Jews have known it since before the time of Christ.  Christians have known this answer ever since the time of Christ, and yet none of us seems to live according to the answer Jesus gave.

All that the Law, the revealed will of God, commands, desires, and encourages is love.  God commands that we love Him with all that we are and have, and that we love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves.  We don't see a lot of that, of either sort of love - love for God or love for our neighbors - that measures up to the command of God.  We don't see it in society and we don't see a lot of it in the church, do we?

The first thing the Law commands is that we love God.  God isn't talking about some simple emotional thing.  He isn't saying that you should feel all warm and squishy about Him.  That is where the current crop of Christian music seems to get it wrong.  They talk about feelings.  I am so uplifted by God, and my heart soars, and I feel so wonderful because my God I so great and warm and good to me!

God says you should love Him with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind.  He doesn't mean love - as in a feeling you get.  He means love - as in how you think and speak and behave.  When you love God with all your heart, your love for God controls and gives form to the emotions and passions of your life – not that you have a specific emotion about Him, but that all of your emotions are shaped by Him and His value and presence in your life.  It is a love that includes emotion, but which also transcends them and shapes their power in your life.

You are to love God with your entire soul as well.  The soul, in Biblical imagery, is the seat of the will.  You are to use your will in connection with - and guided by - love for God.  Everything you want, and all of your plans and intentions are to be shaped by love for the Lord and, therefore, by His will.  For the child of God, the lusts of the flesh are to take a back seat to God and His will.  The desires for comfort and beauty and such are secondary to love for God.  Personal goals and plans are made in the presence of one's commitment to the true God and in the light of what is God-pleasing and God-serving.

Finally, you are love the Lord your God with all your mind.  Every thought is to be taken captive to your love for God.  What you know, and what you choose to know, is subject to God and loving Him and serving Him.  We often waste our time and our brains on things which have no relationship to God - baseball statistics, football standings, the words to our favorite country music songs.  Those things are not evil - and you can do know them as a faithful Christian.  It is just that loving God with all your mind means that everything you take the time to know is part of your love for God, somehow - and that you use your mind in service to your love for your Lord by learning and knowing the things most clearly and closely connected to Him.

Think about it.  We experience puppy love pretty much the same way.  When a young person, for example, has a crush on someone, they teach themselves what the one they love likes and they try to share those emotions - like the same things.  They plan their lives around the other, changing their desires to coincide with the beloved's so that they have more in common and more to share.  They will often learn things just to please their new love, and to experience who they are more completely.  Oftentimes, for teen-agers, they discover quickly that the desires and interests and knowledge of the other does not fulfill them, and they grow tired of the infatuation, and "fall in love" with someone else.  Sometimes they don't fall out of love, but grow into a deeper love - something most husbands and wives do quite deliberately.  They learn to like and to share the will and thoughts of the one they love, and find that sharing pleasing.

That is how love for God works within us.  You love God with the use of your emotions, rather than just as an emotion.  You love Him with your desires and will by shaping it around Him and His will.  And you place your mind in the service of knowing Him and that which enables you to live in Him and for Him more fully - and so know Him better and love Him even more.  Of course, the Law commands that you do this perfectly - with ALL your heart, and with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind.

Who among us does it perfectly?  Instead, we love the fun, and the comfortable, and the pleasant.  We enjoy the titillating, and the salacious.  The dirty story tickles us.  Comfort of the moment and temporary happiness pleases us.  We love them even when they have no connection to our love for God - and often even when it is clearly contrary to our love for God.

We all want the good life - whether that is the best thing for us or for the mission which our Lord has given us.  We desire for ourselves - when God commands us to think about the other guy first.  We will to our own advantage, even when the better thing is to ignore our advantage and take care of the other guy.  It is just simple human nature - and we are, by nature, sinners.

We often fill our minds with thoughts and images which are not holy, but profane.  We use our minds for thinking how to take advantage of the other guy – or to rationalize our values and behaviors which are not consistent with our professed love for God.  We use our minds to explain away the commands of God and our failures to be the sort of people we know that God would have us be.  Rather than loving God with our whole mind, we use our minds to justify our sins and our ignoring what we know is the will of God.

But God means what He says.  He not only expects us to love Him with every fiber of our being, He commands us to love our neighbors in the same way as we love ourselves.  If we want to be comfortable, we are to see to the comfort of our neighbor.  If we want to be respected in the community, we are to respect our neighbor - each and all of them.  If we love ourselves by feeding ourselves, we are to see to it that our neighbors have food to eat - good food.  If we expect people to take the time to listen to us and understand how we think and how we feel - then we are to love our neighbors in the same way, with our time, our attention, and our understanding.

This is the conduct and life of the child of God.  This is not optional, as though you could choose to do it or ignore it, nor are we allowed by God to decide it is too hard for us, and quit.  Forgiveness does not alter the validity of this command.  These two commandments are the sum and substance of the will of God contained in all of Scripture.  God wants - and commands - and expects every Christian to do these things.  God means what He says.

But who is equal to all of this?  Who does it perfectly?  No one.

Well, that is not precisely true.  But only One has.  Only Jesus has loved God with this perfect love - and His neighbor in the same way as He loved Himself.  He loved God with His affections by making God's love for us His own.  He placed us higher on His table of values than Himself.  What does it say in Philippians?  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And He loved God enough to go all the way to the cross and the grave according to the plan of the heavenly Father.

He loved God so completely that God's will became His own - and even in the depths of terror - "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death" - His Father's plan and His Father's will were His own, and He prayed, "Not My will, but Thine be done."

Jesus knew where He was going and what was going to happen, and He knew what He must do — even to the point of crying out in thirst when He had no intention of drinking, but only that every word of Scripture might be fulfilled.  He knew everything He needed to know - and chose not to know the things that He did not need to know, things that we not for Him to know - so He could honestly tell His disciples that no man knows the day or the hour, not an angel in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father knows the hour of the end of the world.  He loved God with all His mind.

And He loved us, His neighbors, in the same way and just as much as He loved Himself.  A greater love has no man that this, that He lay down His life for His friends.  He loved us to the cross, and into the grave, that we might be redeemed and our sins forgiven.  Because of Jesus, your sins, whatever they may be, have been forgiven, and you are given the gift of resurrection from the grave and everlasting life in glory with Him.  Death and illness no longer have a claim on you.  You will not die, but live.

And we have His promise that in this world He is with you to keep you and guide you, and that all things will work together - by His deliberate direction - for good for you and for all those who love God - those who are called according to His purpose.

The perfect love for God and man has existed, and does exist in Jesus Christ our Savior.  It is poured out on you.  Your sins and lack of love have been completely forgiven.

Now, go and sin no more!  God means what He says.  Forgiveness does not wipe out the will of God or invalidate it.  God still wants you to love Him with that love which commands every fiber of your being - your heart, and your soul, and your mind.  And He still commands us to love our neighbors - the people around us - as we love ourselves.  It is time to re-examine our lives and our priorities and our thoughts and our desires - and shape them according to our love for God.  No excuses.  Jesus has fulfilled the law of God in your place - and your sins are forgiven - but they are forgiven in order to redeem you into the glory of God and holiness of life - not to excuse deliberate and on-going sin or exempt you from His will.

After all, what is the will of God for us? <Our salvation.> And who would want to be exempted from that?  Remember, God means what He says.  Love God, and love one another!  And give thanks!

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