Sunday, October 29, 2023

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                                              10/29/23

Fear God, and Give Him Glory

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Revelation is a challenging book. Lutherans don't preach it often because it is not as clear and easy to teach from, because so many reformed Protestants  twist it in their apocalyptic fervor and it is easier to avoid confrontations and controversies about, and because it is not a regular part of the lectionary, historically, except for Reformation Day.  But today is Reformation day, and 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 traditional Reformation Day lection because except for Roman 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.  Of course, there are some apocalyptic crazies who understand these angels as spirits in their vision of the coming millennium, but we will ignore those teachers.  So, here Luther is generally 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 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 the fundamental doctrine, and Catholics tend to find the Church itself 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 stand 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 life-time, 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 actually 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 – and that was most men – were taught legends and fairy tales in place of the truth.  They were given phony relics to worship, and 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, the teachers of the church 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 the God of American religion where life is a mystery which really makes some sort of sense - and is all about being good, and being involved in the lives of others.  We 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 pretend that just everyone is welcome to commune with us, and they comfort themselves with the confession that at least I know what I believe.

Today the threat is not simply the Roman church, although they still have their problems.  The threat is also the theology of Protestantism.  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 the church to the American philosophy of radical individualism.  It is the loss of the doctrine of the ministry to the American hubris which say that I can know it all just as well as anyone, and that God can and must deal with me directly, and not through any messengers or spokesmen.  It is the loss of the concept of truth to the American ideal of pluralism.  It is the loss of the very idea of faith to the American pragmatism that says what I do is more important that what I believe – deeds, not creeds.  The danger is the Protestant and Pentecostal fascination with how and what I feel rather than what and who I believe.  The Protestant danger we face is the belief that I am the judge and the measure of all things – and so we lose 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.  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 through faith by those who know the truth which God goes to such pains to reveal, and take God at His Word, and trust in Him – and in Him alone.

Your salvation is already complete, done up for you and presented as a gift.  You don't need to feel anything 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.  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, and 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 22, 2023

Why Settle for Second Best

Isaiah 55:1-9

"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?  Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.  Incline your ear and come to Me.  Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.  Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.  Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you."

Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.  "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity                 10/22/23

Why Settle for Second-Best?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Why settle for second best?  It's a great advertizing slogan.  One might say it is almost divine, since God came up with it first.  He doesn't say it in quite those words, but the idea is there.  Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?  You see, God came up with it first.  And that is our theme this morning, Why Settle for Second-Best?

I think some of us do just that with our religion.  We settle.  We take what we can get easily and run.  We seem to be unwilling to do the hard work of digging into God's Word, or to take the chance of really trusting God.  It is like it is too risky, or something.  So we settle for something less than what God offers.

Problem with that approach is that you either take what God offers, or you don't.  Second best is counterfeit.  You cannot "kinda sorta have God" or be ‘more-or-less' Christian.  You either have the true God or the great fraud, and either you are a Christian, full blown and pedal to the metal, or you are no Christian at all.  I understand that this is not the way you have often heard it presented in the past, but those who try to sell you a watered down Gospel are peddling a counterfeit just like those guys who sell the twenty-nine dollar ‘Rolex's.  God is God, not a "God-flavored" substitute.  You can get away with a cheap substitute for a colander or knock-off of a designer's dress, but you cannot get by with an imitation, second-rate, not-really-but-almost-nearly God.

We have two ways of stating the message in our text.  One is a delightful invitation, and the other an urgent exhortation.  "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost."  God isn't actually offering dinner, but the wedding feast of salvation!  He is inviting you to come and get what is most urgently needed -- forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is telling you just how much it will cost you.  Nothing.  You see, you have no money that will serve in this realm.  You do not have the coin of eternal life.  God is simply giving it away to those who hear the invitation and come to the living waters and receive the gift offered as a gift.

The difficulty here is that most people want to earn it and deserve it.  Most of us want to make it our own and control it and shape it and take some of the credit and glory for it.  You want to do that because, if you can, you can feel secure and certain.  If you cannot nail down your piece, then you have to trust God for something – something you cannot feel - and cannot see - and cannot really test, except by faith.  You want the Gospel where it feels right.  You want the religion that works the way you think it should, and not necessarily the way God says it is.

God has won for us full forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life.  Why would you want to spend yourself on something that is not salvation?  That is what you do when you try to make your righteousness depend on you.  How do you do that, you ask?  You do it by trying to find the feeling that makes it all seem right and true.  You do it by following the religion-fad that everyone else is following; and yes, there are fads in religion, in the way people talk, and in what they will listen to or believe.  You do it by judging the world around you, or your part in it, by what you can see and feel, rather than by the Word of God.

But Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?  The truth is what you need to hear, and sound doctrine.  When you hear that preached - the truth - That means you are getting the real thing, and not some empty imitation!  And you don't want something that tickles you ear and makes you feel all warm and squishy while it leads you nowhere.  You want the truth - and not one you have to sell yourself for.  You want it for free, as the gift of God!  And the truth that you need to hear is that you are a sinner, and that you are not able to save yourself.  I preach the law to make you see it, and to help you despair of yourself and give up any hope that you are decent and worthy of being saved.  I do that because it is then, and only then, that you can really hear the Gospel.

"That's not true!" some of you may be thinking.  "I can hear the Gospel.  Just preach it to me.  You don't have to be so negative!"  But I preach the Gospel every week.  I preach it as sweetly as I know how.  I tell you of the payment Christ made, and of the full and free forgiveness of sins, and of the resurrection and eternal life which God just gives to those who trust in Him to do so – and yet some of you may be settling for second best.  You hear the Law, and you don't necessarily reject it, you just may think I am being unnecessarily negative when I preach that sin stuff.  It's not even that you don't believe it, or that it applies to you, but it may be that it is just that "Sunday stuff".  You know what I mean?  It is less powerful or real for you from Monday to Saturday than work and bills and your social life.  If that is you, then you cannot – you do not hear the Gospel when it is preached.  You hear it alright, but it becomes a part of that "Sunday stuff" too.  You cannot actually apply it to yourself or to your sins and find comfort and sweet hope and peace there, because you aren't actually applying the need for the sweetness of the Gospel.  In other words, on one level or another, you don't really believe that you need it.

This – Law and Gospel and sound doctrine – is the feast that God provides, however.  The stuff which does not help you to notice your sins is among the bread which does not satisfy, and the stuff that isn't even bread.  The banquet of salvation is the one God lays out, not another.  We are trained by our culture to want cotton candy, and God wants to feed us meat.  Everything other than the things of God seems more real and urgent to us by nature, but God wants us to receive His gifts and to live in glory everlasting.  Why Settle for Second Best?

"Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."  You need to seek the Lord, the One that exists, and not another.  You want to call upon Him now, in the day that He calls the day of salvation – today.  Of course, to do that, you must repent.  That is what the prophet means when he say, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts."  That is repentance, to turn away from sins and seek the forgiveness of God.  It isn't far, and it isn't hard to find.  It is right here, in the Gospel, in the absolution you heard already, in the Holy Supper which lies before you today.

Turn to the Lord.  It is as simple as hearing the truth of your sins, and saying in your heart, "It's true.  I have sinned.  I need God's forgiveness."  When you "return to the Lord," and that is the way Isaiah puts it here, you return, you were with Him before, and then you sinned, you forgot that you were the sinner and unworthy and that God was all grace and forgiveness.  You began to think of yourself as wholesome and wise and good.  But when you return to the Lord, "He will have compassion on [you] and He will pardon abundantly."

He has already.  Jesus took your sins, and He died on account of them.  He paid the penalty on the cross.  God raised Jesus from the dead to tell you that it is all forgiven.  "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!"  It is that simple, and that hard.  It is bread and wine without money and without cost.  It is what you need most, and it is free, to you – although God paid a tremendous price for it.

I mean, which one of us would set aside our own child for the welfare and blessing of someone who hated us and worked against us as an enemy?  But that is what God has done!  It is hard for us to imagine that sin is so deadly and serious, and that salvation is God's free gift to us.  It is hard to keep it straight that we have all these blessings from God without being worthy of them, simply because of His great love for us.

  "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

God's ways are just different.  They are wonderful, but nothing like we would expect – and nothing like we would do.  Even as Christians, and life-long Lutherans, it is easy to forget who we are and what God has really done.  We want to make ourselves something, take some credit, be able to fix our hope on some anchor in our life, or our behavior, or our thinking – but it is gift, grace, free, and all from God.  It is His way, entirely, or it is not real at all.

It seems strange to us that we have such a place in the plan of God for our salvation.  We don't earn it.  We don't deserve even a piece of it.  We don't make it happen, and we don't measure up even as believers!  We simply receive, like beggars.  It isn't the way we worship, or the frequency with which we come to church that makes the difference.  It is possessing the gifts of God.  It is God and what He tells us that brings us to worship the way we do.  His work in us causes us to come here frequently.  You may find the pastor to be exciting - or dull, his sermons can thrill you - or bore you.  It doesn't matter as long as the pastor preaches the Word of God faithfully.  If he tells you about your need – which is the law that makes you uncomfortable – and then tells you about God's grace in Jesus Christ, and of your forgiveness and salvation as His gift, then the pastor has delivered the real deal, the stuff God has given to him to give to you.

It is not supposed to be fun.  It is not supposed to be thrilling or exciting to do.  The thrill is in the realization that we are forgiven!  The excitement is in knowing that we possess what we cannot sense and what we do not deserve, but what we need – redemption, and everlasting life right now!  It is by grace - meaning that we do not deserve it - and it is through faith, received by trusting God to do what He has promised, and believing Him when He tells you that you really need it, and you really want it.  But it is real, and it is right now.

How?  God knows.  His ways and His thoughts are as different from ours as the clouds are high above the dirt.  We only know what He tells us about it.  But what He tells us is true, and it is what it is.  If we change the Gospel to suit our tastes, or our preferences at this moment in history, or our egos, it stops being the Gospel and it becomes a story, a fiction, and not the truth.

But why settle for second-best?  The salvation that you can earn or merit or take credit for is an illusion, not a reality.  The God who wants you to have it your way works at Burger King, and does not have the power to save.  The religion that is what you enjoy at every moment, and can be shaped by your feelings, and changed to suit your mood of the day is a religion that flows out of you, not the one that flows to you with forgiveness and life and grace.

God is giving forgiveness away.  You can't buy it.  You gotta receive it as pure gift.

 "Incline your ear and come to Me.  Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you."

"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat."  .  .  .  "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near."  .  .  .    "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
Why settle for second-best?

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

Sunday, October 15, 2023

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                                           10/15/23

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 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 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 actually 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 become 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.  Since we live here in Northern Minnesota that expectation has seemingly come true for many of us.  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 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 to 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 is 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)

Sunday, October 01, 2023


 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                              10/1/23


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 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 is 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.  We gossip.  We do things with no thought for the other person.  We do and 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.  Everything we do or say may not evil be 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 they impact 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 friends."  And sometimes you are, but sometimes you are not – that is what being a sinner 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.  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 from 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 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 the "other guy" who doesn't belong here!  We are the ones 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 out flesh, are just like us, chosen and select of God, fit into this great puzzle together.  None 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 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, that proper application of knowledge, 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, 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.  As Luther tells us in the Small Catechism, 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 and faith, to walk before God in holiness each day.

All of these things are wisdom, the proper application of knowledge about Jesus Christ, and about the love of God, and about who and what we are, and who and what we were, and how we got to be here.  Our text speaks about wisdom, and the chief characteristic our text speaks about is humility.  We should pray God blesses us with ears to hear, and hearts to believe, and the wisdom to live in it, for as Jesus said in the last verse of our Gospel lesson today, "For 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 what Solomon meant.  You know how refreshing a little cold air is in the heat of the harvest.  God's Word is what we need for our refreshing and strength, even when it calls us to humility and repentance.  What we really need is a little Wisdom.

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