Monday, February 26, 2024

Persistent Faith

 Matthew 15:21-28

And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."  But He did not answer her a word.  And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, "Send her away, for she is shouting out after us."

But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"

And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."  But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."  Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.

Sermon for Reminiscere Sunday                                           02/25/24

Persistent Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel, this morning, is a wonderful account of a woman in prayer, and, in the words of Jesus, expressing a profound faith.  It is sort of like situations that we find ourselves in at times.  Our situations are not always as extreme as this woman's, and our results are not always as much the way we desire them to be as this woman's results were, but she can serve us as a lesson, illustrating the way prayer works, and demonstrating how faith works as well.  This woman had a persistent faith.  And that is our theme, this morning; Persistent Faith.

The narrative is simple and clear.  Jesus is walking with his disciples, minding His own business.  He seems to be trying to avoid just the sort of attention that this woman gives Him.  I say "seems to be" because I suspect Jesus knew she was there and what would happen if He withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon on that particular day.  Jesus was walking through Gentile territory, where it might be reasonable to think that people would not pester Him - since they were not Jews and not looking for the day of the coming of the Messiah.  That would appear to be part of His thinking, although He might have known where this woman was, and sought out her opportunity for her.  In any case, as He is walking, this Canaanite woman comes out to meet Him on His way, crying out after Him about her daughter.  

And Jesus ignores her.  Wow.  Is that a familiar feeling?  We pray and pray and hear nothing, and see nothing happening, and wonder if God is going to intervene in our situation on our behalf.

The woman seems undeterred.  She continues to follow Jesus and cry out to Him.  She confesses faith in Him by calling out to Him as the ‘Son of David', a Messianic title.  She acknowledges Him for who He is, Lord and Savior, the promised One of God.  His disciples, on the other hand only notice that she is continuing her caterwauling and ask Jesus to send her away and give them some peace.  Apparently, this goes on for a while, as Matthew notes that she continues to call out after them, and Matthew says the disciples "kept asking Him" to send her away.

Finally, Jesus speaks to the woman.  He tells her that He "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  These were words of dismissal and rejection.  I have no business with you, is what it meant.  Worse than getting no answer at all, she seems to meet an affirmative rejection.  She doesn't seem to take notice of that.  What she notices is that He is paying attention to her, and talking with her, even if it is just to tell her to go away.  She seems encouraged by this and renews her plea, "Lord, help me!"

Then Jesus tells her that it is not right to take the bread from the children and throw it to the dogs.  He tells her that He is not there for her, and that it is not right to take what is meant for the children of Israel and give it to Gentiles like her.  He even ends up calling the woman a "dog".  The woman takes it all in stride.  She doesn't even try to argue.  She takes what Jesus says to her and uses it as part of her prayer - saying that if she is a dog, well, even dogs get to lick up the crumbs that fall from their master's table.  She keeps pushing for her need, asking again for he blessing she seeks.  Nothing turns her aside, not rejection, not insults, not being ignored.  She believes that Jesus is able and ultimately wiling to help her, so she continues to pray.

Finally she receives what she asked for.  Jesus speaks admiringly about her faith - "You have great faith, woman!"  We don't know what she knew, or specifically what she believed, but we can see how tenacious it was, how faithfully she believed, and nothing could turn her away!  Responding to her faith, and to her request, Jesus gave her what she wanted, "be it done for you as you wish."  And her daughter was healed at that very moment.

The woman confronted a test of faith, and she passed.  She was clearly not merely a curiosity seeker, or someone who was giving Jesus a try as a last resort, "just in case".  She knew Jesus could help her, and she was confident that He would, even when it seemed otherwise.  So kept praying persistently.

Jesus did not answer her because she bugged Him, or to get her off His back, or even because she was so persistent -He answered her prayer because she trusted in Him to do so.

We also face times when we want or need something, and so we pray.  We should pray like this woman - persistently and believing.  We have far more reason to know Jesus and to trust Him than this poor woman had.  You know who Jesus is, and what He is like, and what He can do, and what His will is like toward you.  So, you should be able to pray  – and pray with confidence, and expect an answer, and pray with persistence until you have what you pray for, or clearly see that it is not going to be the way you want it because God knows a better way or a better answer.

You should never doubt the will of God toward you, sinking to the feeling that God doesn't want to bless you.  I often do not know what to pray for because I want something, but I am not certain that having what I want is the best thing for me or anyone else - and I am uncertain as to what the will of God is, so I pray, but I pray that His will be done.  And I pray that prayer until I see the answer.

But there are times in life that we need or want something so strongly that we want to push God's hands, as it were.  In those cases, although we want to pray, "Thy will be done", we have a strong interest in seeing a particular resolution to the situation.  In such cases, we need to be like this woman, asking God for our outcome, and accepting that although it may not work out the way we want it, we will follow after God and pester Him with out prayers and ask Him until we see the answer, and plead our case before the throne of heaven with persistence - because it pleases God when we do.  He is pleased when we trust in Him and in His good will toward us and we boldly come before Him to pray and plead and seek our relief.  He has commanded that we do so, and He has promised to hear us and answer us.  The Old Testament says, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me."  In the New Testament, Jesus says, "Whatever you ask the Father in My name, believing, He will give it to you."

But be prepared.  You may face a test of faith, too.  God doesn't always answer as quickly as we would like, not does His answer always come the way we expect.  God will let you hang out there for a while, and the old evil foe will be glad to make you frustrated and depressed about the length of time you plead your cause and hear no answer.  Sometimes God is testing you, to see if you trust Him, or if you are just taking a chance that you might get "lucky" and get something out of the prayer.  And, by the way, He already knows the answer, just as Jesus knew the woman would be there, and would jump all of the hurdles because she had such great faith.  Her predicament and her prayers were done, and recorded, for us, and for our learning.

How can you know what the will of God is?  In specific requests, you cannot.  But you do know what His will is toward you.  You know His love, and how deeply He is committed to your welfare.  You can see it on the cross.  The pain and the death of Jesus Christ are the testimony to how far God is willing to go for you.  He became one of us to rescue you.  As Paul observes in Romans 8, if He has gone this far, what can you imagine that He will withhold from you now?  "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"

The woman in the account had obviously heard about Jesus, but she had not seen much.  She took the word about Jesus to heart and believed - undoubtedly believing because she had heard the Old Testament promises.  You have heard the Old Testament promises, and have seen the New Testament fulfillment - and you have been baptized and have eaten of the Holy Supper.  How much more you have than the woman had.

God will not perform like a trained animal, nor will He do ‘wish fulfillment' like some mail-order catalogue company or Amazon Prime.  He will always be God.  But you know who God is, and what His will toward you is.  And what is the will of God toward you?

So let us face the test of faith, and meet it with persistent faith.  That means we want to act as though the things we say we believe are true - and that we actually believe them.  We cannot give up, or decide that God doesn't want to be good to us any longer.  Doing either of those things means that you are no longer a Christian.  Whether we are praying, or witnessing, or just living out what we confess, we can be faithful.  The things we confess are true, and marvelous, and we can and we must dare to live as though they are true, if we want to be found faithful.

So, trust God when you weigh your moral decisions.  Trust God when you plan your stewardship.  Trust God when you plan you weekly, or your daily schedule.  Trust God when you pray.

And trust God as we worship.  Come and eat and drink and be forgiven and strengthened and equipped for life here, and prepared for everlasting life there.  Consider the Canaanite woman, and her persistent faith, and face your own challenges similarly with a persistent faith.  You can trust God.  Just look at the cross, and you can see how far He will go for you – how far He has already gone!

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

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

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Servant Suffers for Sin

 Isaiah 42:18-25

Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see.  Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?  Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of the LORD?  You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears.  The LORD was pleased for His righteousness' sake To make the law great and glorious.  But this is a people plundered and despoiled; All of them are trapped in caves, Or are hidden away in prisons; They have become a prey with none to deliver them, And a spoil, with none to say, "Give them back!"  Who among you will give ear to this? Who will give heed and listen hereafter?  Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers?  Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, And in whose ways they were not willing to walk, And whose law they did not obey?  So He poured out on him the heat of His anger And the fierceness of battle; And it set him aflame all around, Yet he did not recognize it; And it burned him, but he paid no attention.

Sermon for Lenten Wednesday #2                                           02/21/24

The Servant of Isaiah

The Servant Suffers for Sin

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The song was called "Everything is Beautiful".  The line from the song is,  "There are none so blind as he who will not see."  The line of the song sounds as if it could have been about the Servant of the Lord.  The difference is that the Prophet is speaking about a sort of blindness of the Servant of the Lord that both leads to and flows from forgiveness.  Our theme this evening is "The Servant Suffers for Sin".

Oddly enough, being blind and deaf is not entirely a bad thing in our text.  It is an unfortunate condition, even spiritually, but God promises wonderful things for the blind and deaf.  Just before our text, Isaiah says that God will rescue the blind and make the darkness light for them.  He promises and then says that He will not fail to do these things for them.  Then our text begins with the invitation – and command – that the deaf hear and the blind see!  These prophecies are why Jesus healed the blind and the deaf.  He wasn't just being a nice guy, He was identifying Himself as the Servant who was going to bear our sins and suffer such awful things.

But the promise in our text was not merely about physical sight and hearing.  Isaiah says, about the people Israel, "You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears." This is a spiritual issue.  The people of Israel have seen and heard the Word of God and yet they act as if they had not.  They do not seem to recognize the promises nor do they trust God in spite of all that He has done for them and spoken to them.  They are spiritually blind and deaf.  Even the threats of disaster have fallen on deaf ears, as they say.  The troubles which God has inflicted on them to awaken them to the danger of their situation does not make them see or understand.

Then comes the Servant of God in the prophecy.  He comes to take their weaknesses and failures and sins, and so He is blind and deaf too.   It is not the same deafness, for the Servant knows God and trusts in Him.  But that is the nature of His blindness.  Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?  Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of the LORD?  The Servant is at peace with God, and trusts in God, even while He is carrying the guilt of the nation and the sins of the whole world before God, and even though He will receive from the hands of God the punishment due those sins.

Still, the Servant trusts God and is at peace with God as though He does not know what is coming.  It is the mirror image of the blindness of the people. They do not see or hear the love of God or His goodness, and the Servant acts as though He does not see the wrath of God about to fall on Him.  The blindness of the people leads them into greater sin while the blindness of the Servant leads Him into even more glorious righteousness.  The LORD was pleased for His righteousness' sake To make the law great and glorious.  Those words speak about the righteousness of Christ, perfect righteousness, which keeps the whole law.  That holiness lifts up the Law and makes it glorious!  It is in the face of that perfect holiness that the Servant will die, bearing sins that were not His own.

He died for us because we could not rescue ourselves.  But this is a people plundered and despoiled; All of them are trapped in caves, Or are hidden away in prisons; They have become a prey with none to deliver them, And a spoil, with none to say, "Give them back!"  We had no hope in and of ourselves, there was no way for us to redeem or rescue ourselves.  That is what Isaiah is saying here.  We all stood guilty before the Lord, "Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers?  Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, And in whose ways they were not willing to walk, And whose law they did not obey?"  Because of our stubborn blindness and deafness we stood justly condemned before the bar of divine justice.  God Himself is our adversary at law.

But the Servant stepped in, blind to the wrath of God and deaf to the warnings of danger.  It was on His own Servant that the Lord poured out His wrath over sin.  So He poured out on him the heat of His anger And the fierceness of battle; And it set him aflame all around, Yet he did not recognize it; And it burned him, but he paid no attention.  The sinless Servant suffered for sinful man.  He endured the wrath of God and agonies of hell to be the One who rescues.  He has become the One who delivers the helpless people and the One to demand that they be given back to the loving care of God the Father, and the One to stop God's people from being prey for the wicked.

Who is so blind that He is at peace with the Lord?  It is the Servant of the Lord.  Jesus had absolute peace with His Father, trusting Him implicitly and explicitly, and doing so in the face of what He knew lay ahead of Him.  He faced God's wrath over against our sins, and still trusted in God and walked faithfully before Him all the days of His life and even on the cross.  That is the blindness of the Servant – the willful blindness of One who sees clearly but refuses to turn either to the left or to the right.  He trusts God and loves God and walks deliberately and unflinchingly into the suffering appointed for Sin.  There are none so blind as He who will not see.  Who is so blind . . . as the servant of the LORD?

The Servant of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, suffered just as Isaiah said He would for our sin and rebellion.  We consider that glorious, willful blindness on our behalf this Lenten Wednesday.  Isaiah asks, "Who among you will give ear to this? Who will give heed and listen hereafter?"  We answer, we will!  After all, faith comes by hearing.  The story of ancient Israel was the story of a people who would not hear, who were deaf to God by choice.  That deafness had to be answered by another deafness – the sort that refused to be turned away from God by anything.  And because our Lord was that Servant, He did not listen to the fears or allow Himself to be frightened from His task by what He saw or suffered, and the Servant of God suffered for our sins that we might be saved.  God grant that you hear and believe and give thanks today.

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

Sunday, February 18, 2024


 Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.  And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread."  But He answered and said, "It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU'; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'"  Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me."  Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'"  Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

Sermon for Invocavit Sunday                                 02/18/24


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

 Our Gospel this morning is probably familiar.  It is the account of the temptation of Jesus by the devil just after His baptism.  These temptations echo in some ways the temptation of Eve.   Jesus was recapitulating the testing of mankind, taking a second run at it if you will, only Jesus didn't fail.  He faced the same sorts of temptations as Adam and Eve, only His were far more dramatic and urgent – and He resisted.  When Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil that day, He passed the test that Eve, and Adam, had failed.  He resisted precisely the temptations that mankind had failed, only tailored just for Him.  And they were far more pressing upon Jesus than upon Eve.  This was part of what He needed to do to earn the perfect righteousness that brings us salvation.

On this day in the life of Jesus, you should notice that the playing field is not quite level.  On the one hand, Jesus is God.  That gives Him an advantage.  On the other hand, He is living in humility, clothed in human flesh and blood and human nature, not accessing all of the powers and prerogatives of God.  That gives the devil an advantage.  Jesus has just spent forty days and forty nights without food.  Matthew highlights the disadvantage to Jesus in saying, seemingly without any real need to, that Jesus was now hungry.  Matthew says it, however, so that we don't get some fancy philosophical notion that Jesus was immune to hunger, and that this wasn't a real test.

Of course, the playing field of temptation is never really level.  You should learn that here and now, if you didn't understand it before.  Everything was pretty much stacked in favor of the devil, when he confronted Jesus.  Things are pretty much that way when he tempts us too.  He cannot grow tired, while we can and do.  He knows our every weakness, while we rarely understand them ourselves.  He is perfectly deceitful, and we are not always expecting to be deceived.  He has tremendous power, particularly among sinners, and we simply do not, particularly when it comes to opposing him.  That is why this lesson is so important for us.  We need to learn from Jesus about the best way to deal with temptation.

The first temptation that Jesus faced was the temptation of food – physical need.  Eve faced it too, when the devil said, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"  He was challenging the goodness of God and the confidence she had in God's providence.  She answered, and in her answer she added to the command of God, suggesting that maybe she thought God was a little unjust, or extreme, or something.

And what was the answer of Jesus?  His answer was the Word of God.  

It is interesting to note that Jesus never went on offense.  I imagine that He could have, but we cannot, and so He did not.  He showed us how to handle temptation when we are tempted.  He did everything He did as One of us.  Instead of claiming power, He claimed the fortress of God's Word.  Jesus expressed His confidence in God:   "It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'" He resisted the temptation to doubt God's provision.  When Eve sinned, she failed that test.  Genesis tells us that one of the reasons that she took fruit from the tree was that the fruit was good to eat.

The second temptation of Jesus listed in Matthew was the one in which the devil took Jesus to a high pinnacle of the temple and tempted Him to jump down, quoting Scriptures and saying, It is written.  You might say, Jesus was being tempted with bad exegesis.  The devil took the Word of God right out of Jesus' hands and used it to tempt Him.  He set before Him an impossible situation, and then said, "Don't you trust God?  Here is His Word saying that He will catch you and take care of you and protect you!"  The temptation came once again with the "If you are the Son of God," clause.  It was as much as saying, "Surely God will do all of this for you, since you are His Son!"  The temptation was to doubt God's Word, and so put God to the test, to see if He would keep His promise.  It was dressed up to look like faith, and it sounded like a legitimate promise, but neither was true.

We face disbelief in God's Word disguised as bad exegesis all of the time.  Nearly every debate about doctrine with another confession is a debate about a misunderstanding of the Word.  Some swear that alcohol is forbidden, so they cannot see using it in church, as we do in communion.  Some cannot comprehend how a child can believe, so they reject baptism for infants.  Some demand that we worship on the Old Testament Sabbath, some insist on the need for keeping the Law, some think that the Jewish people are the chosen people and the true Israel of God, no matter what.  Every one of them marshals Scripture to their cause.  They all have their passages.  And they are all wrong.  They apply half-verses and half-truths just as Satan did, that day against Jesus.

Eve faced the same temptation, when the Devil said,  "You surely shall not die!  For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  The devil was tempting her to doubt the Word and promise of God.  God had spoken the truth about sin and death, and His will, expressed in the single rule they had been given, was not meant to restrict her or deny her anything, but to protect her.  The devil invited her to doubt God's Word about the result of sin - and God's goodness and honesty as well.  Eve doubted God.  Jesus trusted God, and refused to be pushed into a test which would actually show that he did not trust God's Word, but trusted His own judgment more.  Jesus answered with the Word of God – sound doctrine.  He answered a temptation clothed in a Bible quotation with the Scripture which answered the real temptation, "On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'"

Finally, the devil stopped hiding and simply offered Jesus the easy way.  He knew what Jesus had come to do.  He knew that Jesus could see the cross and all the pain and torment.  He knew that Jesus had years of difficult work ahead, and he offered Jesus the easy route.  Just bow down to me, worship me once, and I will let you off the hook.  You can have the whole kit and kaboodle.  Genuflect to me and recognize me as your superior, worship me as your God and I will spare you the cross and give you the whole creation as your prize.

Like every temptation, it was filled with lies.  In the first place, the world does not belong to Satan.  It is not his to give.  The price that Jesus was going to pay for our redemption was not paid to the devil.  It was paid to satisfy the justice of God.  If Jesus had given in to the temptation, He would have become just like us, only more so.  That would have been Satan's victory over God and our absolute ruin.  There would have been no glory to give to Jesus, nor would the devil have given it, if there had been.  He is a liar, and the father of it, as Jesus once pointed out.

Eve faced the same temptation.  The devil told her that the fruit would make her just like God.  This was a good thing that Eve expected God could give her.  The devil wanted her to doubt God's goodness, and take matters into her own hand, and grasp the supposed good for herself, rather than wait for God to give her every good thing.  – and she yielded to the temptation.  Genesis tells us that one of the reasons she ate of the fruit was that it was desirable to make one wise.  She became like God only in so far as she suddenly understood both good and evil.  She understood good (having once been holy) and evil (having become evil).  God understood both without ever becoming evil, so she wasn't much like God.

Jesus answered with the Word.  "It is written, YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY."  He answered with the Word of God, and faith. The thing that Eve forgot, which Jesus kept in mind, was that God is first, and we come second. That is the only position that a Christian can take. It does not matter what the stakes are, or what is offered, or how appealing it may be made to appear.  When one trusts God and places Him in the proper place in our lives and consideration, then we wait on God, and we accept from God what He gives to us with thanksgiving and faith.  We are called to be faithful, and we must first be faithful to God. If we fail in that, there is no faithfulness left for us.

We face similar temptations.  First is the temptation of physical need – or physical desire.  Many times we are not able clearly to distinguish between the two.  We just know what we want or need, and it seems more important – more urgent – to us to meet that need or fill that desire than anything else.  The temptation is always to take care of Number One first.  We cannot let some theology, some bit of religious stuff – we cannot let some mere rule stand in the way of our need.  That is how the temptation often presents itself.

Like Jesus we want to answer this first temptation with the Word of God and place God first, trusting Him in all our needs.  We want to take Him at His Word that He will not forsake us, that He will always provide – as Jesus said, Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.

The second temptation was the temptation to doubt God's Word.  Funny thing is that it doesn't usually look like a temptation to doubt the Word of God.  Jesus' temptation looked like a challenge to Him as to whether He really trusted God.  The faithful and sincere thing seemed to be to jump off the temple and trust God to do what He had said that He would do.  But that would have been a species of unbelief.  That would have proven that Jesus didn't trust God, because He would have foolishly put God to the test for nothing more than proof.  Faith is not seeing, not having the proof in front of it, but still trusting.

We get tempted in this way by false doctrine.  We are often challenged directly: Do you mean to tell me that I could go out and kill someone and still go to heaven?   Or, How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  What difference does it make which church I belong to, as long as I believe in Jesus?  These are some of the question we hear commonly.  This is only a small sampling of the questions we face.  These sorts of questions all do what Satan did on that mountain – they presume to challenge our faith with a supposed truth, but actually they challenge us to doubt God's Word and act or speak on the basis of false doctrine and confused interpretations of Scripture which place God at odds with Himself.

Let me show you what I mean.  Do you mean to tell me that I could go out and kill someone and still go to heaven?  This question sounds so good, but it challenges us to doubt the grace of God, and the Gospel He proclaims, as though it is our behavior that wins eternal life for us.  The answer is, ‘Yes, you could.  But the more interesting question is, would you?' If you have murder in your heart, are you likely to be a true believer?  

How could a loving God send anyone to hell?  This question places God's love in competition with His justice as though He could only be one or the other.  The Bible says God is just and loving.  

What difference does it make which church I belong to, as long as I believe in Jesus?  The best answer to this question is to ask, What difference does it make?  Then we really need to get into the question of what differences there are between different denominations, and the differences in what we believe about Jesus and who this Jesus is – things which are by no means the same necessarily from one church body to another.  

The temptation is to ignore God's Word for the sake of feelings.  To do that is to doubt the truth of God's Word, and count something or someone as more important than God.  Jesus answered with faith, and clear doctrine – you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.  We need to put the truth first, and trust God's Word no matter what.

The third temptation Jesus faced is common in our lives today.  We face this temptation each and every time we are offered the faster way, the easier way, the more effective way than what God invites or commands us to do.  Jesus said, you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only!  We need to remember whose church this is, and why we are really here, and how Christ's church works.  We are here to receive His blessings – forgiveness, won for us on the cross, the Holy Spirit to create faith in us and keep us supplied with faith, and strength, and wisdom, and courage, and faithfulness to live each day as His people, a light in a very dark and evil world.  We worship God by being faithful, and trusting God to grant us the increase.  We can even win by losing — if we remain faithful.

We can trust God, after all.  We serve Him not by what we do, so much, as by trusting Him.  Jesus once said to the Pharisees, Learn what this means, I desire compassion not sacrifice.  And His will, summarized in the First Commandment is that we hold Him first in all things, and trust in Him alone, and love Him more than life itself.  And love for God is a love that is seen in love for one another.  This is the same will as what we see on the cross, where He died for your sins so that you might be forgiven and come to know Him as He is, gracious and merciful, full of love and compassion, and desiring your salvation first and last.

When we confront temptations, we can have no better pattern than that which Jesus provided.  Keep your mind firmly fixed on Jesus, and everything else will sort itself out.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Divine Plan for His Servant

 Isaiah 42:1-7

"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed He will not break, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law."

Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, "I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon, And those who dwell in darkness from the prison."

Sermon for Ash Wednesday                                                           02/14/24

The Servant of Isaiah

The Divine Plan for His Servant

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of the great themes of the Bible is the theme of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.  The Servant is a prophetic image for the Messiah, our Savior.  Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of the Savior and of the Gospel He is charged with bringing in his prophecies.  It is this Old Testament Gospel that we are going to spend our Lenten evenings with this year.  Our Lenten Theme is the Servant of Isaiah.

Modern Christians often see the Gospel in a rather one-dimensional light.  I suspect that it is often viewed as a simple thing, easily detailed on a single sheet of paper with very few paragraphs.  God took centuries, and wrote an entire book about it.  In addition, we, the people of this point in time, tend to look at everything from our time and our prejudices and overlook the fact that the Gospel is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, and the prophets taught everything we can teach, only they did it without knowing the word "Jesus", and without having a cross in view.  They had the back-story, as it is called on television today.  They talked about the rationale of God and the fulness of the promises. We don't have time to review every prophecy during Lent, but we will take a closer look at those Servant passages and gather some of the Old Testament flavor of the Gospel as they knew it.  Hopefully it will deepen your understanding of the Gospel and strengthen your confidence in God, who did all this for you.

Tonight we begin with something of an overview.  Our sermon theme is, "The Divine Plan for His Servant".  In the prophecies, you may note, Isaiah switches from God speaking directly to us to Isaiah speaking about what God says.  God's revelations sound at times like He is talking to His people, and other times it sounds as if He is talking directly to Jesus, the Servant.  All of it is meant for our learning and all of it was meant for Jesus as He served and worked out the plan of God for our salvation.

We begin by noting that the Servant is pleasing to God.  This is where the ministry of Jesus begins as well, with God declaring that He is well-pleased with Jesus at His Baptism – and again at the Transfiguration.  Isaiah writes, Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.  It is striking that after saying, in the Old Testament, what God speaks at the baptism of Jesus, He then says that He puts His Spirit upon Him, which is precisely what happened at the Baptism of Jesus as well!

Clearly, this is the plan of God being laid out before the people of God carefully, somewhere between seven hundred and eight hundred years before any of this plan comes to pass.  He even describes the mission of the Servant as to be, "as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon, And those who dwell in darkness from the prison."  These words are similar to the words of Isaiah 61:1: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners;   To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; words which Jesus reads at the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke, chapter 4, and then declares that they have heard that prophecy fulfilled in their hearing.  This is the divine plan for the Servant, which Jesus fulfills.

He even describes the character of both the Servant and of His Gospel.  He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street.  A bruised reed He will not break, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.

Jesus did not cry out when He was taken and crucified.  He was humble, and He allowed all that was to happen to Him according to the plan of God happen.  He actively stood in the way of any effort to stop what was happening to Him.  He stopped Peter, and healed the ear of Malchus, when Peter took up arms against those who came to arrest Jesus.  He refused to speak in His trials, such as they were, when speech should have set Him free, and He spoke the truth, often to the offense of those who heard it, when it served to spur on those who held Him to commit such atrocities against Him.  He was not disheartened or crushed until He accomplished His mission.  Instead, He steadily worked to accomplish what the plan of His Father set out before Him to do.

That same passage also describes the Gospel, A bruised reed He will not break, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.  Jesus established a Gospel which did not depend on us or the quality of our faith, but on Him.  Jesus turns no one away who hears His invitation and believes the promise.  Trust in the Lord, that is all that is said – not "trust mightily."  God looks for no great faith and dynamic, aggressive spirit.  He knows the measure of His people, and faith and spirit are His gifts to us, not something we must work up in ourselves.  We are asked to simply trust Him and take Him at His Word.  The power and glory are all His.

What He establishes is truly justice.  He paid the penalty.  He took our place.  We are not merely excused for the sins we have committed, but we are redeemed.  Jesus made atonement.  God didn't brush our sins under the rug, He punished them according to His wrath and all that they deserved.  He laid that punishment on His Servant, Jesus.  Our forgiveness is not injustice, but divine justice, bought at terrible price by the suffering and death of the very Son of God.  Your sins are forgiven, and you are given everlasting life in connection with Jesus Christ, because it is just to do so.  That is the justice that the Servant was charged with establishing.

The rest of the prophecy identifies whose plan this is, and whose work is being done – whose Servant this is all about:  God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it.

You see, what we have in Jesus Christ is the careful working out of the divine plan, established in eternity, before the foundation of the world.  God could have named the Savior in the prophecies, told us precisely when and where it would happen, and given us all the details we know from the New Testament.  He could have, but He did not.  If He had, it would not have changed a thing about the way the world receives the Gospel.  The problem of the world is that it is God's plan, and the world is ruled by - dominated by – the devil, who is the enemy of God and the adversary of all mankind.

If we had the details any clearer, the world would simply ignore them, as they do what they already have.  They would tell us that no one could have known the future from the past, particularly with such precision, and called it a counterfeit.  How do I know?  Because that is what they do today.  They say that it is not so.  They say that the church invented the stories and details of Christ's life to align with the words of the Prophets.   They say that the prophecies do not mean what they clearly say.  The world rejects it out of hand, and chooses any fiction or fable instead because it insulates them from dealing with the true God and the reality of what they are, slaves of sin and Satan.

Besides, the Bible does tell us where.  The Magi got that information from the Scribes in Jerusalem when they searched for the one who was born to be King of the Jews.  The Bible tells us who - it doesn't give us the name Jesus until Matthew, but it says that He will be called Immanuel, which means God with us, or God living among us, which is what and who Jesus was.  It tells us about how people will treat Him.  It describes in detail His death.  It tells us that the issue is righteousness – those words are in our text – and justice, and about the tender, gentle mercies of our God.  It is all there and the world refuses it.  They deny it means what it says.  They deny that God could have been speaking about Jesus, Then they even deny that there is a God at all.

But the truth is there, plainly in prophecy and plainly in history.  Isaiah laid it all out for us.  It wasn't His idea.  God inspired him.  And He wrote down for us, the divine plan for His Servant.  And for us.  And in the coming weeks we will read more and hear more of just how carefully God laid out that plan before His people.

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

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Who was really blind?

 Luke 18:31-43

And He took the twelve aside and said to them, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again."  And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said.

And it came about that as He was approaching Jericho, a certain blind man was sitting by the road, begging.  Now hearing a multitude going by, he began to inquire what this might be.  And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.  And he called out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  And those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he had come near, He questioned him, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  And he said, "Lord, I want to regain my sight!"  And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he regained his sight, and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.

Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday                               2/11/24

Who Was Really Blind?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever wondered why the pericopes of the Gospel include the accounts they do?  Our lesson this morning is a perfect example.  What does the healing of the blind man have to do with the prophecy of the coming torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus?  At first glance they seem to be disconnected bits of the life of Jesus.  Perhaps nowhere else is the nature of a Gospel as a theological document more clear.  Luke, admittedly, was trying to assemble a more or less chronological record of the life and ministry of Jesus, but His task was obviously theological – he was trying to make a point by the way he stitched the accounts together.  There is a lesson here in how and in what order the "stories" of Jesus were being told.  Our theme in Luke's lesson here is, "Who was really blind?"

Naturally, we would want to answer that the blind guy was the one who was really blind.  It is so simple that it might make one wonder why the question might be asked at all.  It stands to reason, then, that the simple answer is the wrong answer.  He was blind physically.  There is no doubt about that.  The juxtaposition of the two accounts in the gospel tells us that the real blindness belonged to the Disciples.  Their blindness was even more severe, because they thought that they could see.

Jesus was intentionally heading toward Jerusalem to die.  He was approaching the center and the purpose of His ministry – and everything that the Bible spoke about the Messiah was going to be accomplished.  Jesus knew what He was going to face.  I imagine that His divine knowledge showed Him clearly every pain and betrayal.  What an amazing thing!  Jesus walked to His death deliberately, knowing what was coming.  The disciples, however, didn't have the faintest idea.

So Jesus told them.  He explained how the Jews – referring to the leadership of the Temple – were going to seize Him and turn Him over to the Gentiles.  He described without much detail how they would mock Him, and abuse Him (meaning, beat Him), and spit on Him, scourge Him – which everyone understood to be the infamous 39 lashes – and then kill Him.  He didn't have to say "crucify" because that is how Romans executed non-Romans.  Then He told them that He would rise again after three days.  He didn't necessarily see the resurrection with divine insight, but found it prophesied in the Scriptures.

Luke tells us that still, even with the explanation, they did not understand.  None of it made sense to them.  Luke says that they did not comprehend the things that were said.  Now it could have been that they were dull.  It might be that they could not conceive of how the things that Jesus was saying could happen.  After all, Jesus was so popular and things were going so well!  There may be a lot of dynamics at work, but their failure to see what Scriptures said, and to hear what Jesus was saying to them is a form of mental and spiritual blindness.

Luke also says "this saying was hidden from them."  Their blindness may not have been entirely their fault.  Being "hidden" suggests that God did not allow them to comprehend at the moment.  His reasons, while not being spelled out, may have included avoiding their well-intended interference.  We know that when Peter finally understood, he tried to talk Jesus out of it.  "God forbid that such a thing should happen to you!"  It is possible that their blindness served the purpose of the Lord.  Jesus wanted to tell them what was coming, so that when it happened, they would remember that it was supposed to happen!  It also served the plan of God to accurately prophesy the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Then Jesus healed the blind man.  Healing the blind man and all of the accompanying details made a couple of points.  First, it shows that Jesus has the power to cure blindness.  He can fix the blindness of the eyes, and He is the One who alone can heal the blindness of the mind or heart.

Secondly, we can see that the will of God is always good.  He wants to heal.  He is willing to lift the blindness of any and all who seek that healing, who know that they are blind and desire to see.  Jesus demonstrated that will in how responded to this man.  There was no hesitation.

The third lesson is that the man's physical healing was something subsequent to his true healing.  Jesus did not actually say, "Your faith has made you well."  He said, "your faith has saved you."  The physical healing was merely the outward evidence of the inward reality.  His blindness and corruption in sin was corrected by the Lord of life and the Source of Righteousness.  When the blind man saw, it was the evidence for those who were watching – and for us today – that the man was, in fact, saved by grace through faith.  His faith brought Him to Christ, and finally to salvation.  And His salvation from sin brought him sight, a cure for one of the symptoms and consequences of sin.

You see, when the man heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he called to Jesus using a prophetic name for the Messiah - Son of David.  In doing that, he confessed that Jesus was the Messiah.  He acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, God come among man, just as the prophets said that the Messiah would be.  He further confessed it by asking for mercy – what a sinner cries out to God for.  Then he asked Jesus to do something that was commonly known to be something that only God could do.  And in his asking, he confessed that he expected that the will of God toward him was going to be good, even though he did not deserve it, and had no apparent reasons to think that it would be.

That was the faith that Jesus spoke of when He said, "Your faith as saved you."  It was the sort of faith that sees God for who and what He is, and lays all of its hope in Him and trusts in Him.  The Blind Man saw more without his eyesight than the disciples did with full sight.  And Jesus showed us that He is the One who can heal our blindness.

Finally, the man followed Jesus and praised God.  He even caused others to praise God!  He saw Christ and responded.  His faith was not a mere "head thing" but a life changing power, and he followed Jesus.   His situation showed us that blindness is not merely a physical thing.  

Who was really blind?  The disciples!  The blind man saw – and as a consequence, he also began to see physically as well! But the sight that was of greatest value was one he had already, and the disciples were, at least temporarily, without.

How about you?

Do you see?  Can you see clearly?  What does this sight do in you, or for you?  What is it that you see?

I ask these questions because many times it is difficult to tell who the Christians are, and who is not.  The forgiveness of sins should transform your life!  It should change how you deal with others.  It should act almost as an inoculation against sinful conduct and evil behavior.  It should make you patient and forgiving toward others and humble and caring as you deal with those who are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Having, knowing, and believing in the resurrection from the grave, life everlasting, and salvation should color everything you do.  It should be making a difference in how you approach life and its challenges, You cannot die.  You cannot run out of what you need, because God is your supply.  When your body does finally give out, it is a good thing, and you go on to a better and fuller life!  Where in that scenario is there room for the fear of death and anxiety about illness?  

Where is there room for selfishness?  How does your new relationship with God factor into your stewardship?  How does God freely giving Himself for you match up with you withholding yourself or your offerings to Him for whatever reason?  Or is your stewardship aimed at someone or something other than God?

I mean, if you have a full supply in the Lord, do you need to grasp and hoard for yourself?  Where is the care for your brothers in Christ – or for those who do not know Christ, who depend on you and our stewardship to make the message known?  If you have been forgiven of great sins – and all of us have been forgiven of great sins – where is your patience and forgiveness with the other guy?  If God has given you everything you have, how can you withhold from Him just because you do not like or understand what is going on around you?  Don't you trust God?  Don't you expect Him to be good to you?  Don't you know how great His love is for you?  Who is really blind, here?

Look at the love of God.  Don't look at your feelings, look at the cross.  That is how much God loves you.  He sent His Son to die for you.  Not only that, but Jesus Christ is true God.  God was willing to endure unimaginable pain and torment to save you.  We will spend the next six weeks contemplating that torment and why it was necessary.  But it was love that moved God to rescue you.  It is because His will toward you is tender and kind that you are here, and that you have the Word preached to you.

The blind man followed Jesus and glorified God.  He did it so clearly that others saw and praised God.  That is, frankly, what we need today.  We need faith lived out in such a clear and unmistakable fashion that others see it and praise God.  Peter wrote in his epistle, "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."  We need the sort of faith that trusts God daily, and lives by that confidence.  We need the sort of faith that sees God where He has promised to be, and depends on Him to do what He as promised to do, and glorifies God in such as way that others are drawn to the cross to know this God of love and salvation and healing, and then also to praise God.

After all, this is the sort of faith that the blind man had, and Jesus said, "Your faith has saved you."  We want to see Jesus.  In this life, we will not see Him with our eyes, but with the eyes of faith, like the blind man.  We want to see His truth, His love, and His saving power.  To do that we have to see Jesus as He is, and as He reveals Himself in His Word.  We also have to judge our circumstances not by what our eyes tell us, but by what God and His grace reveals.  If we do that, if we walk by faith and not by sight, and when they ask "Who was really blind?" the answer will never be "us."

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

Sunday, February 04, 2024

The Parable of the Sower

 Luke 8:4-15

And when a great multitude were coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road; and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up.  And other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  And other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it, and choked it out.  And other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great."  As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

And His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable might be.  And He said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND.  Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.  And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved.  And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.  And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.  And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.

Sermon for Sexagesima Sunday                               2/04/24

The Parable of the Sower

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel lesson is The Parable of the Sower.  It is a picture of the Church, and more specifically, of the Gospel as it is proclaimed.  Our theme this morning is the Parable of the Sower.

I grew up hearing that a parable was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  I guess that is as good a description as any.  I think of a parable as a picture, drawn with words, to help us understand the reality of something – or to keep us from understanding, if we are not God's people.  Jesus said it in our text, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, in order that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND."

That's hard to accept, isn't it?  Jesus taught in parables precisely so that only those who were chosen by Him to be His people would understand.  He intended that others would not understand.  That doesn't fit the popular picture of Jesus, but it is the truth.  Those who believe are not believers by their own choice, but by the choice and the grace of God.  It is to those who believe that God chooses to reveal the secrets of life and of the truth.  Those who refuse to believe, He leaves in darkness - deliberately.  We should not be surprised, then, that the world around us fails to understand Jesus.

But to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom.  And the mystery we are given this morning is the parable of the Sower.  In this parable, the Sower goes out to sow.  The Sower is Jesus.  He doesn't tell us that explicitly, but since the seed is His Word – the Word of God – it makes sense.

The seed the sower is spreading is the Word of God -- more specifically, the Gospel.  Jesus tells us that.  It is His Word and it is about Him.  It is useful, at this point, to remember that the method of sowing in those days was "broadcast sowing".  They cast the seed everywhere in the field, rather than planting it in specific spots as we do with our planters today.  After they cast the seed about, they would plow the field and thereby work the seed into the soil.  That is how some of the seed ended up on the path and in the rocks and among the thorns.

Naturally, the paths were not plowed, so the seed would lay on the ground like bird-food.  They would not work in the really rocky areas because the going was just too rough, and their plows were simple implements, usually made of wood, back in those days.  The seeds among the weeds were at the edges of the fields, or where things just got too overgrown.  They did not have the equipment or the technology to cultivate or apply a herbicide.  Some of the seed was simply wasted.

It is a wonderful image for the preaching of the Gospel.  I am the Sower's hands.  Preachers and pastors are the equipment, if you will, which is used to scatter the seed.  We preach it everywhere.  We proclaim the goodness of God and the salvation He has purchased for us wherever and whenever we have the opportunity.  Even here on Sunday morning, anyone who walks in the door is welcome to join us and listen and hear about the marvelous grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Of course, not everyone who hears believes.  Some people are like those seeds that land on the path.  The ground - their heart - is too hard.  The Word doesn't penetrate.  The devil comes and snatches away before they have opportunity to really think about it and come to faith.  For them the Word of God is utterly fruitless.

Others are like the seed on the rock.  You have probably all known someone who came to faith and was so happy that they were a Christian and their joy burned so bright and loud.  Then, one day or another, they seemed to slip away.  Maybe they lost interest all at once, and maybe they just grew less and less regular, and less and less enthusiastic, and finally simply stopped coming.  Before long, they didn't want to come.  They found other priorities.  Even in this small parish, we have seen that happen.  They are the temporary Christians.  Sometimes they think they are still Christian even after they leave us, just not so "on fire for the Lord".  Sometimes they know that they don't believe anymore.  It is all too sad, and all too common.  Some of these people chase from church to church looking for the experience – that fire of the first faith.  What they lack is depth and substance and root in the truth, and sadly, they will not believe that it is true when we try to help them see it.  Like a seed growing in very shallow soil, they whither and die, spiritually, for lack of root and sustenance for their faith.

Then there are those who hear and believe, but whose faith is choked out after a time by the cares and worries of life, just like the seed that fell among the thorns.  Some of these people wind up leaving the church, and some of them remain members of the local church for the rest of their lives.  Notice that Jesus did not say that they lost their faith, just that they "bring no fruit to maturity".  These are the people who get lost in life, and for them the Christian faith and the church is just one thing among many.  Maybe it is family that distracts them.  Perhaps it is their money.  Sometimes it is sports - playing or spectating.  There are those who are always going to games, or going hunting, or going to races, or playing in some sort of tournament, and so they miss church regularly.  At first it bothers them, and after a while it is the normal state of things.  For some it is camping, or traveling, or visiting family – or having company, which just naturally keeps one away from church.

Such people may never leave the church rolls, but they leave the faith.  Our congregation's average attendance is something less than 100%, which indicates that for everyone of you who comes faithfully, there are others that are absent more often than they are present.  Does that mean that those who are here less often are not Christians?  Not necessarily, but it suggests that something else is more important to them than forgiveness of sins, more real to them than resurrection from the grave and eternal life, and more worthy of their time and attention than Jesus Christ Himself.  Usually, those who are here only infrequently do not serve the congregation, and rarely bring others to the Gospel – likely because they themselves grant the Gospel such a low priority in their lives.  God commands that you have no other gods before Him.  Imagine how He must view it when virtually everything comes before Him.

Then there are those Jesus likens to the seed that falls in good ground.  They are the ones who hear the Word of God and believe it.  They not only believe it is true, they live in that truth.  You see, saving faith is not merely accepting propositions of low probability, it is accepting the Word of God as true, and living in it.  Luther called it "Fiducia Cordis", a trust in the heart that causes one to risk everything on the faithfulness of God.  It means living your life as though you cannot die, except physically, and that only for a time.  It means living as though you cannot lose, and all that you need is certain and sure, so you can think more about the welfare of others and less often about yourself.  Living in faith means that you take God at His Word and live in it and live it out.

His Word says that He has rescued you out of sin and death and hell.  If you understand what that means and believe that, it would difficult to ignore Him, or to resist coming to His house and hearing this wonderful news, and receiving the refreshment of both Word and Sacrament.  Jesus thought it was so important that your sins be forgiven and that you have eternal life that He died for you on the cross – dying in your place for your sins.  Just a day before He died, He instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, taking care to guarantee to us the gift of His true body and true blood, hidden beneath the elements of bread and wine for our blessing and strengthening and comforting and forgiveness.

If Jesus believed your salvation was worth all of that, how could anyone that believed the Gospel was true count hearing about it as not worth their time?  How could they value worship as something to do only if there is nothing "better" going on that week?  How could a believer count the fellowship which Christ died to create for their support and encouragement in the faith as less important to their lives than, say, football or company visiting or sleeping in another hour?  How could anyone who believed that in the Holy Supper is forgiveness, life, and salvation bring themselves deliberately to miss it?

Those in whom the Word grows, in what Jesus calls "good and honest hearts" and who "hold it fast" will "bear fruit with perseverance."  That means that those who genuinely believe it will add patience and perseverance to their hearing.  They will listen to the Gospel and live in it with tenacity, and as a result, will bear fruit to the glory of God.  They are not the sort that come and go, but stand firm and steadfast.  They find their treasure in the Word and they do what they must to keep that treasure uppermost in their lives and in their hearts.

It is significant that Jesus ended the parable of the Sower with the words, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  This message isn't for everyone.  God's people will recognize it, and live in it, but those who are not God's will find it hard to hear.  They will not agree.  They may see themselves in the parable, more or less, and be insulted.  But Jesus presents the parable as though to say, be careful how you listen!  The Sower is always Christ, even though He may use my hands to scatter the seed.  The seed is always the same, the powerful and life-giving Word of God.  It is the power of the seed to create faith in those that hear it.  The only differences are in the listener.

Some don't pay any attention, their hearts are too hard.  Some love what they hear, but they never allow it to take root in them, and so their faith comes and goes.  Some allow life to distract them, and the troubles, or the joys, strangle their faith, and choke out all the fruits that they might present to the Lord.  In the end, they end up unbelievers, too.  The difference is in the listener.  So what are you going to do with this Word? I hope and pray that you plant it deep in the rich soil of a heart humble before God.   Live as though you have a written guarantee that you will go to heaven, because you do!  Here it is!

He who has ears to hear, let him hear the parable of the Sower!

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