Sunday, August 9, 2020

Pentecost 10 Sermon


Jesu Juva

“Lord! Save! (And He Does!)”

Text: Matthew 14:22-33

(Job 38:4-18; Romans 10:5-17)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord, save me!

That is the cry of faith. Little faith, big faith, all faith. Faith that looks to the Lord for all that is needed. In good times, bad times, all times. 

And it is exactly what the Lord has come to do. These are exactly the right words to exactly the right man. The God man. The God in the flesh man. 

If your faith isn’t crying that out, the Lord will seek to make it so. First, by coming to you. And second, giving you a reason to cry out to Him. That your faith be in the right place. In Him, and no where and no one, else.

Is that mean? To afflict you that you will cry out to Him? No. It is saving. And so it is most loving. Though it may not seem so at the time. Though it surely didn’t seem so to Peter, who was deeply afraid, terrified, as he was sinking like a stone. But the fear is not from God. The fear is from us and our sin which distrusts God. The situation may be from God, but not to cause fear, but faith. That He might work good. That we rely on Him. That we trust in Him. 

Did the disciples need this? Apparently so. Just before this, Jesus fed the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish. When He asked, the disciples hadn’t turned to Him in faith - they said to send the crowds away because we don’t have enough. Jesus didn’t have enough. Really?

So now a faith building exercise. Orchestrated by Jesus. He purposefully sends the disciples out by themselves while He stays behind. It was tough going, but they were doing alright. They had made significant progress. They were a long way from land, Matthew tells us. They probably would have made it to the other side. But Jesus doesn’t wait for them to do so, He causes trouble for them - He walks out to them on the water. It wasn’t just because He missed the boat! He frightens His disciples - so they will call to Him in faith. Lord, save!

Is that mean? To afflict them so? No. It is to teach. To strengthen. To expose their weakness and demonstrate His strength.

Perhaps all this Covid stuff has done the same for us. Exposed our weakness. We who thought we were so strong. We who can put a man on the moon. We can solve any problem. And then a tiny little germ comes along and proves us weak. Throws the world into a tizzy. Shuts down the economy. We were doing fine. Making headway against all the storms of this world and life. And then we weren’t. And did we cry out Lord, save?! Or did we cry out, why God? If it’s you, God, why did this happen? Maybe both.

Truth is, you think you are able, strong, wise. You prove it by how you live your life and how you try to accomplish so much apart from God. Even in the church. By how often you rely on your own wisdom and strength, rather than in prayer and the Word. When you think God really should be doing this or that, solving this problem or that, giving us this or that, instead of what He is doing. 

Until your weakness is exposed. Until the Lord disrupts things. The disciples may have been able to get to the other side of the lake, but Jesus wants more for them than just that. And for you. 

So Jesus frightens His disciples. Walks to them on the water. That He may speak His Word to them. When they saw Him, they were troubled. He says, Take heart. They thought it was a ghost. He says: It is I, not a ghost. They were frightened. He says, stop being afraid. He does nothing but speak. But that is enough. 

Or it should be. 

But apparently not for Peter. Lord, IF it is you . . . Someone else had spoken similar words before, to challenge Jesus. In the wilderness. IF you are the Son of God (Matthew 4) . . . show it! Command these stones to become bread. Throw yourself off the Temple. Jesus refused satan. But He does not refuse His child. For He was there to defeat satan, but to save His child Peter. So He speaks again. Another word: COME! One word only. But that is enough. For it is a word that is at the same time both command AND promise. Promise that Peter would be able to do so. Or maybe better, that He could enable Peter to do so.

And God’s Word does what it says. For God’s Word always does what it says. Until it doesn’t . . . ?

For Peter begins to sink. All is lost, right?

No. It is for Peter to no longer say, Lord, IF it is you, but Lord, save! You are the one who commanded me! You are the one who gave me your Word! Lord! Save!

If he hadn’t sunk, what would have been the result of his stroll upon the water? Would Peter have been puffed up in himself? Proud of himself? Maybe. We’ll never know. But we know how it is with us. How easily we tend to pride in ourselves and what we are able to do. Think ourselves strong and able. We need our weakness exposed. 

It doesn’t say exactly what brought Peter to his realization of the storm, what caused this change in him, but if Jesus orchestrated this whole thing, sending His disciples out alone, walking to them on the water, then its not a stretch to think that this was part of it, too. In a previous incident, Jesus calmed the wind and waves with just His Word. Maybe He whipped them up a bit here; caused a little extra wind and waves for Peter’s sake - for they’re nothing to Jesus. Remember, Peter?

Well, no. He doesn’t. He is sinking! Like a rock. How appropriate. That’s what his name means, after all! The name Jesus gave him! Now, he has only one thing on his mind . . . 

Lord, save me!

Is that mean? To afflict Peter so? No. Luther liked to preach that this is God acting as a true father. Like a father holding his child in his arms and then suddenly letting go. The child cries out: Dad! And the father immediately grabs her; doesn’t let her fall. He wouldn’t do that. It’s like a game, Luther says, to strengthen her in the little things, that her faith be strengthened for the big things.

So Peter begins to sink. Lord! Save! And immediately, Matthew tells us, immediately, He does. Jesus grabs Peter. Doesn’t let him sink. He wouldn’t do that. It is but a light, momentary affliction, that our faith be in the right place - in Him, not in ourselves. And that our faith be strengthened. That we know, as Paul said to us today, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And it wasn’t just Peter. Think through the Scriptures, how often God does this. What about Abraham? Sacrifice your son, your only son, Isaac! Was God letting him and His promise go? No. He wouldn’t do that. God grabs Him. What about Joseph in Egypt? Had God let him sink, let him die in prison? No. God grabs him. What about the three young men in the fiery furnace? Them, too, God grabs. Reaches out His hand to save.

But then, later, Peter would see something different . . . that saving hand weak, unable to grab him . . . for it had a nail through it. And was attached to a cross. That hand that had marvelously and miraculously multiplied the loaves and fish to feed so many. That hand that had created all things (as we heard in the reading from Job). That hand that touched and healed lepers, that touched and blessed so many, young and old . . . now limp and lifeless and dead. Peter begins to sink again. All is lost, right?

No! Peter will see that hand again reach out to him, to grab him again, to save him. That hand - no longer limp, lifeless, and dead - will stretch itself out and allow his astonished fingers to be put into it. Because that hand has come to save, and save it will. Save us from our doubts, our fears, our sins, our death. For it is the hand of the one who sits at the Father’s right hand, is His right-hand man, and ascended back to that same place. Not to be gone, but to powerfully continue to reach out to us. Saving. Pulling us out of our cesspools of doubt and death. When by His Word our weakness is exposed. When by His Word He enables us to cry out, Lord! Save!

Which we are again about to do! Did you realize that? You do so here every Sunday in fact. When you confess your sins, you are really crying out Lord save! And He speaks, as He did to those disciples: Take heart, it is I, stop being afraid of your sins. I forgive them. All of them. They can condemn you no more. And with that we are reminded, too, of our Baptism, when our Lord’s hand reached out to us and grabbed us, saved us, through water and His Word.

And when we sing Lord have mercy, we are really crying out Lord save! Have mercy on us, for if you didn’t, we would be lost. And He does. For again, He speaks to us His Word, His Gospel, grabbing us with His promises to provide all that we need.

But most of all, we do so when we sing Hosanna! The Hebrew word for Lord save! And as He did with Peter, Jesus stretches out His hand. And He grabs you with His Words . . . Take eat, this is My body. Take drink, this is My blood, for you. For you, my child. For your life. To strengthen you. To save. 

And faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Faith that says Amen! Which is the great Word of faith and worship. Amen. Truth. Your Word is truth. And the disciples - little faith, big faith, faith in the right place faith - worshiped Him - the God man, the God in the flesh man, the Son of God made man - right there in the boat. And so do we. Here, in this boat, the Church.

So all the trials you’re going through in your life, your weakness exposed, what the Lord sends in love that you cry out Lord! Save! . . . all are strengthening you for the biggest trial of all, when you’re sinking into death. And the devil, the world, and your sinful nature will deceive you and mislead you, as they always do. But the Word of the Lord will not. So you will cry out Lord! Save! and He will. He promised. He’s not going to let you go. It’s why He came. And then you will worship Him - like the disciples, with the disciples! - and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. 

For, you see, the Lord doesn’t just want you to get to the other end of this life. Many do that. Get through this life. And rather successfully. But Jesus wants more for you than just that. He wants you. Forever. And so He comes. For you. 

So now, in this world and life, with its troubles and trials and struggles, with His Word, with such assurance, with such great and precious promises, with such a Saviour for you, maybe you can jump out in faith - not to walk on water, but for what He has called you to do: to love one another, as He has loved you (John 13:34). And if . . . when! . . . you begin to fail, you begin to sink, you know what to say. And He knows what to do.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 10 (August 10-15, 2020)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Psalm 28:7 - “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #615 “When in the Hour of Deepest Need”

Hymns for Sunday: 915, 615, 624, 580, 575

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday: Psalm 67

When God shines His face upon us, what is the result? Why?

Tuesday: Luke 19:41-48

In what three ways does Jesus show His love in these verses? How do strong words and deeds reflect strong love?

Wednesday: Luke 1:39-55

Commemoration of Mary, Mother of our Lord (Saturday). How does God use His might? Why was this good news for Mary? And for you?

Thursday: Isaiah 56:1, 6–8

What does God promise in these verses? Why is this good news for you?

Friday: Romans 11:1–2a, 13–15, 28–32 

God wants to have mercy on all. How does He do so? Why are we often so resistant?

Saturday: Matthew 15:21-28

How did this Canaanite woman show her great faith? With what words?

The Catechism - The Commandments: The Tenth Commandment – You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .

+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).

+ an end to the violence and turmoil in our land; for peace and understanding and listening.

+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational financial secretary, Dave Fields.

+ the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.

+ God’s blessing, guidance, provision, and strength for Pastor Douthwaite in his role as Circuit Visitor.

Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Pentecost 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Is God Good?”
Text: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Romans 8:18-27

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If God is good and all powerful, why is the evil in the world?

That is a question asked by many, and asked down through the ages. And for some, the existence of evil is all the proof they need to know that God does not exist. That He is a myth. Wishful thinking. A delusion for weak people. Or if He does exist, that He’s not worth the time, for He must be either not good to let evil go on, or not very powerful if evil remains. So that’s that.

Except . . . Jesus gives another answer today to consider. Not that He owes us any answers! But Jesus is telling us today that there is evil in the world because God is both good and merciful.

That’s the meaning of the Parable of the Weeds of the Field that Jesus tells us today. Last week, a man went out to sow his seed, and he sowed it lavishly and abundantly. Good seed, for good plants, to produce a good harvest. But, turns out, he wasn’t the only one sowing seed. Another man came, after him, under the cover of night, in the darkness, and sowed bad seed. Seed intended to produce nothing - only to hurt and harm what the good sower sowed. This one sowed evil.

So, after the seeds sprouted and grew, the servants noticed all was not right. At first they thought the good sower had sowed bad seed - or at least, a mixture of good and bad. But no, the good sower does only good. Nothing wrong with his seed. An enemy did this. To undermine good. To hurt and to harm. There was no other purpose than that. Just evil. Pure evil.

Well, there’s an easy way to take care of that! Let us get rid of all those weeds, the servants said! Pull ‘em up! We’ll take care of that problem quickly and easily. We’re ready - just give the word . . .

Now, before going on, a word here about this quickness and eagerness. It’s not always good. The saying: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread is not without merit. Sophomores are “wise fools” who after just a year of learning think they know more than they really do. New pastors are often eager to go in and “fix” their congregations. But sometimes quickness and over-eagerness can cause great harm. And with regard to theology, a man named G.K. Chesterton once said that heterodoxy is always in a hurry, gotta do it now! But orthodoxy is patient, and awaits God’s time. So the servants are eager, but that’s not the best course of action here . . .

Their master, the good sower, knows more than they. So no, he says. Leave them. Don’t rush in. Why? For the sake of the good plants. To be good and merciful to them, lest while ripping out the weeds, the good get harmed in the process. The time will come, but it is not yet.

Now, that’s easy to understand when it comes to plants! But perhaps not so much when it comes to us. Because it sure does seem like this world would be a much better place if we could just get rid of them . . . those evil ones . . . you know who I mean. 

But maybe we’re being sophomores, “wise fools,” with such thinking. Maybe we don’t know as much as we think. We sang in the Introit today, Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth. We need to be taught. The ways of God, the goodness of God, the mercy of God. That we may walk in it. That if He says it is good and merciful and better for the evil to remain, then as much as we might not understand it, it is - good and merciful and better. Teach me, O Lord. To understand that. To think like you. 

And while we’ll never fully get there, thinking the thoughts of God, in this world and life, with our bodies, minds, and hearts infected and affected and dragged down by sin, teach us He does, with His Word. And in Holy Baptism, too, where your Father in heaven has given you His Spirit that you may not only be His child, but that you also have the mind of Christ, that you begin to think like Christ, and grow in Him.

For the truth is that our life in this world is intertwined not just with believers and Christians, but with those who are not Christian, those who are not believers, and those who perhaps even work evil. So if all those not of good seed were to go, how would you be hurt? You don’t even know all the ways, since God is able to use the just and the unjust, believers and unbelievers, for His good. In every vocation in this world and life, there are those of good and bad seed, and yet in fulfilling their vocation, God is using them for good for you. Farmers, police, firefighters, shop keepers, soldiers, government workers, and more. How do they benefit you? So if they were all pulled now . . .

Now, there are difficulties that come with that, to be sure. Struggles in our world between right and wrong, between those who follow God’s Word and truth and those who do not. Evil isn’t idle. There will be conflict and pain and heartache. Pontius Pilate was part of a government that provided peace in the world, yet also crucified Jesus. 

And this, too: it is not always so easy to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat, and judging too quickly could cause great harm.

For think about Paul - he looked like a weed for a long time, persecuting Christians and sending them to prison. Would you have pulled Paul?

Or what about Judas? He looked like a good plant for three years. He was one of the twelve! He preached and taught, helped to hand out food to the 5,000. Would you have left him?

Or what about you? Take a look at youself, your past, your worst moments. When you hurt someone, when you held a grudge and refused to forgive, when you did what you knew was wrong, when you weren’t living as a Christian. What if “the weed police” pulled you right then and there! But they didn’t. God didn’t allow it. Because God is good and merciful. To you!

Because the truth is, we’ve been plopped down in the middle of a long story, a long history, and we just don’t know the whole story. We know the here and now, and maybe a bit of history, but there’s a lot we don’t know, and we certainly don’t know the future. So how do we judge? How do we decide?

So, a little story I once read: A sculptor was once asked how he managed to take a block of stone and create beautiful pieces of art - something I certainly could never do! He said: Well, I don’t. I just cut off all that doesn’t belong, that isn’t part of the finished piece. He sees what cannot be seen by others. 

That’s how it is with God. We may want to rush in and start hacking away at the stone, start pulling the weeds, start doing what we think - but all we’re going to end up with is a mess. We just don’t know. We just can’t see as God sees. 

So our Father in heaven says, be patient. Live with the weeds for a while, because you can’t really tell the weeds and wheat apart anyway. The time will come for the harvest, and then the separation will take place, then you’ll see. But not before then. Now is the time of patience and mercy, and yes, struggle. But in the midst of the struggle, a promise - from God through the apostle Paul: the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Right now, Paul says, are the labor pains. It’s tough. It’s probably good that none of us remember that struggle of being born! But your delivery is coming. Your new life is coming. A new world, a new creation is coming, that you cannot even begin to imagine! So be patient right now, but in hope, in faith in God, and so also in love toward your neighbor.

And with this, we learn of God’s plan. That God doesn’t conquer evil by destroying evildoers. He destroys evil with forgiveness. Conquering evil by destroying evildoers is like pulling weeds without getting the roots - they’re just going to grow back again. But forgiveness goes down to the roots, and not only conquers evil, but even has the power to change bad seed into good seed, and weeds into wheat. And again, we see and learn of God’s goodness and mercy.

The goodness and mercy of a God who doesn’t just sit up in heaven as an observer to what is happening in our world but unable to do anything about it, nor as a judgmental God who just sits up in heaven zapping evildoers and squashing evil under an all-powerful fist. He is a God who in goodness and mercy came down into the midst of our evil world, to be swallowed up by evil, that He might swallow it up with the might of His atonement. With the might of His death and resurrection. With the might of His forgiveness. And He did. And He is. That’s the only reason why you’re here. The blood of Jesus, shed on the cross and poured into the ground for you, to forgive your sin and evil - all of it! Past, present, and future - and make you a good plant. His plant. 

And the blood of Jesus that continues to nourish you each day, through His Word, through His forgiveness, and through His Body and Blood that you receive here at this altar. There is no question that you and I, based on the merits, deserve to be pulled. But a good and merciful God said no. Wait. Be patient. Let them grow. Let me feed them, care for them, nurture them. And so you are who you are. Because God is merciful.

But He is merciful to all, and so now bids us to wait and be patient. The harvest is coming, but there is still time. And God, in His goodness and mercy, is working. In you, for you, through you. He gives you His Spirit who help us, Paul says. Who helps us wait and pray. Who helps us see as our Father in heaven sees. Who helps us to love and forgive as Jesus does. And to be merciful. To all. For we simply do not know what the whole story is, all that God is doing. So we do according to His Word, in faith, in hope, and in love. And trusting that He knows what we do not. And that in the end, all will be right and just.

Because God is merciful. That there is evil in the world proves that, not that He is weak or does not exist. And so we come to His Table, this Table set before us is the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23), to receive Him. And we may groan with creation for a while, under struggles and burdens and cares, and maybe things are going to get really tough. That’s okay. God is merciful. To you and to all. Lord, help us hear that and learn that. Help us see that. Help us believe that. That Your faith and hope, Your love and forgiveness, be not just in our hearts, but on our lips, and in our deeds. And help us rejoice in You even now, even in the midst of the struggle, even surrounded by evil, knowing that we will also rejoice with You in Your kingdom.

For it really is true, what we just sang - A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. . . . And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, the vict’ry has been won, the Kingdom our remaineth (LSB #656). The kingdom of our good and powerful and merciful God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Pentecost 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Lavish (Foolish?) Sower”
Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23;
Isaiah 55:10-13; Romans 8:12-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The neighbor behind our house has nice flower gardens, full of color. We were envious. Because at our house, we plant flowers like that and the deer come and eat them - usually the night right after we plant them! So we asked her how she did it. How she kept the deer from eating her flowers like they eat ours. She said she didn’t - she just planted more than they could eat!

It’s kind of the same with our tomato plants. We not only try to plant flowers, but vegetables, too. We can keep the deer away from them with a fence, but not the squirrels and chipmunks. So invariably, every year, just as the tomatoes are turning red and ripe and ready for picking, one of those little varmints comes and picks them, takes one or two bites, and then leaves the rest on the ground. Maybe they think they’re sharing, or it’s their way of thanking us . . . or mocking us. So now, instead of planting tomato plants that produce fewer but bigger tomatoes, we plant the ones the produce more but smaller fruit - so there is enough for the critters and us.

The parable we heard today is kind of like those stories. The man in the parable sows enough seed to get a harvest - because he knows that not all his seed is going to produce. He knows the critters are going to get some, the weeds are going to choke some, and the sun is going to sorch some. But there will also be some that grows and produces for him. So he is not stingy with his seed. He sows abundantly, generously - perhaps foolishly so - in order to get a harvest. 

It’s a simple story, really. But as often with parables, sometimes the point is still missed. Jesus Himself calls it the Parable of the Sower. That is, a parable to teach us something about the Sower. But some call it the Parable of the Soils - putting the emphasis not on the sower or on his seed, but on the soil, and therefore giving the impression that the point of the parable is to make better soil so that the seed will grow. Others think the point is better sowing of the seed - that we should be more targeted, more selective, more careful. Don’t waste seed.

But both of those interpretations of this parable put the onus on us - for you to improve the soil of your heart, or for the church to improve the techniques she uses to sow the Word in the world. Both have the same focus: How can I improve myself, or how can we get others ready, to hear the Word and grow?

Now, certainly, there is a kernal of truth in those things. For example, we can get a good night’s sleep before church so we are ready to hear the Word of God. We can set aside time and turn off our cell phones and other distractions at home to read the Word and pray. And we should do those things. There will also be times when our friends, family, and neighbors are ready to hear the Word and times when they might be more resistant. All of that’s true . . . but not the point of this parable. Because you will never do enough - can never do enough - to make the Word of God grow. There are too many things out of your control. Too many enemies of the Word.

Like the first enemy Jesus mentions - the birds that come and snatch away the seed that fell on the hard path. That’s the evil one. Always ready to swoop in and take advantage of those hard places in our hearts. Those places where maybe worldly opinion and thinking has hardened us to the truth of God’s Word. Worldly opinion regarding morality, what is really right and wrong; or science, whether all that the Scriptures say is true or not; or who is saved and how, if Jesus really is the one and only way. Or maybe where sin has hardened our hearts, making us resistant to repent and ask forgiveness for ourselves, and resistant in our willingness to forgive others. Resistant to those sins we really don’t want to stop, but hard and stubborn toward others in those same sins. Resistant to change our minds, our attitudes, our actions. Hard places in your hearts - you got ‘em. What are they, where are they, how big are they, for you?

Then there’s the second enemy Jesus mentions - the sun which scorches the seeds that quickly pop up in the rocky ground. No roots leave the new and tender plants susceptible to the intensity of the sun - as you are to the intensity of tribulation or persecution. When your joy in God’s Word and truth is slammed by opposition in the world, and either you agree with them and go along with them - or at least shut up and don’t say anything against them! - or you pay the price. You will lose a boyfriend or girlfriend, a promotion at work, maybe even a job. You’ll be mocked, won’t be invited to certain events. Say the words, bend the knee, toe the party line, or face the world’s graffiti of shame on you and their rage against you. Yes, there are places in your hearts where your faith is on rocky ground - you got ‘em. What are they, where are they, how big are they, for you?

And then there are the seeds that fall victim to the third enemy, the thorns, the choking weeds of the world. The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, Jesus calls them. What are the cares and concerns filling your hearts and choking out the Word of God planted there? The wonderful promises of God that get swallowed up by . . . what? Health concerns, family problems, job worries, Covid fear, uncertainty about the future, anxiety about your kids. And your riches, too - and not just money. But whatever you’re wealthy in, or want to be wealthy in, and it’s taking over your life as you serve it and go after it, and the Word of God is suffocated in those weeds. You got ‘em, weeds, in your hearts. Maybe many, and many different kinds. What are they, how many are they for you?

So if the point of this parable was for you to make sure the soil of your heart was good and ready to grow God’s Word and produce an abundant harvest . . . really? You’re going to do that? You’re going to be able to keep the evil one away and soften up the hard places in your hearts? You’re going to be able to remove all the rocks and rocky places from your hearts and withstand all the heat of the world? You’re going to pull all the weeds out of your hearts, and not let cares and concerns and worries and anxieties have any place there? Really? 

Truth is, the human heart, by nature, by birth, because of sin, is a terribly hostile place for the Word of God

And yet . . . some of that seed does grow and produce a harvest. Because the sower is abundant and generous with His seed - perhaps foolishly so - and so despite all the junk that is in your heart and life, and keeps coming into your heart and life, it grows. Miraculously, it would be accurate to say. Maybe we’re spoiled, maybe we’re just used to it, but when that Word of God is sown, and we respond: Thanks be to God! - we should mean that! Thanks be to God that He does not just sow a little of His Word, but a lot. And keeps doing so. That some of it will grow in our hearts and bear fruit in our lives.

And then as His Word grows in us, it can change our hearts. The Word can do what we are unable to do. The key to getting a nice thick lawn, I am told, is not to kill the weeds but to strengthen and thicken the good grass. Then the good chokes out the bad. And the key to sun and drought resistance is not shade, but good and deep roots. And so as the Word of God grows in you, your faith is strengthened and deepened, and the critters and the weeds and the sun . . . they’re not going away, but their job becomes much harder, and the fruits increase in your life. Thanks be to God!

And even one seed of God’s Word is able to do this. God is extremely rich and generous with His Word, but it only takes one seed to start growing . . . one seed planted in the heart . . . one seed planted in the world . . . one seed planted in . . . Bethlehem. As soon as that seed was planted, as soon as that seed was born, as soon as that seed grew and stepped out into the world, the critters, sun, and weeds came, trying to snatch it away, trying to burn it up, trying to choke it out. No sooner had Jesus heard the words from heaven in His baptism, You are my beloved Son, that satan was there in the wilderness trying to snatch that Word away: Yeah, right! If you are the Son of God . . .  No sooner had Jesus begun to preach the Word that the heat was turned up against Him by the Pharisees and Jewish authorities. They tried to choke Him with accusations of sin and mocking taunts while hanging on the cross. And when Jesus bowed His head and died, it looked as if they were successful in stamping out that seed God sowed in this world. And then it was planted in the ground in a hard, dry, place of solid rock where no seed could ever grow . . . 

Except it did! It grew. And it hasn’t stopped growing. The Word is poured, the Word is read, the Word is spoken, the Word is fed, the Word is thrown out into the world, into you, falling into all sorts of hearts and all kinds of soils. And growing. Isaiah said it in his prophecy that we heard today: The Word of God shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. That is, the Word of God made flesh will succeed - He will accomplish the salvation of the world on the cross. He will not be defeated. He will atone for your sins and the sin of the world. He will win the forgiveness of your sins. He will defeat death and the grave - life will come from the dead. He will do it. 

But so, too, will the Word that God sends now - the Word that proclaims and gives the Word made flesh. It, too, will grow and succeed. It will produce joy and peace. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle. Good plants. And the harvest will not only be in your life, but will be you yourself. That you will be among the harvest on the Last Day and brought into the kingdom. 

This is the Parable of the Sower; about Him. So if this parable doesn’t make you say Thanks be to God! you’re not hearing it right. This is a joyous Word, this parable, of God’s abundant and lavish love in the generous and abundant sowing of His seed. His seed and Word to work in our hearts, to soften the hard and stony places, to pull the weeds of sin, and to deepen the roots of faith. His Spirit, working through that Word, doing what we are unable to do. His Spirit working in us, so that as Paul said to us today, we can cry “Abba! Father!” as children of God. Rejoicing in the Baptism and the Word that was poured on us there which made us His children. Rejoicing in being able to come to our Father in repentance with the promise not of punishment or chastisement, but to hear His Word of forgiveness and have that Word again sown in our hearts. And rejoicing in the family dinner, to receive the Body and Blood, the forgiveness and life, of the Word of God made flesh. Miracle upon miracle upon miracle. Word upon Word upon Word. For you, for you, for you. 

A sower sows His seed, lavishly, abundantly, generously - but, it turns out, not foolishly. For it does exactly what He sows it for - it grows children of God. And maybe His Word you will speak to others as well. All it takes is one seed to fall into that good soil . . . 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Pentecost 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Forgiveness and Freedom”
Text: Romans 7:14-25a; Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11:25-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the verses we heard from Romans today, Paul doesn’t just sound like a sinner, but an addict. Someone in bondage. He sounds like the gambler who knows he shouldn’t play with the rent money. He knows what he should do, but he can’t; he can’t resist. He sounds like the alcoholic who knows he should walk past the bar and go home to his family. He knows what he should do, but he can’t; he can’t resist. He sounds like the man who neglects his family and works too much. He sounds like the child lying to her parents. He sounds like the wife compulsively shopping. He sounds like . . . us. He knows what he should do. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, BUT. But. Such a little word that is oh, so big. BUT . . .

It’s not an excuse. Doesn’t make it right. Paul knows that. We know that. He wants to do what is right. He doesn’t want to be ruled by what he knows is wrong. He tries to resist. But he is not strong enough. Something has a hold on him. And he doesn’t like it. And yet he can’t seem to get rid of it. What’s wrong with him?

But he’s not the only one. Paul’s story is Cain’s story, knowing that he should be his brother’s keeper, and yet overcome with jealousy and rage instead. Paul’s story is the story of Joseph’s brothers, who know they shouldn’t sell him into slavery but do it anyway. Paul’s story is David’s story, who knows he shouldn’t be looking at his neighbor’s wife, bathing on the roof next to him, but who keeps looking anyway, and then acts on his lust and winds up a murderer. Paul’s story is Peter’s story, who knows he shouldn’t deny Jesus, BUT . . . There’s that word again. But . . .

And Paul’s story is your story. I don’t know what Paul’s addiction was. And I don’t know what yours is. But you do. And I know my own. What is it for you? What sin, what addiction, what bondage that keeps popping up in your life, but you can’t seem to get rid of. It may be a deed, or an activity. It could also be a desire, or pride. Maybe for you it’s a person, or an achievement that has a hold on you.

It may not be illegal. In fact, it probably isn’t. It may not even be wrong in the eyes of the world. In fact, it probably isn’t. People may look at you and think: what a good person! Better than most. But you know the truth. The ugly truth. That that’s not true at all. You’re an addict. It may not be illegal, it may not even be wrong in the eyes of the world, but it has become what you love so much, what you want so much, that it displaces God in your heart and life. And so it’s an idol, making you, at times, push family aside, marriage aside, church aside, God aside, and serve yourself, your idol, instead. It’s the elephant - not in the room - but in your heart. A mammoth of sin, that keeps reappearing. What is it for you?

And it can be exhausting. Trying to serve it, trying to cover it up so no one knows, trying to fight it and overcome it. It wears you out because it’s so strong and you’re so weak. And you don’t want to be weak - you want to be strong, and that just wears you out more and makes you weaker! It’s a wicked cycle. Just the way satan has set it up for you. To keep you in its grip. To keep you in his grip. 

So finally Paul, at the end of his rope, blurts out: Ach! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Maybe you’ve been there and know his cry. Maybe you haven’t yet - but you will. No one is immune. Wretched man that I am! Wretched man, wretched woman, wretched child that you are! Who will rescue you?

You know the answer, but let me read it for you anyway:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
   Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold, your king is coming to you;
   righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Now, I don’t think those are the words you were expecting to hear! But maybe they were the words Paul had in mind when he wrote his answer: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God, through the one who rode into Jerusalem that day, humble, lowly, and looking like anything but a conquering king. And yet that’s exactly what He was, and what He was doing. He came having salvation, Zechariah says. Your salvation. The deliverance from your bondage. The freedom from your addiction, your idols, your sin. No one less than the King Himself came to rescue you from your body of death, for no one less than the King could. 

We usually talk about what Jesus did for us in terms of forgiveness - and that’s certainly true. You are forgiven the guilt of all your sin. Done. But that’s not all. Jesus doesn’t forgive just to have you go back to the same sin again - but to set you free from that sin, from that burden, that bondage, from that heavy yoke of your addiction that is taking you where you do not want to go. And so give you rest. Rest from the pride that makes you try to cover it up so that no one knows. Rest from the despair that makes you wallow in it and think you’ll never be good enough. Rest from the struggle to try to overcome it yourself. Rest, to see in Jesus the only way out.

Addiction programs like AA and others often have “12 step” programs - kind of a ladder you can climb up and out of your addiction and make up for it. I’m sure you’ve heard of them; maybe even been there yourself. But for Paul, there aren’t 12 steps, but only one. But it’s a big one! The step the Son of God took, coming down from heaven and all the way down to us, to you, in the depth of your sin and addiction, to set you free. The steps He took in freeing people from disease, demons, and death. The steps He took to the cross. And then the step He would NOT take - the one down and off of the cross. He let the bonds that hold us hold Him, so that He could break them, once and for all, with His resurrection. That you be forgiven and free.

So Come to me, Jesus says, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Rest for us burdened by guilt, under a mountain of sin, with piles of regret, and a crushing load of failure. Look! Jesus says from the cross. It’s all on me. All of it. Every last sin, every iota of your guilt and failure. And if it’s on me, it’s not on you. 

So now take my yoke upon you, and learn from me - learn all that I have done for you! - for I am gentle and lowly in heart - like when I rode that donkey into Jerusalem - and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

So two quite different yokes. One heavy, leading you down a path you don’t want to go but are not able to resist. So it controls you and drives you. But other is light, leading you to salvation, a path you want to go down, but are not able by yourself. So your Saviour leads you and brings you with Him. Which do you think is better? Which do you want? 

And if you’re thinking that better than either of those is to have no yoke at all - to throw off all the shackles of this world and the Church and just be my on my own and be my own person . . . that’s not freedom. What you’ll wind up doing is following your own urges and desires and being a slave to them, under their yoke. And so back under the heavy yoke of addiction to sin. 

So while Paul’s story is our story, what Jesus has done is made His story our story. A better story, with a better ending. 

So when you are baptized, Jesus’ story becomes your story - you become a son of God, receive His Spirit, and die and rise with Him. So that’s where your life now is, not in an addiction that only robs you of life. 

And when you are absolved, Jesus’ story becomes your story as His words from the cross are spoken to you: Father, forgive them. So that’s where your life now is. You don’t have to feed an addiction to feel good about yourself.

And when you feed on Jesus’ Body and Blood, His story becomes your story - that’s where your life now is, that partaking of this new and greater passover, you pass over - already here and now - to a new life, a truly free life. To step over, or maybe even on, whatever it is that is addicting, holding, you.

So while Paul’s story and your story are the ugly truth, so too in receiving Jesus’ story, you have a beautiful truth, and a saving truth. That you are not defined by your sin, but by your Saviour. Not by what you do or have done, but by what He has done for you.

So I think . . . this chapter, these words, must have been really hard for Paul to write. To admit his addiction, his sin, his weakness, his failure. He had been such a strong and successful man, looked up to by all. Until he saw something different. Until he saw what was real. Experts say that to be able to identify a counterfeit, you don’t  study counterfeits - you study and know the real thing, so that when you see a fake, it sticks out like a sore thumb. So only when Paul saw the real thing, saw Christ and His life and love, did he see his life for what it really was: fake. That he was not a good man, but a wretched man. And that he needed to repent and turn away from all that he was, all that he had been doing, and rely instead on Christ.

For only after being exposed, all his efforts crushed, did Jesus’ forgiveness and freedom then taste so sweet. Paul drank of that, and rejoiced! It completely changed him. And he wants that for you. And Jesus, too, wants that for you, of course! That’s why He came. And comes now. So while its hard for us, too, to admit our addiction, our sin, our weakness, our failure, and to repent,to do so means rest from your labors; rest in Christ. So that you, too, can rejoice, and, as Zechariah put it, be a prisoner no longer of addiction, but a prisoner of hope. To the Lord who restores to you double. Both forgiveness and freedom. Both faith and love. He gives you the forgiveness and faith that gives you life, and the freedom and love to live that new life, to no longer be in bondage to serve your addiction or your sin, but to serve your neighbor in love. Like Christ. For His life is real life, and His love real love.

And on this Independence Day weekend, this weekend we celebrate our freedom, that freedom, Paul would tell you, is the freedom we need. And the greatest freedom of all.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Pentecost 4 Sermon

Confirmation of Joshua Vigil

Jesu Juva

“Not by Worth, by Grace”
Text: Matthew 10:34-42; Romans 7:1-13

I’m calling an audible today. Like they do in football. The teams call a play and line up against each other, but then one of them notices something is wrong; the play isn’t going to work. So they change it. They call an audible. 

I’m calling an audible today. We’ve lined up to do a confirmation today, of Joshua. We have the kneeler here for him and you may have noticed this rite added to the normal order of service in the bulletin. But I’m calling an audible today. Because Joshua is not worthy. 

You heard it. You heard Jesus Himself say it. Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, anything or anyone, really, in this world is not worthy of Jesus. And then Jesus added this too: Whoever does not take his cross and follow me - to death! Whoever does not love me more than their own life - is not worthy of me.

So how can I let Joshua come up here and say these things today? When he is not worthy. And, by the way, Joshua would agree with me on this. That he’s not worthy. He knows it. Maybe he thought he could pull the wool over your eyes. And God’s, too. 

But no, he knows he can’t do that either. Oh, maybe he can fool you all, but he knows that God knows him better than he knows himself. That God knows all the sin that is in his heart. And there’s quite a bit in there, isn’t there, Joshua? He knows because, as St. Paul said today, the law exposed his sin. When he learned the commandments, he realized there was so much more to them than meets the eye! That he was more dreadfully sinful than he could ever imagine. He actually thought he was pretty good before that! Again, like Paul. Mostly doing good. Mostly doing right. But then he learned how blind he had been. God’s Word exposed the depth of his sin.

Yet still, he was going to come forward today and make some pretty bold statements! And I was going to let him! Good thing this Gospel was assigned for today!

But wait . . . what about the rest of you? You’re not worthy either. But you’ve already been confirmed and so you don’t have to worry about it, right? Got that out of the way and over with! But all of you who are not worthy of Jesus are going to come forward today as well and expect to receive His Body and Blood in His Supper! And I was going to let you! Maybe I should call an audible here as well and have the altar guild clear the Table . . .

And . . . what about me? My black heart? My hands with blood on them? The people and things I fear, love, and trust more than God and thus sin? What about me? I was going to put these filthy hands on Joshua’s head and confirm him? Really?

So I’m going to call an audible today and not confirm Joshua . . . not because he is worthy. I’m going to confirm him because of grace. Because what is happening here today is what happens here every week: a gracious God giving gifts to unworthy sinners

Now, some think this was an audible called by God. That when Adam and Eve fell into sin, God was the one who had to scramble and call an audible - His original plan was no longer going to work. But no. The God who knows our hearts, the God who knows everything, knew this too. And planned for it. Planned to give His Son for the life of the world. His most gracious gift to us unworthy sinners.

At this point I am often asked why God, then, created at all, if He knew we would just sin and ruin it all? And while God hasn’t told us the answers to all our “why?” questions, I imagine the answer would be along the same reasons as why we plant gardens even though we know there will be weeds. Why we have children even though we know they will rebel and be disobedient. Why we get married even though we know there will be disagreements and fights. Because God so loved the world . . .  He gave His only-begotten Son. Because God is love. And love gives. So yes, weeds grew in God’s perfect garden, His children were rebellious, and His Bride fought against Him and was unfaithful to Him. And God loved through it all. He didn’t like it! But He loved them. And He loves you.

And this, too, Joshua learned. This is who God is. That from first to last, our God is a gracious God, a giving God, a gifting God. Creation a gift, life a gift, faith a gift, prayer a gift, baptism a gift, the Supper a gift, and today, confirmation a gift. Because not one of us is worthy. As we heard and spoke at the beginning of the liturgy this morning: If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness . . .

Forgiveness. Not getting away with our sin and unworthiness, but having our sin and unworthiness taken by Jesus and placed upon Him and having Him pay the price for it - with His life. And then having the blood He shed wash us clean from our sin and unworthiness, to make us right again. Righteous. Just. Justified. By Him. Back to the way it was in the beginning, that it may be that way again in the end. 

Without Him, without His gifts, on our own, the only thing we can do is keep digging our holes, our debts, our graves, deeper. We need someone to not only pull us out of those graves, but fill in our graves - and so Jesus did, with His own body. And then He pulled us out with Him in His resurrection. That we no longer breathe the stale, poisoned air of death, but breathe the breath of life, by the Spirit Jesus gave, gifted, breathed into us through His Word. A new life, a different life, a godly life, begun now, that will last forever.

And Joshua knows this new life isn’t going to be easy. As much as we want peace in the world - and want Jesus to give it to us! - the reality is often the opposite. The sword of God’s Word, God’s truth, isn’t popular, and causes division. Even in families. It always has. Even a quick read through the Bible reveals that the Bible is not a peaceful book! There is sin, rebellion, death, and division everywhere! Even in families. Sinners are going to sin and no worldly peace is going to last. We keep trying and failing. Just take a look around: from the Middle East, to North Korea, to the strife in our own country. It’s like an earthen dam - plug one hole and another will soon take its place. 

So instead of leaving peace up to us, our Lord came to do it. But one person at a time. One baptism at a time. One absolution at a time. One Body eaten and Blood drunk at a time. To do not worldly peace, but His peace - the peace of forgiveness - a gift, from Him to you. And at peace with Him we can be at peace with one another. But it is gift. Peace is not something we can do - not lasting peace, anyway. It comes from the Prince of Peace, born in the manger, crucified on the cross, raised from the dead, coming now in Word and Sacrament, and coming again in glory. That is our reward when we receive those Jesus sends to us - the gift He gives us through them. The gift you receive here through the unworthy servant God put here for you.

Joshua learned that, too, that pastors are just as sinful and unworthy as the next guy. And this pastor not only taught him that in word but also in deed, right Joshua?! But Joshua learned that when these filthy hands are placed on his head, when these sinful lips speak absolution, when these blood-stained hands put the Body and Blood of Jesus to his lips, something truly extraordinary is happening! The Lord is giving him perfect gifts through an imperfect man. So he will believe - and receive - what he hears, not what he sees. And so he will not lose his reward.

And so for the rest of you as well. A confirmation is truly a day to rejoice - not in what Joshua has accomplished, but in the work of our Lord in him. And you. It is a day to remember that our Lord is faithful to all His promises, and that the work begun in Joshua in baptism our Lord has continued to work in him. And you. And to remember, too, that there is joy not only here, today, but also in heaven - for all of heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents and receives the gift of forgiveness and life from our Saviour. 

So Joshua, yes, grab your hymnal and come up here! And as you renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways, as you confess the faith of the Church in our gracious triune God, and as you confess your intention to continue in this faith and in this church even in the face of death, let the words you will speak sink in: I do, by the grace of God

So, I guess this really wasn’t an audible at all, but the way it always is. Pure gift. Pure grace. The grace of God, the gift of a Saviour, and a Spirit of forgiveness and life, for unworthy sinners. Gifts that will never let you down.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.