Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Restaurants and Worship

Well, it is official, summer is over.  How do I know?  Kids are back in school and the stands are full for High School home football games. I don’t know about you, but the summer was refreshing.  No, I don’t mean anything about the temperatures, for I dislike heat more than just about anything else. 

Why was summer refreshing?  I took a few weeks of vacation, and while on vacation was able to attend worship services in God’s house.  While attending these services, I was a hearer of God’s Word and a receiver at the Table of the Lord.  What a blessed thing it was not to be a servant, but to be one of those served.  This is not to say that when I conduct the service, I am not preaching to myself.  In fact, I write my sermons directed at everybody, myself first and foremost.  I am also the first to receive the Lord’s Supper from my hand.  But there is something about being purely receptive that is so refreshing.

When I go out to a restaurant, it is nice to sit in the seat of honor, and that seat is the seat at which you are waited upon.  Someone brings you your water, your meal, cleans up the dishes.  It is nice to sit there and be fed and nourished without having to prepare the meal, serve it, and (my wife especially likes this) clean the dishes.

It is the same at the worship services in God’s house.  Every Sunday, someone (Christ’s undershepherd, a servant, the pastor) prepares and serves that which is fed to those gathered, that is, the pure spiritual milk of the Word.  And those gathered are fed and nourished in the faith as the Spirit works in Word and Sacrament upon those who hear, eat, and drink.

Amazingly, there are some people who think that to be leading worship in some way is to be more important or more involved in the service.  Really?  Let’s go back to the restaurant.  Would you rather be seated at the table?  Or would you rather be the one serving the table?  Who is more important?

The highest honor in God’s house is to be those who are gathered to receive what Christ comes in Word and Sacrament to serve.  What a blessing it is that God sent His Son to give His life as a ransom to redeem us from sin.  What a blessing it is to gather in God’s house to receive that which He delivers in Word and Sacrament, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  What a blessing that God’s mercy moves Him to deliver such grace to us.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

He Does All Things Well

He Does All Things Well

Mark 7:31-37

(This is my sermon from September 3, 2017. I was asked to post it where people could read it. So, here it is)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

How many of you know someone in Texas who has been affected by hurricane Harvey? I know a few pastors in the area, and we have family that is nearby. Some of those pastors have homes and churches significantly underwater, the extent of the damage is at present, undetermined. Not quite sure about the cousins and how they are faring.

What has again been discussed as the flood waters rise and the tragic pictures continue to scroll across the news and social media, is – where is God in all of this? Why doesn’t God do something? Doesn’t someone have an answer?

When things go bad, we want to have an answer, we want to either receive of bring comfort. We want to have an answer. And, we think that we need to say something like, “God’s still in control!” Or, “when a door closes, God opens a window.” Or maybe, “God has a plan for you.” And even quoting the Bible, “all things work together for good to those who love God.”

Then comes our text and it appears to fall right in line, we find God in Christ Jesus healing a deaf man with a speech impediment. Reading this text after this last week, where at the writing of this sermon it was still raining and the flood waters were still rising, we wonder why does God wait to do something like He did in our text?

It makes us wonder about whether we have our faith placed in truth or fiction. Why does God allow such calamity to happen?

Dear friends in Christ, not everything that is true about God, are things people want to hear about God. There are hidden things of God, and there are revealed things of God. Too often, people want to know the hidden things of God, but they have not all been revealed to us.

Unfortunately, all the questions asked so far in this sermon are all the wrong questions. I know that you may want the answers to those questions, but they are none of your concern.

Trust me, I know the questions – I know them intimately! They were questions I begged God to answer, sometimes as I soaked my pillow with tears, “Why God? Why do I need to take care of my mother? Why do I need to bath her? Why do I have to change her diapers? Why do I have to place food in her mouth? Why can’t you just heal her? Why do you let her suffer with pain when she loves you so much? Are you listening – God? Do you care – God? Are you even there – God?”

Dear friends those were all the wrong question. And the answers that some people tried to give me, were of not help! They offered fine feelings, but they only gave unstable hope.

God wants us only to know this about Him – are you ready? Listening? – here it is… God wants us only to know this about Him, Jesus!

In our text, Jesus demands the people to say nothing. After healing the man, He charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. What do they say? “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Wow! God does all things well? He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak? Great!

But mom still lies in bed.

My brother still has to work from a wheelchair.

Heloise is still dying of cancer.

The rain still falls in Texas.

People kill one another without any regard for life.

The only thing we know about God is Jesus, and the only thing we know about Jesus is what is revealed to us. And all that we know about Jesus is that He is the crucified One. It is why Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” (1 Cor 2:2).

Those folks in the region of the Decapolis did not understand that. They wanted something other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified. All they saw was that the mute deaf now talked and heard. Wow! Amazing! Incredible! That’s the God we want, the God Who will make this life easy.

Dear friends, God has an incredible plan for your life, but it is not what you think. His plan is to crucify you with Christ – bury you with Christ – raise you to new life in Christ. It is your daily life of baptism. In baptism, you are united to the only God we know, the crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected Christ. In Christ, God reveals who He is.

Was the sole purpose for the Word of God becoming flesh to make the deaf hear and the mute speak? This is not to say that God does not sometimes bring healing, but is that the SOLE purpose for Christ? The Lord promises something that appears like healing in our Old Testament lesson, but what does He mean? “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” The promise is not about physical healing now. It is the promise of a Savior, it is the promise of eternal blessings that will come to pass, at the end of life in this mortal coil.

Jesus heals to show His power over illness, and that which causes illness, sinfulness. His healing shows the power of Lord of Life over death. Spit, that is water, cleanses the man of His illness – baptism cleanses him of his sin.

Jesus Christ and Him crucified is not glamorous. The things of eternal import are not glorious. We are like the crowds that day, we want the physical things, the earthly miraculous. We are enamored with this life.

Jesus is the God who allowed Himself to be arrested by liars. He gave His cheeks to be slapped. He turned His back to be whipped. He bowed His head to accept a crown of thorns. He gave His wrists and feet to be nailed to the cross. He gave His ears to those who mocked Him, and gave His voice to proclaim their forgiveness. He willingly gave His flesh to those who crucified Him. In doing so, He purchased their forgiveness for the vile acts they committed. He purchased forgiveness for the despicable sins that you and I have in both our heads and hearts – and have acted out with our lips, hands, and bodies.

Jesus may not give us all the answers we want, but He gives to you the forgiveness and life eternal which He purchased with His innocent suffering and death. In Christ, your ears are opened to hear a word of forgiveness, and your mouth is loosed to proclaim His praise.

In healing this deaf mute from the plainly obvious effects of sin in his life, Jesus is declaring to you His power and authority over sin and death. This is not an assurance that He will grant us physical healing of our every infirmity – at least not in this life. Nor is this an assurance that He will remove all pain from our lives, nor that He will grant us our heart’s every desire. None of those things, for that has not been promised to us. But Jesus did instruct us to take up our cross and follow Him.

This miracle in our text gives us confidence that He will grant us healing from our sin in His Gospel. By healing this man from the obvious effects of sin, we are shown Christ’s power and authority over sin itself. Christ brought healing to this man through a Word from His mouth.  With but a word from Jesus, sins are forgiven and the effects of sin in the man’s body are gone.

Until that is understood, tell no one.

Until you are determined to know nothing else except Christ, and Him crucified, tell no one.

Until you can boldly proclaim that you are a redeemed sinner, tell no one.

Until you can rejoice that you are in Christ Jesus, that your identity is in Him alone, tell no one.

Nothing has changed since the events in our text. Christ still brings healing and life through His Word. In a Word of forgiveness, He heals us from our sinful doubts. With a Word He forgives our complaints, our apathy, and our sinful thinking that if there are no great miracles, then God must not with us. And in that Word of forgiveness, He strengthens your faith to live each day of your lives trusting in Him.

With but a Word, He speaks and sins are forgiven. Where sins are forgiven there is the greatest of healing, for therein is given eternal life and salvation.

But Jesus does not leave us with just a word in our ears. He knows our weakness, and so He comes to us with visible signs which make His work for us more personal, as it were. Just as He took the man aside from the crowd and touched Him, so He touches us.

That is why He uses water with His Word in the miracle of baptism. He singles us out, one by one, and calls us by name. His Word of promise offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins in that water, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Boldly proclaim it, “I am baptized! I am in Christ a new creature!”

With but a Word, He speaks and bread and wine are His precious body and blood.  As you eat His flesh and drink of His blood with your own mouths, His words proclaim to you what you receive, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Christ Himself comes to you, makes His dwelling within you, and you are blessed with life.

Christ is the very Word of God who spoke all things into existence at the beginning. It is this same Word of God who spoke and the deaf man heard and his tongue was loosed. The sinfulness which had bound him was removed and he was able to hear and to speak. No less a miracle takes place in your hearing, for Christ’s Word comes to you and proclaims your sins forgiven – how wonderful it is to hear.  And your mouth is opened that you might speak the glories of God. Shout it from the mountain tops. 

He has done all things well - with a Word, sins are forgiven.

He has done all things well - with a Word, He gives salvation.

He has done all things well - with a Word, He bestows eternal life.

He has done all things well - with a Word, He strengthens your faith that you may believe these are all God’s gracious gifts which keep you now and for eternity.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sin? What Is That?

I don’t know how often you read the Old Testament reading, but I’d like to take a moment to consider words inspired of God, through the pen of the prophet Micah. Micah is speaking to God and therefore revealing God's will for His people, words we could do well to read and heed today.  Here is what Micah wrote:
Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.  (Micah 7:18-20 - NKJV)
Does Micah have anything to say to us today? Well, it all depends on whether you believe the Old Testament to be God's Word to His people of every age. We should so believe that to be exactly the case. As such, then this short passage has volumes to say to people today.
First of all, why does He pardon iniquity? Why does He not retain His anger? Why does He subdue iniquities? Why does He cast all our sins into the depths of the sea? These are important questions for us who live in this 21st Century. Today, there are many who claim the banner of Jesus Christ and purport to teach in His name who would deny there is a need for God to forgive sin. They claim that God is a God only of love, there can be no anger in love. Why? Because what was called sin a few short years ago is no longer called sin today. It seems as if sin has gone out of style, or at least calling sin what it really is, has gone out of style. My friends, this is not true as our text proves. Anything that teaches contrary is just the self-delusion of our day. It is all part of man's continuing effort to re-create God in their own image.
Our text makes the claim that God is angry. What does He have to be angry about? Simply put, He is angry about the disobedience of His children. Immorality is running rampant in our society, and those who support it claim that God's most important law is to love one another. With such belief, they claim that Bible believing Christians are pushing their own morality on them and not following God's most important law. In the meantime, they have thrown out the verses that Jesus speaks about there being a hell. They throw out the verses where God's Word makes certain claims about right and wrong. Yes, Scripture claims to be the clear testimony of objective truth. So, God in His justice will call these people to be accountable on the last day for their disobedience to His Word. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and those who desire to rewrite God's will for people.
Today, instead of looking to God's grace and mercy for forgiveness from sins, people would rather say that they are not sinners. People do not like the idea of a just God who calls His people to repentance and promises eternal damnation upon those who do not believe as He has commanded. So, many people claim that there is no sin, simply different choices, and God loves us all as we are and will lovingly take us to heaven. Do not believe it!!!

There is another alternative. In fact, it is a God-pleasing alternative. Again, I ask you. Why does He pardon iniquity? Why does He not retain His anger? Why does He subdue iniquities? Why does He cast all our sins into the depths of the sea? First of all, our disobedience to all of His holy will is sin, and as a holy and just God, He is angry at our disobedience. In His justice, as He has declared that the wages of sin is death, there must be a death to atone for your sins. It can either be your death, or the death of someone who is sinless. There is the alternative. Instead of stating that God has no wrath against sin, and therefore do away with the notion that anything is sinful, He invites us to see that He is justifiably angry with sin. Sin is a stench that rises to His nostrils and thoroughly nauseates Him. In His love and mercy though, He Himself paid the price demanded of His just nature against sin by sacrificing the perfect life of His only-begotten Son. 

Iniquity is pardoned in Christ's death. God's anger is satiated in the blood which was shed by Christ. He subdues iniquities by nailing them to the Cross of Calvary. He casts our sins into the depths of Christ's grave and buries them there. 

So, why is heaven ours? Not because God doesn't care about our sins, but because He cares so much that He gave His own Son to die and pay for them.

It is those who trust and cling to this truth which God gives eternal life. And those who trust in their own works, those will be cast into eternal flame. Isn't it nice to know that salvation isn't reliant upon your works? Isn't it comforting to know that God has purchased you from sin and death and give you the gift of eternal salvation? This is the truth that was revealed to Jacob and the mercy which was given to Abraham. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Christians gather together to hear this truth of the Gospel, the Good News of our salvation. Let us receive God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation again and again in the precious Word of the Gospel and in the Sacrament of the Altar. What a privilege we have to be recipients of God’s grace.

Monday, November 17, 2014

3rd Last Sunday 2014 Sermon

(This was my sermon from the 3rd Last Sunday of the Church Year, 11/9/2014. A couple people asked for it, I thought I'd post it here.)

Dead In Christ Will Rise

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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

I do not believe it is only me, but death has touched our area recently in very tragic ways. In a twenty mile radius around Embarrass, six young people, younger than twenty-five, have died in the last few weeks. As I said before, I do not know the faith of those who died, so I am not speaking of them today.

But, I thought today would be a good day to talk about some things about which there seems to be some confusion and misunderstanding. Today’s sermon will not be my normal Law/Gospel sermon where I lead us all to repentance and then proclaim forgiveness and life in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, this sermon will be what is called a didactic sermon, a sermon which has as its main goal and purpose, teaching. This type stuff usually takes place during Bible Study time, but as death has so grievously impinged upon our area, I thought some time should be spent talking about it as it is addressed in our Epistle lesson, and since most do not attend Bible Study.

When death touches our lives, people want to feel good about what happens with their loved ones. Unfortunately, not all the ideas people have about what their loved ones are doing after death, are based upon the truth of God as He has revealed it to us His Word, the Holy Scriptures.

First of all, God wants us to be comforted about those who die with saving faith in Christ.

With that in mind, we are comforted to know that those who die in the Lord go to be with Him immediately upon death. Jesus Himself says that is how it happens when He proclaims to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Believers, upon their deaths, are with Jesus in paradise. But to those of us left here, as it says in our text, they are asleep. The do not talk to us, they do not listen to us, they do not watch over us, they are not with us wherever we go, and they are not now angels. As I said, believers, upon their deaths, are with Jesus in paradise, enjoying perfect happiness and bliss with Christ, they have no more sorrows.

Consider this. If our loved ones were to see what our lives are like, the things we do, the things that we suffer, the trials and tribulations we may be enduring, would they be perfectly happy? No! If they could see what is going on here, my mom would be continually slapping her head saying, “Todd, what are you doing? Cut that out!” There would be no joy and happiness in my mom if she were seeing us in this life.

There is something else going on with those who have died in Christ. You hear about it every Sunday we have communion, it is part of our liturgy. As we prepare for communion, we hear about those who are gathered with Jesus in paradise – we hear of how they are gathered around Christ, just as we are gathered in Holy Communion around Christ. The pastor proclaims that we join them in the same song, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven – all those who have died in Christ –  are gathered around Christ.

Do you understand the implications of this truth? As we gather around Christ in Holy Communion, they also gather around Christ. No, we cannot see one another, but we are all gathered together around Christ. It as if we are together at the same table with Christ. What comfort it is to know that my mother doesn’t see my sinful failures, but that we are gathered together around the One who died for us both – we are at the same banquet feast of the Lamb.

Dear friends, our Epistle is a beautiful text that gives us great comfort and expectant hope. Listen to it again:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Did you hear that? You know the foundation of this, for you know what happened. Christ died to purchase our forgiveness. We are baptized into that death, so that it becomes our death. His death frees us from eternal death, that is, separation from God for all eternity, which is the punishment we deserve for our sins. And as we are united to Christ’s death, we are also united to His resurrection.

Yes, there will come a day when our mortal lives will end, unless Christ returns before that day comes. But as our text proclaims, on that day Christ returns, those who have died will be raised from the dead.  The dead in Christ, those who died believing that He died to forgive them their sins, will rise from the dead, and heir bodies will be perfected.

Those who are alive, and in Christ on the last day, will also rise to join them, their bodies perfected. From that day on, we will be together with the Lord. We will enjoy all eternity in perfected, sinless, fleshly bodies, just as Christ has, so will we have.

Job spoke of this hope many centuries before Christ took on human flesh. He spoke of his resurrection hope with these words, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my own eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

Job hopes for the last day, for the day of the resurrection of all flesh. He looks forward to seeing his Redeemer, the One who purchased and won him from all sin, from death, and from power of the devil – who bought him not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. He knows that he will see Him with his own eyes. How his heart faints, how it yearns, how it looks forward with eager expectation, to that day.

Yes, there are many questions which are unanswered about that last day. Where exactly is heaven? What will we be doing there? I remember someone who did not enjoy singing ask me, “Will we be singing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?” Will we really be walking on streets of gold? Good questions.

We do know heaven will be glorious. Most of the pictures we are given in the Bible are given us in apocalyptic language, or what we might call vision language. Are they actual views of places and events taking place in heaven, or are they metaphorical views that depict the vast richness and glory of heaven?

We cannot even imagine what the glory and beauty of heaven will be like. It is so far beyond what we know from our human experience and condition. Why? Because what we see and think of as beautiful and glorious in this present life is all tainted by sin.

I know dear friends that my Redeemer lives.

I know that He gave His life to purchase you, me, and all people from sin and death.

I know that He rose again the third day to proclaim that He has won the victory, and that all those who believe in Him will also rise.

I know that this body and life, with the aches, pains, sorrows, tribulations, will be made new on the last day and enjoy eternity with Christ in the heavenly kingdom that He is preparing for me and all believers.

I know that with my own fleshly eyes I will see Christ in His flesh, and all those loved ones who have died in faith before me. What a glorious reunion that will be!

I am therefore glad to live each day in this life, so that I can proclaim this good news to others, so that they too might have hope for this life as we wait for the perfect life to come. Amen.