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Let God Be God

Guest Speaker Seminarian, Jordan Bence delivers a sermon entitled “Let God Be God” based on Job 38:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 22, 2018

There can be times in our lives where we give advice to people that really don’t need it. I remember my uncle telling me a story about a beer festival he went to not too long ago. While they were there, he and my aunt were walking around from tent to tent trying the latest and greatest new brews. About halfway through the day they stopped at the Leinenkugel’s Brewing tent to try out their new summer shandys. They asked the bartender to pour them one and waited. As the bartender went to the cooler he pulled out two bottled beers, set the glasses on the bar top and proceeded to pour the beers at a 90 degree angle producing an obscene amount of foam. My aunt, who is not shy whatsoever, quickly blurted out, “Holy cow buddy, who taught you how to pour beer? You tilt the glass so that doesn’t happen.” The bartender chuckled and said to her, “Funny you say that, because I’m actually Jake Leinenkugel. I’m the one that makes the beer.” I remember my uncle telling me how red her cheeks were. My aunt, someone who has never brewed a beer in her life, giving instructions to the owner and brew master of a multi-million dollar brewery.

I remember back to one of the first times I tried to advise someone who didn’t need it when I was younger. Growing up my mom always made the best breakfasts. In particular, she always made the best egg bakes. She would make them sporadically throughout the year but would always make them on holidays. Christmas and Easter in particular.  One particular Christmas I asked my mom if I could help her make the egg bake. As we were weighing out the measurements to put in the recipe the time came to add the dry ingredients. One by one I carefully measured out the ingredients until time came to add the dry mustard. My mom instructed me to add one teaspoon to the mix. I looked at her with a big smile on my face and said, “You can never have too much mustard, mom. Better add a little more.” In my great wisdom, I proceeded to add 2 table spoons to the mix instead. There wasn’t a person at the breakfast table who was pleased that I helped mom make the egg bake that year. I absolutely ruined it. A recipe my mom had practiced and perfected since before I was born and I thought she could use my advice. How foolish that was. As foolish as it was for me to try to advise my mom or my aunt to advise Jake Leinekugel how much more foolish it would be to try and give advice to God. But that doesn’t stop our sinful nature from trying. There are times we see the events in our lives unfold and we think we know better. We think that we have a greater plan. As we open up to our reading for today and as we take a look at the book of Job as a whole we find company in this foolish task from Job and his friends. They all thought they knew what was best for Job. For almost 37 chapters we hear them spew their wise thoughts. For 37 chapters God is silent. In our text for today God speaks and they listened. In our text for today God speaks and we listen. In our text for today we learn to let God be God. Knowing he does all things well, and knowing that he does all things for our benefit.

Before we take a look at our text for today lets take a look back and see what brought us to this point in the book of Job In this book we are introduced to a blameless and righteous believer named, you guessed it, Job. His wealth was amongst the greatest in all the land. He worshipped God day and night. One day Satan asks God to send trial into Job’s life to test his faith. Satan believes Job is only faithful because God has blessed him beyond belief. In one day Job loses his thousands of cattle, his wealth and all of his children. But Job remained faithful. Therefore Satan comes back a second time and tells God that because he still has his health Job is remaining faithful. Take that away and he will flee from God. God allowed Satan to bring down a life-threatening skin disease that took over Job’s entire body. Job was so sick he had to move away from society and live on his own. There his so called “friends” came and visited him to discuss his situation. These men too turns belittling Job and pointing to his immeasurable sins that must have caused these misfortunate events. Job joins in from time to time in this discussion as well. Finally, God has had enough. He has heard enough complaints, criticisms and crude comment. Now is time for these sinful men to be quite. Human wisdom is silenced, true wisdom now speaks.

He does all things well

We are told that God comes to Job in a storm and says to him, Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” I can’t imagine Job’s knees weren’t shaking like crazy. God is calling him to the carpet. As God goes on he doesn’t mention the crummy counsel his friends gave, he doesn’t even mention Job’s words, he has some questions of his own.  God asks Job where he was when he created the earth’s foundations, the sea,  morning, rain, stars, clouds and animals. Job has been asking God for chapter after chapter, “Where were you, God?” God counters by asking Job, “Where were you when I did all these things?” The answer is nowhere. Job had nothing to do with all of these things yet they still came to be. God has a perfect knowledge and control over the universe because he created it. Did Job create the universe? Does he govern it? Does he provide for all the animals and creatures that inhabit it? No way. With these questions God is basically asking: “Job, have you forgotten who you are talking to?” Job, a sinful human being, cannot come close to comprehend the wonders of the universe. Yet Job wants to go beyond even that and try to comprehend the one above them: God. God goes on for over three chapters asking Job these probing and cutting questions in order to show him just how foolish he has been. Although God is very blunt with his words he is also loving. He is patiently trying to show Job how ridiculous this truly is. He is trying to remind Job that he has all things under control. He is proving to him that he does all things well.

God’s words here remind me of Jesus’ words from the sermon on the mount when he said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? These words echo the truths that the Heavenly Father is speaking here. Job has looked at the terrible sufferings that were going on in his life and began to question if God truly was the right guy for the job. God shows Job that just as he meticulously created the world and governs it so also he is in control of Job’s life. Not a single thing that was going on in Job’s life was out of God’s hands. God is clearly telling Job with these words: “Let me be God, Job. I’ve had it in the past, and I’ve got it now.”

Are there times we can be like Job? Times we can question God’s control over our lives. When things fall apart where is the first place we often turn? We look past our own flaws, the flaws of others, the sinful world in which we live, and place our glaring eyes on our perfect God. These thundering words from the storm are not only for Job but for us too. These questions are for us too. For every time we have challenged God and his control in our lives he thunders down with his justice demanding that he be heard and proving that he reigns supreme.  During those times God says to us: “Let me be God.”

He does all things for our benefit

To be completely honest the majority of the book of Job has a dismal feel to it. As you read through the book it can be easy to question what God’s intentions are with these trials in Job’s life. It isn’t until the last chapter of the book that we see the outcome of God’s servant, Job. Verse 12 says: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” Job’s cattle and wealth were restored in even greater number than he had before. He had seven more sons and three more daughters. God truly was working all things out for Job’s benefit. But was the greatest blessing that Job got out of this experience an increase in his wealth? Most certainly not. Could God have proven to Job and us that he was doing all things for his good if he hadn’t restored his wealth? Absolutely. In his great suffering, pain and sorrow Job grew ever closer to God. As Job went through the greatest trials that this life could throw at him he was living breathing proof that God is great enough to guide us through all things. The strength that came in knowing his savior would come led Job through his darkest times. Although he wasn’t sure what curveball life was going to throw at him next he proudly proclaimed in the midst of it all: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” Job knew that although his earthly wealth and health could be taken away God would never take away his promise of salvation that would come on the cross. This was what gave him strength to face what was ahead. Because Job knew for a fact that these trials would come to an end. There would come a day when he would see his savior face to face and everything going on in his life in the meantime brought him one step closer to that day. Even in the worst of times Job was encouraged to let God be God.

In our dark days we too are encouraged to do likewise. I’m sure you would agree with me that that is easier said than done. I think about the tough times in my own life where I struggled to do this.  Days where hear the results that read that my father’s cancer is back once again. Or the times when I received news that family members had miscarried another baby or delivered the child and lost it not far after. Or the news that a dear friend had passed away far too young. Or the news that another family member has denied the faith and left the church, denying their kids be baptized or have any interest in church. It is easy for me to admit the most difficult thing to do during those times is to let God be God. I’m sure in your own difficult times you can admit the same. During those times the easiest thing for us to do is put God on the stand. To point the finger in God’s face and show him every instance where he has erred. To go on this rant showing God how our lives would be better if this would happen or if this didn’t happen. And as we go on talking and talking, teaching God a lesson on doing what he does best the time comes where our stomach drops, our lips stop moving, and we come to the realization of what we’re actually doing. In humility we fall to our knees having questioned our almighty God. But in his abundant love God does not leave us there. In that moment he lifts us up, and carries us to the cross. Where we see his son dying for us all. In this moment he leans down and says to us, “My son, my daughter, let me be God.”

As we take a look at the universe we are truly amazed at the work of our God’s hand. As we look back at events in our lives we truly realize that God knows whats best for us. All these things add to our understanding on why we should let God be God. The ultimate reason why we let God be God is because he took care of our greatest need. A need we could never earn on our own. That need was the right relationship with him that his son won for us in full. Where were we when this happened? Nowhere to be found. This was won for us in full by Christ.

You know just as well as I that there are still dark days ahead. The consequences of sin still reign in this world and affect us every day. During those times the devil and your sinful flesh will want nothing more than to question God and his capability at doing his job. When those times come look nowhere else than to the cross. Their hangs our savior paying the price for sin and showing once and for all that he is God. As you and I leave the cross and go into our own lives we do so trusting God.

 

You know just as well as I that there are still dark days ahead. The consequences of sin still reign in this world and affect us every day. During those times the devil and your sinful flesh will want nothing more than to question God and his capability at doing his job. When those times come look nowhere else than to the cross. Their hangs our savior paying the price for sin and showing once and for all that he is God. So when those times come when the devil whispers in your ear, “He can’t possibly be God. He can’t possibly be doing all things well..” You know where to go. Go to the cross.

 

As I think back to my aunt giving advise to Jake Leinenkugel on beer and myself giving advise to my mother concerning her perfected egg bake I shake my head seeing how foolish those things truly are. But as I think back to the times I tried to give advise to God, my head doesn’t shake, instead my heart breaks. How foolish I truly have been. But as I open God’s Word I hear the voice of God reminding me that Christ had not come to save perfect people who perfectly trust in him. He came to save a world full of people who constantly failed to trust in him. He did all this in order that he might turn sin filled hearts of distrust into  new hearts of righteousness that trust in him and his will. These new hearts that live in each and every one of us let God be God. Knowing he does all things well, and knowing he does all things for our benefit. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Things Are Possible With God

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “All Things Are Possible With God” based on Mark 10:17-27 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 14, 2018

The young man had been doing well for himself.  He had climbed the proverbial corporate ladder.  He was in charge of others and was, already at a young age, accomplished in his career.  And, yet, he still found himself lacking.

In the context of the Scriptures, hearing this particular reading, in this building, on a day that you have come to worship your God, the answer to this man’s problem isn’t all that difficult to see or surmise.

Whether this was the first time or the four hundredth time you have heard this reading, did you find yourself wanting to shake this man silly?  He was talking to Jesus!  How could he have missed the point of what Jesus told him?  Even if it was difficult to actually and practically accomplish, why didn’t this man just do what Jesus told him to do?

In the context of the Scriptures, hearing this particular reading, in this building, on a day that you have come to worship your God, it all sounds and seems so simple, especially for someone who was so determined to follow the Commandments God had set out for him.

It seems and sounds so simple in this context, but what about if you were to change the context?  What if, instead looking at this man in Mark chapter 10, you applied the same mandate from Jesus to the man or woman in the mirror?

Have the excuses already started pouring through your mind?

Too bad this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not rich.

Too bad this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not young.

Too bad this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not a man.

It’s good and fine to play hypothetical games, but the truth of the matter is that context does matter.  Jesus said these words to this man at that time and hasn’t said them to me, so this doesn’t apply to me.

I know Jesus didn’t really care about the actual action of selling possessions, but he was getting at the man’s heart.  Jesus already has my heart, so this doesn’t apply to me.

Jesus said these words to a man who wanted to inherit eternal life.  I already have eternal life, so this doesn’t apply to me.

The reason why those thoughts, or something somewhat similar, may have come to your mind is the same that caused this man’s face to fall and to go away sad.  And that reason might become a little clearer if you know a little bit more about the very word that described this man’s reaction to Jesus’ loving statement.

The translation in your bulletin is a good one when it says that the man’s face fell.  It is easy to picture in your mind’s eye.  You can probably recall a time when you have seen someone else’s face fall and that really does convey the emotional impact of Jesus’ words to this man and why he went away sad. But, there is a little something lost in this translation that might explain why he experienced this reaction.

This word is used in the Greek language to describe a change in human demeanor, but it is also used, at times, to describe a change in nature, particularly in the sky.

When a sunny day turns to overcast and eventually into a stormy day, the Greeks would say that the sky, itself, fell.  It became cloudy.  The warmth and energy of the sun became blocked.  The sun became difficult to see and feel because of the clouds.

It wouldn’t be a very readable translation, but you could say that the reason this man went away sad was because he became cloudy.  It wouldn’t be very readable, but you would be able to understand what it means to be cloudy.

Now, look again in the mirror.  Would it be all that foreign to you to say that the reason that those defenses came to your mind was because you became cloudy?  You know what it’s like to have clouded judgment, don’t you?  And, you know what so often clouds your judgment, don’t you?

The answer, of course, is sin.  It might be the sin of greed.  It could be pride.  It may be selfishness or self-centeredness.  Ultimately though, no matter how it might manifest itself in your thoughts, words, or actions, the clouds all appear and have their source in the same place:  your sinful nature.

That sinful nature will do whatever it can to convince you to murder, commit adultery, steal, give false testimony, defraud, and dishonor your father and mother by doing exactly what this rich, young man’s sinful nature did to him.  It worked against him and it works against you to disobey the very First Commandment.

This man knew that he was lacking in something, but he didn’t know what it was.  Brothers and sisters, he lacked faith.  He didn’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  And, when things become cloudy for you, that is exactly what your sinful nature wants you to lack as well.

Your sinful nature connives to convince you to put your fear, love, and trust in anything and everything but your God.  Whether it is a difficult financial situation, a hiccup in your health, a rift in your relationships, a dip into the dangerous waters of addiction, or, like the rich, young man, a question about where you will spend all of eternity, the sin inside of you seeks a solution outside of that which your God has provided for you in his Word.

 

You aren’t going to find the strength to overcome your particular issues in your wallet, a clean bill of health, your loving and well-meaning spouse, or that bottle of booze.  Though it sounds right, and may even, at times, feel right, with your man-made solutions, this is impossible.  But not with God; all things are possible with God.

Jesus said it was impossible for this rich, young man to inherit eternal life because he was cloudy.  His cloudiness caused him to ask the wrong question.  Did you catch it?  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  What must I do?  Sin clouded his judgment.  Sin caused him to think that his eternal life rested its destiny in his own hands.  And, if eternity did rest its destiny in the hands of human beings, it would be impossible for anyone to inherit eternal life.  But not with God; all things are possible with God.

God took salvation out of the hands of humanity and accomplished it himself.  He finished it with words wailed from a cursed man on a cross.  It is not a question of what you must do or must not do, but, rather, what has been done for you.  The gift God gave in the perfect life of his Son, substituted in place of yours, and the death he died, enduring the wrath your sins deserved is what was done for you to inherit eternal life.

Faith, given through his powerful Word and sacraments and worked by the Holy Spirit in your heart, fears, loves, and trusts in Jesus’ work above any and all man-made solutions to sin’s consequences.

And, to paraphrase King David, when you have faith, you shall not lack anything.  That doesn’t mean that when you have faith your bank account blossoms with a few extra zeros at the end, that cancer is eradicated, that your wife will love you unconditionally, or that you’ll stop desiring to see the bottom of that bottle.  But, the reason you will not be lacking is because your faith will clear the clouds away from your judgment.

You will see clearly how money is not the answer to your problems, but a gift that God gives for you to manage appropriately.  You will endure pain and sickness from the perspective of a temporary traveler on this earth who looks forward to the immortality that awaits you.  You will find not only the strength, but even the desire to show love to those who surround you, whether they deserve it or not, whether it is reciprocated or not, because of the unconditional love that you receive from your Savior.

When your face falls, feed your faith with Word, water, wafer, and wine and watch as he clears the clouds and shows you his Son, shining for you.  Amen.

 

 

 

The Marks of True Discipleship

Guest Pastor Donn Dobberstein delivers a sermon entitled “The Marks of True Discipleship” based on John 13:31-34 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Synod Sunday, October 7, 2018

“The Marks of True Discipleship”

  • Love that glorifies God
  • Love that serves others

Dear disciples of Christ to whom Jesus instructed, “If you want to be my disciples, then deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”,

Every year, Instagram releases its list of most followed people. For any person here NOT sure what this is all about (and I apologize to all social-media savvy retirees )… this is the way our young/younger people communicate with each.  They share their life story online by means of most-liked posts, top hashtags, and most-used filters from the past year. The top 3 most followed people are:

  • a singer named Ariana Grande (118 mil),
  • a Portuguese soccer stud named Renaldo (123 mil), and the most followed person in the world…
  • Selena Gomez – 135 million followers.

A disciple is a follower.  But when Jesus said, “Come, follow me”, I don’t think he was inviting millions to like his Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram accounts!  But he was inviting the likes of Peter, James, and John and others to “be with” him.  That’s what a follower does.  They follow.  The disciples were constantly together with Jesus.  They traveled together, shared meals, experienced mutual hardship.  They spent every waking, eating, teaching moment with him.  They witnessed his resurrection from the dead.  They believed and put their trust in him. If you went through the gospel accounts and compiled the amount of time Jesus spent with the crowds and the amount of time Jesus spent with his disciples, 17x we find Jesus with the crowds, 46x we see him with his disciples.  It’s been estimated Jesus spent up to 90% of his time with the Twelve.  To them Jesus said, “Now, go make more disciples of all nation.  With the Holy Spirit’s power and Christ’s presence in their hearts, they made other disciples of Jesus. Today, 2.3 billion people on the planet claim to be Christian.  According to a 2014 Pew Center survey, 71% of Americans identified as Christian.

But is there a difference between identifying as a follower and being a follower of Christ?    Believing in Jesus without having to really follow him in how we live … that’s the challenge of discipleship.  Discipleship is both believing AND following.  It’s about growing in faith.  For a church to be growing, it doesn’t just need more members.  It needs all her members to be spiritually growing and healthy.  Healthy followers of Jesus are those who are fed and exercised. Your body needs food and exercise.  Your faith needs food and it needs to be exercised.  Faith will be lacking if you aren’t in God’s Word.  The avg. person spends 20 minutes every day on Facebook- posting, liking/commenting other people’s posts.  If that is a mark of discipleship, evaluate the time you spend “following” others and your daily time following Jesus.

On this Sunday meant to encourage the discipleship of Peace, Hartford, what are the marks of true discipleship?   What do they look like in a healthy church?  In a healthy “you”?

To find out, we return to the Upper Room where Jesus is eating his last Passover meal with his 12 disciples.

  • Jesus washes his disciples’ feet … before he tells them, he first shows them what humble service looks as his followers.
  • Jesus is troubled in spirit.  “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”  They stared at each other in disbelief.  They can’t imagine anyone would betray him.  Peter motions to John who is closest to Jesus, “Ask him who he means?”  John leans back and asks, “Lord, who is it?”  Jesus dips a piece of bread and gives it to Judas.  Judas took the bread … and didn’t argue!  He left the room. Jesus knew exactly what he was about to do.
    • He knew he would meet the Jews, tell him where to find him later that night in the Garden Gethsemane where he would pray. He planned the kiss to betray him to know whom to arrest.
    • Jesus knew the pain of betrayal, the fists, the scorn the mocking.  The spit. The pain of the crown of thorns.  The pain of the whip that would shred his back. He heard the shouts of the people, “Crucify him!”  The nails pounded in just hours.
    • He knew the suffering and agony of hell as he took on the sins of the world.
    • He knew the abandonment of God himself.  He would see his own mother’s heart shattered.

Knowing all that would happen as Judas was leaving the room, you would think Jesus would yell, “Stop!!!”   Instead he quietly says, “Get to it quickly.”

After Judas’ shadow departed out the doorway, Jesus turns to his disciples, Now the Son of Man is glorified.”  Jesus has a different idea of glory than we do.

  • We glory when “I’m right and they were wrong.”
  • We glory when we receive credit for what we’ve done.
  • We’ve glory for the caring person people tells us we are.
  • We love to hear praise and good things sung about our name:  Kind.  Compassion.  Loving.  Giving.  Serving, sacrificing person we think we are.
  • We measure glory by followers and likes not by how many people follow us around every day because they want to be more like the kind of Christian person we are. But how many people will see a picture or message we share that shows more and more about ourselves?

The world is a hot mess, but is it going to be made better if people hear more about us?

  • Are you the example of Christian love that others will follow so they see more of Christ?
  • Are they going to see someone who listens when someone is talking to them and gives full attention with a full heart because “what you are saying is important to me”?  Or, “Whatever you had on your mind was more obviously more important than what I was saying to you.”
  • Are you the example of patience that others should copy?
  • Are you the example of a gentle response to a harsh word that prevents a heated argument, or do you help get the thing going?
  • Are you an example of accepting the bad that happens in life together with the good without complaining?
  • Are you the example of being content?  Are you the example of someone who knows this life and our time on earth is not to do as we please but it’s the Lord’s life for his purpose and for him alone and lived for his glory?

Are you an example?  Then I’m not either.

Our idea of glory has so often to do with who we think we are and what we want others to be convinced we are.  Not who we know Jesus is.  Our sinful nature is so resilient/reliable we can say, “I know, I don’t love others as Christ has loved me … this is true.”  AND IT DOESN’T CHANGE A THING WE DO.  Actions speak louder than words.  When we don’t show love in Christ in our daily lives in our words and actions, we HIDE the glory of Christ and miss the marks of discipleship.  That’s not a small “oops.”  It’s a shameful sin that grieves the Holy Spirit and hurts the ones we love, and it doesn’t show anyone how much Jesus loves us and how much Jesus loves them.

“A new command I give you” (v34).  New … not because they’ve never heard it but new because of the new motivation that Jesus would give his disciples to actually do itTo say love is one thing.  To show love is to show the mark of discipleship:  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (34-35).

A man gets down on one knee, takes the hand of his sweetheart and says, “Sweetie, I love you and I want to marry you.  I’ll take good care of you and provide for you.  I’ll be a good father to our children.  All I ask is that you allow me one day a year for another woman.”  Is that an acceptable?  Is that true love?

How God must feel when we get down on our knees and fold our hands in prayer and pray, “Father, I love you and I want you to be part of my life.  I’ll try my best to be a good person, a good parent, a hard worker, and good spouse.  All I ask is that every once in a while, you give me some moments away from you so I can satisfy myself apart from you.”  Is that acceptable?   Is that true love?

Or is that the default mode of our human hearts that argues we are living moral enough lives and are loving others as ourselves just enough to satisfy God?  Is that true love or love that is only lip service to Jesus?  Ask yourself, “Why do I fail in my following of God?  Why am I living so selfishly?”  The problem we have keeping 9 commandments has everything to do when we keep breaking the first one.  Love. God. Above. All. Else. 

That’s love that glorifies God.  That’s love that serves others.  Paul gives concrete illustrations what it’s going to look like and sound like:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails(1 Cor. 13)

But we do.

  • When the gas tank is empty, will love fill it?
  • You can love your country, but it didn’t stop Hurricane Florence from hitting the Carolinas,
  • You can love your kids like crazy, but it won’t stop tragedy from striking, will it?

It all testifies to the brokenness of the world we live in and the ripple effect of sin in our lives.  You can love all you want to, but love doesn’t seem to change anything.  Now do you understand why Jesus told his disciples, “My children I will be with you only a little while …. Where I’m going you cannot come.”  Jesus the only true God/true Man went where we could not go:

  • To give his life for every time we were impatient, unkind, rude!
  • For how many times we were self-seeking, for how often we were easily angered and kept a mental record of wrong for so long … .
  • Jesus went to where we could not go when he descended to hell to proclaim over the devil leaving the devil and all those with him behind conquered in the fight.
  • Jesus went where we could not go when he burst forth from the tomb alive and triumphant over the power of death and the grave.
  • Jesus went where we could not go when he ascended into heaven before the throne of God and said, “My Father, I’ve given my perfect life as a substitute for him and for her.  You’ve shown the world you’ve accepted my payment as full by resurrection to life now welcome them as redeemed sinners as my brothers and sisters to our home in heaven.

JESUS CALLS THAT GLORY!  The marks of true discipleship are his love and his life given to rescue sinners like you/me.  That’s love that glorifies God!  It’s just that Jesus wants all people to be saved.  That’s why he needs us to show less of ourselves to others and more of him and we do that by showing love to one another.  That’s the mark of true discipleship in us which glorifies God.

I’m convinced:

  • every congregation that senses a turnaround,
  • every person yearning for the will-power to change,
  • every family in desperate need of help,
  • every marriage in need of renewed motivation,
  • every breaking heart in need of a glimmer of hope,

… will find it in a room where a King wore an apron to wash feet and calls us to follow his example.  Why?  Because his love changes everything.  Because we know that God works through his Word to change human hearts … like he’s done in ours(!) and he can in others.  He changed hearts so husbands love their wives and wives love their husbands and display Christ to each other.   And parents love their children and children love their parent and display Christ to each other.  As we show the love of Christ to others they are going to see Christ and hear what he has done for us and what he’s done for them.  He wants us to live in the peace and harmony and the blessings of that love for others to see that glory.

Martin Luther commented: Although faith alone makes one righteous before God … where Christian love does NOT follow faith, that is conclusive evidence that such faith is dead or that love is lacking … ” (Sermons, epistles pg. 105).   Because love is the marker of saving faith.  And when a believer receives the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, they leave with the mark of his forgiving love and with the power to SHOW love.

A NEW COMMAND for a new day!  Behind Jesus’ command is a change of heart:  to show the love of Christ to others because you know how much Christ loves you and you know how much Christ loves them.  Healthy churches are filled with the marks of this love!  So is a healthy you!  Know this, God will help and God is able to teach old sinners new love.  I’m sure of this: “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).  God grant this!  Amen.

 

 

 

God is Delivering His People

Pastor Seminarian Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “God is Delivering His People” based on Numbers 11, various verses at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 30, 2018

When we go to church, does our enjoyment of the service depend on how much we like the people involved? The Word of God gladdens our hearts, for sure, but our personal feelings for the preacher, musicians, or people we sit next to, taints our listening; we don’t appreciate the message as much if we don’t appreciate the people. But not so with the apostle Paul in our first lesson. Paul writes that certain men were actually trying to cause trouble for him, and elevate themselves over him, by preaching while he was stuck in prison. But do you remember Paul’s reaction? “What does it matter? The important things is, Christ is being preached! And for this I rejoice!” If only the apostle John, in our Gospel, could have kept the same attitude. Instead, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” What was with John? Couldn’t he tell the man driving out demons was on his side? The reason why John made him stop, is that he lost sight of the big picture. God was delivering people through that man’s work! But jealousy blinded John; jealousy blinded Joshua in our sermon text too, and finally, jealousy blinds us. But God has a way of directing our eyes back to the big picture and we rejoice when we see it: God is among us, delivering his people.

Now how is it possible for us not see that? Well, think about how Joshua and Moses lost sight of this in our lesson. The people of Israel had just been complaining (again) about the hardships of traveling through the desert, and God rained down holy fire to teach them about complaining. But not long after, the Israelites found something else to complain about—manna. Manna was a sweet-tasting kind of bread that God had been giving them to eat.  But after years of eating manna, they were sick of it. Every family wailed at the entrance of their tents, “We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna! We want meat!” And God burned with anger.

Moses could see, things were not looking good, and according to his prayer, he seemed to have convinced himself that Israel’s fate rested on his shoulders. Where am I going to get meat for them? I cannot carry all these people by myself. If this is how it’s going to be, why don’t you just kill me—so I don’t have to face my own ruin.”

Wow—Moses had the gall to say before God that he was carrying all these people by himself? And Moses despaired so much that he asked God to kill him?

But God answered Moses with surprising mercy. God told Moses to gather 70 elders around the tent of meeting, (the tabernacle), and then God placed his Holy Spirit on each elder and enabled them to prophesy (speak God’s words.) In effect God stamped his divine approval on these elders and equipped them to help Moses lead the wayward people. Even two elders who didn’t come to the tabernacle, Eldad and Medad, joined in. We’re not sure why they didn’t gather with the rest of the elders, either Moses didn’t choose them, or they just failed to show up. Either way, the Holy Spirit apparently didn’t care, and enabled them to prophesy inside the camp.

And what a reaction from Joshua! “Moses, stop Eldad and Medad!” The Bible says he was Moses’ loyal aide since he was a kid. He felt jealous on behalf of Moses’ because of the unauthorized prophesying of Eldad and Medad, and possibly for his own sake too. But then he tells Moses to stop them? What was Moses going to do, bind and gag Eldad and Medad, and tell the Holy Spirit to cut it out?  Joshua was too jealous to see the big picture. The Holy Spirit was with them, intervening and delivering his people.

But if we put ourselves in Joshua’s sandals, could we have seen any better? Jealousy blinds us too. When someone we know starts talking about their faith on social media, or in person, we get a little smug, “Really? Do we all need another personal testimonial from this lady? She thinks she’s so spiritual but her actions don’t show it. Not like mine. And as if this guy is expounding some deep truths I don’t already know! I could have said it better. He doesn’t deserve a voice, not until he knows his Bible as well as I do.” Other times we cast a jealous eye upon a church musician, or pastor, or another leader in the congregation: just look at him, walking around like he’s the best thing that ever happened to this church. Why should I listen to him? I don’t even like the guy. How come no one ever recognizes my gifts? No one ever thanks me, most of the people here don’t even know how much I do for this church.” This jealousy we feel is not just a little problem of ours, it’s an offence to God.

Moses of course is, the other extreme. Remember how he grew tired of the spotlight, and went so far as asking God to kill him? His prayer shocks us, but, ironically, we don’t sound different. God, I’m done! Do you expect me to carry this family, these school-children, these church members all by myself? How am I supposed to pay the bills this month? How do you expect me to keep my actions and my thoughts so clean, all the time? This isn’t fair, it’s too heavy for me. I’ve had enough. Again, this isn’t just a character flaw we’re talking about, it’s a sin against God. It’s a sin that blinds us, and makes us and lose sight of the big picture.

Thank God, for redirecting our vision to the bigger picture. If we take one more look at our sermon text, we’ll see how he did just that with Moses.

So Moses complains that his burden is too heavy for him, and asks the LORD to kill him, but God has a spectacular answer, full of grace. God has Moses gather 70 elders of the people, and he makes them stand around the tabernacle. Now picture these 70 aged men, facing outward towards every corner of the camp, waiting silently. Down comes God, shrouded in mist. You can’t quite make out what God is saying to Moses in the mist, but all of a sudden you see the 70 elders, one by one, just erupt! Their bearded mouths fly open, and out spews divine, heavenly words, comforting words, words spoken with a wisdom that is not of this world. And even old Eldad and Medad inside the camp begin to prophesy, thundering like the mouthpieces of God. Can you imagine the weight that has just been lifted from Moses’ shoulders? There Moses stands, beaming, while every wailing tent sits in astonished silence.

I wonder what he’s thinking. “I’m not really carrying these people, am I, LORD? You bore them out of Egypt on eagles’ wings, and these people had rejected you and were ready to turn back to Egypt (probably kill me too) but you spoke to them through the elders. You saw what we needed and you came to help.”

But then Joshua interrupts Moses’ thoughts–“Moses, stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying!” “Are you jealous for my sake?” Moses answers. “I wish all two million of the LORD’s people were prophets, this is exactly what we need!” Moses can’t help but rejoice, he finally sees the big picture—through the elders, including Eldad and Medad, God is delivering his people from their folly.

In fact, God is delivering us at that moment. Let’s say God let the Israelites turn back to Egypt. Let’s say they don’t make it to Canaan as planned. Abraham’s descendants die in the desert, or die in Egypt, and there never is a land of Israel. There would be no Bethlehem, no light to dawn on those living in the land of the shadow of death. There would be no Jesus, and no Roman cross to hang him on. There would be no payment for our sins.

But God would not let the Israelites turn back. He does not lead like Moses or like us. He did not grow tired of the Israelites’ stupid refusal to trust him. It was not a burden too heavy to bear.

When the Israelites shook their fists at God, and Moses begged for death, God loved Moses and the rest of his people. For no explicable reason, God at that moment in history so loved the world, that he could not let his plan of salvation die in the desert. God endured the Israelites, and gave them more leaders to bring them to the Promised Land, because all the while, he loved us. He knew about us, that we would come to church today carrying the burden of sins we can’t count, sins of jealousy, self-obsession, despair. He knew about us and he wanted us to meet his Son, so that he could wash all of those sins away. Everything that God did in our lesson, coming down in a pillar of cloud to speak with his weary servant Moses, placing his Holy Spirit on the 70 elders and causing them to prophesy, even enabling Eldad and Medad to prophesy, he did because he ordained that we would be saved by a descendant of Abraham, from Bethlehem in Judea. And he decreed that this man, Jesus, would take away the penalty for our sins of jealousy and despair.

Now we see the big picture, don’t we? God has delivered us! Nor did he leave it at that; he still delivers us, by giving each of us a share of the Holy Spirit. Just as God placed his Spirit on the 70 elders and enabled them to prophesy, and to lead, so God has given his Holy Spirit to our pastors, our teachers, our lay leaders, and to every person here who calls Jesus his Lord. Maybe we can’t prophesy like those 70 elders did, but the Holy Spirit has given us gifts of wisdom, knowledge, hospitality, kindness, gentleness, steadfastness—all these gifts God has given so that we might receive support and encouragement from one another in life’s harsh desert. Is this not a spectacular answer to our personal weaknesses and burdens? Does this not eliminate all reason to be jealous of someone else’s gifts?

Let’s not hold on to our burdens like Moses. God can carry them for us, and he often does so through the help of other believers.  Let’s not compete with others like John, or be jealous of someone else’s honor like Joshua. God has given gifts to help you, because he plans on you making it your home in heaven, with him. So, let’s be like Paul, and like Moses at the end of the lesson. Let’s rejoice every time Christ is preached, no matter whose mouth it comes out of, or who gets to look good. God has delivered us from sin, and that’s all that matters. And he continues to deliver us from this world by giving us his Holy Spirit so that we do not lose faith, and so that we have leaders and companions on our long road to heaven. Amen.

 

The Greatest

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “The Greatest” based on Mark 9:30-37 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 23, 2018

I had spent many nights dreaming about it, psyching myself up. I was only in 3rd grade at the time, but something about the annual Grade School Cross Country Meet lit the competitive fires within me. And now finally it was the first year that I was old enough to compete. In my head, the night before the race, I could picture how it was going to go quite clearly. My competitors and I would start off evenly, but my torrid, steady pace would propel me to the front of the pack, and I would win the mile long race going away.

That’s how it played out in my dreams. My “cross country” brain however was writing checks that my “football” body could not cash. The day of the meet I learned two things: First: never wear jeans for a cross country race. Second: I learned if I was ever going to succeed in any athletic competition, it was not going to be as a cross-country runner. I had dreams of coming in first, but when all was said and done, I finished….well, assuredly NOT in first.

And that was hard. Cuz no matter what we do in life we want to place high. The high school senior sets his sights on being Top 10 academically in his class. The bride planning her big day wants to have the wedding that her friends and relatives talk about for years to come. And middle aged dude? He wants his lawn to be the greenest and the thickest, the envy of all his neighbors. No matter how old you are, how matter what area of life you’re talking about, nobody is going to turn down a place on the medal stand.

All that having been said, it’s still pretty hard for the disciples to come out looking good when we see them jockeying for position and ranking themselves 1-12 in our text. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. It’s particularly a bad look for them when you consider the context. In the verses immediately before Jesus had just announced that it was time for him to walk toward Calvary, where his every thought would be utter sacrifice, his every action utter selflessness. While those somber and solemn words are still hanging in the air, the disciples move on to much more important matters. “Let’s decide once and for all. Which one of us is the smartest? Which one is the hardest worker? Who was the first one to come into the fold? Who’s the most eloquent? Who’s the most passionate?”

Can you imagine being so obtuse? So oblivious? That even confronted with someone in deep need of love and support, you can only talk about yourself? Actually…you probably can imagine that. We’re picking on the disciples because they’re easy targets in our text. But we spend so much of lives staking our claim to being the greatest. Think back to the last argument you had.  You probably didn’t use the exact words, but I bet it had something to do with who was the greatest. I clean the toilets, because apparently I’m the only one around here who cares what this house looks like. (In other words…I’m the greatest.)  You spend money like a sailor on leave and I’ve got to be the mature one who makes sure all the bills actually get paid. (In other words…I’m the greatest.)  Did you forget to take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer? Now I’ve got nothing to wear! (I would never forget to do that, so I must be the greatest.)

Subconsciously we spend our days in the never ending quest to convince ourselves or convince the people around us how great we are. Even when it comes to the student with his grades, the bride-to-be with her wedding and the middle aged dude with his lawn, there is a razor thin line between using God’s gifts with gratitude on the one hand AND ego boosting, identity defining, grandstanding “I am the greatest” thoughts on the other hand.  It’s the line between being humbly thankful for what you have and being arrogantly prideful about what you have. It’s the line between seeking to glorify God and seeking to glorify me.

Like the disciples, we spend our days veering wildly over the line and back, over that line and back. Can you see why that’s so messed up? We’re trying to determine our worth by where we rank among their our. That number, whatever it may be, is subjective. (It depends on who you talk to) It’s arbitrary (it can vary from day to day). And it’s subject to flawed human reason. (What you might think is great might not be what God thinks is great).

Funny thing is, the disciples were going round and round on the road about who was greatest, when the answer was obvious. All they had to do was stop looking at one another and start looking at the guy who was walking on ahead of them. It’s understood, but it still feels pretty good to say—Isn’t Jesus the greatest?!

Consider that he knew what they were talking about on the road, he knew they were going to jostle for position in the most glory grabbing ways at the worst possible times. He knew that before he chose them as disciples, before they were even born and yet he chose them any way! Because Jesus is the greatest.

Jesus is the greatest because he’s bottomless patience with the slowest on spiritual uptake. That’s you and me. Because his blood splattered a cross as payment for the most vile, the most repulsive, the most stubbornly rebellious. That’s you and me.

Jesus is the greatest because he finds the most insignificant, the most plain, the most rejected, the last place finisher and he says, “You have value. You matter to me no matter what anybody says about you. They will all go away. But I will never change how I feel, I will never leave, I will never go away.”

Jesus is the greatest because at your baptism he repeated what he did in our text. You were the child he took in his arms and he said, “I welcome this one—poor, insignificant, unworthy though he is. I will cover her with my perfection. I will give her eternal life. And that will make this little one truly great.” That’s you and me.

Jesus is the greatest. The key to greatness is found in being like him.  It’s not a ranking or even a respect given to you by your peers. It’s not the number of likes on your most recent Instagram post. That’s not what greatness is all about. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

That’s exactly what he did! For a servant puts the needs of another ahead of his own needs. And that’s what Jesus did when he went to the cross. That’s another thing that makes him the greatest. He became the servant of all.

To illustrate the “all” for us he used an object lesson. 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” It’s not just about being nice to little kids. It’s about seeing people as Jesus sees them. It’s about giving the kids’ table as much attention as you give the head table. It’s about seeing the seeing seedy one and the scruffy one with the same eyes that you see the CEO. It’s being willing to unclog the hair from the shower drain, it’s scraping the caked on food off the dishes, it’s about putting the new roll of toilet paper in the holder instead of leaving lonely bare cardboard there for the next person to deal with.  Imitating Jesus is not just about serving the insignificant ones—it’s about doing the insignificant things—and doing them for no other reason than the fact that you want to be like Jesus. He is the greatest and imitating his humility and service—that is the path to true greatness. Amen.

 

The Good Kind of Pain

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “The Good Kind of Pain” based on 1 Peter 4:12-19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 16, 2018

Pain is bad.  Ask someone who lives with severe arthritis and they’ll tell you.  Or someone who has dealt with kidney stones or migraine headaches.  Pain is bad.  We go through life trying to get rid of and reduce and avoid pain.  But is all pain bad all of the time?

In his book, Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey talks about the research that was done among people suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy).  There’s a misconception that fingers and toes just start falling off.  But in reality, those who suffer from leprosy often experience nerve damage and lack of sensation in their hands and feet and faces.  The result:  they can no longer feel pain.  Their damaged nerves don’t send out warning signals – “Hey, that surface is too hot…pull away.”  “That metal edge is sharp…don’t grab hold of it.”  Without that sensation of pain, they risk greater injury and danger.

So pain isn’t always bad.  Some pain can be a blessing.  Some pains, while uncomfortable, can steer us away from bigger dangers.  Today Peter takes on the issue of pain.  He addresses the “painful trials” we might face.  But here he’s talking about not a physical pain but the discomfort that is unique to people who believe in Jesus.  You and I would call it persecution.  Jesus in the Gospel for today calls it a cross.

What does it look like and feel like?  For Stephen, one of the faithful deacons in the early Christian church, his persecution was physical.  Because of his faith in Jesus, he was stoned.  For Christian living in North Korea, they could be arrested, sent to a labor camp or killed.  Again…physical persecution.  For you and me, the pressures are different.

Do you ever feel like you’re part of this small, shrinking group that still believes….

…in God’s 6-day creation

…that human life is precious (even and especially the unborn)

…that there are two genders

…that sex is for marriage and marriage is for life

…that there really is a hell and really is a heaven

…that church is for sinners who need Jesus because he’s the only one who saves?

What kind of world do we live in?  Well, it’s not illegal to be a Bible-believing Christian, but it’s not popular either.  According to a recent Gallop poll, only 24% of Americans believe the Bible is the true, literal Word of God.  What that means is, not everyone out there in the world shares your same beliefs about God…your same standard of right and wrong…your same values.  In fact, most people don’t.  So you may not get arrested or thrown into a labor camp, but you will face some pressures…some painful trials…some oppositions to your faith in Jesus….from strangers maybe…from co-workers maybe…even from friends and relatives who make it clear they think our faith in Jesus is foolish.

When that happens, don’t be surprised:  “Do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice…”

Did I hear that correctly?  If and when we are persecuted…looked at funny…ridiculed…shunned…we aren’t supposed to fight back….we’re not supposed to seek vengeance…we’re not even supposed to be shocked.  Instead, we are to be filled with joy?  Yes.  Because not all pan is bad, remember.  Some pain can actually be a blessing.  And Peter is going to tell us why the pain of persecution…the pain and discomfort of not fitting in with this sinful world is actually a good kind of pain.

  1. Any pain you have now…any suffering you endure as a result of your faith in Jesus will only heighten your anticipation for heaven. “Rejoice…so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 

Robin Graham was a 16 year-old who attempted to sail around the world…alone.  In 1965 he set out.  It took him five years.  As you would imagine, he had near-death scenarios and storms upon storms.  Repairs to his boat.  More repairs to his boat.  Once, being so fatigued and depressed, he doused his boat deck with gasoline, lit a match, and hopped overboard.  He reconsidered, climbed back up, put out the fire, and kept trudging alone.  After five years he sailed into a Los Angeles harbor.  He had completed his journey.  A crowd had gathered.  Cars honked their horns.  Boats blew their whistles.  People cheered.  That moment for him was awesome.  The depths of his agony made that welcome so, so sweet.  His agonizing journey was now over and it was capped with an over-the-top welcome home.

Could it be like that for us when we go to heaven?  Does God allow the conditions of this world to be so degenerate and depressing that we realize we don’t belong here…that we sometimes want to light a match to it all…but that we also realize that at the end of our journey, he’ll bring us into a safe harbor…an over-the-top welcome home harbor.  Keep sailing, because the pain and agony will soon take a drastic, wonderful turn.  It will be worth it.

  1. Any pain you have now…any suffering you endure as a result of your faith in Jesus is a vivid reminder to you that you belong to Him! “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

Praise God that you bear that name.  When you suffer pain…when you carry a cross…it is a little gospel sermon…a vivid reminder that you belong to the One who carried THE cross.  The One who looked upon a sinful world and he didn’t sit idly by.  He went “all in” and took on your flesh and blood and took up your sins and carried those sins to THE cross.  Your suffering today makes it clear that you don’t fit in with a world that hates Jesus and despises his Word….you fit in with Jesus…you are on the right side…you are bearing the name that really matters…the name of Christ.

  1. We know what it looked like when Jesus carried our cross…when Jesus was committed to us. What does it look like for us to be committed to him?  “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

You’re in good company.  The world hated Jesus too.  So don’t be surprised when the world hates you too.   Don’t take it personally.  Instead, take refuge in the hands of your Creator. Take comfort in his faithfulness.  Amen.

 

Jesus Fulfils Prophecy Perfectly

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Fulfils Prophecy Perfectly” based on Mark 7:31-37 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 9, 2018

If the world was perfect, would we still have to do laundry?  The innocence and wonder of a nine year old girl came up with that question earlier this week.  Of all the deficiencies and inconsistencies in this world; all of the pains and reasons for sadness; all the obstacles that stand in the way of true joy and happiness, she was worried about putting dirty laundry in a machine that washes your clothes for you.

Most of you are not nine year old girls and, unfortunately, no matter how much you may let your minds wander, you do not live in a perfect world.  You know that there are worse things in the world than having to do the wash. You also know that the reason those challenges exist is because of the sin that was brought into the Garden of Eden.

Immediately after that Fall into Sin, God explained how the sin of Eve and Adam would affect their daily lives.  Thorns and thistles.  Pain in childbirth.  And, of course, their bodies would decay and turn back to dust after death.

As generations have come and gone in this world, sin’s effects have become greater and more invasive on the human experience.  Hatred and violence.  Sickness and disease.  Selfishness, loneliness, depression, and so many different kinds of natural disasters.

In the Gospel today, there is an example of just such a defect that came as a result of sin in this world.  Some people brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and could hardly talk.

This deaf mute lived a silent life.  Even with today’s advances in a standardized sign language, interpreters, speech therapists, cochlear implants, and closed captions, those who are deaf or have a speech impediment have struggles that other members of modern society can’t even imagine.

This man, though, didn’t have those advances. He didn’t even know what he was missing out on most of the time.  He was likely isolated much of the time, especially because the prevailing belief in those days was that being deaf was not simply a consequence of life in a sinful world, but a consequence of some particular sin that the deaf person committed, himself.

Can you imagine studying your life, day in and day out, trying to figure exactly what it is that you did that caused you the suffering that you are enduring?  Or, maybe you don’t have to imagine.  Maybe you know exactly what that is like.

Some of you may struggle with your ears or have some difficulty articulating just what you want to say.  Those are real problems and, like the man in the Gospel account today, Jesus is concerned with your suffering.  There may come a time, here on this earth, when he gets rid of your ailment either through miracle or by working through advances in science and medicine.

However, there is also a sort of deaf and dumbness that each and every one of you have experienced in the past and which tries its best to make a recurrence at every turn.

Even before you were born, sin stripped you of your ability to hear the truth of the Gospel and to claim Jesus as your Savior.  And, like the deaf mute, you suffered the unfortunate consequence of not even knowing what you were missing out on.  Left to yourself, without someone bringing you to Jesus to be healed, you would have suffered a fate far worse than loneliness or, even, decaying into dust.  You would have been forced to endure eternal separation and decomposition in the fires of hell.

Jesus, both as true God and as true man, knew the deficiency sin caused and didn’t care for it.  What did he do right before he healed the man in the Gospel account for today?  He sighed.

Like a nine year old who is told to carry the hamper down to the laundry room, Jesus doesn’t care for the effects sin has on this world.  If only the world was still perfect.  If only there was a way to change things.  If only there was a way for this man to be able to hear and, then, to speak clearly—to get rid of the silence.

Say to those with fearful hearts, Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.  The will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

In good conscience and still following the fifth commandment faithfully, Jesus hates the consequences of sin, both physical and spiritual.  So, after sighing, he did something about it.  He came with divine retribution to save his people.

Did you notice how personally he dealt with the deaf mute?  He took him away from the crowd to have his full attention.  He then worked in a way that would be completely transparent to a man who could not hear.  He worked visually and tangibly.  He touched the untouchable man.  He showed him how he understood his defect by putting his fingers in the man ear and touching the man’s tongue.

He then looked up to heaven.  Why?  To show this man just what was sung about in our Psalm for today.  I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where shall come my help?  My help shall come from the one who has made the heavens and the earth. (Pilgrim’s Song – Psalm 121).

Then, in what may be both surprising and, at the same time, expected, Jesus did away with outward signs and gestures and healed the man with the most powerful means in the world.  Ephphatha.  He spoke.  Be opened! he said, and at this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

The Word of God is more powerful than any effect sin can have on anyone.  Yes, it can open deaf ears and loosen dumb tongues.  But, more importantly, it creates faith and applies forgiveness to those who could not and would not be able to hear about it on their own.

Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.

For you, Jesus worked visually and tangibly as well.  As he put the sign of the cross on your head and heart to mark you as a redeemed child of God and then, with a tender touch and such a small amount of water, he baptized you.  The pastor’s hand and the water, itself, had no healing properties.  But when you were baptized, faith was deposited in your heart and your sins were washed away because the person who baptized you used the powerful means of God’s grace.  They spoke the Words of Jesus.

And, of course, the only reason why those words work faith in you and forgiveness for you is because of what else Jesus said while he was on this earth.

Nailed to a cross and ready to sigh his last breath over the effect and punishment of the world’s sin hanging heavy upon him, Jesus spoke.  It is finished, he said.

With those words, Jesus removed the defects and effects of sin for you for all of eternity.  He finished the work of your salvation and gave you the healing that you needed the most.  Because of Jesus’ words, in the eyes of God, you have been restored to the perfection in which humanity was created.

Whether clothes would have eventually made their way into a perfect world or not is a question that, while it might be fun to speculate about, doesn’t really have an answer.

Instead, you have to continue to live in a sinful world, surrounded by its consequences on a daily basis.  But, friends, you won’t always.  A time is coming when divine retribution will again come to save those who are fearful.  When Jesus fulfils his final prophecy and judges the world, he will see your open ears and your loosened tongue.  He will hear you speak plainly the faith he placed in your heart and take you with him to the place where sin can no longer reach you.

With hearts filled of faith, be overwhelmed with amazement at everything he has done well for you.  Keep talking about it and wait patiently for the day when Jesus fulfils his final prophecy perfectly as well.  Amen.

 

Authentic Christianity

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Authentic Christianity” based on James 1:17-27 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 2, 2018

Ferdinand Demara was a man who wore many hats. His mile long resume included stints as a civil engineer, a doctor of applied psychology, a monk, a philosophy professor, a lawyer and a warden at the Texas State prison. There was only one problem. He didn’t have a single diploma, certificate or license to do any of it. He was a brilliant con man, with a photographic memory and astronomical IQ, who successfully did all those jobs—albeit for short periods in different places under various aliases. Perhaps his most impressive impersonation came when he passed himself off as surgeon during the Korean War and literally saved the lives of numerous casualties, including one who required major chest surgery. In 1957, TIME Magazine described him as an “audacious, unschooled but amazingly intelligent pretender who always wanted to be a Somebody, and succeeded in being a whole raft of Somebody Elses.”

I don’t know about you, but Ferdinand Demara’s story captivates me. To think of a man so brilliant that he could succeed in so many fields with no formal training—it’s the stuff of Hollywood films and best selling novels. But let’s face it, under normal circumstances, being an imposter is a decidedly BAD thing! I mean, honestly, would you really want your professor, your lawyer or your heart surgeon to be a fake, a person without any formal training or certified competency?

Isn’t being an imposter when it comes to our Christianity also a decidedly bad thing? Think about the Pharisees in our Gospel lesson. They wore all the right clothes, quoted all the right Bible passages, observed all the right outward rituals. They looked the part. And yet Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”(Matthew 23:27)—pretty on the outside, rotten and decaying on the inside. In other words, he condemned them as imposters.

James was worried about the same things. He wrote to people who were phoning it in, Christianity-wise, sleepwalking through life, thinking they could wholeheartedly embrace sin and embrace their Savior at the same time.  To put it another way, the book of James questions fake Christianity and challenges people who were thinking: “I’m a sinner. But God forgives. So it really doesn’t matter what I do or how I live, because you know ‘Jesus saves’ and all that stuff.” James confronts that attitude by asking his readers, if not in these exact words…did you ever consider that you might be the imposter?

Yikes. That’s a hard question to have to grapple with. I mean, it’s relatively easy, maybe fun, for us to flag hypocrisy in other people. Nobody wants to consider themselves an imposter, especially with something as important as our faith. But look at the things James mentions in our text. And then superimpose it over our lives. Is there any way that this is going to end well?

James describes Authentic Christianity when he says….Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Are you slow to speak? Or are you lightning fast on the draw, willing to talk right over the other person, because you need to make sure your point is heard and heard now. Are you slow to become angry? Or does the bile always bubble hot in you, right below the surface, ready to lash out at the first thing that even mildly annoys you or the first person who gets in your way?

James says….Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Are there times when you head home from listening to the Word at church and do the exact opposite of what we just talked about in worship? Or does your Monday morning way of speaking differ immensely from your Sunday morning way of speaking?

James says…. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself.  Do you want to do better with your words, but then don’t?  Do you try, but some times forget? Do you promise to keep a tight rein, but then in the heat of the moment, there you go again—saying something that’s more from a red hot heart, than a cool calm head? Do your words and actions always match up with your values and principles? Mine don’t. Yours don’t either.

Does that disqualify us from Authentic Christianity? Or is it possible that that just might be Authentic Christianity? Or at least a part of it. The Pharisees never considered themselves to be hypocrites. They were quick to speak and slow to listen, no matter how many times Jesus warned them. But we just listened. And were convicted. We didn’t speak….except to say, Jesus forgive me for my hypocrisy.

Jesus even loves hypocrites. He even loves me. He even loves you. We struggle with consistency. But his promise remains ever valid and his blood remains an ever acceptable payment for sin. When our actions prove us false, we look in faith to the One who is true. When confronted with the impurity of our hearts, we cling all the more tightly to the One who is pure—and covered us (head-hands-mouth-and heart) with his perfection. Jesus saved me and you.

That’s authentic Christianity.

If you ever start to feel like you might be the imposter, look less at your works and more at the font. Remember his table. Drink deeply of the Word. It’s in those places that our true identity is revealed, because it it’s there that God tells us who we are. And he does not lie.

Yes, Jesus even loves hypocrites. But he does not love hypocrisy. Jesus forgives us for those times when we are exposed as imposters. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be an imposter.

Authentic Christianity means looking at temptation like it’s poison, not drinking it like it’s a glass of water on a hot day. Authentic Christianity means struggling against the devil like the apostle Paul did, boldly proclaiming “Sin will not be my master!” (Romans 6:14) Authentic Christianity means listening closely to the words of Moses in our Old Testament lesson: Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.  Authentic Christianity means revisiting and recommitting to the path James describes in our text. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Don’t pass that by too quickly. You know… “Don’t know any orphans, so cross that off. Be kind to little old ladies. Will do. The world is bad. Got it.” James is talking about two general attitudes that radiate from an authentic Christian constantly, everyday. Embrace those who need you. Keep the world at arms’ length. That doesn’t mean we’re anti-social. It does mean that we take much of what we see on TV, or on social media, or in workplace conversation and we say, “That’s not what I’m about.” Live in the world. Enjoy God’s blessings in this world. Don’t be polluted by the attitudes of the world. It’s not doing the right thing in order to get to heaven. It’s doing the right thing because you already are. That’s authentic Christianity.

May the Holy Spirit enable you and those you care about to believe it, to grow in it and live forever because it. Amen.

 

Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go.

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go” based on Psalm 71 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, August 26, 2018

Two teenage girls were in the kitchen cooking when all of a sudden a grease fire broke out.  They panicked.  They ran…out of the house and into their front yard.  A neighbor came to their aid, learned of the fire, and calmly asked if they had any fire extinguishers.  The girls said yes, in fact, they had three of them…handy, right near the kitchen.  So the neighbor calmly but efficiently zipped into the house, located an extinguisher, and quickly put out the fire.  You see, help had been right there, but the girls just didn’t see it, think about it, or know how to use it.

Do you think that ever happens to Christians today? Do you think Christian believers ever get weighed down by burdens or surprised by hardships or overwhelmed by trials to the point that they panic a little and maybe even run right by the help which is right there before them?

Today, the Psalmist shows us the importance of knowing where our help is found and then how to use that help.  The help, obviously is the LORD.  Referring to the Lord, the Psalmist says…My Rock of Refuge to which I Can Always Go.  At every stage of life…thru every chapter of our lives…in any circumstance of our lives…God is our rock and our refuge.

Psalm 71 doesn’t specifically mention who the author is.  But because of some of the familiar phrases and where in the book of Psalms it is located, most everybody agrees that Psalm 71 was written by King David in the late stages of his life.  And if we are looking for an example of someone who turned to the Lord throughout the different stages of his life, I can’t think of a better example than David.

Just open up his scrapbook.  Do you see the picture of young David tending sheep.  And there’s a picture of him taking a sack lunch to his brothers who were off at battle.  Oh, and look at this picture of David trying to wear the armor of King Saul…he’s drowning in it.  And this one – David carrying a sling shot with Goliath towering over him.  How will this shepherd boy ever defeat the giant?

And here’s another picture from a different time in his life.  It’s a picture of him hanging his head in shame.  Nathan the prophet had just visited him…reminded him of how he stole Uriah’s wife and took Uriah’s life and then tried to cover it all up.  Great King David had fallen…the moral leader had had a great moral laps.  What an embarrassment to himself and to his people. How could this guilt and shame ever be lifted?

And here’s a sad photo.  David, fearing his newborn child might die.  He eats no food.  He lies on the ground.  He prays and prays.  And yet his child does indeed die.  How will he ever be comforted?

You know the answers to those questions.

It was the Lord who defeated Goliath…not the stone…not the sling….not the shepherd boy.

It was the Lord who took away David’s sin, as far as the east is from the west.

It was the Lord who comforted David even in his darkest hour.

This much is true – no matter what stage of life, you’re going to have challenges.  Young people have young people challenges; old people have old people challenges.  But you have the same God…the same rock of refuge to which you can always go.

Do you have sins to confess?  Have you allowed worldly things to take a priority in our life while God has been cast aside?  Have you allowed yourself to coast a little bit, treating your Christianity kind of like a diet…sometimes you’re serious about and well, sometimes you’re not?  Do you have sins to confess that no one knows…sins you’d hate to be revealed?  Have you been weighted down by guilt?

I know where you can ALWAYS go…to the Lord, your rock of refuge…he will never turn you away.

Instead he’ll turn you to Jesus.  He won’t treat you as your sins deserve, instead he’ll treat you in grace.  He’ll lift away the sin and remove the guilt and cover you with forgiveness.  And he’ll give you a promise so real you can taste it.

Some have called Psalm 71 a prayer for aging believers.  That’s because David was up in age…and I wonder if he started to feel a little irrelevant.  Have any of you ever felt that way?  I was surprised when I looked up challenges that older people face.  I saw the usually suspects – diminishing immune system, loss of eyesight and hearing and memory, fragile bones.  On that list – depression.  I wonder if David was depressed when he realized he wasn’t the strong king any more…when his own family members were trying to oust him.  I wonder if any of our aging members get depressed when they realize they can’t do the things they once could….aches and pains increase…health decreases…children and grandchildren move away…loved ones pass…the house gets quieter…or maybe the house gets traded in for assisted living.  Young or old, do you ever get depressed?  Every start to feel unwanted or irrelevant?

I know where you can ALWAYS go…to the Lord, your rock of refuge…he will never turn you away.

Instead he’ll turn you to Jesus….and he says, others may forget about you, but I never will.  Others may leave you, but I never will.  I will love you with an everlasting love.

Do you need the strength to keep the faith and confess that faith in a world that is sometimes hostile?  Do you want to get better at seeing the positives in this life rather than dwelling on all the negatives?  Do you want a more grateful heart?  Do you want to have the wisdom and strength to set a good Christian example for your kids and grandkids?  Do you want to be a more loving husband or wife…a more patient parent?

I know where you can ALWAYS go…to the Lord, your rock of refuge…he will never turn you away.

Instead he will turn you to Jesus.  And he will help you to share Jesus.  And he will empower you to live for Jesus.  And he will help you to love like Jesus.

Those two teenage girls were just too preoccupied to realize they were running right past their source of help.  There was a fire in the kitchen…and all they could think about was running out the door.  No matter what stage of life – you’ll have problems and challenges and maybe a few grease fires…young people have young people problems and old people have old people problems.  Lord, give us the mind and the heart…so that all we think about is running to you, our rock of refuge.  Amen.

 

Seek the One Who Sought You

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Seek the One Who Sought You “ based on Matthew 6:33 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, August 12, 2018

Do not worry. 

That’s the way that Jesus begins this pericope—this section cut out– from his infamous Sermon on the Mount.  For three chapters in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus taught his people about so many different aspects of Christianity.

Jesus saw a crowd of people who were hurting and hopeless.  They were searching for answers and were desperate.  They were not finding fulfilment in their fishing, in their carpentry, in their tax collecting, or in their farming.  Their marriages were breaking or already broken.  Their children were rambunctious and didn’t listen.  Their friends betrayed them, their drachmas and denarii were dwindling, and, well, to be quite honest, their healthcare system relied heavily on a miracle worker like Jesus to take away their pains and sicknesses.

Jesus saw all this and reached out to people that he loved and cared for.  He knew that these people were in need and so he helped them by preaching to them.  He sought them out and shared with them wisdom from above.  And smack dab in the center of three chapters of these teachings is this encouragement and enjoiner from Jesus, Do not worry.

You have likely heard it said before, but it bears repeating: the Holy Spirit doesn’t waste words.  As he inspired Matthew to write these words, he likely did not have him record a word for word dictation of the entirety of this discourse, but, rather, to share what was most needful.

In so doing, these words stand out.  You could even say that the words Do not worry serve as some sort of an overriding theme and central focus for the whole sermon.  And, if you do that, a wealth of knowledge is opened for, and shared with, those who read and hear these three chapters.

Are you hurting?

Are you seeking answers?

Are you unfulfilled?

Is it your marriage that is falling apart—or, are you just a bit jealous of those whose are because you wouldn’t take marriage for granted like they have?

Are you the one wondering how tuition, the car, the house, or even tonight’s dinner is going to be paid for?

Are you the one with the sickness that even modern medicine can’t mend?

Friends, Do not worry.

If you are hurting, Jesus has comfort.

He has the power to fix what is broken.

He has love that surpasses this world’s most desirable romances.

He has riches far beyond the biggest billionaire’s bank accounts.

He has the cure for any and all ailments.

Jesus has it all figured out, is in control of all things, and has the ability to give you all these things as well.

Jesus is telling you to have faith—to trust that everything is going to be ok.  Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.  Everything in this world may be telling you otherwise, but Jesus says not to worry about it.

In essence, the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount is an expository, or explanatory, sermon of the 1st Commandment.  Fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Do not put your trust or your reliance on anything other than your God.

Truthfully, Jesus could have just said, Do not worry as his whole sermon and, because he is God, expected and required you to believe him and think, speak, and act accordingly.  Like a parent who gets fed up with his child who keeps whining and complaining, Jesus could have just told his disciples of all eternity not to worry “because I said so.

But he didn’t.  He sought you out in your pain, sickness, sadness, and anxiety, and shared with you the secret to removing that worry from your life. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

He doesn’t promise to eradicate cancer, to deposit drachmas or denarii on your doorstep, to force your kids to do their chores, or to get your nagging wife off your back.  But what he does promise is to remove your worry over them.  You see, when you seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, you begin to realize quite quickly that you have something far more worrisome than all of those issues combined.

Without Jesus, you are not a part of his kingdom and you are the complete opposite of righteousness.  The original sin inside of you since the moment your life began not only caused you to be unworthy of your God and unable to enter into his presence, but it is also the reason why you commit so many of your sins, from worry, itself, to the selfish thoughts, words, and actions that flow so freely from it.

Notice that Jesus did not say to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness so that all these things will be given to you.  Rather, first, have faith and then recognize that all of these things will be taken care of by the one who loves you and gave you everything that he has.

Trust to be true all that he did for you.  Believe that, while you were completely lost and unworthy of his attention and his love, he kept the law of God in your place.  He put the will of God in front of his own and sacrificed what was best for him for what was best for you.  He put your wants, needs, and even your worldly possessions in front of what he could gain for himself.  He became a human being in order to be the perfect substitute for you, both in the perfect life you were unable to live and the sacrificial death that you don’t have to die.

He lived and died to win forgiveness for you, to clothe you with the robe of his righteousness, and to reconcile the relationship between you and your God.  And not only did he have the power to do those things, but he actually did them all—for you.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, not so that he will share with you all that he has.  Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, that is, have faith in what he has done for you is true, and know that not only can he provide for all your earthly needs, he will, because he did everything in his ability to make you his own.

Seek first the One who sought you.  Believe that he has it all figured out, is in control of all things, and he will give you all these things as well.  Amen.