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.