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Repent or Perish?

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Repent or Perish” based on Luke 13:1-9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, March 24, 2019

Have you ever played “Would you rather?” It can be a fun game to pass a little bit of time. For example…

  • Would you rather lose all of your possessions or all of the pictures you have ever taken?
  • Would you rather be completely invisible for one day or be able to fly for one day?
  • Would you rather be married to a 10 with a bad personality or a 4 with an amazing personality?
  • Would you rather find twenty dollars on the ground or find all of your socks that have ever gone missing in the dryer?
  • Would you rather sing a hymn that never seems to end or listen to a sermon that never seems to end? (Don’t answer that!)

Most “would you rather” questions are intended to provoke deeper thinking. They’re not supposed to be easy to answer. By contrast, the would you rather? question that links together our three readings for today seems very easy to answer with no thought at all. “Would you rather….repent or perish?”  No, I understand that it’s not even once asked in the form of a question. In fact, with the Gospel lesson, it’s an exclamation. Repent or perish! Nevertheless, it seems like a no brainer. Repentance, it is. But that’s not to say that real repentance comes easy to us.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Our sinful nature resists turning away from sin every step of the way. Left to ourselves we can only, ever remain mired in the ways that will make us perish. Only the powerful working of our God can bring our stubborn hearts to repentance. We see that powerful word at work in the word of God before us today from Luke 13.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Apparently, both stories were in the news and therefore hot topics of conversation among the people. Now, you have to know something about the way religious people thought about tragedies that happened in people’s lives back in those days. It was almost universally accepted back then that if something bad happened to you, you must’ve done something really bad that caused that badness be visited upon you. And so the people around Jesus may very well have been looking at the Galileans who had been murdered while offering sacrifices and the victims of the tower that fell with a bit of self-righteous disdain. “They must’ve done something pretty bad to have this happen to them.”

Jesus had to turn that thinking upside down. We shouldn’t try and draw a one to one correlation between a particular sin and bad things that come into our lives. And it’s particularly dangerous when we’re playing that game with other people’s sins and troubles in mind. Because when we’re obsessed with shining a white light into all the dark places of others’ lives, we’re conveniently ignoring what’s going on in our own lives, and minds, and hearts.

Repentance doesn’t come easy to us. It’s much easier to concentrate on others’ sins than to hold ourselves accountable before God’s law. You know what I mean? Do you ever do a “backhanded” confession of sins?  I know having a heart full of hate for someone is wrong. But Jesus, that person does so many hateable things! I know that not being content is wrong. But Jesus, you have to admit that I have it worse in life than other people. I know that I’m not the spouse or parent that I should be, and that’s wrong. But Jesus, at least I’m doing a better job at it than my no good brother in law, sister in law, coworker, neighbor or some random guy I see on the news! I know that (fill in the blank) is wrong. But Jesus, let’s be serious, despite what I say, I don’t really plan on putting a stop to it in my life.  When we make that sort of “but Jesus!” confession, it’s a sign that we’re really not taking sin seriously, sin that—if we continue to coddle it—is indeed serious enough to send us to hell. And so we, too, hear Jesus say, “Repent. Or perish.” Repentance is the right choice and now is the right time to do it.

That’s what the parable of the fig tree illustrates. If we see the vinedresser pleading for another year for the fruitless fig tree and we think to ourselves, well that buys me a little more time to snuggle up on the couch with Satan—we’re missing Jesus’ point entirely. Our God is patient, but that patience is not a license to keep punching Him in the nose. The next breath could indeed be our last breath.  Now is the time to get tough on pet sins. Or we will see Him get tough on us because of our pet sins for eternity. God will not be played. You know he’s deadly serious about sin when Jesus looks us square in the eyes and says, “Repent or perish.”

We can loathe our sin with a red hot hatred, but that doesn’t fix the problem of our sin. Inasmuch as seeing an x-ray doesn’t fix a broken leg–it only confirms that there’s a pretty big problem going on. We can change our attitude about our sin today, but that doesn’t change the sins of yesterday. Only Jesus can do that. Jesus covers over the sins of yesterday and last week and five months ago and fifteen years ago with the perfect blood he poured out on a cross. As serious as Jesus is about our sin. He’s equally as serious about saving us. The same one who says “turn away from sin” says “turn toward me in faith.” The same one who looks you in the eye and says “repent or perish” is also the one who says “believe and live.”

When you see that you realize that there’s something more powerful than fear of God’s punishment at work here. It’s called love and gratitude for God’s deliverance. If fear of perishing eternally is only our motivator, we might do the right thing but it with a grudging and grumbly heart. And let’s be honest, fear loses its legs after a little while, slowly regressing back to comfortable complacency. But there’s an even more powerful reason to hate our sin. Because Jesus hates sin and our singular goal in life is to be like him. And that has legs because it’s constantly fed and powered by God’s Word.

Did you catch the plea for patience from the gardener in that parable? “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  He pleads for one more year, but he doesn’t then just sit back and wait with arms crossed. He acts to nourish and nurture, to feed and fertilize. That’s what our Heavenly Gardener does for you in Word and Sacraments, so great is his desire to care for you personally and see a fruitful life in you.

Let’s be honest. Does repentance today stop temptation from coming back tomorrow? You know that it doesn’t. You know that on this side of heaven, sin is a never more than a heartbeat away. But this isn’t about never sinning. It’s about how we handle the sin that inevitably ensnares us. Will we coddle it or plead for mercy? Will we continue to make excuses for it or be repulsed by it? Will we be bare trees or will we produce fruit in keeping with repentance, that is to say will we take steps to stop that specific sin in our lives?

Repent or perish! A serious Savior speaks in serious words to us today. But understand why he does so. His love for us is so massive that he can’t sit idly by while we destroy ourselves with a casual attitude toward sin. That love brought him down from heaven. That love carried him to a cross. That love drives his urgent words to us here. Let us listen too with urgent ears.

Let us repent, trust in him and live. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Is Unstoppable

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Unstoppable” based on Luke 13:31-35 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, March 17, 2019

From the mid 1930’s to the mid 1940’s the German Army was a force to be reckoned with.  In part because they had some top-notch generals but also because they began using some surprising war strategies, like the Blitzkrieg – attacking with lightning speed and overwhelming force.  The German Army seemed unstoppable.  But it wasn’t.  The Allied Forces eventually won some key battles and closed in on the Germans.  And it took teamwork, particularly from two countries that aren’t always that friendly with each other – the United States and the Soviet Union.  Those two countries worked together, not because they had a common trust or a common set of values or a common friendship but because they had a common enemy – the German Army.

We see that happening in our Gospel for today – two unlikely groups joining forces against a common enemy.  The Pharisees weren’t particularly fond of the ruler the Romans had placed over them.  They didn’t like King Herod.  But the Pharisees and King Herod worked together – not because they had a common trust or common values or common friendship but they had a common threat – Jesus.  If they work together, could they stop him?  Not a chance.  Last week we saw the devil himself try to stop our Savior; Jesus beat him fair and square.  In today’s Gospel Jesus shows again us how unstoppable he is.

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else.  Herod wants to kill you.”  Jesus isn’t in Jerusalem yet.  He’s slowly making his way there, from Galilee…and he goes from one town to another.  He teaches.  He heals.  He cares.  And he’s interrupted by these Pharisees:  Herod wants to kill you.  Those weren’t empty words.  Herod had some power…and violence and viciousness ran through his veins.  He was the one who took the head of John the Baptist.

His father was the one who ordered the babies to be killed at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Herod was not a nice guy and, according to the Pharisees, Herod wanted Jesus dead.

A death threat from a powerful governing official would be enough to take me off the grid.  Not Jesus.  He replied, “Go tell that fox, I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”

In other words, “I have work to do and I will do that work in broad day light…today…and tomorrow…until my work is complete!”  What did that mean short term?  Jesus would go to Jerusalem…willingly…and go to the cross.  Nothing can stop that from happening (not the meddling Pharisees and not a blood-thirsty king).  What does that mean long term?  Jesus will watch over the subjects in his kingdom.  They may endure trial and tribulation for a season, but he will bring them to their heavenly goal.  Nothing can stop that from happening.

I need to hear that.  Because it’s too easy for me to get discouraged by what I see.  Christians are persecuted world-wide.  Churches are burned to the ground.  Even in our country where our economy is stable for the moment and we can freely worship whenever and wherever we please, anti-Christian waves seem to be getting bigger in the media in society and in government.  It sometimes feels like the one sitting behind the big executive desk calling all the shots is the Big Mob Boss Satan.  But take comfort.  Those who lived in Galilee in Jesus’ day would have thought Herod was calling the shots and the Pharisees were people of influence.  But the One in control was the One who came to seek and to save the lost.  The One calling the shots is the One slowly making his way to Jerusalem….healing and driving out demons…today…and tomorrow…and no one could stop him.

You Savior has unstoppable power.  He’s still in control….no matter what political party has the majority…no matter what the balance of power at the supreme court level…Jesus is in control today…and tomorrow…and his church shall never perish – not today, not tomorrow…until he returns in glory to bring you to your heavenly goal.  You’re on the right team.  Just don’t forget it.

It isn’t just his power that is unstoppable.  His love too.  What’s on the mind of the Pharisees?  How can we stop Jesus?  What’s on the mind of Jesus?  Showing mercy…healing and teaching…and ultimately, getting to Jerusalem where he will show the full extent of his love.

What’s even more amazing, his love never stops and his heart never ceases to ache for the very people who despise him.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who sent you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

His Old Testament prophets – the Isaiahs and the Jeremiahs and the Ezekiels – had been sent by the Lord…and they had been rejected by the people.  But God never stopped loving and calling to them.  And even now, the Son of God is in the flesh among the people – and he’s still treated poorly.  What does John say in the first chapter of his gospel?  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11).  Could you blame Jesus if he had just said, That’s it.  I quit.  I’m not going to carry their sins – they don’t even want me here!  Yet his love just wouldn’t stop.  I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day.

Jesus just wouldn’t quit…on his Old Testament people…on the people in the towns and villages in Galilee…and he just won’t quit on you and me.  And he knows…he knows just how many times we’ve quit on him….how many times we’ve honored him with our lips but our hearts were far away…how many times we’ve forgotten that our citizenship is in heaven and instead wrapped our hearts around earthly things…he’s seen us, clothed so beautifully in our baptismal garments of grace, and then he’s watched as we’ve rolled around in the slop of sin again and again.  Would you blame him if he’d just say, I quit.  I’m not going to keep reaching out to them.  They had their chance.

Instead, “Come,” we hear him say.  “Come, there’s room under my wings.  Come, there’s a place here to confess your sins.  Come, there is font here under my wings, here you can drown your sinful nature again and again.  Come, there is room.  I will not stop loving you.”

Of course our Lord has something very special in mind.  Not only does he want to restore you…not only does he want to assure you of his ability and faithfulness to carry you all the way to heaven even through these seasonal trials and tribulations…but does he not also want to reach many more through you?  In other words, he doesn’t want his unstoppable love to stop with you.

You haven’t been given the power to change hearts, shape governments, heal diseases or uphold the church of believers – the Lord has.  You have been given the ability and the opportunity to love as you have been loved, to encourage fellow believers, to be kind and soft-hearted to those who are down-trodden and forgotten, to forgive as you have been forgiven.  Do that.  Jesus went from town to town teaching and healing.  How does he get around from town to town, from family to family today?  In part, is it not through you?  You haven’t been given the power to change hearts – the unstoppable Jesus does that, just as he has changed yours.  But you have been called to share the love of Jesus – in word and in deed.  Do that.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Are Children of God…..

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “If You Are Children of God….” based on Luke 4-1-13 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, March 10, 2019

At his baptism in the River Jordan, marked by the Father’s voice from above and the Spirit descending in the form of a dove, Jesus was anointed and appointed to carry out the work of being your Savior.

The Gospel for today shows that his first steps as your Savior took him into the wilderness.  You see, unlike some science fiction movie or television show where the hero travels back in time to right what once went wrong, Jesus went there, not to change what happened in the past, but to change the future for all people that have committed sins in the past.

Where, in the past, did it first go wrong?  It wasn’t one of the readings appointed for today, but you probably know it so well that you don’t have to have it read.  In the Garden of Eden, after God created a perfect world, and Eve and Adam to care for it, the serpent slithered his way in to ruin everything with one little question: Did God really say…?

Eve was tempted and fell for it.  Her husband, who was with her, neglected his headship principle and allowed her to be tempted.  Sin happened and, ever since then, temptation and sin have continued to be a regular part of everyday life.

So, in order to change the future for all those who deal with temptation and sin on a daily basis, including you and me, Jesus worked to change the future by facing those temptations himself.  Only, in order to change that future, Jesus would have to endure them without falling into sin, himself.  And that, as you heard in the Gospel for today, is just what Jesus did.

It is interesting to note, though, that as Jesus faced the temptations of the Devil, out in that wilderness, the temptations of the Devil were really the same that Eve and Adam faced, and the same that he tries to use against you and me as well.

Oh, sure, the wording is somewhat different, but the goal of Satan’s sneaky saying is the same.  The goal wasn’t necessarily to get Eve to eat the apple, or whatever fruit it was.  Instead, the serpent was focused on getting her and her husband to doubt the Word of God.  Listen again to the Devil’s words to Jesus and note that his ultimate goal really didn’t have anything to do with bread.

If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.  He didn’t come right out and say, “Did God really say…,” but the effect is the same.  He just used a little more logic.  He knew that Jesus knew what God did and did not say—in fact, he was counting on it.  He knew that Jesus is the Son of God and he knew what God says about those who are his children; how he will care for them and provide not only for their spiritual needs, but even for their physical needs.  And so, if that is true, if you are the Son of God, and, therefore, God cares for you and provides for you, then why are you hungry?  God must be lying to you.

Does that sound a little more like the temptations that the ancient serpent spews out toward you?

He knows that you are children of God.  If you weren’t, he wouldn’t spend so much time trying to convince you otherwise.  He knows that you know what God has said about caring for and providing for his children.  He’s counting on it.  That’s why and when he attacks.  He waits for his opportune time and asks you, if you are children of God, then why doesn’t your God act like it?

He says he will provide, but he doesn’t.  You don’t even have to look at all the starving and homeless out there in the rest of the world.  Look at all that he hasn’t provided for you.  Where is the soul mate he promised to pair you up with?  Where are the Christian friends he placed in your life to help pick you up when you are down and to celebrate with over your bounty of blessings?  Where is the dependable vehicle, the house that doesn’t need a new roof or properly working pipes, the job that gives you an opportunity to use your spiritual gifts, and the health you need to enjoy any of those things?

He says he loves you, but he doesn’t show it.  You put in your hours, week after week, worshipping him, here in this building and even in your own home.  You go to him, but when was the last time he came to you?  Doesn’t he see how, even though you may be surrounded by so many people, you are so lonely?  The real reason there’s only one set of footprints in the sand is because you have been walking in your own wilderness, without anyone who understands what you’re going through.

You are children of God.  And, for the most part, you have been doing your part.  When is he gonna start holding up his end of the bargain?   You have seen what God really says, but, quite obviously, he lies.  You can’t trust him or his Word.

When those temptations came to Jesus, he was able to refute them.  How?  Well, not surprisingly, he went straight to God’s Word for the answers.  Notice, when the temptations came, Jesus didn’t point to examples from his own live to prove how God had been working in his life.  He wasn’t concerned about the past.  He went to the promises God made and put his faith in them.  And, in so doing, was able to change the future for you and for me.

When Satan slithers his way into your wilderness to tempt you, if you really thought about it, you could probably point to periods in your life where God has, indeed, kept the promises he made to you.  But, as Jesus clearly shows in enduring and overcoming these temptations, the solution to success against Satan isn’t found in producing evidence from your past experience that he is wrong.  Rather, it is found in faith.

Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.  Faith is saying to Satan, I don’t care what you say.  I don’t care what points you make.  I don’t care how convincing of an argument you make, I put my faith in my God because he tells me to—even if it might mean that I am going against every natural recourse and inclination my mind can come up with.

And that faith, friends, is what God says overcomes the temptations of the Devil.  Faith trusts that God is not a liar.  Faith trusts in his Word which tells you that because Jesus didn’t fall for any of the Devil’s temptations, he lived a perfect life and that he lived that life in place of the imperfect one that you have lived.  Faith trusts the Word which promises to you that when Jesus sacrificed that perfect life, he did so to pay the atonement price that curbed that wrath of God that he rightly held against you because of your sin.  Faith trusts the Word of God that says that even though death seems like the final enemy that no sinful human being on this earth has ever overcome, your death will be the entrance to life eternal because Jesus defeated death in his own resurrection and he shares the spoils with you.

Jesus is the Son of God, anointed and appointed to be your Savior.  You are children of God, protected and cared for by your God.  Don’t listen to the lies that Satan spews at you.  Stop looking at the past and what your God has or hasn’t done for you lately.  Keep your eyes on the prize.  Focus on the future your Jesus has won for you.  If you are children of God, do what his children do.  Put your faith in the promises that your God has made and believe that he will keep them for you.  Amen.