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When Jesus Speaks…Great Things Happen

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “When Jesus Speaks…Great Things Happen” based on John 5:25-29 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, November 18, 2018

Aren’t politics a joke sometimes?  Don’t get me wrong – politicians and governing officials doing their jobs is no joke.  That’s a great blessing.  Christians are very thankful for those who serve in the government and we even pray for them.  What’s unfortunate is how politicians talk to one another…how they constantly seem to be looking over to the other side of the aisle to see if someone will say something or do something they can pounce on or criticize.

That’s the kind of environment that was starting to develop in Jesus’ day.  It wasn’t even the politicians.  It was the religious leaders who were watching Jesus very closely to see if he would do something or say something they could pounce on and criticize.  What was it this time?  He had healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.  He told him to get up, pick up his mat, and walk.  But since he had done this on the Sabbath Day, the religious leaders were in a tizzy.  They confronted Jesus.  And Jesus starts talking about his relationship with God the Father and how those who honor the Father are supposed to honor him, the Son, as well.  That did it.  Not only was this man Jesus a Sabbath Day breaker he was also now a blasphemer.

It was in this context that Jesus basically says, you haven’t seen anything yet.  And he goes on to speak about the great things that happen when he speaks.  For instance, when Jesus speaks, dead people are raised.

Do you remember when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead?  “Little girl, get up” he said.  Or how about the widow’s son from Nain…he was being carried out on a funeral procession.  Jesus stopped them and said, “Young man, get up.”  And who could forget Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who has been in the tomb four days.  “Lazarus, come out” he said. In each case Jesus spoke and the dead people came to life.

But here in this first verse Jesus is not speaking about a physical resurrection or a bodily resurrection, like we think about at the Last Day.  He will speak about that in a moment.  Listen again to what he says:  A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.  Jesus is talking about a time, right now in the present, when dead people are actually being brought to life…when dead people are hearing the voice of Jesus and they come springing to life.

I look out over this congregation and here’s what I see:  I see dead people…who have now been brought to life.

  • I see people, am I’m right there with you, who had no understanding…no faith…no love for God but now our hearts belong to Jesus and our ears are happy to hear his voice and our lips even sing his praise.
  • I see people who were once buried and entombed in the darkness and death of unbelief…we were lost…we were doomed…but no longer. We rejoice that we are children of God and we gladly confess our faith in him.

 

How did this happen?  Jesus spoke to us in his Word and Sacrament.  And when Jesus speaks, great things happen…dead people are raised to life.  A baby is brought to the font and Jesus says, “Little girl…little boy…get up…and live…and believe.”  The good news is preached and Jesus says, “Come out…come out of that darkness and into the light…I bring you from death to life…I turn your unbelief into trust…I turn your cold heart of enmity into a dwelling place of my love.”  I look out over this congregation and I see life.

And then I look out over the world.  And I see more dead people.  They walk and talk and go to work and take vacations…but they are still dead.  They need to hear the voice of Jesus.  And you know great things happen when Jesus speaks.  So just as Jesus raised you to life and gave you faith, he can do the same for so many more.  Will he use you?  Will he use me?  Is there any urgency to all of this?  I know deadlines can sometimes help me when I’m given a project.  One of the first questions I ask is “when is this due.”  I need to know if I should get right on this or can I let it sit on the corner of my desk for a few weeks or longer or maybe forget about it altogether.  It turns out, there is some practical urgency for you and me not only hearing the voice of Jesus, for our own benefit but also sharing the words of Jesus for the benefit of others.

For a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.  The practical urgency?…the smelling salts, should we need them?  We’re going to die.  And we’re going to be judged.  And we’re going to spend eternity in heaven or hell.

Those who have done good will rise to live.  I’m not sure I like the sounds of that.  Could it be that whether I spend eternity in heaven or eternity in hell depends on how good I have been?  How good do I have to be?

  • Be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy. (Leviticus 19)
  • Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church…Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5)
  • Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Need I go on?  Whose heart can be pure enough, holy enough, good enough?  Not mine.  And not yours.  And yes, that should spell doom.  But Jesus comes to the rescue again.  He describes those who are good.  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).

The good ones are believers.  The good ones are the ones, who through the eyes of faith, realize they themselves are not good enough…never will be…but Jesus has been perfect for us.  The good ones are those who have been cleansed and washed and declared righteous, not because they’ve scored high marks in morality but declared righteous because the Son of God has made satisfaction and payment for all their miserable low and lousy marks.  The good ones are those who have already been given faith in their spiritual resurrection; one day, they’ll be given a physical resurrection too.  They will rise to live…in heaven.

Have you ever heard of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin?  In the 1970’s the whole town had to move to higher ground because of constant flooding.  A good deal of government money was used to relocate businesses and homes.  When people knew their homes were scheduled to be destroyed in the near future and brand new homes would soon be provided, a couple things happened.  They stopped pouring all their time and energy and money into their old homes and they started planning dreaming and looking forward to their new homes.  Their minds and hearts were on the new rather than the old.  Oh, they still had to go to work and carry on with their daily chores while the old town still was standing, but their minds often drifted toward the new.

When Jesus speaks, great things happen.  He has raised us from spiritual unbelief and give us saving faith.  He promises also to raise us on the Last Day and give us entrance into heaven – again, all his doing.  For the time being, we have work to do…some daily chores to attend to…we have a faith to nourish…the next generation to train up…families to love and care for…a gospel to share…but our minds drift toward the new.  What will that be like to have a glorified body?  What will that be like to live with no sin?  What will that be like to be reunited with loved ones?  What will that be like to be with Jesus?  Hasten the day.  Yes, hasten the day.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day is Surely Drawing Near:The Day of Judgement

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Day is Surely Drawing Near:The Day of Judgement” based on Hebrews 9:24-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, November 11, 2018

If you would like, you can try to avoid it.

You can put your mind on other things like the hobbies that you enjoy, the memories that you make with your family and friends, or some fanciful look forward toward an upcoming vacation.

That avoidance, though, will take much more than simply a diversion of the mind.  You will also need to do something about that body of yours.  You need to nourish and strengthen it with food and drink.  You need to exercise and keep it in tip-top shape.  You might prevent sickness and disease with healthy vitamins and supplements and then, when sickness, disease, and deterioration rear their ugly heads anyway, you can invest in surgeries, therapies, and medications.

However, no matter how much you do to avoid it, you walk through its shadow every day and sleep in its shade every night.  You have experienced its effect in the lives of your loved ones and, with a 15 minute surf on the worldwide web or snippet of a news segment, you see it in your community and all over the world.  It is inevitable.

If you would like, you can try to avoid it, but it will not avoid you forever.  You, brothers and sisters, are going to die.  It is, as the inspired author wrote to the Hebrews, your destiny.

But, as awful as it may be to acknowledge your impending end, that’s not the only eventuality that this author enumerated in this letter.  Yes, you are going to die.  But, then, there is another step.  After your soul and body split comes the time for judgment.

And, like death, that judgment is coming whether you like it or not.  And, yet, like death, many people will do all that they can to avoid it.  But, unlike death, those who seek to avoid judgment after death, do so without involving their bodies or their minds.  They do so with their faith, or, rather, their lack thereof.

Like a child who assumes that the danger they fear will remove itself if they close or cover their eyes, those who hope to avoid judgment choose not to believe that it exists.  No God, no afterlife, and, therefore, no judgment.

Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.  Whether you believe it or not, want it or not, do your best to avoid it or not, you are going to die and you are going to face judgment.

So what are you going to do about it?

No one alive today knows for sure which human author was inspired to  write the words in the second lesson for today, but there is no doubt to whom it was written.  The writer acknowledged his audience with so many references to what happened in the Old Testament Temple, particularly in the sacrifices offered by the high priest.

The Hebrews, who were more than familiar with the ritual that occurred on the Day of Atonement, had an answer to the question of what needed to be done about death and judgment.

On that Day of Atonement, the high priest would take the blood of a sacrificial animal and enter into the holiest room in the Temple, a room that was only used for this once-a-year ritual.  He would take that blood and sprinkle it over the ark of the covenant, the box that held the 10 Commandments God gave his people.

For as real as the sights, sounds, and smells of this ritual sacrifice were, the ritual itself was a symbolic shadow, a copy of the very real sanctuary and house of God, i.e., heaven.

The reason that God’s Old Testament people received forgiveness and atonement for their sins was not because the blood of that sacrificial animal was valuable enough to cover the cost of the debt their sin incurred to their God.  Rather, it taught them, as a shadow and copy, of what would come at the end of the ages; at the end of all the practice and copies and when the world was made completely ready.

The reality, the fulfilment of the shadows, was Jesus.  Listen again:

For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.  Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.  But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

There is no more need for sacrifices on the Day of Atonement because the real atonement was made on Calvary’s cross.  As the true sacrificial substitute, Jesus’ death took, in himself, the punishment that sin deserved; your sin, my sin, and the sin of the whole world.

That means that, when the time comes for your unavoidable death and judgment, you will die and be judged not guilty.  The judge’s sentence has already been doled out upon Jesus.  And, in the same way that his death took the place of the eternal death that you deserve, so his perfectly lived life takes the place of the sinless life you were supposed to lead.

Brothers and sisters, you can enjoy your hobbies and make memories with your family and friends.  Take your vitamins and supplements.  Exercise and watch what you eat or drink.  If you need surgery, undergo the knife.  If you need medicine, you can, in good conscience, remove whatever sickness is trying to take your life away from you.

However, as you do any of those things, do not let your reason be because you are afraid of, and avoiding, death and judgement.  Whether you believe it or not and whether you like it or not, Jesus paid the price for your sins.  Believe it with all your mind, body, and heart and live your lives waiting for him to bring your salvation to you.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our God is an Awesome God

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Our God is an Awesome God” based on Daniel 3:16-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, November 4, 2018

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, was an English priest.  He served as a chaplain during World War I.  He was in the trenches in France.  He was right there in the thick of things…right there amidst the sights and the sounds and the smells and the horrors of war. While in France he sent a letter to his wife – really intended for his young son.  And this is what he wrote:

The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, “God, keep daddy safe” but “God make daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them.”  Life and death don’t matter…right and wrong do. Daddy dead is still daddy, but daddy dishonored before God is something awful.

In other words, he was asking his son to pray that he would persevere…that he would keep the faith…that he would keep his trust in God and live his faith even in the face of extreme pressure.  That prayer came from a man at war in a foxhole, surrounded by danger.  Could that be our prayer too?  Could that be my prayer from my office cubicle?…from my college dorm room?…from my living room?  “Lord, make me strong and keep me strong so that I do not dishonor you…so that I do not lose my faith.  Lord, make me brave even though I am surrounded by the sights and the sounds and the smells and the distractions of this world.”

After all, what good would faith be if we believed for a little while, but then in the time of testing we fell away?  What good would it do if we spent a whole lifetime casually talking about Jesus…even worshiping Jesus, but then in the 11th hour of our life we didn’t fully realize what Jesus has done on our behalf and we failed to put our trust in him?  What good would it do if we neglected our faith in Jesus or allowed it to smolder out because the pleasures and cares of this world seemed more pressing and more important?  Lord, keep us steadfast!

In the face of pressure…when the heat was turned up, three men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not falter or flinch.  In them we see what faithfulness is.  But the answer is really our awesome God.  He is Lord over all.  He makes us strong.

He Is Lord over all  – The place is Babylon.  The king is Nebuchadnezzar.  For the moment, you could not find a more powerful king.  This king had an ego.  He declared himself an offspring of one of the most powerful gods…and to give his people the opportunity to express their loyalty to him, a golden statue was made…a 90’ statue.  But that’s not all.  Not only did he commission the building of this false god, he then ordered everyone in the land to bow down to this false image whenever special music was played.  And that’s what happened.  When the music played, the people fell down to the ground.

Well, not everyone.  Three men refused.  There were from Judah…believers in the true God.  They, among the brightest and the best from Judah, had been carted off to Babylon and now were given new names and new positions.  Believers living in an unbelieving land.  And here they were being asked to compromise their faith.  They could take the easy way out and bow down like everyone else…or…they could remain faithful to the Lord…but that would surely result in their death…a fiery furnace death.

They knew something Nebuchadnezzar did not.  They knew the 90’ golden statue was an inanimate piece of metal.  It didn’t think or feel or walk or see or do anything.  And they knew the God who had told them, “I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols”  did see and hear and feel and think and create and provide for and love.  And so they did not bow down.

But Nebuchadnezzar was a reasonable man, right?  No.  He was furious…unhinged.  He made the furnace seven times hotter.  He ordered his strongest men to tie up these men and drop them in.  He didn’t realize his rage and his overreaction and his zeal to heat up the furnace would accomplish two things:

  • It would kill off some of his best soldiers
  • It would only make God’s miracle of deliverance more impressive – for later when the men were taken out of the furnace, their bodies were unharmed, their hair not even singed, their clothes perfectly in tact…not even the smell of smoke.

He makes us strong – We’ve heard this account since we were kids.  We know the outcome.  These three men did not.  They knew their God had the power to save them, but even if he didn’t choose to, they were willing to die…to be burned up, rather than compromise their faith.

The place was Germany.  The Holy Roman Empire was calling the shots.  For the moment, you could not find a more powerful ruling entity.  And that powerful entity had summoned little Martin Luther to stand before them and take back all that he had said and written.  You see, Martin Luther, as he was growing in God’s Word, recognized some teachings of the church that didn’t agree with Scripture.  She he wrote the 95 Thesis and some other documents.

  • The church said you could earn your way to heaven by living a good life; Scripture had convinced Luther that salvation was free.
  • The church had said you could pay money and receive God’s forgiveness; Scripture had convinced Luther that only Jesus can and has paid for sin.

He wasn’t looking for a fight; just a debate.  But in the end, he had a choice.  Take the easy way out and recant…or…he could stand up for the teachings of Scripture even though the most powerful people in the world disagreed with him and would likely tie him to a stake, put some firewood and kindling at his feet, and happily light the match.

We’ve heard this account since we were kids.  We know the outcome.  “Unless I am convinced from Scripture…I will not recant.”  He was willing to die…to be burned up, rather than compromise his faith.

And now return to your cubicle and to your college dorm room and to your living room and your neighborhood.  I don’t see any fiery furnaces or burning stakes in any of your futures.  But I do see

  • College professors challenging the faith of our youth and college campus life challenging their values.
  • Increase of distractions and creative excuses – threatening to keep us from reading our Bibles and gathering with fellow Christians – just ask your sinful nature and see if it won’t have a million different excuses and justifications.
  • Social circles where you’ll be tempted to hide your faith and maybe even some friendships that will dissolve if you show and live your faith.
  • Hard conversations you may have to have with your kids or grandkids about life choices and right and wrong.
  • Like the English priest and chaplain…I see hard work ahead…a world that won’t make it easy for you…I see testing…I see pressures….I see hard choices.

Are you ready?  Are you strong like the three men?…like Martin Luther?    That’s the wrong question.  Try this out for size instead:   Is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego your God?  And is your God Lord over all?

  • Know this: your salvation and your security does not depend upon whether or not you will pass the time of testing or whether or not you will make the right choices or whether or not you are willing to die for Jesus…it depends on Jesus…who did make all the right choices…who did pass all his times of testing…who did die for you.
  • And know this: Your God is Lord over all and he can do the impossible.  His death can pay for your sins; it already has.  His resurrection turns the funeral of your loved one into a victory celebration.  His baptism turns you into his child.  His love fills you with love, and so equips you to be more patient and more forgiving and more understanding with your children and with your spouse.  His strength fills you with strength, and so enables you to stand before your Nebuchadnezzars – whether they be on your college campuses or in your office spaces or in your neighborhoods.

Lord, you redeemed us and we know you will not abandon us.  We now ask you to make us brave, and if we have hard things to do, make us strong to do them.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Him Be Glory

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “To Him Be Glory” based on Jude 24-25 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 28, 2018

Paul Allen scored a perfect score of 1600 on his SAT’s. He was named to Time Magazine’s list of the World’s Most Influential people….twice. In 2007 and 2008. He held 43 different patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He was the creative force behind an award winning television and film production company. He was owner of both the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Oh yeah…he was also the founder of a little company called Microsoft, with his friend Bill Gates.

What was Paul Allen famous for? The answer is everything.  Everything he did, it seemed, was successful and gained him notoriety. Paul Allen is the exact opposite of the guys we’re talking about today. What’s the Simon the Zealot famous for? “Wait, isn’t he the one the one that denied Jesus?” No, that was Simon Peter. “Is he the guy the Roman soldiers wrangled to carry Jesus’ cross on Good Friday?” No, that was Simon of Cyrene. So who is Simon the Zealot? He’s the opposite of Paul Allen–he’s a guy who’s famous for nothing. Ok, that’s a bit of hyperbole. I mean, after all, we know that he was one of the twelve that Jesus hand-picked and called his disciples. That’s not nothing! But honestly the Bible doesn’t tell us much more than his name. He’s a quiet disciple.

History gives us a reason to believe that Simon the Zealot’s pre-disciple life wasn’t always so quiet. It all centers around what the descriptor Zealot actually means. Some say that he’s called a Zealot, simply because he was a man of great religious zeal. That he didn’t do anything halfheartedly, but truly loved the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength. (Matt 22:37) If that is being a zealot….Lord, make each of us one of those!

But things get real interesting when we learn that the Zelotes were actually a formal political group. They were zealously opposed to Roman intervention in the government of their homeland, and there was even a splinter group among them known as the Sicarii, or dagger men. And they were not using their daggers to whittle little action figures of Caesar. They were real life hit men.

Now, don’t misunderstand. The Bible doesn’t say that Simon was a Sicarii or even that he was an active member of the Zealot political party. But if he did indeed run in those circles…wow…what a journey! To go from trusting the power of a weapon to the change people’s lives, to trusting the power of the Spirit to change people’s lives. To go from the sword of anarchy to the sword of the Spirit! There is your dagger! (to borrow a phrase!)

As little as we know about Simon the Zealot, we know even less of about Jude. He was one of the 12. And well, that’s about it. The Jude who wrote the words of our text, was probably a different guy named Jude. Talk about the ultimate in anonymity. It’s your festival and people read the words of a different guy who happens to share your name! But even though the words came from the pen of somebody else, Jude-the apostle nevertheless embodied them. “To him who is able to keep you from falling…to the only God and Savior be glory.”

To Him be glory. That’s really what a festival day like this is about. It’s about learning from those who’ve gone before us. But what exactly do we learn? What do we learn from guys we know nothing about? From guys whose only claim to fame is that they knew Jesus, and glorified him in their lives by doing what he called them to do—without fame, without fanfare, without recognition? What could we possibly learn from them? How about what the Christian life is really about it! Knowing Jesus, glorifying him in our lives by doing what he has called us to do, without fame, without fanfare, without recognition. To Him be glory.

The anonymity of men like Simon and Jude might be all the more reason to have special Sunday for them. The disciples that nobody ever notices might be the disciples who are most relatable for us! It’s likely that none of us will ever have our own entry on Wikipedia. It’s possible, but not at all likely that any of us will ever be named to a list of the World’s Most Influential people. Getting our name and picture in the paper might be the most notoriety we’ll ever receive. And so, in Simon and Jude, we see ourselves. They are simply put, disciples. People whose greatest aspiration is to quietly follow Jesus. Isn’t that our greatest aspiration as well?

To Him be glory. That helps us makes sense of why we’re here. Some people come to see it early in life…for some people it takes a few decades, but eventually all of us come to the realization: “Hey….isn’t what I’m doing today the exact same thing I did yesterday? And the exact same thing I’m going to be doing tomorrow? Get up go to work or school, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. And then tomorrow, get up to work/school, come home, eat dinner, go to bed… And then I repeat that for about 60 years or more. And if it’s just this non-stop, endless repetition of the same (pretty much anonymous) routine, if I’m just another face in the crowd—what’s my life really worth?

Well, the answer is…a lot. It’s worth a whole lot.  First of all, because a blood price was paid for it. Remember the words of Jude? He is who is able to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Without fault. But how is that possible??? We can’t get out of bed without sinning. Even our greatest gifts of generosity are tinged by self satisfaction. Even our humblest acts of service are tainted by hopes of reciprocity or at least recognition. So how are we able to come to the end of our lives, much less the end of a day without fault? The answer of course is Jesus. The one who covers all our faults with his blood. Anonymity in the world isn’t such a bad thing. Jesus knows you. That’s makes every day worth living.

Forgiveness is gift. So is the air you breathe. Your life is a gift. It didn’t happen by accident. It was planned. And the faith that brings you here to this place. It, too, is a gift. It didn’t happen by accident. It was planned. All this is way of saying that your relationship with God brings your life meaning. Whether people know your name or not, you’re a part of something bigger than you—just like Simon was, just like Jude was. You’re not just here for you. Or even for the people around you. To Him be the glory.

To Him be glory. That’s the Spirit given mindset that infuses every moment of our lives with nobility and purpose. People may never read your name in a history book. But you can take care of the family that God’s entrusted to you. That brings nobility to making dinner. You can take care of the body that he’s given you. That brings nobility to exercise. You can take care of the mental and physical gifts he’s given you. That brings nobility to math homework or to making sure your product at your workstation is the best it can be. You can take care of the home and the possessions he’s given you. That brings nobility to cutting the grass, sifting out the litter box and cleaning the half inch wide and one mile deep chasm that exists in between the washer and the dryer.

To him be glory. Inscribe those words on your hands. To Him be glory. Inscribe those words on your brain. To Him be glory. Inscribe those words on your heart. Then all you do, recognized or not, will truly have meaning. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

With Man, Salvation is Impossible, but Not With God

Seminarian Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “With Man, Salvation is Impossible, but Not With God” based on Mark 10:17-27 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, May 20, 2018

Our first lesson today was a call to repentance, spoken by the prophet Amos, to the nation of Israel, which applies very well to us. At this time in Israel, things were pretty similar to 21st century America. Money was plentiful, but honesty and generosity were scarce. The love of money was everywhere, but the love of God was hardly anywhere to be found. And so the prophet Amos pleaded with his countrymen, “Turn away from this cult of money, and worship God, “Seek the LORD, and live!”

Our second lesson today urges us to do the same, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and trust in God instead!” “Stop loving your money, and start loving each other like family!”

And in our Gospel lesson, Jesus asked the rich young man to give up all of his money for the poor. It kind of seems like God asks a lot from us, doesn’t it? God wants us to put him and our neighbor before all these other things that we earned by the sweat of our brow? What if we refuse? What if we can’t put God before everything, even though Jesus clearly says in the Gospel, “Do this, and you will have treasure in heaven”?

After reading all these Bible passages, having treasure in heaven, being saved that is, begins to seem like a very tall task, maybe even impossible for us. But as we hear more about Jesus and his encounter with the rich young man, let’s listen very closely to hear what Jesus has to say about being saved: this is impossible with man, but nothing is impossible with God.

Now this rich young man had stopped Jesus along the road, in order to ask him his burning question about salvation. “Good teacher, what must I do, to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus fired a question right back at him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Of course Jesus was good, he was in fact, God; but what Jesus was doing was dropping the man a hint: “You are mistaken right from the start to think that anyone but God is good.” But Jesus moved on and humored him a little. “Ok, what must you do to inherit eternal life? You know the commandments. You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not cheat/swindle anyone, and you shall honor your father and mother.” But the young man, who considered himself to be something of a moral expert, felt disappointed by such a no-brainer answer. “Is that it?” the man said. “You’re telling me the commandments are all I need to do? I’ve kept all those since I was little boy!”

But Jesus knew that couldn’t be true, and so he looked at the man. And out of love and concern for him, because Jesus really did want the young man to inherit eternal life, he exposed his flaw. “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”

Now hold on just a minute. When Jesus told the man to give everything away, was he adding another commandment? Do we now have to give everything away if we want to get into heaven? Not exactly. By telling the man to give away everything, Jesus was teaching him something very troublesome about the 10 commandments. Jesus was pointing out to him, “Friend, you think you’ve nailed down all the commandments? You think you can check every one of those off your list?

Obeying the 10 commandments isn’t just about filling out checkboxes; obeying the 10 commandments is about loving God over everything you have, and loving your neighbor as yourself.” And when Jesus told the young man to let everything go–he got Jesus’ point. He didn’t love God more than his possessions, he didn’t love the poor as much as he loved himself, and he knew it. And so he hung his head and walked away, because he realized how much he cherished his wealth, and it was so close to his heart that he couldn’t let anybody have it, not even God.

When the man had gone away, Jesus turned to his disciples and lamented, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Now we modern Christians get it, we know what Jesus means, right? It’s tempting for rich people to love their money more than God. They can be led astray to the point where it is hard for them to get into heaven. But surprisingly, the disciples didn’t get it! The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ words, Jesus had baffled them. And he went on, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.”

Now the disciples were more baffled than ever, in fact they were worried. You see, the Jewish people viewed riches in a slightly different way than we do. They viewed riches as a sure sign of God’s favor! To them, riches were God’s special way of rewarding the wisest, most upstanding citizens. Do you see now, why the disciples were worried? “If the rich, that is the wisest and most upright Jews can’t get into heaven,” they think, “what’s going to happen to us? If it’s going to be impossibly difficult to be saved for people like that sterling young man whom Jesus just shot down, who on earth can be saved?”

What about us now, can we be saved? Most of us are pretty model citizens, and we do a pretty good job of keeping the commandments day after day. Most of us can go right down the list of commandments and check them off one right after the other. “Keep the commandments? Ok, well let’s see, Jesus, the 1st one (You shall have no other gods) I don’t even have to think about that one. The second one, (You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God) I’ve kept that one all my life. And the 3rd commandment (Honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy) well I’m here aren’t I? You’ve got to hand it to me, Jesus,” we think, “I’ve been pretty faithful with these commandments.”

The problem is, actually being faithful with the commandments is much more complicated than it seems. Even if we seem to have checked them all off, Jesus says that there is still something we lack. Remember what the 10 commandments is all about? It’s about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor just as much as you love yourself. This we know we can’t do. Just like the rich young man, there are things we refuse to give up for God, and for each other.

Most of us have a pretty good reputation, and we don’t like to risk losing it! When a brother or sister needs to be confronted about sin, or when an unbeliever needs us to tell them about Jesus, we may wish the best for them, but what happens when we have to choose between talking about God, and holding on to our good name? We need our good name, God can’t ask us to give it away. Then of course there’s our money, which we hold pretty tight, too. What if God asked us to let it go? What if he didn’t even ask, what if God just took it? If God took away our money, that wouldn’t seem fair at all; God can have our Sundays, he can have our attention for a few hours each week, he can even have a few dollars from our wallets, but all of it? That money is how we take care of ourselves, and our family, our way of life depends on it—no way, we think, God wouldn’t take our money if he was good; not if he loved us.

Finally, there’s something else too that we feel we simply cannot give up—our sin. All of us have at least one sin, one sin that we’ve fallen into so many times, it’s like it’s become a part of us. And when God confronts us about the sin, and commands us to give it up, we dare to think, “God I don’t even think that’s possible. I wish it were possible for me to give up this sin but I can’t. This is who I am, and I hope you’re ok with that.” How dare we refuse the almighty God. How dare we hang our heads and walk sadly away from Jesus when he asks us to let go. How dare we love ourselves more than our neighbor, and how dare we love things more than the one who created them, and yet we still think, “hey I kind of deserve to be saved.” Instead we should be thinking right along with the disciples, “Who then can be saved, Jesus? No one can surrender everything to God, we can’t do that. Jesus, this is impossible.”

But listen closely to Jesus words, as he answers us in today’s Gospel. He says to us, “You know what, you’re right, salvation is impossible for you. But think no more about what you have to offer, about your ability to be saved; think about the power of God. Who then can be saved, you ask?”

With God’s power, anyone can be saved. Do you remember how exactly Jesus put it according to the Gospel? “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible!” Just because salvation seems impossible for us, doesn’t mean it’s impossible for God. Quite the opposite! Take the rich man in the gospel, who went away sad; it hardly seems possible to us that he could be saved, but God could save him. God could put that rich young camel through the eye of a needle. He can take us too, in all of our hairy, bulky, humpy sinful bodies, and squeeze us through the eye of the smallest needle, because nothing is impossible with God!

We may doubt ourselves, we may doubt we have enough faith, enough love, enough goodness to be able to put God first in our lives, but God told us in our second lesson, Hebrews, that we can trust him. God told us, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” As much as we have forsaken God and flung ourselves away from him in pursuit of riches and pleasure, God can always save us, he can always get us into heaven.

But how is that possible? If God is a just God, who punishes sinners, how is it possible for him to allow us into heaven? Well when Jesus told his disciples, “anything is possible with God,” he had the answer very much on his mind, he knew every gory detail of how exactly, God was going to get us into heaven. You see, when he said “all things are possible with God,” he was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. He could say that all things are possible, that sinners can get into heaven, because he knew that, come one Friday, he was going to be the one to make them clean.

He could say, “It is possible for you, my friends, to avoid God’s judgment,” because he knew that God would judge him instead. He could say, “Anyone can be saved,” because he knew that he would save every person who ever lived. And Jesus can now say to you and to me, “Yes, it is possible for you to be saved too.  Because no matter how much difficulty you have in loving me, and giving up everything, I have given up everything for you on the cross. And no matter how much guilt you carry, no matter how many sins you have piled up in your efforts to get ahead, my death on the cross has taken it all away. My death on the cross has taken away the sins of the whole world; of course that includes you!”

And if Jesus words ever begin to sound impossible—and they may—if we ever become scared that maybe Jesus death 2000 years didn’t take away our sins, Jesus our brother can be found right here, quieting our fears with the mighty words of Scripture: Nothing is impossible, with God.

And the beautiful thing is, those words don’t just apply to salvation, they apply to our everyday lives. Do we really think we’re so timid that we can’t bring ourselves to risk our reputation for Christ? Do we really think we need our money so much that we could never let it go if God asked us? And do we really believe our sin has attached itself to us so tightly that we are powerless to give it up? We were baptized! God promised us forgiveness through Jesus and we have received it through faith, don’t we know what that means? It means that God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our very being, and we are filled with his awesome power. Just as it was not an impossible task to save us, so it is not an impossible task for us to obey God’s commands. For he has not only commanded us to love him and one another, but he has empowered us to go and do so freely. Amen.

 

 

 

There is No One Like This God!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “There is No One Like This God!” based on Deuteronomy 33:26 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Ascension Sunday, May 13, 2018

Although he is a two time winner of the Mr. Universe competition, John Brown knows what it was like to be ignored, forgotten and overlooked. That’s what happens when you have the 2nd most common first name and the 5th most common last name in America over the course of the last 100 years. He was determined that his firstborn son would not be subject to the same utterly forgettable moniker, so John Brown went to (what some might consider to be) the opposite extreme. He wanted his son to never be overlooked, to always be remembered and so he named him Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown. If that name rings a bell—and well, why wouldn’t it?—it’s probably because Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 6th round of last month’s NFL college football draft.  So it’s possible that you might hear that name a lot more in the years ahead, along with his younger brothers, who are equally as talented on the gridiron: Osiris Adrian Amen-Ra J. St. Brown and Amon-Ra Julian Heru J. St. Brown.

John Brown knew it. Unusual names grab people’s attention. When you hear them, read them, or are introduced to someone who has one of them, they tend to stick. We have one of those unusual names in the Word of God before us tonight. It makes us stop, pay closer attention, and it might just stick with you long after you leave this place. As we study, we’ll see that this unique name opens the door to a discussion of our unique, one kind Savior. Truly There is No One Like Our God!

Moses says in Deuteronomy 33, There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.”  He’s not called the God of Israel. Not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the God of Jeshurun. A name so unique that it only appears 4 times in the whole Bible, three of them right here in this section of Deuteronomy.

Most Bible scholars think that Jeshurun is a diminutive name for Israel. You know what a diminutive name is? It’s a term of endearment. It’s like on Gilligan’s Island when the Skipper calls Gilligan “little buddy.” It’s when I shake hands with a little one after church and I say, “Good morning, chief” or “Good morning, princess.” A diminutive could also be a nickname, like Margaret getting shortened to Maggie, Joseph to Joe or Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown perhaps being called EQ by his close friends. It’s the name that people call you when they know you less formally, and more intimately.

So now take all of that and consider that Moses talks about God and the Israelites with a diminutive name. There is no one the God of Jeshurun. Their great Jehovah had brought this people too far, they’d been through too much together to be relegated only to formal addresses and high falutin’ verbiage. Oh, don’t misunderstand. They were not comrades, nor were they equals. He was still the Creator and they, the Created. He was still perfect and they were still cabbageheads, creeps and clodhoppers. But they were His cabbageheads, creeps and clodhoppers. (Yes, I had to get out the thesaurus for that one!)

It might make you think how nice it would be for God to have a nickname for you, for you to be so dear to his heart, have that close of a relationship with the Almighty. No, we don’t have what Israel had. We aren’t his little Jeshurun for a limited time and in a specific context. We have something even better and closer.  We aren’t a physical nation that belongs to him. We are his family.

Remember what Jesus called his disciples after he rose from the dead? He said “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)  At Mount Sinai, Israel became God’s Jeshurun. But at Mount Calvary, you and I become something so much more, not to mention so much more than we deserve. And it was all because Jesus willingly became so much less than he deserved. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus was treated like a sinner, vile and disgusting in the eyes of the perfect God so that sinners can be treated like family, approved, welcomed and unconditionally loved in the arms of the perfect God.

It’s just like Moses said. There is no God like this God! I read something that crystallized that perfectly this week. I cannot attribute it to its proper writer because I absolutely cannot remember where I read it. But it was something to this effect. Every religion in the world is like swimming lesson at the lake. Buddha, Muhammad and all the rest will gladly shout instructions to you from the boat. But only one, only one will jump in the water when you start to go under, only one will plunge to the deepest depths for you. Not only does Jesus have the heart to jump in. He has the power to save you.

See that’s the beauty of the Ascension that Moses unwittingly brings out for us-1500 years before Jesus and his disciples stood on the hilltop in Galilee! There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The same God who is the God of a soft heart and diminutive names is the God of powerful arms, who rides on the clouds in his majesty. He doesn’t just ride on the heavens, he rides on the heavens to help you!

That is why we’re here. We need help. Because every day is a struggle. We were just talking in Wednesday morning Bible study about the Greek word ἀγω̂να. It gives us our English word “agony.” It literally means conflict or struggle, especially in the context of an athletic competition. Paul uses it in his letter to the Philippians to talk about our Christian struggle. (1:30) I asked the class what kind of things do we struggle against as Christians? Where do we have a little ἀγω̂να? They didn’t have any trouble coming up with answers: We struggle with being content with our callings and carrying them out each day without wanting to be someone else somewhere else. We struggle with temptations that lure us before we sin and then we struggle with consciences that bother us after we sin. We struggle with doing the things we shouldn’t do. We struggle with not doing the things we should do. We struggle with serving selflessly when we know our service won’t be acknowledged our appreciated. We struggle with not always knowing the God-pleasing thing to say or do in a given situation. We struggle with holding on to our values and principles in the face of work demands, family demands or the demands of a world that thinks they’re outdated and even hateful. Is there a single moment of the day when we do not struggle?  Sadly no. The struggle is always going to be there. Good thing Jesus says he’s going to be there, too. “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

The one who was once visibly present among men, now is eternally present among us in Word and Sacraments. The one who stood on the neck of the devil now sits at the control panel of the Universe (while still standing on the neck of the devil!)  There may be times when he eases our struggle. May be times when he takes a particular struggle away all together. But most often, he picks us up and carries us through the struggle. See his tender heart today. Trust his powerful arm today. Rejoice in an ascended Savior today. Who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. There is no one like your God! Amen.

 

 

 

God Gives Us Salvation – Jesus Is the Only Way

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “God Gives Us Salvation” based on  Acts 4:12 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Confirmation Sunday, May 6, 2018

In 1999 LeDainian Tomlinson, college running back for TCU, broke a record for number of yards in one single football game.  He rushed the ball for 406 yards.  He was THE guy…THE ONLY guy who had ever done that.  For 15 years that record stood, until our own Wisconsin Badger, Melvin Gordon, ran the ball for 408 yards in one game.  And then Melvin Gordon became the ONLY ONE in Division I college football to have that many yards in one single game.  Until a week later, when that record was broken by some guy from Oklahoma.  The point is, someone may rise to the top and be THE guy, the ONLY ONE but just wait… eventually someone else will come along and take their place.

Not so with Jesus.  He is the ONLY ONE who brings salvation.  He’s the ONLY ONE who can bring you and me to heaven.  No one else is ever going to come along and do what Jesus has so completely and perfectly done.  The Apostle Peter agrees, when he says: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  This weekend we have 29 confirmands who also agree.  Jesus is the Only Way to Salvation….there is no other.

That’s not a very popular message today.  We live in what some call a pluralistic society.  That’s where we have many different people who have many different backgrounds and cultures…AND…many different beliefs.  In fact, in a pluralistic society, people are encouraged to be tolerant.  Believe what you want.  Just don’t force your beliefs on other people…and be willing to admit that their beliefs are just as valid and true as yours are.

Do you know that our surroundings today are not that different than what Peter and John had to deal with?  Let me provide some background.  Jesus had ascended into heaven.  He told his disciples, go to Jerusalem and wait there – I’ll send the Holy Spirit to you.  That had happened.  The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  As a result, they told people about Jesus.  They taught and preached.  And that got them into trouble.  The local authorities didn’t like them preaching and teaching that Jesus was the ONLY WAY TO SALVATION.  They arrested Peter and John and told them to stop it!  And that’s when Peter replies:  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

1st Century Jerusalem, 21st Century America – not much has changed.  People still don’t like the idea of Jesus being the only way.  And if you suggest as much, you might be called an arrogant jerk or a narrow-minded jerk or any number of colorful words for jerk.  Consider this:  Just three weeks ago a young Italian boy named Emanuele approached a world-renowned Christian leader and asked him whether or not his atheist dad would be in heaven.  And with a hug and smile, that church leader assured little Emanuele that his father who had shunned and rejected and denied Jesus his whole life, is now comfortably at Jesus’ side in heaven.

In other words, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe or who you believe in.  We all end up in the same place at the end.”  Today we denounce that pluralistic viewpoint.  Today we echo the words of Peter:  JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO SALVATION.  By God’s grace we make that confession…29 teenagers make that confession.

And today, we admit how badly we need Jesus.  You see, we believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus…but we also believe what the Bible teaches about us.  One of the passages the confirmands learned well, and we know too, comes from Psalm 51:5 – Surely I was sinful from birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  We are conceived and born into this world with a great need for saving.  We can ignore it…make light of it…or flat out deny it…but the truth is, when I was born into this world, no one had to teach me how to be greedy or how to think about myself first.  I didn’t need lessons on how to lie or talk back to my parents or hold resentment in my heart or pout when I didn’t get my way.  I didn’t need a step-by-step youtube video to show me how to become a pathetic sinful human being who was deserving of God’s punishment.  I could do that all by myself.  What I couldn’t do was change my status.

There’s ONLY ONE who could.  There’s ONLY ONE…

  • Who would take my filthy garments of sin and wear them as he suffered and died on the cross…meanwhile taking his clean and perfect garments of obedience and holiness and draping them on me at my baptism.
  • Who would change…has changed…my status from pathetic sinner to forgiven sinner…from lost orphan to found child of God…from hell-bent to heaven-bound.
  • ONLY ONE – that’s Jesus.

Salvation is found in no one else!  Prior to saying that, Peter had said, of Jesus, that he was “the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”  In other words, yes it’s true, many have rejected this precious stone…many people have tossed Jesus aside and decided to build their lives and their eternal hopes on someone or something else – to their peril…but just because many have rejected him…just because we may live in a pluralistic society…that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is indeed the capstone.  Which means, he is the most important part.  Everything must be built off of him.

  • Our purpose in life is defined ONLY by him.
  • Forgiveness for the many times we have failed comes ONLY from him.
  • A relationship with the true God comes ONLY through him.
  • A victory over death and sin is ONLY because of him.

Let me illustrate.  This past December I had a funeral.  A life-long Christian and now at the age of 88, his body was wearing down and eventually, he fell asleep.  There was some sadness, because Dad would be missed; but mostly the son rejoiced because Dad was now with Jesus.  A month later I had another funeral.  A life-long Christian, but he was a few months shy of his 25th birthday.  About a decade ago he wore a white robe and sat right there as a member of the 2007 confirmation class.  I’m sure at the time of his confirmation, he hadn’t planned on a heart attack at age 24.  But at the time of his confirmation he did plan to place his trust in Jesus…because he knew that ONLY JESUS was the way to salvation.

I stood in the hospital room as that young man was drifting off to sleep.  I saw family members come in and out of the room, saying their goodbyes.  It was heart-wrenching.  There was definitely sadness; because he would be missed.

  • But even through the tears, his mom saw heaven waiting for her son.
  • Even amidst the pain of sadness, his mom knew her son’s sins had been forgiveness by Jesus.
  • Even when she was blanketed in hurt, she knew her son was blanketed baptismal grace.
  • Even in her emptiness, she knew her son would enjoy the fulness of heaven.

Why?  Because of Jesus.  For her and her son, Jesus was not the throw-away stone.

Jesus is the ONLY ONE and the MOST IMPORTANT ONE not just on the day we wear the white robes and make our confirmation vows and not just on the day we close our eyes and fall into the sleep of death – but every day in between

-since forgiveness and victory over death and a relationship with God comes ONLY through him

-we will make it our purpose and goal to live for him.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Miss Out on This!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Don’t Miss Out on This!” based on  John 15:5 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, April 29, 2018

In the Name of the One who lives to save us, support us and strengthen us, Christ, our Redeemer, Our Vine. Amen.

I attended a presentation on Teens and Social Media at our PLS Parent Teacher Association meeting this week. Christian Family Solutions therapist Ryanne Mallow brought us up to speed on the apps that our children are using and some of the dangers that those apps can present. In the course of the presentation, I learned several things.

  • 1) I’m old. I knew I was old before—but learning about that stuff reminded me how old I am!
  • 2) Being a teenager is hard. Much harder today than I when I was 14. Social media makes it so much easier for people to make fun of you, to bully you, to criticize you.
  • 3) I learned what FOMO means.

Young people, I promise, I will not incorporate that acronym into my daily language in a lame old guy attempt to sound cool. But I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning it just this one time.  FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” I thought when I learned that, I’d been granted access to some of the secret knowledge and language of the teen world. But when I googled that acronym I found out that actually I’m late to the party. The Oxford English Dictionary added the term already in 2013. I found that Time Magazine had an article about it in the summer of 2016.  That’s where I saw FOMO defined this way: ‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’. Under this framing of FoMO, nearly three quarters of young adults reported they experienced the phenomenon. It’s certainly not a good thing. (The article continued.) It leads you to check social media again and again and again so you don’t feel out of the loop. So you know you’re doing okay. So you don’t feel left out.

Is that why you all are on your phones all the time? So that you aren’t last the one to know? So that you won’t feel out of the loop? Do you feel better when you’re constantly connected because you know that you’re not missing out? And is there an important spiritual lesson for all of us to learn here? Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

You see, Jesus and the disciples didn’t have iphone 8’s and they would’ve been very unfamiliar with twitter and hashtags and likes and instagram. When Jesus wanted to illustrate constant connection, he had to use a different metaphor.

Agriculture and vineyards—those were things they understood because they saw them every day. If you use your imagination, maybe you can even picture Jesus and his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening walking from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. As they pass a vineyard, Jesus stops and points to one of the plants growing near the road and says “You and me are connected–like this vine and its branches.”

When you think about who really needed who, shouldn’t it have been the disciples saying that to Jesus instead of the other way around? Shouldn’t it have been the disciples expressing their great need to have an unbroken, continuous connection with the One and only One who could save them? They needed him, not vice versa. And yet Jesus was the one doing the talking.

Okay, but rather than expressing an undying connection between them, wouldn’t you think that Jesus would have at least been creating a little distance between himself and these knuckleheads, in light of the fact that they within minutes would let him down…yet again. And would be doing all within their earthly power to deny any sort of connection with him. Why would he want to be associated with them at all, much less constantly connected with them as one entity, a vine and its branches?

Such is the grace of our Jesus, friend of sinners and lover of knuckleheads, who sought us though we did not ask for it, who continues to love us though we did not deserve it. He points us to his cross, he stops us at the font, he feeds us at his table and he reminds us “These are the things that connect you to me, personally, individually, intimately and inseparably—like a Vine and its branches.”

Don’t miss out on this! Connection with Jesus, like a vine and branches, means that the things he is are things we are, too! When we stand under the gavel of God’s courtroom, we can mention his name. When we stand at the front door of God’s heaven, we can say, “I’m with him.” And when we stand on the receiving end of the devil’s accusatory, wagging finger we can say, “Jesus is the Vine, I am the branch. So you can shut your mouth, you ugly devil, because you got nothing on me.” Being connected so closely with Jesus means that the sins that so often defeat us are not things that define us.

When we hear about the cross, when we remember the font and dine at his table, that connection is live, and the power of God flows–despite what the world around you would have you believe. Maybe you saw this week that GQ magazine, ranked the Bible in its list of List of Classic Books that are not worth reading, the writer calling it repetitive and foolish and ill intentioned. The devil laughs because so many are missing out on the one thing that we truly, eternally cannot afford to miss out on.

So many disconnect themselves casually, perhaps without even realizing that it’s happening. Recent polls show that only about 25% of Americans are weekly church attenders. Going to church won’t get you to heaven. Going to church will keep you constantly connected with the Vine, every single week. It’s what we do here, it’s why we exist.  I’m not trying to give myself job security. I’m not trying to make Peace indispensable. I’m trying to keep you connected to your Savior by pointing to ways that he keeps you connected to him–the Word and Sacraments. Don’t miss out on this!

So that’s what Jesus means when he says “remain in him.” What does he mean when he says “You will bear much fruit?” That’s a little harder to talk about in specifics, because bearing much fruit can mean so many different things in different people’s lives—one person’s fruit might be resisting a temptation just one time-and then resisting again, and again. One person’s fruit may be stringing four weeks of church attendance in a row. One person’s fruit may be a gentler demeanor toward their spouse. One person’s fruit might be humbly carrying a cross that this life has placed on them. Everybody’s different. Maybe that’s why Jesus left it a little ambiguous.

Two things are quite certain and quite specific however. One—apart from him we will bear no fruit that pleases God, and two—remaining in him, we will bear much fruit. Think about the disciples themselves. Did they themselves remain in Jesus, remembering his words, connected to him in faith, even after he ascended to heaven? Yes. What kinds of fruits did the Vine produce in those branches? Humanly speaking, billions of people came to know Jesus as Savior because of them. In fact, again humanly speaking, aren’t we sitting here today as the fruit of their efforts 2000 years ago? That’s an incredible harvest!

How will we be remembered by those who come after us? What fruit will be produced by us in this church? This school? Our world? Our homes? Only Jesus knows. We need only to remain in him. And watch what he does next. Whatever it may be, you won’t wanna miss this. Amen.