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See Your King Comes to You!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “See Your King Comes to You!” based on Philippians 2 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

We humans are strange creatures. Other species avoid pain and struggle. We actually seek it out. Other species do difficult things because they have to. We do difficult things because we like to. We think it’s fun. Introducing the all new 2019 Ford Ranger–built for the strangest of all creatures. Yep, commercials with words like that played over images of extreme mountain biking, skydiving and icy rock climbing try to convince us that we actually seek out pain and struggle. That we do difficult things because we like to. And that makes the 2019 Ford Ranger the right vehicle for us pain lovers and struggle seekers, because we are the strangest of all creatures.  Yeah, right. You know the truth and so do I.

We don’t do difficult things because it’s fun. We’re much more likely to beg out of pain than to seek it. We’re much more likely to procrastinate in doing difficult things than to embrace them. And that’s a real problem when the difficult things in question are things that God wants us to do. Because…he demands obedience. There’s a very real part of us that says “Ok. As long as it’s not too hard.” He deserves total commitment, even if it’s difficult, uncomfortable, painful. In response we say, “Yes. But maybe that difficult thing can wait till tomorrow.” What are we pain haters and struggle shunners to do?

Well, first—stop listening to silly commercials that try to convince us that we’re something we’re not. Second—look in faith to the Man on the donkey. See your king comes to you this Palm Sunday. The way Paul describes him in Philippians, chapter 2—Jesus is the strangest of all creatures, embracing pain that no one else could, that no one else would, so that we could be his own.

Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (we’ll come back to that!)….who being in the nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Jesus didn’t grab onto his divine rights like a starving Great Dane grabbing a piece of steak left too close to the edge of the kitchen counter. You know, what that big hoss takes that tnederloin over to the corner and starts working on it, don’t even think about trying to pry it away from him.  Jesus didn’t forcefully, violently snatch up his divinity and guard it possessively. He was willing to set it aside.

In fact, he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant.” He made himself nothing! We spend so much of our lives trying to convince ourselves and the people around us that we are something. Something successful at career or family or money or sports or academics, depending on our age. Something to be admired in people’s opinions and liked on social media. Something worthwhile to be respected and remembered and recognized when people see us. So “being something” becomes our pursuit, our goal in life, our idol.

Oh, Jesus, do we need you! Hosanna! Save us! See your king comes to you, the Strangest of all creatures comes and willingly makes himself nothing. And you know why he does? To truly make you something, something in God’s opinion, which carries far more significance and lasts far longer than any person’s opinion of you, including your own opinion of you.

You might say, “Wait a minute. He didn’t make himself nothing on Palm Sunday. He was the center of attention, acclaimed by many voices as king and deliverer.” Well, yes, that’s right….on Sunday. But the Sunday celebration was the beginning of the week, not the end. Sunday wasn’t the reason he came to Jerusalem. Sunday was only a checkpoint on the way to Friday where He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

People don’t embrace pain. We put it off. We wiggle out from under it. In Gethsemane, even Jesus himself, fully human, recoiled at the thought of death on a cross. Of course, we should mention that it was more than crucifixion that sat heavy on his heart. It was the anvil of humanity’s evil, yours and mine. So what kept him from running? Putting off, shrinking back and shirking out of his mission’s agonizing culmination? Why would he show up at all on Sunday, knowing that rough wood and soldiers’ spit were waiting for him on Friday? Why would he willingly ride into his destruction? The answer’s simple. You.

He became obedient to the point of death, because he knew that only perfect obedience could make you right with God. He died on a cross because he knew that blood spattered wood was your only hope for heaven. So he showed up on Palm Sunday, the Strangest of all creatures, moving forward with determination toward the struggle that was coming, knowing that his pursuit would lead to unimaginable pain. That is so strange, and foreign to us. And marvelous. That is indescribable love. That’s why we call him our king.

And it is right that we should do so. For that is what he is. Paul writes, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” Including mine and yours.

Jesus had his heart and mind unshakingly focused on us that Palm Sunday. Now we unshakingly focus our hearts and mind on him. That’s why Paul can write. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

If we’d talked about that first without a whole lot of context, you might’ve said, “Thanks a lot, Paul. The same attitude as that of Christ Jesus? Should I also have the same athletic ability as Giannis Antetokoumpo? Should I also have the same brain power as Albert Einstein?”

But while Paul is encouraging something that doesn’t come naturally to us—being like Christ—he’s not encouraging something that is impossible for us. There’s something more going on inside of God’s people than just what comes naturally. We have something that comes super-naturally. We have a new heart, created by the Holy Spirit at baptism and powered the means of grace.

Through Him, we are able to do something that doesn’t come naturally to us. We carry our crosses, painful though they may be. We are drawn toward the struggle rather than only seeking to avoid it. What is that Christian struggle and pain for you? Is it the pull of the world which promises ease and happiness if you fall in line with their way of thinking? Is it the nagging angst of a future full of questions, but no apparent answers? Is it a specific set of temptations that the devil has custom fabricated for you over the years? They loom in your memory, they poke at your conscience, they beg for your attention, and they don’t show any sign of getting tired. You know who else isn’t getting tired? The God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, the God who gives you daily strength. He doesn’t get tired. The power of his Word. It doesn’t get tired. The promises of daily renewal and forgiveness and life in your baptism. Those things don’t get tired.

See your king still comes to you today. That is so very unusual and so very beautiful. For in this life, we go to see powerful people, they don’t come to us. We might buy a ticket and pay for parking and gather in one place with thousands of others to see them perform or speak, but we go to them. Powerful people don’t come to us. But this one does. Our God does. See your king comes to you. To save you, to serve you, to sustain you. Heavenly King, thank you. Now one more thing. Make us like you. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Stone The Builders Rejected

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Stone The Builders Rejected” based on Luke 20:9-19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, April 7, 2019

During the most holy of weeks, starting with his procession into the city of peace on the first Palm Sunday and finishing with his resurrection on Easter Sunday, Jesus spent his time among the people who lived inside that city, preaching and teaching.

The reading from Luke that you just heard is a recording of one of those times of teaching and, on this particular occasion, Jesus used a teaching tool beloved by him and billions of Christians throughout time.  He used a parable; that is, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a made up tale meant to instruct its listeners on the inner workings of God’s Kingdom and the attitudes and actions expected of the subjects of that Kingdom.

Is it safe to assume that, while there may not be any of you who are actively growing or cultivating a vineyard, you understand the responsibilities of the characters in this story? The owner hired people to work in the vineyard.  The workers of the vineyard tended to the plants until the time of harvest.  The owner’s servants went not only to check and make sure the workers did their job, but to reap the benefits of their labor – likely bushels of grapes to make wine.

However, in all honesty, the point of this parable doesn’t have so much to do with the process of planting and harvesting grapes.  Rather, again, it is much more focused on the attitudes of its major players—the attitudes of the owner, the workers, the servants, and the owner’s beloved son.

Even if those major players of the parable left you a little perplexed, Jesus’ original audience understood perfectly.  They knew that the owner described was God, himself, and that his vineyard represented his Kingdom; not so much a physical space, but the spiritual space of faith.

They also correctly ascertained that God had given those rulers and religious leaders the responsibility of working in his Kingdom, tending to his tender plants, the people of Israel.

When Matthew and Mark recorded this account, they also added a little more color by explaining the care with which the owner, himself, cultivated this vineyard.  God provided everything that those rulers and religious leaders needed for the Kingdom.  He protected them and the Kingdom with the hedge of his Law and watered and fed his precious sprouts with his nourishing Word of gospel.

But, unfortunately, as those details of this parable unfolded, they had to connect the dots about their treatment of God’s servants – his prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah—how they rejected them and their message.  How they insulted them, treated them shamefully, and even, at times, physically assaulted them.

This is where the importance of the attitudes of the parable’s participants comes into play.  While his servants, the prophets, were being welcomed with hatred and enmity by the people he had loved and cared for, God continued to respond with patience.

And, in the greatest show of love and patience in their history, God finally sent his final servant, one who deserved their respect and honor, the one he loved, his own Son, Jesus.  They did not, however, respect and honor him, as you well know.

The problem became so clear.  The so-called city of peace, Jerusalem, and the people who lived and worked inside, breathed the plague of loving things more than their creator.  They thought that all their work in the vineyard made them the rightful owners of and, with much more self-centeredness, the ones who should receive credit for producing, its fruit.

After hitting the climax of his parable and letting the Law strike with its intended force, Jesus explained the consequences of their repeated disobedience and rejection of their Creator God.

Like a parent who threatens to send an uneaten supper to children starving in another country, God determined to give his Kingdom, the Spirit-worked faith in the hearts of his people, to people who would actually appreciate it.

Do you see now the part you play in this parable?  You are the others to whom the vineyard has been given.  But, here’s the rub:  how have you received it?

Are you feasting where the chief priests fasted, or, so often, does it seem too much like leftovers that you’d rather have sent to someone else who is starving?  Are you appreciative of the servants God has sent to you, or have you, too, in your own way, mistreated them, beaten them, and sent them away empty-handed?

Your God has sent Isaiah and Jeremiah to you, too, but he didn’t stop there.  With great patience, he has also sent to you Kolbow, Steinbrenner, Waldschmidt, Wittigs, and Washburn.  Have you handed over to them the fruits of Spirit-worked faith or, with apathy, ignorance, and pride have you kept the blessings and gifts bestowed upon you, and worked through you, to yourself and sent them away empty-handed?

Brothers and sisters, may this never be!  Fast from that kind of disobedience and rejection and, instead, feast on faith by fixing your focus on the inner workings of the Kingdom of your God.

Yes, in patience, and with what seems like reckless abandon, your God did send his beloved Son, Jesus, to those workers of old.  And, like his parabolic counterpart, he was killed just a few days after he told this earthly story.  But the heavenly meaning hidden inside this parable is that God turned the saddest event in this tragedy into the most compassionate piece of what is the greatest love story ever told.

In sending his beloved Son onto this earth and having him die at the hands of people who should have respected him, your God counteracted the consequences you deserved for your own disrespect and disobedience.  Instead of having you be broken and crushed, Jesus was pierced for your transgressions, he was crushed for your iniquities.  The punishment that brought you peace was upon him and, by his wounds, you have been healed.

Yes, this story contains a twist better than any theatrical thriller has ever uncovered.  The intent of those tenants, in killing the owner’s son, came to fruition.  The inheritance of his Father, which Jesus rightly warranted, is instead bestowed upon people who are undeserving; you and me and all the rest of the people in whom God has cultivated his Kingdom of faith.

The stone those original builders rejected has become for you the capstone of God’s Kingdom – everything is centered and built upon him and his work done in you, through you, and for you.  And that, brothers and sisters, is no earthly story, made up for instruction.  That is his true love story that he has shared with you, through his servants, while you sit in tiny preschool chairs, classroom desks, and these pews week after week.

As you prepare for your holy week observations, listen to your Savior’s love story again and focus your faith on how he has worked all things in his Kingdom for you and for your good.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Gives Us Freedom & Life in Christ Jesus

Seminarian Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “God Gives Us Freedom & Life in Christ Jesus” based on Romans 8:1-10 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, March 31, 2019

Transcript not available

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejoice Greatly!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “REjoice Greatly!” based on  Zechariah 9:9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.  I was a little surprised when I looked up the word that is translated “rejoice” in my Hebrew dictionary and saw that the word can also mean to run around in a circle. If you get the picture, right now, you’re maybe thinking about a kid on Christmas, so deliriously overjoyed over the present they’ve just unwrapped that they’re literally running around the living room in wild-eyed celebration. Or if you’re still having trouble making the connection between delirious joy and running around in circles, check out this clip….

That. That right there is the Hebrew word—gil—or rejoice and it is the Holy Spirit’s kid on Christmas, just won the championship on a buzzer beater encouragement for us this Palm Sunday.  Hundreds of years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah wrote about what would happen in Jerusalem. And his exuberant imperative still rings true for us hundreds of years later. Rejoice Greatly, dear friends. Because here comes Jesus!

I don’t want you to think I’m naive. I know that just telling someone to rejoice when they’re weighed down doesn’t necessarily help them a whole lot. In fact, that might even make things worse. “You say I should be rejoicing but I’m still struggling. So now I feel both sad AND guilty!”

The Bible writers understood that too. When they tell us to rejoice, they also tell us why. Paul wrote the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice.”  Zechariah writes in our text, “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion, shout O Daughter of Jerusalem, see your king comes to you.”  In the Scriptures, a believer’s rejoicing is inseparably intertwined with the presence of Jesus. When believers see Jesus, rejoicing is the inevitable response. Maybe it’s because he never seems to show up empty handed!

Do you see what he brings in our text? See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.  He comes with the key to release you from Satan’s prison. He comes bearing a checkbook with more than enough financial clout to pay your debt of sin. Of course, those are just metaphors. In reality, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with nothing in literally in his hands, so poor that he had to borrow a donkey for the occasion. And yet inside of him, he was carrying gifts of immeasurable worth.

His perfection and his blood. The one to give God what he demands. The other to pay what we owe.  If he was only perfect, yet unwilling to shed his blood. That would do us no good. If he was only willing to shed his blood, but was not perfect. That would do us no good. But he has both, and so he is, as the writer to the Hebrews says, the author and perfecter of our faith.

To put it even more bluntly, Jesus had one job before him—save you from hell and when he shows up amidst the palm branches, you know that He’s come to do just that. The Promised One who would come to crush the serpent’s head is now lacing up his boots.

Your king comes, bringing salvation. The perfection which will count for you, the blood that will cover you. The things that will benefit you for eternity. He doesn’t necessarily bring a lifetime guarantee of happiness, universal acceptance by society at large, or an accident free, injustice free world. Our rejoicing gets dampened some times because perhaps we unrealistically expect him to provide those things, things he has not promised. Don’t stop rejoicing because of what he doesn’t bring. Rejoice at what he does bring. Rejoice your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.

Rejoice because he still comes to us today. When we hear his Word preached, our King comes to us. There he teaches us about his kingship in this world and in our hearts and in the world to comes. When we gather at his table, our King comes to us. There he gives his royal command for our sins to be banished from his sight, our slate to be washed clean. Is any wonder that right before we approach his table, we echo the song from Palm Sunday? “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”  Where Jesus is, rejoicing follows.

But even after all that, you might say, what if I still don’t feel like rejoicing? We started off with that picture of wild euphoria in our introduction. That’s the picture that our text uses, too. But rejoicing doesn’t always have to look like that.

In fact, we’re going to see in just a few days, Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, overwhelmed with sorrow. His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death, and yet, “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.” There was no euphoria in the Garden of Gethsemane. But at the same time, the picture and prospect of the good things to come never left his mind. As one writer put it, Jesus looked to a joyful future and that sustained him in a joyless present.

There’s a parallel to our lives. A Christian is always rejoicing, it’s a just a matter of volume. Some times it’s louder than the brass choir on Easter, sometimes it’s barely audible. To put it another way, even without running around in circles in delirium, you can still say, “God, you are good.” Even with a heart that is heavy and eyes that are tear stained, you can still say, “I put my trust in You.” Even when there’s nothing to smile about, you can still look forward to heaven and say, “Thank you for what’s still to come.”

It’s a daily struggle for me and maybe for you too. There are so many things in this world that want to take away our rejoicing. The kitchen floor that sparkles because we worked with mop and bucket soon turns back into the dust bunny trap and the crumb collector. The euphoria of payday Friday gradually turns to the gnawing worry of “please don’t cash that check” Thursday. The news websites refresh every hour with word a different discord and deeper depravities. Marriages and families require a lot of hard work, often with few tangible results. Our faith can often feel like its limping along, our consistency nonexistent, our obedience up and down like a roller coaster. It’s all so frustrating, it’s all so exhausting, it’s all so disheartening, yet through it all, there still is reason for rejoicing!

Our feelings don’t change God’s facts. And that’s a good thing! High or low, happy heart or heavy heart, our God stays the same, his work in Christ unchanged, his love for you undiminished, his Word still true.  Your King still comes to you, righteous and having salvation. On Palm Sunday, your King comes to you. In Word and Sacrament, your King still comes to you. And therefore we have reason to rejoice. And rejoice greatly. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Ransom for Debt

 

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Ransom for Debt” based on Romans 5:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 25, 2017

There stands the Apostle Paul in the courtroom.  It is not Felix or Festus, the Roman governors, who are presiding at this trial.  The Sanhedrin of Pharisees and Sadducees have no authority here either.  Instead, Almighty God, with his long flowing robes that fill the building, is seated with his gavel that will, with one swift swing, state the eternal fate of the Apostle.

The trial has been long and difficult to endure.  The prosecuting attorney, that ancient and slithering serpent named Satan, has built up a pretty strong case against Paul.  Stacks of facts have been entered into heaven’s evidence.  Exhibit A was pretty powerful; a DNA test proving that Paul was born of sinful parents and, therefore, was sinful, himself.  The case was open and shut right there, but he kept piling on.

Exhibit B was a record of Paul’s words and actions, back when he went by the name of Saul, all done in service to work righteousness, as though he could have earned heaven by his own merit.  Under those false pretenses, everything he tried to put on the positive side of the eternal judgment scale ended up, instead, shifting the balance far beyond the point of no return.

Written affidavits, witness testimony, and even appealing to the omniscience of the all-knowing Judge, himself, the Devil was able to rest his case.  He didn’t even have to work with his typical tools of lies and deception.  Openly and honestly, he made it clear that Paul had incurred quite a debt.  Not to society, but to his God.  And, instead of going to jail, his debt deserved death as punishment; eternal death in the fires of hell.

If you were Paul’s lawyer, what defense would you try to put up?  With even just a small sampling from the book of Acts, you could come up with a few factors that would seem to work in your favor.  You could play the blame game.  Paul was tricked by the prosecutor, himself, into much of his sin.  With every weapon in his arsenal, the Devil convinced Paul that he was doing either what was right or, according to his human rights, what he deserved to do.

Or, maybe, you could try to make the end justify the means.  Yes, Paul did some subjectively sinful things, but that is also what led him to accomplish so much for the good of the Christian Church at large.  He was the greatest missionary who ever lived.  He started a number of churches across the ancient world, in Asia Minor, Achaia, Italy, and Macedonia.

Paul was a good guy.  He changed his life.  He became a completely different person.  Free him because of the man he’s become, not the man that he was.

Would that be the defense you’d argue for yourself as well?  If it was you in the hot seat, with your own sin history heaped in a pile in front of you, would you try to pass the buck or balance the scales with your own record book of good works?

Friends, unfortunately, this is not simply some training exercise for the worst-case scenario.  While it is an illustration, the meat of the matter is all too real. Your God has a class action suit against all of humanity for its sin and guilt.  And, carried to its logical conclusion, the verdict you would deserve would be death.  There would be no defense you could come up with on your own to free your soul from that eternal fate.  As Jesus himself said in the Gospel reading for today, What can a man give in exchange for his soul?

The implied answer to his rhetorical question is that mankind has nothing worthy enough to compensate for the crimes that they have committed; nothing valuable enough to pay the debt they owe to their God because of their guilt and sin.

You don’t have an answer to Christ’s question or a defense for your misdeeds.  You are, as Paul declares in these words from Romans 5, powerless.  You are not simply weak.  It is not as though, now that you know your situation, you can beef up your resume or your record book of good works.  You have nothing.  You are impotent before the omnipotent.

And yet, like the infamous children’s song says so simply, because Jesus loves you, you belong to him and, though you are worse than weak, he is strong.

No, he doesn’t give you a not guilty verdict based on any changes you have made in your life or the good deeds that came in tow.  Instead, in keeping with the courtroom terms, he pounds his gavel with the verdict of justified.  He declares you not guilty, not because of a change in you, but because of an exchange made for you.  Your debt has been paid.  Listen to Paul explain what he knew would acquit him of the case held against him.  Listen to God’s Great Exchange again:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

Jesus paid the debt you owe with the ransom price of his own precious blood.  He didn’t simply bribe him to forget about the evidence and ignore the consequences he set down in eternity for breaking his Law.  Instead, God fully poured out his wrath on sin.  It just so happens that his wrath ended up being poured out on the man that Jesus had become, not the man that he was.

Your God saw all sinners of all time in a line, and that line led nowhere but to hell, the place that they deserved to go because of sin. But as he saw you there, primed and ready to receive the wrath that you so righteously deserved, something happened.  He rearranged things.  He exchanged Jesus’ perfect life and precious ransoming blood in place of your imperfect life and debt that you owed.  He put all his attention, all his focus, all his wrath on Jesus in place of you.

That is Jesus’ answer to his own rhetorical question and his defense for your courtroom case.  Your sin cannot condemn you.  The prosecutor has lost the open and shut case against you.  With one swift swing of his eternal gavel, God hammered nails into the hands and feet of his Son and, in return, received the ransom payment that covered your debt and the debt of the whole world.

When your day in court finally comes, have no fear.  In that Great Exchange, God has declared you justified.  You are not guilty, now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

This is NOT a Test

 

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “This is NOT a Test” based on Genesis 22:1-14 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 18, 2017

CNN reported that “people hugged their children…and they prayed…and they uttered a few final farewells, then they waited for the attack.” A little over a month ago, every iphone in the state of Hawaii buzzed and came alive with a dire message on its screen: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.

People were jumping down into manholes, abandoning their cars on the interstate, but in the end, there would be no impact, no lives lost, no destruction-because there was no missile. It was indeed only a test. A state employee had missed the memo about there being a training exercise and had sent out the warning text in error. But the people of Hawaii, didn’t know it was test. For them, it was all very real.

I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind when I read the first line of our text for today. “Some time later, God tested Abraham.” God knew this was a test. Reading it today, we know it was a test. But Abraham didn’t. God didn’t announce beforehand “Okay, Abraham, this is just an exercise in preparedness, a little bit of litmus for your faith.” No Abraham didn’t know it was a test. For him, it was all very real.  God had said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

He didn’t know that this was going to have a happy ending during the agonizing, sleepless hours that followed God’s command….and when he got up early the next morning and to leave as God commanded….and when he traveled the three days that it took to get to Mount Moriah, with each step forward bringing his dear son one step closer to the knife.

By the way, if you’re wondering how old Isaac was at this time, we can only ballpark that answer. The Hebrew word that’s used to describe him is used in other places to describes boys as young as toddlers and as old as marrying age. So he could’ve been 4…or 24. The Holy Spirit didn’t think that we needed that information! All we know is that he walked innocently alongside his father to the place of his sacrifice.

It just seems like the oddest story, doesn’t it?  The one who created life, now commands that it be taken away in brutal fashion. In so many other places in Scripture he specifically says, “You shall not murder.” Now he says, “You shall.” And in no other place in all of Scripture, does God command a parent to sacrifice their child—a thought so repulsive, so nauseating that our brains would sooner shut down completely than give any room to any hint of such a horrific prospect. What kind of God is this?

It’s the kind of God who knew exactly what Abraham was going through, the kind of God who knew exactly what it was like to sacrifice his Son, his only Son, the one he loved. Don’t think for a second that the Father wasn’t repulsed and nauseated by the prospect of his Son on a cross. But he found his heart was captivated by an even more horrific prospect—seeing you and me and billions upon billions go to hell.

We might see parallels Abraham and God the Father. We might also see parallels between Isaac in our text and Jesus many years later—both only sons, both dearly loved by their respective fathers, both carrying the wood upon which the sacrifice would take place, both walking up a mountain to their demise.

But it’s the differences that really make you shake your head in wonder and amazement. You see, Isaac was able to walk down from the mountain on his own. Jesus had to be carried down.  The Lord stopped Abraham before he could lower his knife. There was no such last minute reprieve on the cross. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his Son, but God the Father actually did. With Abraham it was only a test, but with the Father—it was the real thing.

It had to be real, because our sins are so real. The hurt feelings that we cause when we lash out in anger or speak without thinking. Those hurt feelings are real. Our desire to please people even if it means displeasing God. That’s real. Our willingness to let other people look bad as long as it means we come out looking good. That’s real. Our distracted worship, our apathy in prayer. They’re real. Our unholy love for the stuff of this world, the unhealthy influence of the people of this world. They’re all real. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to take all those very real sins that fill our days and multiply them by 365 days in a year and then multiply that by every year you’ve been alive. All those real sins all had to go somewhere. That huge pile of stinking garbage had to be dealt with. If that mountain was going to be moved, there could be no last minute reprieve, no interruption from heaven as the hammer was about to hit nail, no voice from above saying, “Okay, stop. That’s enough. This is only a test.” Somebody had to really be punished.

So the hammer did hit the nail. And real blood spilled onto the ground. And the body of the innocent Lamb of God, convulsed and cried out in unspeakable agony. Good Friday was not a test. It was the real thing. Real suffering. Real death. A real substitution–the really perfect taking the place of the really guilty. All resulting in real redemption. And so you can be really sure. God’s love for you is not a test. It’s real. And so is the heaven that waits for you.

So then, back to where we started….why the test? Was God just messing with Abraham? Cuz that doesn’t sound very loving at all. God doesn’t mess with anyone. He’s not petty or manipulative. His goal is too important, too serious for any of that junk. He will do whatever is necessary to get you to heaven. A heart that never gets exercise can become clogged up and even shut down altogether. So also a faith that never gets exercised. And so, to carry the metaphor one step further, our God might schedule a little stress test for us every once in a while.

God has not asked us to make the kind of sacrifice that Abraham was asked to make. But we can all probably think of ways our faith has been put to test. Those times, when the Lord, through the circumstances of life, makes it clear…Your health situation is going to change drastically overnight. Your family situation is going to cause you many tears. Your money situation is going to threaten your way of life. Your faith is going to put a target on your back. Your future is not going to go as you had it planned out. Maybe you come here today in the midst of such testing. We will keep on obeying even when obeying is difficult? Will we cling to him in faith even when nothing makes sense?

Remember Abraham’s obedience and his stubborn clinging to God’s promises. The writer to the Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son….he reasoned that God could raise the dead.”

You see it? When his faith was put to the test, Abraham doubled down. Instead of letting go, he grabbed onto God even tighter, even if went against his every inclination. He obeyed, laser focusing—not on the what ifs or whys—but simply on the promises of God and the power of God. That doesn’t take all the strength we can muster. It takes all the weakness we can muster—surrendering ourselves entirely to the care of the God who promises that he loves us. It’s saying, in effect, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but whatever happens, I’m going to be holding on to your cross.”

For tests can weary us and tempt us to lose heart. Appearances can deceive us and tempt us to forget. Circumstances can overwhelm us and tempt us to lose perspective. But the cross and what it represents…that will always be there, firmly planted, unmoved, even if in our most difficult of days. There God’s love was put to the test. There his love proved true. Amen.