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God is Our Guide

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “God is Our Guide” based on Job 38 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, June 24, 2018

About a year after we were married, Shelly and I took a trip out west to Boise, Idaho. While there, we went white water rafting. Now, in high school I remember rafting the Wolf River here in Wisconsin and canoeing down the Crystal River, but this was the North Fork of the Payette River…a main tributary to the Snake River and a stretch of water experts have deemed one of the most challenging class of rapids in the country, maybe even the world.

Rapids are rated by class – 1,2,3,4 and 5. On the Payette River you can’t just hop on a raft and float. You need a guide. A good guide will help the rafters learn how to paddle through some of the lower class rapids. A good guide will know how to avoid the dangerous waters – the class 4 and class 5 rapids. A good guide will know when a group of rafters is ready for something more challenging and when they need to stick with more mild waters. A good guide has one job – get those rafters through the waters safely.

That trip to Boise was a blast. And that rafting experience is one I’ll never forget. White water rafting, while challenging, is fun. The river of life often brings us through some pretty choppy waters and it isn’t always fun. In our Lord we have a good guide…a perfect guide…a powerful and loving guide. He knows (better than we do) when we can handle or when our faith can benefit from class 2 or 3 rapids and he knows how to keep many rough waters away from us altogether. But he has one job – get us through the waters of life so we can arrive safely to heaven…with our soul and faith in tact.

The book of Job introduces us to a very devout and godly believer. The Bible tells us he was a believer who lived is faith, prayed for his children, and worshiped the Lord. His waters were smooth and serene. But then the Lord allows a series of class 5 rapids to come crashing down and around Job. His possessions were taken away, his children (all ten of them) were killed in a tornado-like accident, his good health was replaced with sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. His wife and his friends offer no words of support or comfort, only bad advice. Job’s faith was rocked. He still trusted the Lord, but he had questions:
• Why me, Lord? Why are you doing this?
• Surely I don’t deserve what you have given me, especially since so many wicked people out there seem to be prospering.
• Why, Lord? If you have the power, why not make my life better?
• Explain yourself, God!

Ever been there? What rough waters have you been through?….are you going through now?…how would you classify the severity of those rapids?
• Raising a family isn’t easy. Raising teenagers…raising toddlers…raising teenagers and toddlers.
• Being a teenager isn’t easy. Extra responsibilities…Extra peer pressures…Extra temptations.
• Relationships aren’t easy….picking up the pieces after a family has been broken apart – not easy.
• It’s hard to paddle through when finances are tight, when my body hurts, when old age is taking its toll, when memories of my loved one
still bring daily tears to my eyes.

Like Job, these rough waters don’t make us lose our faith, but we have our moments. We have our quiet, behind-the-scenes moments where we look up to heaven and ask, Why me, Lord? Surely, Lord, you could just reach out your hand and make my life a little better, a little easier. Why don’t you? Don’t you care about me?
I have a question for the children and teenagers. Have you ever heard one of your parents say something like this….particularly after you might have been arguing about something or complaining that some decision they made was unfair: “Maybe you’d like to try running this household. If you think you could do a better job of being a parent, then you can start paying all the bills and doing all the maintenance on the house and the vehicles and setting up all the doctor and dentist appointments and buying all the school clothes and school supplies for your siblings…if you think you can be such a better parent.”

That’s kind of how the Lord responds to Job. Job is starting to question the Lord and some of his actions or lack of actions. The Lord speaks. The Lord doesn’t feel the need to justify his decisions or to give answer to Job’s complaints. But he simply reminds him that he is certainly capable of his job – getting Job to heaven not making his life easy. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Do you think you could do better? When we consider how God created the world and now cares for the world….when we consider how he keeps the lakes and the streams and the oceans in place…when we consider how he set the stars and galaxies in place…how he made the animal kingdom – some creatures so powerful, yet they answer to their creator (he spends a couple more chapters talking about this), are we really going to call God into our office, sit him down in a chair across from our executive desk, and lecture him on how he should do this or do that in our life? O Lord, in our weak moments, we speak about things we do not know. Forgive us.

Just a word about Job. He lived during the time of Abraham. That means he didn’t have a Bible on his bookshelf or coffee table. So many of the Gospel promises we have known since our youth, Job simply didn’t have.
• Can you imagine going through choppy waters without having God speaking to you and guiding you in his Scriptures?
• Can you imagine being tired and weary but not knowing about Jesus invitation: Come to me, and I will give you rest?
• Can you imagine a guilty conscience and the weight of sin pressing so heavy upon you without also hearing Isaiah shout out – Yes,
we’ve gone astray, just like sheep…and the LORD has lifted our iniquity off our backs and laid it on Jesus?
• Can you imagine feeling alone and not knowing how Jesus has said: Surely I am with you…always?
• Can you imagine going through a class 4 or 5 rapid without having the assurance that this too will be a blessing to your faith and
that adversity will cause you to cling to the life raft of God’s promises all the more.
• Can you imagine losing a loved one, without the words of Jesus – because I live you will live – echoing from the mouth of the empty
tomb?

All the angels shouted for joy when the Lord displayed his power after his creation was complete. The angels shouted for joy when the Lord sent his one and only Son into this world. The angels shout for joy when sinners repent and turn to the Lord. And won’t they shout when the Lord our guide accomplishes his goal…as he guides us through the rough waters…and brings us safely to the other side of the shore.

Certainly a God who has the power to control all creation…a God who has the compassion to give us his Son…if THE God who serves as our capable guide. Amen.

Jesus is Lord of the Kingdom

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Lord of the Kingdom” based on Mark 4:26-34 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, June 17, 2018

Last week, we celebrated a fun anniversary in my family, one that’s unique to families with adopted children. Last Friday was the anniversary of the day in 2010 when we got the phone call that told us that a baby in China had been matched up with our family, and that we should check our email for a picture. Last Friday was the anniversary of the first time that we saw our daughter’s Nora’s face.

It doesn’t seem like 8 years ago. It seems like just yesterday that we received that picture.  It seems like just yesterday that we were playing “this little piggy” with her toes and popping a seemingly endless stream of cheerios into her mouth. It feels like I blinked and eight years have passed. She’s not a grown up yet, but boy has she grown and it makes me ask myself….how exactly did that happen?

We didn’t tell her to learn how to walk or to talk or to lose her baby teeth. Those things just happened. We didn’t consciously will her to get taller, or to develop her unique set of character traits and personality quirks. They just happened and are continuing to happen. In short, she’s doing what all the rest of did or are currently doing. She’s growing up.  We didn’t make it happen but it sure is cool to be a part of it.

Jesus makes the same point in our Gospel lesson. The kingdom of God grows subtly, mysteriously, wonderfully. We don’t make it happen, but it sure is cool to be a part of it. He doesn’t use the illustration of a child growing up. Instead he talks about a seed planted in the ground.

You probably know that Jesus had this habit of describing intangible things in tangible ways. So he wouldn’t talk about love, he’d talk about a father running out to meet his prodigal son, first throwing his arms around him, then throwing a party around him. Jesus wouldn’t talk about persistence, he’d talk about a little old lady who badgered a magistrate so often and so intensely that eventually he gave in. The “kingdom of God” is definitely an intangible thing. It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around such an abstract concept. So Jesus described it in various places in various ways that people could understand—it’s like a precious pearl hidden in a field, it’s like a net with all kinds of different fish, it’s like a banquet that people are invited to. Or in this section from Mark 4, This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.

The first thing He wants us to notice is how “out of our hands” the kingdom of God is. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. So you might be thinking, “If the growth of God’s kingdom is out of our hands—if it just “happens” like a baby growing into an 8 year old, or a seed pushing up through the ground…well then why do bother doing anything? Cuz life in this kingdom can be exhausting, even brutal some times! Why do we give our offerings? Why do we unlock our school doors and welcome students year after year, when it is so costly, so time consuming, and judging by the post-confirmation church attendance numbers, so often ineffective? Why do we haul our kids and grandkids up on our laps and teach them to sing, “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”? Why do we put hours and hours of preparation into a worship service? Why do we study the Word with earnest and inquisitive hearts? Why do we crucify our sinful natures and submit our will and wants to God’s will? If the seed grows all by itself, why do we invest so much of ourselves into the effort?

The answer’s quite simple, really. Because He lets us! He lets us be a part of and play a part in His kingdom. And that is a privilege that is both generous and entirely undeserved. I had a professor back in college who marveled at the fact that God can save anyone….even pastors. (He got it. He was a pastor himself!) And the longer that I live in my own skin, the more I realize the wisdom of that statement.  Love that is big enough to take such an undisciplined disciple, such a consistent backslider, such a chronic complainer and not only have mercy on him, but then also set him in a pulpit and make him an instrument, that is love worth sharing, a gospel worth dying for, a seed worth scattering.

Think about it another way. You’re here today because somebody at some time scattered a little seed towards you. Somebody taught you the demands and commands of holy God. Somebody cared enough about you to tell you that were wrong, to cut you down to size, to not allow you to get away with doing stuff that God hates. And most likely, it was that same somebody who showed the blood stained cross and explained what happened there. Somebody told you that you had an identity not given by a world that lies, but by a God who always tells the truth. Somebody told you that about what it means to be forgiven and forgive, what it means to serve without expectation of recognition and give without expectation of repayment. Somebody told you that you don’t have to be afraid of death. You’re here today because somebody scattered a little seed your way. And because the Lord of the Kingdom saw fit to make it grow. Who was that person for you? Who might be the person who will some day look back at you and smile…because you were the one who scattered a little seed into their hearts?

You see, it’s not like the farmer is incidental in the whole story. He has an important job after all. He scatters the seed. It’s just that he’s not the one who makes it grow. He can’t make it grow faster or slower. He can’t make it grow by shouting at it, sweet talking it and compromising with it. He just scatters the seed. The Lord of the Kingdom makes it grow.

So as we look this text, a bunch of important applications come to mind. Don’t be fooled by appearances. Seeds don’t look like much. That’s why they put pictures of the plant on the seed package and not pictures of the seeds themselves. The seeds don’t look like much. But boy do they grow. So also God’s Word might not always look like much. And we live in a world that loves to point out that how outdated it is, how irrelevant it is, how overly simplistic it is, how unduly complicated it is. They only see the seed. They have no idea how big the plant grows, or how long the plant lasts—for decades, for generations, even for eternity.

Secondly, don’t be discouraged. Some times the seed seems to be doing nothing for a really long time. We get discouraged when we don’t see the growth in our lives or in the people around us that we’d hoped. When the temptations don’t immediately go away, in fact they get more intense. When the attitudes don’t immediately change 100 percent, but instead we see no change at all, we tend to get restless and expect results right away. Be patient. Remember that there may be growth that only God can see. Keep scattering the seed for yourself and those around you. Then watch and see how the Lord of the Kingdom might make the plant grow.

Finally, don’t forget there’s a harvest coming. Jesus said as much. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” No farmer plants grain just for kicks, just because he’s bored. He has the harvest in his sights. The Lord of the Kingdom causes his gospel to grow in homes, and hearts and churches with a goal in mind. He plants with a purpose—that one day he will gather his grain into the storehouses of eternity. Until that day, may the one who caused the seed to take root in you, continue to make it grow—for he is the Lord of the Kingdom. Amen.

Jesus is Lord Even Over Evil

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Lord Even Over Evil” based on Mark 3:20-35 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, June 10, 2018

What can the power of Christ strengthen you to accomplish?

Perhaps you are having difficulty in your marriage. The power of Christ is strong enough to overcome selfishness on your part or even the sins of your spouse. Strengthened and motivated by his love, and in thanksgiving for his love, there is no rift that cannot be reconciled.

Maybe, for you, it is an habitual sin or addiction that, try as you might, you have not been able to quit. 12 steps and a slew of self-help books haven’t been able to scratch the surface of your struggles. However, the power of Christ, through his Word and Sacrament, is stronger than your own willpower. He can, and will be, the fix your heart, body, and mind are so desperately seeking to find.

You may have your doubts about the power of Christ in those situations. And, truth be told, overcoming those obstacles, with something as simple sounding as Word and Sacrament, is certainly easier said than done. And, in the Gospel for today, from Mark, chapter 3, there is a strong case study for why that power of Christ can be so difficult to trust.

It started with a little bit of betrayal. Long before Judas and his infamous kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane or Peter’s repeated denials before the rooster’s crows, others who were supposed to be loyal to Jesus showed themselves to be quite the opposite.

It was those closest to him who threw the first stone. Here, his family; his mother, brothers, and sisters—they were the ones who went to take charge of him, to seize him, to grab him and shake him by the shoulders. They are the ones who were saying, over and again, He is out of his mind.

But his family wasn’t alone in placing stumbling blocks along his path. The teachers of the Law, who came down from Jerusalem, too, tried to get Jesus to stop what he was doing—to stop preaching, to stop teaching, to stop healing, and, as odd as it sounds, to stop driving out demons from those who had been possessed.

Of these two groups standing in the way of Jesus’ mission, it might be easier to understand where his family was coming from. They may have thought, like some silly Snickers commercial, that Jesus simply wasn’t acting himself because he was a little hungry. He got so wrapped up in his work that he didn’t have a chance to eat and, therefore, he was doing things that made him appear beside himself—a little out of his mind.

The teachers of the law, though, were a different story. They, themselves, were so caught up in trying to discredit Jesus that they abandoned logic in their accusations.

How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.

While some were saying that Jesus was out of his mind, it was actually the charges of those teachers of the law that were bordering on insanity.

Why would Satan control Jesus to drive out Satan? That doesn’t make any sense. Satan would be fighting against himself and against the demons that he sent if he had possessed Jesus and gave him the power to expel and exorcise them.

No, Jesus was not possessed by Satan or any demons. In his address of the accusations that stood against him, Jesus revealed the work that he came here on earth to accomplish and who, instead, was actually in Satan’s possession. And, as he often did, he taught this truth with a parable. Listen again:

No one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.

You know the rules for interpreting parables, right? You find out who or what is meant to represent you in the parable and who or what else is being illustrated as well. Finally, then, you search for the heavenly truth that is being taught.

Are you the strong man? Are you the robber? No, brothers and sisters, you are the possessions. And, unfortunately, the strong man who had possession of you is not Jesus or God, but, rather, someone who you needed to be stolen away from. That strong man is Satan, himself.

Ever since the fall into sin, all of mankind has, by nature, been under the possession of the Devil. And, as Jesus intimated in his parable, Satan was able to keep human beings in his possession because he is strong. He is so strong that he convinces those in his possession to do things they ought not, and sometimes even know they shouldn’t, do.

The strong man had convinced Jesus’ own family to call him insane. The strong man had convinced the teachers of the law to abandon logic. What has the strong man, through his powerful lies, strengthened you to accomplish?

To distrust or doubt the power of Christ?
To be selfish in your relationships?
To depend on bottles of booze or pills to get you through the day?
To worry about and fear the challenges you face on a daily basis in your health, in your bank account, or in your career?
To covet that car, that house, that wife, or those children because, with even more lies, you believe that you deserve them?

In the opening hymn today, you sang, “This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged, the deed is done! One little word can fell him.”

In order to get you, the possessions of the strong man, Jesus had to tie him up. He had to take away his power, to remove the venom from the ancient serpent’s bite.

In writing this hymn, Martin Luther identified the way that Jesus was able to take away Satan’s power, the one word that he, and we, can say to overcome his temptations and accusations. Jesus identified Satan for what he really is. That one word is “liar.”

Satan works against you in the same way that he did against Adam and Eve in the beginning. He lies. Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from this tree? Did God really say that he will strengthen you and support you and provide for you all that you need? Did God really say that you shouldn’t desire things that aren’t yours? Did God really say that you should love your husband unconditionally? Did God really say that you are forgiven?

Satan is a liar! Jesus tells the truth. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.

Do you doubt the power of Christ? You are forgiven.
Have you gone back to the same habitual sin or addiction over and again? You are forgiven.
Have you been selfish, greedy, impatient, or discontent? Forgiven, forgiven, forgiven, forgiven.

Jesus is able to pronounce that forgiveness upon you because of what he did for you. He lived perfectly in your place and, sacrificing his perfect life on the cross, he received the punishment that your sins deserved so that you wouldn’t. He gives you forgiveness because God’s wrath for sin has already been doled out on him. He gives you forgiveness because his work declares you innocent in the eyes of your God. He gives you forgiveness because the debt your sins incurred has already been paid.

Yes, you deserve hell. It is true that God shouldn’t provide for you or preserve you. But, because of Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death, done for you, when Satan says that you are going to hell or that God doesn’t love you and that he will not provide for you, he is lying.

Satan is the strong man who tried to keep you as his possession in his house. But, thankfully, for us fights the valiant One, whom God himself elected. You ask, who is this? Jesus Christ it is. The almighty Lord. And there’s no other God; he holds the field forever.

The Devil is strong, but Jesus is the Lord even over evil. By the power of Christ, your sins are forgiven. By the power of Christ, the Devil is undone. By the power of Christ, given to you in Word and Sacrament, call the Devil a liar and be strengthened by the truth. Amen.

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath” based on Mark 2:23-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, June 3, 2018

Don Gorske is a pretty famous guy, not to mention a local guy, so it’s quite likely that you’ve heard his name before and you might even know what he’s famous for. The 64 year old Fond du Lac man was in the news again last month as he reached yet another milestone in his substantial list of gastronomic achievements. Last month, Don Gorske consumed his 30,000th Big Mac sandwich.  If you’re into the math, that’s about 2 Big Macs per day for the last 45 years! And he has proof, too, having chronicled each sandwich and collected receipts, wrappers and cartons to commemorate the mountain of Big Macs that he’s consumed over the years.

Or maybe you remember hearing about Bob Koehler, the Milwaukee man who at last count had attended 2,882 consecutive Brewer home games. When you add in all the away games he’s watched on TV or listened to on the radio, he figures that he hasn’t missed a pitch—not a single pitch!—since 1970.

While we most likely can’t compare to the level of…eccentricity…displayed by those guys, it’s also true that most of us have something that fuels our passion. Some are fanatical about the appearance of their lawn or the cleanliness of their house. Some read everything investing related that they can get their hands on. Some spend every waking hour thinking about hunting or golf. Some spend countless hours immersed in their favorite TV shows.

The Pharisees, in Bible days, were fanatical devotees of God’s law. Which at first glance seems like a pretty good thing to be passionate about.  I mean, if given a choice between fanatical devotion to what God wants on the one hand, and apathy toward what God wants on the other hand, the right choice seems pretty obvious. They spent their time memorizing it, obsessively following it, and debating how to apply it. And that’s where they got themselves into trouble.

When they realized that God’s written law didn’t address every possible scenario, didn’t answer every possible question, they started to make up their own laws to, you know, fill in the gaps. So for example, God said, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” And people understood that the Sabbath was supposed to be a day of rest, a day when they weren’t supposed to work. But then questions inevitably followed. What actually constituted work? Can I get out of bed on the Sabbath? Can I give my kids breakfast on the Sabbath? Can I give my donkey a drink of water on the Sabbath?

Over the centuries, more and more situations arose. The rabbis analyzed each one and dictated their interpretations. The mountain of man made rules got bigger and bigger. And the fanatically devoted Pharisees set themselves to applying and enforcing all of them. Which brings us to our text.

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

That was one of those “rabbi made” laws! A man could not harvest on the Sabbath. Rather than picking apart this scenario for its rightness and wrongness, Jesus leads them back to the reason for the Sabbath, for the reason for all of God’s laws in the first place.

He knew the Pharisees didn’t respect him. So he pointed to someone they did respect. “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?” A little bit of context….David was fleeing for his life from Saul. He and his men had to choose between fueling up to press on or breaking down and being slaughtered. In the time of extreme need, he and his men ate the bread that was reserved for only the priests to eat. And Abiathar the priest recognizing the great need, let him do it! It wasn’t a casual or haphazard thing, but it was a breaking of one of the laws.

Jesus’ point? The law is made for man, not man for the law. In other words, Abiathar could have stuck to his guns, stopped David and his men from eating, and at the end of the story, the bread would have still been there on the table, pristine and untouched. Of course, David and his men would’ve been dead—at the expense of keeping the law! So what’s more important—the law itself or the people that the law was made for? Of course, it’s the people. So that’s what Jesus means when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Now you start to see what Jesus was obsessed with, what he is fanatically devoted to. He’s passionate about people. He’s fanatically devoted to…us! For all their arguing and accusing, the Pharisees didn’t understand what the Sabbath was all about. So the Lord of the Sabbath explains it to them and us!

He made the Sabbath for man. But, even more importantly, why did he make the Sabbath for man? It’s for our benefit, not his. Why does God tell me to remember the Sabbath day? Because he loves me and he knows how much I need it.

When you heard Jesus overrule the law, even a minor, ceremonial law, did your mind immediately see a hundred different loopholes for your own heart? “Well if Jesus overruled the law based on a need, then it must be okay for me to do it, too.” So is it ok, if your eyelids have a need, to sleep in instead of going to church? Or if your heart has a need, to have an affair? Or if your garage has a need to steal your neighbor’s new John Deere lawn tractor? You know that’s not right. But the fact that our wheels turn like that shows how devoted our sinful nature’s are to disobedience, how dark our hearts can be—taking the Word that God gives us for our good and figuring out how we can take advantage of it for our own sinful, selfish pleasure. The apostle Paul wrote, “The mind of sinful man is death” (Romans 8:6) and boy, he wasn’t kidding.

Good thing you have a Savior who is obsessed with saving you! 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

That’s why Paul could continue in our Epistle and say, “Don’t let anyone judge you by a Sabbath day…those things were shadows.” The Old Testament Sabbath day was a foreshadowing of the rest, the true rest, the spiritual rest that would come through Christ Jesus.

That kind of Sabbath is not something we do, it’s something we need. Fact is, you’re not here to check off another box on God’s checklist. Jesus has already done that for you. You can’t complete a to-do list that’s already done.

Rather at the heart of the Sabbath is an invitation. Come and find a quiet place in a loud world. Come and find something true in a lying world. Come and find something dependable in an always changing world. Come and find again and again the comfort of the One who took on the demands of the law on his shoulders and then nailed the demands of the law to a cross once and for all.  Or in Jesus’ own words: “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Thank God that he no longer says, “Set aside one day a week for Sabbath.” Because the rest we find in Jesus is so big and so profound and so needed, it can’t be contained by one hour a week, or limited to one day per week.  He says, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. That’s why we’re here today. To honor him, to be filled up by him, and to find rest, true rest, in Him. Amen.

 

 

 

Meditation based on Matthew 28:19

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a meditation based on Matthew 28:19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Graduation Service, Thursday, May 24, 2018

Excluding words like and or the or even of, each word in this passage that you chose as your class verse could be the subject of hours of meditation all alone, but tonight, let’s take just a few minutes to focus in on the very first word of this passage—a word that often gets overlooked, but really sets the stage for what Jesus commanded his disciples, and you and me, to do on that day almost 2000 years ago.  Let’s ask the Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” about the word Therefore.

The disciples of Jesus, that close-knit group that had been following him since the beginning of his ministry, were now only 11 in number.  For 3 years, they had truly been his disciples—that is, they were his students and followers.  They had been taught by their rabbi, Jesus, in a variety of ways.

At times, Jesus taught them with his words.  The Sermon on the Mount, the parables, and his extended discourses systematically went through a variety of doctrinal truths—from Jesus’ dual natures, being both God and man at the same time, to the Kingdom of faith that Jesus rules in the hearts of his people, and all the way to some simple stuff like being a good neighbor, not only to those you love, but even those who might be your enemies.

Other times, though, Jesus taught with some dramatic object lessons called miracles.  He provided for his people, using his divine power to signal his authority and making the blind to see again, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and the diseased cured.  Through those wonderful, extraordinary acts, Jesus drew attention to himself, so that more and more would not only listen to his message, but believe and trust it to be true.

And then, of course, there were those times when Jesus would teach without words or wonders, but with his love.  He led and taught by example.  He met with tax collectors and sinners in their homes.  To teach the importance of prayer, he prayed in front of them, modeled a perfect prayer that is still in use today, and even set aside times where he could meditate and participate in private prayer.

Those three years of schooling by rabbi Jesus have been seen by some as the very first Christian seminary training program.  They received their instruction and now, after Jesus’ Thursday night graduation service at his Ascension, it was time for them to go to work.  They had been taught, they had been equipped, they knew the authority Jesus had over all things and that he had shared his authority with them through his Word and then, therefore, because all that was true, it was time for them to go out into the world and be his representatives and to make more disciples—more followers and students of Jesus.

Over the years of your education at Peace Lutheran School, you, too, have been disciples—followers and students of the faculty here.  They, too, have taught you in a number of different ways.  They have lectured, used illustrations and metaphors, crafted experiments and case studies, and even, at times, simply modeled proper words, behaviors, and actions.

Through those educational techniques, you have learned to read, to write, and to compute complex mathematics.  Your standardized tests show that you have been trained and equipped to score higher than the average students in your grade in your city, your state, and across the United States.  And, more than simply scoring well on a test, you have been prepared with skills that will help you succeed as you continue in higher education and in whatever careers you might choose for yourselves.

But your teachers, and this congregation that 50 years ago started, and continues to support, Peace Lutheran School, aren’t simply concerned with you succeeding in this life.  Their hopes, their prayers, and their combined efforts far exceed 70 or 80 years on this earth.  They have trained you for eternity by setting you at the feet of the perfect professor, on a daily basis, to hear him and, with the eyes of faith, to see him, to learn the same truths that the disciples learned.

Unfortunately, that is something that you had to be taught.  Like solving for x, who Jesus is and why he came to this earth would be completely unknown to you without instruction.  As you studied in your catechism classes, this world around you and your own conscience can surely teach you a lot about who you are and what punishments should deservedly be yours because of that.

But, thankfully, listening to and meditating on the message of that perfect professor, you learned about his great exchange for you.  Jesus saw your struggle against sin and Satan’s temptations and lived his life as a perfect substitute for yours.  He satisfied the demands of the Law on your behalf so that, when God calls you to account for your life, he will only see Jesus and the robe of his righteousness which covers you completely.

And, to not only cover the requirements of the Law, but to account for God’s justice, Jesus took the punishment of God’s wrath that was rightfully yours onto himself when he went to Calvary’s cross.  He endured it himself, like a lightning rod, so that there would be none left to seek you out and find you.

Through that exchange, Jesus, your substitute, won forgiveness for you and for all. And, through faith in that promise, you have been made a disciple of Jesus for now and for all of eternity.

And so, disciple of Jesus, here you are on a Thursday night graduation service, listening to the Word of Jesus.  You have been taught, you have been equipped, you have learned the authority of Jesus and, through his Word, that authority has been shared with you.  Therefore go.  Go and continue to be life-long learners of math and science and reading and writing and, because of your training, lead successful lives in whatever careers you choose.

But, also, do what the disciples of Jesus 2000 years ago and his disciples today have done.  Make more disciples.  Teach others by setting them at the feet of the perfect professor.  Use his words and make them see, with the eyes of faith, his signs, wonders, and actions accomplished in love.  Because you know the forgiveness he gives to you, therefore, teach it and give it to all those you encounter after this graduation service.  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.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is Your Good Shepherd

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd” based on  John 10:11-18 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, April 22, 2018

Which is easier to say: I would live for you or I would die for you?

If you were married here at Peace over the last 10-15 years, you may have been asked that question by one of the pastors in a pre-marriage class or seminar.  After a few moments of thought and consideration, though, the time comes for the follow up question: which of those is easier to actually do for your future spouse?  Would it be easier to live for them or to die for them?

That is a valuable question to be asked—and answered—as people consider what their married lives will be like and how they can truly be a good husband or wife for their future spouse.

Dying for someone that you love is by no means an easy decision to make, no matter what the circumstances are that surround your particular situation.  To give up your life in place of another is an enormous expression of love and an act that would not be soon forgotten.

But what about living for someone that you love?  Would that really be easier than dying for them?

While it would no doubt be a tremendous act of self-sacrifice to die for someone else, living for someone else is a series of acts of tremendous self-sacrifice.  Rather than one life-changing moment, living for your loved one involves an intentional and determined decision to be made over and again, day after day.  Being a good spouse means putting the wants and needs of your husband or wife in front of your own.

What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd?  Does that phrase conjure up any pictures in your mind?  Perhaps you see a man in white robes with a long shepherd’s staff in his hand, walking ahead of and leading his flock.  Maybe, instead of leading his sheep, you’d rather see the broad shoulders of that Good Shepherd carrying the poor sheep who cannot walk on their own or the tender arms and warm embrace of the Good Shepherd enfolding and enveloping the littlest of his lambs.

Those things may constitute a pretty picture of what qualities qualify Jesus to be your Good Shepherd.  However, as you likely know from other sections of Scripture, your God has different standards than human beings.  The very word Jesus used to describe himself as the “Good” Shepherd is the same one that the Greeks used when they translated the God the Father’s satisfaction with the creation of his perfect world.  He saw that the separation of land and sea, the vegetation of the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals that he placed on to his perfect planet earth were, according to his standard, good.

If, in order to be a good shepherd, you would simply have to measure up to man’s standards, there would likely be many who would qualify for the category of good shepherds.  Those hired hands to whom Jesus compares himself were ones that carried out the tasks that people expected of their shepherds.  They surely were leaders who guided their flocks to green pastures on which they could feed and streams of quiet waters from which they could drink.  They would, no doubt, at the end of the day, guide their flock back into the safety and security of the sheep-pen for protection.

But, Jesus doesn’t consider that good enough.  The hired hand is not a good shepherd because there is one quality and characteristic that the hired hand is unwilling to undergo and accept.  When the wolves and other wild animals come to feast upon the flock, the hired hand sees the danger and values his own life far more than the lives of the flock.  They are not his sheep, so he runs for cover, abandoning those who were depending on him for deliverance.

Instead, in contrast, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because the Good Shepherd, as he says lays down his life for the sheep.  Instead of running away for his own sake, he put the benefit and welfare of the flock in front of his own.

There are plenty of wolves in your lives that are seeking to devour you.  Greed seeks to lure you away from the safety and security of your pen under the guise of finally allowing you to live the good life.  Jealousy plays primarily on your pride and works to remind you of what everyone else has and why you deserve it instead.  Lust lingers around and advertises all the pleasures of the flesh that would seem to fill the void in your relationships—or the void you feel because you don’t have any such relationships.

Convinced by those conniving wolves who so often sneak around in the sheep’s clothing of basic human rights and privileges, you would be doomed to be their dinner night after night, as they would eat away at you until, finally, you would be kept away from those green pastures and quiet waters for all of eternity.

But, thankfully, Jesus is not simply some hired hand, seeking to keep himself well fed and safe.  No, Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He does not only live up to the standard that human beings expect from their shepherd.  He worked according to a much higher standard.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life.

His purpose in coming to this earth and being your Good Shepherd was not to please you or your standards, but, rather, to measure up to his Father’s definition of good.  He had to do what no one else could do.  He made himself the Good Shepherd by laying down his life for his sheep.  He didn’t decide to live or to die for the flock that he loves.  God’s requirements made it necessary for him to do both.

He laid down his life by living his life for you.  Every breath, every step, every thought, word, and action had nothing to do with what would make his own life here on earth any easier.  When he faced the same temptations toward greed, jealousy, pride, and lust that you face, he didn’t fall for them.  He kept himself aligned with the Law the Father laid down for all of humanity and shows that life to his heavenly Father whenever he looks to see how you measure up against that Law.

And then, to complete the task assigned to him, he laid down his life by taking that life of perfection and sacrificing it on Calvary’s cross.  In so doing, he died the death that your sins cause you to deserve and took on himself the fullness of God’s wrath so that you would never have to undergo the same.

Jesus is your Good Shepherd because he did the only thing that makes you loveable in the eyes of your God.  He loved you and laid down his life for you, living and dying for you, his sheep.

Because of that, and in thanksgiving for that, be a good spouse to your husband or wife.  Be a good dad to your daughter and be a good mom to your son.  Be a good child, a good brother or sister, and a good friend.  Be good at your job and be good while you are enjoying your hobbies.  Be a good member of this congregation and a good representative of Christ to the world around you.  Lay down your life for those you love and for those you hate, for those who deserve it and those who don’t.

Put aside the temptations to greed, to jealousy, to pride, and to lust.  Put aside what will make your life easier and, strengthened by the love that your Good Shepherd has shown to you, make every step you take, every thought, word, and action that you make for the benefit of those who surround you.

And, when you fail; when you can’t find the strength or the desire to measure up to God’s standard of good, go into the welcoming arms of your Good Shepherd.  See his nail pierced hands and rest on his broad shoulders that once carried the weight of the world’s sin.  Remember what he did to be your Good Shepherd and, with your cup overflowing, be good again.  Amen.