Posts

Build an Altar to the Lord

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Build an Altar to the Lord” based on Genesis 8:18-20 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Thanksgiving Thursday, November 22, 2018

Most early childhood teachers could write a book filled with amusing stories and humorous anecdotes about the things they’ve heard from the mouths of babes in their classrooms over the years. My mom, a kindergarten teacher for 25 years, was certainly no exception. Were she still alive today, she could relate all the various, hilarious butcherings of the last name Waldschmidt that she heard over the years. Or she might tell you about the kindergartner who complained on the first day of school that the school’s toilet paper was virtually unusable because it was way too scratchy. But I’m almost certain she’d tell you her favorite story about the little boy who showed up on the first day of school and less than a minute after the opening bell, raised his hand and asked, “When are we gonna learn how to drive?”

That kid knew what he wanted to do on his first day. He had multiple options, a world full of things that he had yet to learn, but they all played second fiddle to the thing he knew had to come first. Getting behind the wheel.

Our text for this Thanksgiving takes place on a first day of sorts. When God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark” it was the first day of completely new world. Noah was used to being a resident on earth. But he wasn’t used to being the only resident on earth! I mean the people who came off the ark—Noah, his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives.—were starting from scratch in every way.

So if you think that your “to do” list for Thanksgiving dinner is substantial, I’d venture a guess to say that Noah probably had you beat. Imagine being him. What kinds of questions are running through your mind as set foot on dry ground for the first time in a year? How about “Where are we?” (Remember, this mountain where the ark came to rest could’ve been hundreds of miles away from where Noah started.) “Where’s our next meal coming from?” “Where are we going to sleep tonight?” They needed to find a water source, build shelter, find tillable ground, you get the picture. The only thing that’s unchanged preflood and postflood is that there are still only 24 hours in a day. On his first day in a whole new world, Noah’s got a million things on his mind, two million things on his to do list. So what does he do first? He builds an altar.

Now keep in mind, this was more than just a matter of heading over to Menards and picking up an altar kit. There was the finding followed by the heavy lifting of large stones, carefully arranging them one on top of another. Plastering the seams with mud. Just building the altar was exhausting and time consuming. We haven’t even talked about what was going to go on top of the altar yet. Taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.  Did you catch that? Some of ALL the clean animals. Now we don’t know exactly what that means, number wise, but suffice it say that there were animals upon animals being slaughtered and consumed by fire on that altar. It could’ve taken hours, even days to offer this sacrifice.

So why would a man so weighed down with responsibilities put everything else on hold and consume precious resources, precious energy and precious daylight to build an altar and offer a sacrifice? Why would he do that? You know why. Gratitude.

Noah knew that without the message of God, he could’ve just as easily been outside the ark instead of inside the ark when the flood came. Moments of great loss are brutal to endure. But we emerge on the other side, by God’s grace, with a greater appreciation for the things we have. Life, faith, people that we love. Those aren’t Hallmark greeting card platitudes. They aren’t intended to be trite generalities.  In fact, they are the primary things we give thanks for on a day like this. Noah emerged from the ark and everything he knew had been destroyed. But he had his life. He had his faith. And he had the people he loved. And that made him build an altar.

God grant us the grace to follow his example. First of all, in slowing down and taking inventory. Noah had a million things going on in his life and in his mind. So do we. And it’s more than just the immediate holiday business before us. It’s the 24/7/365 the demands of life. Be here at this time, make sure that is clean. It’s time for that food to get prepared. It’s time for that project to be completed. Have you paid that bill? Have you called him back?  Tonight, tomorrow—just breathe for a minute. Slow down and look around you. Do you have life? Do you have faith? Do people that you love and who love you, too? Then your cup is filled is to the top. It’s easy to forget that.

It was 16 degrees when I got into my car in the Walmart parking lot last Sunday before church. I had stopped to get the doughnuts for TOPS, our Teen Bible Class. And the news that it was 16 degrees on November 18th was received pretty much exactly as you’d expect. “Are you serious, Lord? Well at least we only have about 6 more months of this!” But you see, while it was 16 degrees….I was getting my car. Which started and not only transported me, but also warmed up to a comfortable temperature during the drive. The drive from Walmart, where I got doughnuts! Life was good, but I was so wrapped in the 16 degrees that I lost sight of how good it was. Do you ever have that? Where a single willow of trouble or difficulty makes you lose sight of the whole forest of things that you have to be thankful for?  Oh, Lord forgive us, for taking so many for granted!

And he does. As regularly and consistently as the morning sun rises—solely by grace, without our merit, so also mercy and pardon rise from our God—solely by grace, without our merit. On the cross, Jesus said to his Father “punish me instead of them.” Today, Jesus says to his Father, “Bless them because of me.” And he does. Our Baptism is the Ark from which we emerge each day to a spiritual clean slate, a fresh start, a new life. Just like Noah did so many years ago.

And what’s the first thing on our priority list each day? Build an altar! Just like Noah did so many years ago. But that analogy limps of course. Because thanksgiving is more than just building a metaphorical altar with a 2 minute prayer at the beginning of the day. That’s not a bad thing to pencil in, mind you, but in reality, a Christian’s entire life is a continuous altar building from beginning to end. It’s every time, every action, every moment where you say, “Lord, accept my humble sacrifice.”

If that’s true, and it is, your sacrifice is saying kind words when your heart would prefer mean ones. Your sacrifice is patiently abiding with someone when you’d be justified to blow up at them. Your sacrifice is telling your spouse or your parents or your friends “I’m sorry. I was wrong to do that.” Your sacrifice is helping when it would be easier to sit. Trusting when it would be easier to worry. Praising when it would be easier to complain. That’s hard work. It takes precious time. It involves moving some pretty big rocks. But building those mini-altars throughout our lives is the Spirit given upshot of gratitude, of knowing what we deserve and what we get instead. What we get from the providing hands of our dear Creator today, every day, and in eternity. So build an altar to the Lord today, every day and in eternity as well. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Jesus Speaks…Great Things Happen

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

Delivered on Sunday, November 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day is Surely Drawing Near:The Day of Judgement

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

Delivered on Sunday, November 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are you going to do about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our God is an Awesome God

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

Delivered on Sunday, November 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Him Be Glory

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

Delivered on Sunday, October 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let God Be God

Guest Speaker Seminarian, Jordan Bence delivers a sermon entitled “Let God Be God” based on Job 38:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 22, 2018

There can be times in our lives where we give advice to people that really don’t need it. I remember my uncle telling me a story about a beer festival he went to not too long ago. While they were there, he and my aunt were walking around from tent to tent trying the latest and greatest new brews. About halfway through the day they stopped at the Leinenkugel’s Brewing tent to try out their new summer shandys. They asked the bartender to pour them one and waited. As the bartender went to the cooler he pulled out two bottled beers, set the glasses on the bar top and proceeded to pour the beers at a 90 degree angle producing an obscene amount of foam. My aunt, who is not shy whatsoever, quickly blurted out, “Holy cow buddy, who taught you how to pour beer? You tilt the glass so that doesn’t happen.” The bartender chuckled and said to her, “Funny you say that, because I’m actually Jake Leinenkugel. I’m the one that makes the beer.” I remember my uncle telling me how red her cheeks were. My aunt, someone who has never brewed a beer in her life, giving instructions to the owner and brew master of a multi-million dollar brewery.

I remember back to one of the first times I tried to advise someone who didn’t need it when I was younger. Growing up my mom always made the best breakfasts. In particular, she always made the best egg bakes. She would make them sporadically throughout the year but would always make them on holidays. Christmas and Easter in particular.  One particular Christmas I asked my mom if I could help her make the egg bake. As we were weighing out the measurements to put in the recipe the time came to add the dry ingredients. One by one I carefully measured out the ingredients until time came to add the dry mustard. My mom instructed me to add one teaspoon to the mix. I looked at her with a big smile on my face and said, “You can never have too much mustard, mom. Better add a little more.” In my great wisdom, I proceeded to add 2 table spoons to the mix instead. There wasn’t a person at the breakfast table who was pleased that I helped mom make the egg bake that year. I absolutely ruined it. A recipe my mom had practiced and perfected since before I was born and I thought she could use my advice. How foolish that was. As foolish as it was for me to try to advise my mom or my aunt to advise Jake Leinekugel how much more foolish it would be to try and give advice to God. But that doesn’t stop our sinful nature from trying. There are times we see the events in our lives unfold and we think we know better. We think that we have a greater plan. As we open up to our reading for today and as we take a look at the book of Job as a whole we find company in this foolish task from Job and his friends. They all thought they knew what was best for Job. For almost 37 chapters we hear them spew their wise thoughts. For 37 chapters God is silent. In our text for today God speaks and they listened. In our text for today God speaks and we listen. In our text for today we learn to let God be God. Knowing he does all things well, and knowing that he does all things for our benefit.

Before we take a look at our text for today lets take a look back and see what brought us to this point in the book of Job In this book we are introduced to a blameless and righteous believer named, you guessed it, Job. His wealth was amongst the greatest in all the land. He worshipped God day and night. One day Satan asks God to send trial into Job’s life to test his faith. Satan believes Job is only faithful because God has blessed him beyond belief. In one day Job loses his thousands of cattle, his wealth and all of his children. But Job remained faithful. Therefore Satan comes back a second time and tells God that because he still has his health Job is remaining faithful. Take that away and he will flee from God. God allowed Satan to bring down a life-threatening skin disease that took over Job’s entire body. Job was so sick he had to move away from society and live on his own. There his so called “friends” came and visited him to discuss his situation. These men too turns belittling Job and pointing to his immeasurable sins that must have caused these misfortunate events. Job joins in from time to time in this discussion as well. Finally, God has had enough. He has heard enough complaints, criticisms and crude comment. Now is time for these sinful men to be quite. Human wisdom is silenced, true wisdom now speaks.

He does all things well

We are told that God comes to Job in a storm and says to him, Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” I can’t imagine Job’s knees weren’t shaking like crazy. God is calling him to the carpet. As God goes on he doesn’t mention the crummy counsel his friends gave, he doesn’t even mention Job’s words, he has some questions of his own.  God asks Job where he was when he created the earth’s foundations, the sea,  morning, rain, stars, clouds and animals. Job has been asking God for chapter after chapter, “Where were you, God?” God counters by asking Job, “Where were you when I did all these things?” The answer is nowhere. Job had nothing to do with all of these things yet they still came to be. God has a perfect knowledge and control over the universe because he created it. Did Job create the universe? Does he govern it? Does he provide for all the animals and creatures that inhabit it? No way. With these questions God is basically asking: “Job, have you forgotten who you are talking to?” Job, a sinful human being, cannot come close to comprehend the wonders of the universe. Yet Job wants to go beyond even that and try to comprehend the one above them: God. God goes on for over three chapters asking Job these probing and cutting questions in order to show him just how foolish he has been. Although God is very blunt with his words he is also loving. He is patiently trying to show Job how ridiculous this truly is. He is trying to remind Job that he has all things under control. He is proving to him that he does all things well.

God’s words here remind me of Jesus’ words from the sermon on the mount when he said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? These words echo the truths that the Heavenly Father is speaking here. Job has looked at the terrible sufferings that were going on in his life and began to question if God truly was the right guy for the job. God shows Job that just as he meticulously created the world and governs it so also he is in control of Job’s life. Not a single thing that was going on in Job’s life was out of God’s hands. God is clearly telling Job with these words: “Let me be God, Job. I’ve had it in the past, and I’ve got it now.”

Are there times we can be like Job? Times we can question God’s control over our lives. When things fall apart where is the first place we often turn? We look past our own flaws, the flaws of others, the sinful world in which we live, and place our glaring eyes on our perfect God. These thundering words from the storm are not only for Job but for us too. These questions are for us too. For every time we have challenged God and his control in our lives he thunders down with his justice demanding that he be heard and proving that he reigns supreme.  During those times God says to us: “Let me be God.”

He does all things for our benefit

To be completely honest the majority of the book of Job has a dismal feel to it. As you read through the book it can be easy to question what God’s intentions are with these trials in Job’s life. It isn’t until the last chapter of the book that we see the outcome of God’s servant, Job. Verse 12 says: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” Job’s cattle and wealth were restored in even greater number than he had before. He had seven more sons and three more daughters. God truly was working all things out for Job’s benefit. But was the greatest blessing that Job got out of this experience an increase in his wealth? Most certainly not. Could God have proven to Job and us that he was doing all things for his good if he hadn’t restored his wealth? Absolutely. In his great suffering, pain and sorrow Job grew ever closer to God. As Job went through the greatest trials that this life could throw at him he was living breathing proof that God is great enough to guide us through all things. The strength that came in knowing his savior would come led Job through his darkest times. Although he wasn’t sure what curveball life was going to throw at him next he proudly proclaimed in the midst of it all: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” Job knew that although his earthly wealth and health could be taken away God would never take away his promise of salvation that would come on the cross. This was what gave him strength to face what was ahead. Because Job knew for a fact that these trials would come to an end. There would come a day when he would see his savior face to face and everything going on in his life in the meantime brought him one step closer to that day. Even in the worst of times Job was encouraged to let God be God.

In our dark days we too are encouraged to do likewise. I’m sure you would agree with me that that is easier said than done. I think about the tough times in my own life where I struggled to do this.  Days where hear the results that read that my father’s cancer is back once again. Or the times when I received news that family members had miscarried another baby or delivered the child and lost it not far after. Or the news that a dear friend had passed away far too young. Or the news that another family member has denied the faith and left the church, denying their kids be baptized or have any interest in church. It is easy for me to admit the most difficult thing to do during those times is to let God be God. I’m sure in your own difficult times you can admit the same. During those times the easiest thing for us to do is put God on the stand. To point the finger in God’s face and show him every instance where he has erred. To go on this rant showing God how our lives would be better if this would happen or if this didn’t happen. And as we go on talking and talking, teaching God a lesson on doing what he does best the time comes where our stomach drops, our lips stop moving, and we come to the realization of what we’re actually doing. In humility we fall to our knees having questioned our almighty God. But in his abundant love God does not leave us there. In that moment he lifts us up, and carries us to the cross. Where we see his son dying for us all. In this moment he leans down and says to us, “My son, my daughter, let me be God.”

As we take a look at the universe we are truly amazed at the work of our God’s hand. As we look back at events in our lives we truly realize that God knows whats best for us. All these things add to our understanding on why we should let God be God. The ultimate reason why we let God be God is because he took care of our greatest need. A need we could never earn on our own. That need was the right relationship with him that his son won for us in full. Where were we when this happened? Nowhere to be found. This was won for us in full by Christ.

You know just as well as I that there are still dark days ahead. The consequences of sin still reign in this world and affect us every day. During those times the devil and your sinful flesh will want nothing more than to question God and his capability at doing his job. When those times come look nowhere else than to the cross. Their hangs our savior paying the price for sin and showing once and for all that he is God. As you and I leave the cross and go into our own lives we do so trusting God.

 

You know just as well as I that there are still dark days ahead. The consequences of sin still reign in this world and affect us every day. During those times the devil and your sinful flesh will want nothing more than to question God and his capability at doing his job. When those times come look nowhere else than to the cross. Their hangs our savior paying the price for sin and showing once and for all that he is God. So when those times come when the devil whispers in your ear, “He can’t possibly be God. He can’t possibly be doing all things well..” You know where to go. Go to the cross.

 

As I think back to my aunt giving advise to Jake Leinenkugel on beer and myself giving advise to my mother concerning her perfected egg bake I shake my head seeing how foolish those things truly are. But as I think back to the times I tried to give advise to God, my head doesn’t shake, instead my heart breaks. How foolish I truly have been. But as I open God’s Word I hear the voice of God reminding me that Christ had not come to save perfect people who perfectly trust in him. He came to save a world full of people who constantly failed to trust in him. He did all this in order that he might turn sin filled hearts of distrust into  new hearts of righteousness that trust in him and his will. These new hearts that live in each and every one of us let God be God. Knowing he does all things well, and knowing he does all things for our benefit. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Things Are Possible With God

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “All Things Are Possible With God” based on Mark 10:17-27 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, October 14, 2018

The young man had been doing well for himself.  He had climbed the proverbial corporate ladder.  He was in charge of others and was, already at a young age, accomplished in his career.  And, yet, he still found himself lacking.

In the context of the Scriptures, hearing this particular reading, in this building, on a day that you have come to worship your God, the answer to this man’s problem isn’t all that difficult to see or surmise.

Whether this was the first time or the four hundredth time you have heard this reading, did you find yourself wanting to shake this man silly?  He was talking to Jesus!  How could he have missed the point of what Jesus told him?  Even if it was difficult to actually and practically accomplish, why didn’t this man just do what Jesus told him to do?

In the context of the Scriptures, hearing this particular reading, in this building, on a day that you have come to worship your God, it all sounds and seems so simple, especially for someone who was so determined to follow the Commandments God had set out for him.

It seems and sounds so simple in this context, but what about if you were to change the context?  What if, instead looking at this man in Mark chapter 10, you applied the same mandate from Jesus to the man or woman in the mirror?

Have the excuses already started pouring through your mind?

Too bad this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not rich.

Too bad this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not young.

Too bad this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not a man.

It’s good and fine to play hypothetical games, but the truth of the matter is that context does matter.  Jesus said these words to this man at that time and hasn’t said them to me, so this doesn’t apply to me.

I know Jesus didn’t really care about the actual action of selling possessions, but he was getting at the man’s heart.  Jesus already has my heart, so this doesn’t apply to me.

Jesus said these words to a man who wanted to inherit eternal life.  I already have eternal life, so this doesn’t apply to me.

The reason why those thoughts, or something somewhat similar, may have come to your mind is the same that caused this man’s face to fall and to go away sad.  And that reason might become a little clearer if you know a little bit more about the very word that described this man’s reaction to Jesus’ loving statement.

The translation in your bulletin is a good one when it says that the man’s face fell.  It is easy to picture in your mind’s eye.  You can probably recall a time when you have seen someone else’s face fall and that really does convey the emotional impact of Jesus’ words to this man and why he went away sad. But, there is a little something lost in this translation that might explain why he experienced this reaction.

This word is used in the Greek language to describe a change in human demeanor, but it is also used, at times, to describe a change in nature, particularly in the sky.

When a sunny day turns to overcast and eventually into a stormy day, the Greeks would say that the sky, itself, fell.  It became cloudy.  The warmth and energy of the sun became blocked.  The sun became difficult to see and feel because of the clouds.

It wouldn’t be a very readable translation, but you could say that the reason this man went away sad was because he became cloudy.  It wouldn’t be very readable, but you would be able to understand what it means to be cloudy.

Now, look again in the mirror.  Would it be all that foreign to you to say that the reason that those defenses came to your mind was because you became cloudy?  You know what it’s like to have clouded judgment, don’t you?  And, you know what so often clouds your judgment, don’t you?

The answer, of course, is sin.  It might be the sin of greed.  It could be pride.  It may be selfishness or self-centeredness.  Ultimately though, no matter how it might manifest itself in your thoughts, words, or actions, the clouds all appear and have their source in the same place:  your sinful nature.

That sinful nature will do whatever it can to convince you to murder, commit adultery, steal, give false testimony, defraud, and dishonor your father and mother by doing exactly what this rich, young man’s sinful nature did to him.  It worked against him and it works against you to disobey the very First Commandment.

This man knew that he was lacking in something, but he didn’t know what it was.  Brothers and sisters, he lacked faith.  He didn’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  And, when things become cloudy for you, that is exactly what your sinful nature wants you to lack as well.

Your sinful nature connives to convince you to put your fear, love, and trust in anything and everything but your God.  Whether it is a difficult financial situation, a hiccup in your health, a rift in your relationships, a dip into the dangerous waters of addiction, or, like the rich, young man, a question about where you will spend all of eternity, the sin inside of you seeks a solution outside of that which your God has provided for you in his Word.

 

You aren’t going to find the strength to overcome your particular issues in your wallet, a clean bill of health, your loving and well-meaning spouse, or that bottle of booze.  Though it sounds right, and may even, at times, feel right, with your man-made solutions, this is impossible.  But not with God; all things are possible with God.

Jesus said it was impossible for this rich, young man to inherit eternal life because he was cloudy.  His cloudiness caused him to ask the wrong question.  Did you catch it?  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  What must I do?  Sin clouded his judgment.  Sin caused him to think that his eternal life rested its destiny in his own hands.  And, if eternity did rest its destiny in the hands of human beings, it would be impossible for anyone to inherit eternal life.  But not with God; all things are possible with God.

God took salvation out of the hands of humanity and accomplished it himself.  He finished it with words wailed from a cursed man on a cross.  It is not a question of what you must do or must not do, but, rather, what has been done for you.  The gift God gave in the perfect life of his Son, substituted in place of yours, and the death he died, enduring the wrath your sins deserved is what was done for you to inherit eternal life.

Faith, given through his powerful Word and sacraments and worked by the Holy Spirit in your heart, fears, loves, and trusts in Jesus’ work above any and all man-made solutions to sin’s consequences.

And, to paraphrase King David, when you have faith, you shall not lack anything.  That doesn’t mean that when you have faith your bank account blossoms with a few extra zeros at the end, that cancer is eradicated, that your wife will love you unconditionally, or that you’ll stop desiring to see the bottom of that bottle.  But, the reason you will not be lacking is because your faith will clear the clouds away from your judgment.

You will see clearly how money is not the answer to your problems, but a gift that God gives for you to manage appropriately.  You will endure pain and sickness from the perspective of a temporary traveler on this earth who looks forward to the immortality that awaits you.  You will find not only the strength, but even the desire to show love to those who surround you, whether they deserve it or not, whether it is reciprocated or not, because of the unconditional love that you receive from your Savior.

When your face falls, feed your faith with Word, water, wafer, and wine and watch as he clears the clouds and shows you his Son, shining for you.  Amen.

 

 

 

The Marks of True Discipleship

Guest Pastor Donn Dobberstein delivers a sermon entitled “The Marks of True Discipleship” based on John 13:31-34 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Synod Sunday, October 7, 2018

“The Marks of True Discipleship”

  • Love that glorifies God
  • Love that serves others

Dear disciples of Christ to whom Jesus instructed, “If you want to be my disciples, then deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”,

Every year, Instagram releases its list of most followed people. For any person here NOT sure what this is all about (and I apologize to all social-media savvy retirees )… this is the way our young/younger people communicate with each.  They share their life story online by means of most-liked posts, top hashtags, and most-used filters from the past year. The top 3 most followed people are:

  • a singer named Ariana Grande (118 mil),
  • a Portuguese soccer stud named Renaldo (123 mil), and the most followed person in the world…
  • Selena Gomez – 135 million followers.

A disciple is a follower.  But when Jesus said, “Come, follow me”, I don’t think he was inviting millions to like his Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram accounts!  But he was inviting the likes of Peter, James, and John and others to “be with” him.  That’s what a follower does.  They follow.  The disciples were constantly together with Jesus.  They traveled together, shared meals, experienced mutual hardship.  They spent every waking, eating, teaching moment with him.  They witnessed his resurrection from the dead.  They believed and put their trust in him. If you went through the gospel accounts and compiled the amount of time Jesus spent with the crowds and the amount of time Jesus spent with his disciples, 17x we find Jesus with the crowds, 46x we see him with his disciples.  It’s been estimated Jesus spent up to 90% of his time with the Twelve.  To them Jesus said, “Now, go make more disciples of all nation.  With the Holy Spirit’s power and Christ’s presence in their hearts, they made other disciples of Jesus. Today, 2.3 billion people on the planet claim to be Christian.  According to a 2014 Pew Center survey, 71% of Americans identified as Christian.

But is there a difference between identifying as a follower and being a follower of Christ?    Believing in Jesus without having to really follow him in how we live … that’s the challenge of discipleship.  Discipleship is both believing AND following.  It’s about growing in faith.  For a church to be growing, it doesn’t just need more members.  It needs all her members to be spiritually growing and healthy.  Healthy followers of Jesus are those who are fed and exercised. Your body needs food and exercise.  Your faith needs food and it needs to be exercised.  Faith will be lacking if you aren’t in God’s Word.  The avg. person spends 20 minutes every day on Facebook- posting, liking/commenting other people’s posts.  If that is a mark of discipleship, evaluate the time you spend “following” others and your daily time following Jesus.

On this Sunday meant to encourage the discipleship of Peace, Hartford, what are the marks of true discipleship?   What do they look like in a healthy church?  In a healthy “you”?

To find out, we return to the Upper Room where Jesus is eating his last Passover meal with his 12 disciples.

  • Jesus washes his disciples’ feet … before he tells them, he first shows them what humble service looks as his followers.
  • Jesus is troubled in spirit.  “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”  They stared at each other in disbelief.  They can’t imagine anyone would betray him.  Peter motions to John who is closest to Jesus, “Ask him who he means?”  John leans back and asks, “Lord, who is it?”  Jesus dips a piece of bread and gives it to Judas.  Judas took the bread … and didn’t argue!  He left the room. Jesus knew exactly what he was about to do.
    • He knew he would meet the Jews, tell him where to find him later that night in the Garden Gethsemane where he would pray. He planned the kiss to betray him to know whom to arrest.
    • Jesus knew the pain of betrayal, the fists, the scorn the mocking.  The spit. The pain of the crown of thorns.  The pain of the whip that would shred his back. He heard the shouts of the people, “Crucify him!”  The nails pounded in just hours.
    • He knew the suffering and agony of hell as he took on the sins of the world.
    • He knew the abandonment of God himself.  He would see his own mother’s heart shattered.

Knowing all that would happen as Judas was leaving the room, you would think Jesus would yell, “Stop!!!”   Instead he quietly says, “Get to it quickly.”

After Judas’ shadow departed out the doorway, Jesus turns to his disciples, Now the Son of Man is glorified.”  Jesus has a different idea of glory than we do.

  • We glory when “I’m right and they were wrong.”
  • We glory when we receive credit for what we’ve done.
  • We’ve glory for the caring person people tells us we are.
  • We love to hear praise and good things sung about our name:  Kind.  Compassion.  Loving.  Giving.  Serving, sacrificing person we think we are.
  • We measure glory by followers and likes not by how many people follow us around every day because they want to be more like the kind of Christian person we are. But how many people will see a picture or message we share that shows more and more about ourselves?

The world is a hot mess, but is it going to be made better if people hear more about us?

  • Are you the example of Christian love that others will follow so they see more of Christ?
  • Are they going to see someone who listens when someone is talking to them and gives full attention with a full heart because “what you are saying is important to me”?  Or, “Whatever you had on your mind was more obviously more important than what I was saying to you.”
  • Are you the example of patience that others should copy?
  • Are you the example of a gentle response to a harsh word that prevents a heated argument, or do you help get the thing going?
  • Are you an example of accepting the bad that happens in life together with the good without complaining?
  • Are you the example of being content?  Are you the example of someone who knows this life and our time on earth is not to do as we please but it’s the Lord’s life for his purpose and for him alone and lived for his glory?

Are you an example?  Then I’m not either.

Our idea of glory has so often to do with who we think we are and what we want others to be convinced we are.  Not who we know Jesus is.  Our sinful nature is so resilient/reliable we can say, “I know, I don’t love others as Christ has loved me … this is true.”  AND IT DOESN’T CHANGE A THING WE DO.  Actions speak louder than words.  When we don’t show love in Christ in our daily lives in our words and actions, we HIDE the glory of Christ and miss the marks of discipleship.  That’s not a small “oops.”  It’s a shameful sin that grieves the Holy Spirit and hurts the ones we love, and it doesn’t show anyone how much Jesus loves us and how much Jesus loves them.

“A new command I give you” (v34).  New … not because they’ve never heard it but new because of the new motivation that Jesus would give his disciples to actually do itTo say love is one thing.  To show love is to show the mark of discipleship:  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (34-35).

A man gets down on one knee, takes the hand of his sweetheart and says, “Sweetie, I love you and I want to marry you.  I’ll take good care of you and provide for you.  I’ll be a good father to our children.  All I ask is that you allow me one day a year for another woman.”  Is that an acceptable?  Is that true love?

How God must feel when we get down on our knees and fold our hands in prayer and pray, “Father, I love you and I want you to be part of my life.  I’ll try my best to be a good person, a good parent, a hard worker, and good spouse.  All I ask is that every once in a while, you give me some moments away from you so I can satisfy myself apart from you.”  Is that acceptable?   Is that true love?

Or is that the default mode of our human hearts that argues we are living moral enough lives and are loving others as ourselves just enough to satisfy God?  Is that true love or love that is only lip service to Jesus?  Ask yourself, “Why do I fail in my following of God?  Why am I living so selfishly?”  The problem we have keeping 9 commandments has everything to do when we keep breaking the first one.  Love. God. Above. All. Else. 

That’s love that glorifies God.  That’s love that serves others.  Paul gives concrete illustrations what it’s going to look like and sound like:  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails(1 Cor. 13)

But we do.

  • When the gas tank is empty, will love fill it?
  • You can love your country, but it didn’t stop Hurricane Florence from hitting the Carolinas,
  • You can love your kids like crazy, but it won’t stop tragedy from striking, will it?

It all testifies to the brokenness of the world we live in and the ripple effect of sin in our lives.  You can love all you want to, but love doesn’t seem to change anything.  Now do you understand why Jesus told his disciples, “My children I will be with you only a little while …. Where I’m going you cannot come.”  Jesus the only true God/true Man went where we could not go:

  • To give his life for every time we were impatient, unkind, rude!
  • For how many times we were self-seeking, for how often we were easily angered and kept a mental record of wrong for so long … .
  • Jesus went to where we could not go when he descended to hell to proclaim over the devil leaving the devil and all those with him behind conquered in the fight.
  • Jesus went where we could not go when he burst forth from the tomb alive and triumphant over the power of death and the grave.
  • Jesus went where we could not go when he ascended into heaven before the throne of God and said, “My Father, I’ve given my perfect life as a substitute for him and for her.  You’ve shown the world you’ve accepted my payment as full by resurrection to life now welcome them as redeemed sinners as my brothers and sisters to our home in heaven.

JESUS CALLS THAT GLORY!  The marks of true discipleship are his love and his life given to rescue sinners like you/me.  That’s love that glorifies God!  It’s just that Jesus wants all people to be saved.  That’s why he needs us to show less of ourselves to others and more of him and we do that by showing love to one another.  That’s the mark of true discipleship in us which glorifies God.

I’m convinced:

  • every congregation that senses a turnaround,
  • every person yearning for the will-power to change,
  • every family in desperate need of help,
  • every marriage in need of renewed motivation,
  • every breaking heart in need of a glimmer of hope,

… will find it in a room where a King wore an apron to wash feet and calls us to follow his example.  Why?  Because his love changes everything.  Because we know that God works through his Word to change human hearts … like he’s done in ours(!) and he can in others.  He changed hearts so husbands love their wives and wives love their husbands and display Christ to each other.   And parents love their children and children love their parent and display Christ to each other.  As we show the love of Christ to others they are going to see Christ and hear what he has done for us and what he’s done for them.  He wants us to live in the peace and harmony and the blessings of that love for others to see that glory.

Martin Luther commented: Although faith alone makes one righteous before God … where Christian love does NOT follow faith, that is conclusive evidence that such faith is dead or that love is lacking … ” (Sermons, epistles pg. 105).   Because love is the marker of saving faith.  And when a believer receives the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, they leave with the mark of his forgiving love and with the power to SHOW love.

A NEW COMMAND for a new day!  Behind Jesus’ command is a change of heart:  to show the love of Christ to others because you know how much Christ loves you and you know how much Christ loves them.  Healthy churches are filled with the marks of this love!  So is a healthy you!  Know this, God will help and God is able to teach old sinners new love.  I’m sure of this: “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).  God grant this!  Amen.

 

 

 

God is Delivering His People

Pastor Seminarian Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “God is Delivering His People” based on Numbers 11, various verses at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 30, 2018

When we go to church, does our enjoyment of the service depend on how much we like the people involved? The Word of God gladdens our hearts, for sure, but our personal feelings for the preacher, musicians, or people we sit next to, taints our listening; we don’t appreciate the message as much if we don’t appreciate the people. But not so with the apostle Paul in our first lesson. Paul writes that certain men were actually trying to cause trouble for him, and elevate themselves over him, by preaching while he was stuck in prison. But do you remember Paul’s reaction? “What does it matter? The important things is, Christ is being preached! And for this I rejoice!” If only the apostle John, in our Gospel, could have kept the same attitude. Instead, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” What was with John? Couldn’t he tell the man driving out demons was on his side? The reason why John made him stop, is that he lost sight of the big picture. God was delivering people through that man’s work! But jealousy blinded John; jealousy blinded Joshua in our sermon text too, and finally, jealousy blinds us. But God has a way of directing our eyes back to the big picture and we rejoice when we see it: God is among us, delivering his people.

Now how is it possible for us not see that? Well, think about how Joshua and Moses lost sight of this in our lesson. The people of Israel had just been complaining (again) about the hardships of traveling through the desert, and God rained down holy fire to teach them about complaining. But not long after, the Israelites found something else to complain about—manna. Manna was a sweet-tasting kind of bread that God had been giving them to eat.  But after years of eating manna, they were sick of it. Every family wailed at the entrance of their tents, “We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna! We want meat!” And God burned with anger.

Moses could see, things were not looking good, and according to his prayer, he seemed to have convinced himself that Israel’s fate rested on his shoulders. Where am I going to get meat for them? I cannot carry all these people by myself. If this is how it’s going to be, why don’t you just kill me—so I don’t have to face my own ruin.”

Wow—Moses had the gall to say before God that he was carrying all these people by himself? And Moses despaired so much that he asked God to kill him?

But God answered Moses with surprising mercy. God told Moses to gather 70 elders around the tent of meeting, (the tabernacle), and then God placed his Holy Spirit on each elder and enabled them to prophesy (speak God’s words.) In effect God stamped his divine approval on these elders and equipped them to help Moses lead the wayward people. Even two elders who didn’t come to the tabernacle, Eldad and Medad, joined in. We’re not sure why they didn’t gather with the rest of the elders, either Moses didn’t choose them, or they just failed to show up. Either way, the Holy Spirit apparently didn’t care, and enabled them to prophesy inside the camp.

And what a reaction from Joshua! “Moses, stop Eldad and Medad!” The Bible says he was Moses’ loyal aide since he was a kid. He felt jealous on behalf of Moses’ because of the unauthorized prophesying of Eldad and Medad, and possibly for his own sake too. But then he tells Moses to stop them? What was Moses going to do, bind and gag Eldad and Medad, and tell the Holy Spirit to cut it out?  Joshua was too jealous to see the big picture. The Holy Spirit was with them, intervening and delivering his people.

But if we put ourselves in Joshua’s sandals, could we have seen any better? Jealousy blinds us too. When someone we know starts talking about their faith on social media, or in person, we get a little smug, “Really? Do we all need another personal testimonial from this lady? She thinks she’s so spiritual but her actions don’t show it. Not like mine. And as if this guy is expounding some deep truths I don’t already know! I could have said it better. He doesn’t deserve a voice, not until he knows his Bible as well as I do.” Other times we cast a jealous eye upon a church musician, or pastor, or another leader in the congregation: just look at him, walking around like he’s the best thing that ever happened to this church. Why should I listen to him? I don’t even like the guy. How come no one ever recognizes my gifts? No one ever thanks me, most of the people here don’t even know how much I do for this church.” This jealousy we feel is not just a little problem of ours, it’s an offence to God.

Moses of course is, the other extreme. Remember how he grew tired of the spotlight, and went so far as asking God to kill him? His prayer shocks us, but, ironically, we don’t sound different. God, I’m done! Do you expect me to carry this family, these school-children, these church members all by myself? How am I supposed to pay the bills this month? How do you expect me to keep my actions and my thoughts so clean, all the time? This isn’t fair, it’s too heavy for me. I’ve had enough. Again, this isn’t just a character flaw we’re talking about, it’s a sin against God. It’s a sin that blinds us, and makes us and lose sight of the big picture.

Thank God, for redirecting our vision to the bigger picture. If we take one more look at our sermon text, we’ll see how he did just that with Moses.

So Moses complains that his burden is too heavy for him, and asks the LORD to kill him, but God has a spectacular answer, full of grace. God has Moses gather 70 elders of the people, and he makes them stand around the tabernacle. Now picture these 70 aged men, facing outward towards every corner of the camp, waiting silently. Down comes God, shrouded in mist. You can’t quite make out what God is saying to Moses in the mist, but all of a sudden you see the 70 elders, one by one, just erupt! Their bearded mouths fly open, and out spews divine, heavenly words, comforting words, words spoken with a wisdom that is not of this world. And even old Eldad and Medad inside the camp begin to prophesy, thundering like the mouthpieces of God. Can you imagine the weight that has just been lifted from Moses’ shoulders? There Moses stands, beaming, while every wailing tent sits in astonished silence.

I wonder what he’s thinking. “I’m not really carrying these people, am I, LORD? You bore them out of Egypt on eagles’ wings, and these people had rejected you and were ready to turn back to Egypt (probably kill me too) but you spoke to them through the elders. You saw what we needed and you came to help.”

But then Joshua interrupts Moses’ thoughts–“Moses, stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying!” “Are you jealous for my sake?” Moses answers. “I wish all two million of the LORD’s people were prophets, this is exactly what we need!” Moses can’t help but rejoice, he finally sees the big picture—through the elders, including Eldad and Medad, God is delivering his people from their folly.

In fact, God is delivering us at that moment. Let’s say God let the Israelites turn back to Egypt. Let’s say they don’t make it to Canaan as planned. Abraham’s descendants die in the desert, or die in Egypt, and there never is a land of Israel. There would be no Bethlehem, no light to dawn on those living in the land of the shadow of death. There would be no Jesus, and no Roman cross to hang him on. There would be no payment for our sins.

But God would not let the Israelites turn back. He does not lead like Moses or like us. He did not grow tired of the Israelites’ stupid refusal to trust him. It was not a burden too heavy to bear.

When the Israelites shook their fists at God, and Moses begged for death, God loved Moses and the rest of his people. For no explicable reason, God at that moment in history so loved the world, that he could not let his plan of salvation die in the desert. God endured the Israelites, and gave them more leaders to bring them to the Promised Land, because all the while, he loved us. He knew about us, that we would come to church today carrying the burden of sins we can’t count, sins of jealousy, self-obsession, despair. He knew about us and he wanted us to meet his Son, so that he could wash all of those sins away. Everything that God did in our lesson, coming down in a pillar of cloud to speak with his weary servant Moses, placing his Holy Spirit on the 70 elders and causing them to prophesy, even enabling Eldad and Medad to prophesy, he did because he ordained that we would be saved by a descendant of Abraham, from Bethlehem in Judea. And he decreed that this man, Jesus, would take away the penalty for our sins of jealousy and despair.

Now we see the big picture, don’t we? God has delivered us! Nor did he leave it at that; he still delivers us, by giving each of us a share of the Holy Spirit. Just as God placed his Spirit on the 70 elders and enabled them to prophesy, and to lead, so God has given his Holy Spirit to our pastors, our teachers, our lay leaders, and to every person here who calls Jesus his Lord. Maybe we can’t prophesy like those 70 elders did, but the Holy Spirit has given us gifts of wisdom, knowledge, hospitality, kindness, gentleness, steadfastness—all these gifts God has given so that we might receive support and encouragement from one another in life’s harsh desert. Is this not a spectacular answer to our personal weaknesses and burdens? Does this not eliminate all reason to be jealous of someone else’s gifts?

Let’s not hold on to our burdens like Moses. God can carry them for us, and he often does so through the help of other believers.  Let’s not compete with others like John, or be jealous of someone else’s honor like Joshua. God has given gifts to help you, because he plans on you making it your home in heaven, with him. So, let’s be like Paul, and like Moses at the end of the lesson. Let’s rejoice every time Christ is preached, no matter whose mouth it comes out of, or who gets to look good. God has delivered us from sin, and that’s all that matters. And he continues to deliver us from this world by giving us his Holy Spirit so that we do not lose faith, and so that we have leaders and companions on our long road to heaven. Amen.

 

The Greatest

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “The Greatest” based on Mark 9:30-37 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, September 23, 2018

I had spent many nights dreaming about it, psyching myself up. I was only in 3rd grade at the time, but something about the annual Grade School Cross Country Meet lit the competitive fires within me. And now finally it was the first year that I was old enough to compete. In my head, the night before the race, I could picture how it was going to go quite clearly. My competitors and I would start off evenly, but my torrid, steady pace would propel me to the front of the pack, and I would win the mile long race going away.

That’s how it played out in my dreams. My “cross country” brain however was writing checks that my “football” body could not cash. The day of the meet I learned two things: First: never wear jeans for a cross country race. Second: I learned if I was ever going to succeed in any athletic competition, it was not going to be as a cross-country runner. I had dreams of coming in first, but when all was said and done, I finished….well, assuredly NOT in first.

And that was hard. Cuz no matter what we do in life we want to place high. The high school senior sets his sights on being Top 10 academically in his class. The bride planning her big day wants to have the wedding that her friends and relatives talk about for years to come. And middle aged dude? He wants his lawn to be the greenest and the thickest, the envy of all his neighbors. No matter how old you are, how matter what area of life you’re talking about, nobody is going to turn down a place on the medal stand.

All that having been said, it’s still pretty hard for the disciples to come out looking good when we see them jockeying for position and ranking themselves 1-12 in our text. They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. It’s particularly a bad look for them when you consider the context. In the verses immediately before Jesus had just announced that it was time for him to walk toward Calvary, where his every thought would be utter sacrifice, his every action utter selflessness. While those somber and solemn words are still hanging in the air, the disciples move on to much more important matters. “Let’s decide once and for all. Which one of us is the smartest? Which one is the hardest worker? Who was the first one to come into the fold? Who’s the most eloquent? Who’s the most passionate?”

Can you imagine being so obtuse? So oblivious? That even confronted with someone in deep need of love and support, you can only talk about yourself? Actually…you probably can imagine that. We’re picking on the disciples because they’re easy targets in our text. But we spend so much of lives staking our claim to being the greatest. Think back to the last argument you had.  You probably didn’t use the exact words, but I bet it had something to do with who was the greatest. I clean the toilets, because apparently I’m the only one around here who cares what this house looks like. (In other words…I’m the greatest.)  You spend money like a sailor on leave and I’ve got to be the mature one who makes sure all the bills actually get paid. (In other words…I’m the greatest.)  Did you forget to take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer? Now I’ve got nothing to wear! (I would never forget to do that, so I must be the greatest.)

Subconsciously we spend our days in the never ending quest to convince ourselves or convince the people around us how great we are. Even when it comes to the student with his grades, the bride-to-be with her wedding and the middle aged dude with his lawn, there is a razor thin line between using God’s gifts with gratitude on the one hand AND ego boosting, identity defining, grandstanding “I am the greatest” thoughts on the other hand.  It’s the line between being humbly thankful for what you have and being arrogantly prideful about what you have. It’s the line between seeking to glorify God and seeking to glorify me.

Like the disciples, we spend our days veering wildly over the line and back, over that line and back. Can you see why that’s so messed up? We’re trying to determine our worth by where we rank among their our. That number, whatever it may be, is subjective. (It depends on who you talk to) It’s arbitrary (it can vary from day to day). And it’s subject to flawed human reason. (What you might think is great might not be what God thinks is great).

Funny thing is, the disciples were going round and round on the road about who was greatest, when the answer was obvious. All they had to do was stop looking at one another and start looking at the guy who was walking on ahead of them. It’s understood, but it still feels pretty good to say—Isn’t Jesus the greatest?!

Consider that he knew what they were talking about on the road, he knew they were going to jostle for position in the most glory grabbing ways at the worst possible times. He knew that before he chose them as disciples, before they were even born and yet he chose them any way! Because Jesus is the greatest.

Jesus is the greatest because he’s bottomless patience with the slowest on spiritual uptake. That’s you and me. Because his blood splattered a cross as payment for the most vile, the most repulsive, the most stubbornly rebellious. That’s you and me.

Jesus is the greatest because he finds the most insignificant, the most plain, the most rejected, the last place finisher and he says, “You have value. You matter to me no matter what anybody says about you. They will all go away. But I will never change how I feel, I will never leave, I will never go away.”

Jesus is the greatest because at your baptism he repeated what he did in our text. You were the child he took in his arms and he said, “I welcome this one—poor, insignificant, unworthy though he is. I will cover her with my perfection. I will give her eternal life. And that will make this little one truly great.” That’s you and me.

Jesus is the greatest. The key to greatness is found in being like him.  It’s not a ranking or even a respect given to you by your peers. It’s not the number of likes on your most recent Instagram post. That’s not what greatness is all about. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

That’s exactly what he did! For a servant puts the needs of another ahead of his own needs. And that’s what Jesus did when he went to the cross. That’s another thing that makes him the greatest. He became the servant of all.

To illustrate the “all” for us he used an object lesson. 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” It’s not just about being nice to little kids. It’s about seeing people as Jesus sees them. It’s about giving the kids’ table as much attention as you give the head table. It’s about seeing the seeing seedy one and the scruffy one with the same eyes that you see the CEO. It’s being willing to unclog the hair from the shower drain, it’s scraping the caked on food off the dishes, it’s about putting the new roll of toilet paper in the holder instead of leaving lonely bare cardboard there for the next person to deal with.  Imitating Jesus is not just about serving the insignificant ones—it’s about doing the insignificant things—and doing them for no other reason than the fact that you want to be like Jesus. He is the greatest and imitating his humility and service—that is the path to true greatness. Amen.