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Repent or Perish?

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

Delivered on Sunday, March 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Is Unstoppable

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

Delivered on Sunday, March 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Are Children of God…..

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

Delivered on Sunday, March 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glorious Savior, Glorious Life

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Glorious Savior, Glorious Life” based on 2 Corinthians 3 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, March 3, 2019

My senior year at the Seminary, my wife and I lived on a couple acres along the Lake Michigan seashore. Don’t be overly impressed. We were renting a well to do family’s guest cottage. The total square footage? I’d estimate it at about 700 square feet. We didn’t have a lot of stuff back in the day, but trying to fit what we had into that place was like trying to fit a bulldog into a ballerina’s tutu. There wasn’t a whole lot of breathing room. We were pushing maximum capacity. That’s how this portion of God’s Word feels. It’s densely packed with grade A prime theology from beginning to end.  It’s a challenging section. But walk with me as we unpack it slowly and as we do, Lord willing, we’ll be led to see that a glorious Savior for us means a glorious life for us. Hear the Word of the Lord as it’s recorded in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3.

It’s easy to see Jesus’ glory in our Gospel lesson as He shines brightly on the mountain. It’s also easy to see how we will shine brightly one day in eternity because of that same Jesus. It’s a lot more difficult to see how a glorious Savior for us means a glorious life for us now. In fact, we rightly condemn what we might call a theology of glory, the popular teaching that Christians should expect only good things and prosperity and smiley faces in this life. Jesus didn’t say that. He said “take up your cross and follow me.” He promised that the life of a Christian would be full of the most unglorious things.

But I don’t have to tell you that. We come here hoping find a little respite from the unglories of life. When you look back on your life so far, you see a lot of blessings, but you also see times when you were having to reach in the darkest depths of the kitchen sink trying to clean out a clogged drain. You see times when the news was good and celebration was called for, but you also see times when the unexpected brought sudden tears, and reduced you to a crumpled mess that could barely get out of bed. When you look back on your life, you see times when you boxed the devil on his pointy little ears, but you also see times when you put your arm around him like he was your best friend in the world.

We are sinful people living in a sinful world. And that means that unglory and ugliness will never be far away from us on this side of heaven. But again, you know that. What the apostle Paul shows us today is that because of Jesus, glory is never far away from us either.

As always, Jesus is the key. Glorious doesn’t mean always happy. Glorious doesn’t mean always spiritually successful. A glorious life is not, is not defined by our outward circumstances. A glorious life has Jesus and the hope he gives us as its beginning, middle and end.

Paul writes, Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. Lack of hope crushes a person’s spirit. But an abundance of hope makes them bold.

I was just talking with veteran Christian this week whose eyes have seen a lot of years. And a lot of dark days. She’s lost children and grandchildren in sudden, devastating fashion. And she told me the same thing many of you have also told me, “I don’t how someone without faith can manage.”  People without faith also get cancer, people without faith also mess up their lives and families, people without faith also have to stand at gravesides. I don’t know how they cope. But I know how you cope. You cling to hope. Hope that comes from a God who loves you unconditionally. Hope that comes from a God who has proven himself to you in the past. Hope that comes from a God who promises a better future, if not today, one day, in eternity.

There’s something glorious about being bold in a world where by all appearances we should be freaking out a little! We don’t know what’s going to happen five minutes from now, much less five years from now. We don’t know what the next election will bring, what the next wave of secular societal peer pressure will bring, we don’t know how that might affect our jobs, our churches, our schools, our families. We don’t know what personal challenges, diagnoses, or tragedies are looming just over the horizon. We don’t know. And yet we do not cower or shrink back from tomorrow. Because we have Jesus. Covered by his perfection and bought with his blood, He makes us bold to stand in the face of Judgment Day. And if we can stand unafraid before an Almighty Judge, we can certainly stand unafraid and face tomorrow, no matter how uncertain it may be. That boldness is glorious and it can only come through faith.

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.  Moses’ phosphorescent kisser was pretty awesome, even though it eventually faded away. How much more awesome is a ministry where the glory never wears off or fades away! That’s what Paul had because he was blood-linked to the Lamb sent from heaven. Unfading glory. Because Jesus has unfading glory.

That’s what set Paul apart from the rivals who so tenaciously tried to tear him down. His rivals held on to the law of Moses like it was the foundation of the people’s relationship with God. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.  They could offer no hope. They could only hand out report cards. You did this wrong, this wrong and this wrong. You fail! For them, the veil remained. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

You might say, “Wait a minute. We don’t see Jesus like Peter, James and John saw him on the mountain!  Many things about him remain veiled to us. And when he does come to us, he doesn’t come in full glory mode, he comes in veiled fashion in Word, Water, Wheat and Wine.” All of that is true.

But there’s something pretty glorious about how the Holy Spirit, moved only by love and acting only because of grace, used those seemingly unimpressive things to draw back the veil of unbelief that covered your heart.  And to give you a living, breathing faith. And to give you victory over death. And to give you the ability to live forever.

Though he may not yet show us his full glory, that doesn’t mean that he can’t occasionally show a little bit of his glory to us and in us. Paul states it in much stronger language. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Transformed into his likeness. That means the glorious change we saw Jesus undergo on the mountain isn’t the only glorious transformation we’re seeing this evening/morning. I’ve been trying to eat a little more healthy and exercise a little more often. And if you’ve ever done that before you it can be hard to be patient. When you look down at the scale and it’s the same as it was yesterday, or heaven forbid higher than it was yesterday. It deflates you. We want big changes and we want them immediately. That’s not how it works. Transformation happens slowly and eventually when you consume the right food.

Our spiritual transformation happens similarly. We want big change and we want it immediately. We also have the same expectation in the people around us, but that’s another sermon for another time. We want big change and we want it immediately, but that’s not how it works. Transformation happens slowly, over a lifetime, fed and nourished by regular, consistent, dare I say every week, dare I say every day, consumption of the Word and Sacraments. That’s how we are transformed into his likeness.

Wouldn’t that be a neat way to be thought of and remembered? As one who looked like Jesus? I don’t mean long hair and beard or however you picture him. I mean, having a heart that looks like Jesus’ heart. Wouldn’t it be neat if the people around you thought of you as someone whose heart looks like Jesus’ heart—one that is full of compassion and patience and mercy? One that pushes away ambition and selfishness and hate. Oh, Lord Jesus, make us like you—there and there alone do we find ever increasing glory.

Boldness that comes from hope. Unveiled eyes that see your Savior. Transformation that comes from a lifelong, consistent diet of Word and Sacrament. No, life will not always be glamourous. But with Jesus, life will always be glorious. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love…..Even Enemies

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Love….Even Enemies” based on Luke 6:27-38 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, February 24, 2019

There it is, in plain black and white in your bulletin, copied and pasted straight from the Scriptures, themselves.  Of all the old axioms and proverbs that people think come from the bible; like God helps those who help themselves or when God closes a door, he opens a window, this Golden Rule is, perhaps surprisingly, actually in the bible. And, on top of that, as if it might make it anymore impressive or important for you, Jesus, himself, is the one who said it.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Your mom was right to quote it to you when you were growing up and that means, more importantly and as if there was ever any doubt, I was right when I said it to my own daughter.  When a 6 year old excluded one of her friends from her group, it was good and fine and right to ask her how she would feel if that same friend would have acted that way to her.  Now if only the world would actually listen to this Golden Rule, everyone’s lives would be so much better and easier!

So, why don’t they?  It seems like such a simple rule to follow.  It is a rule that even 6 year-olds can understand, appreciate, and put into practice.  Yes, the Devil is strong in his temptations to be selfish, but no one really wants to be declared as, or known to be, selfish do they?  And, besides that, Jesus makes it clear that even sinners know how to do this and, many times, even do abide by it.  So, if sinners can and, at times, do, why don’t Christians?  Or, to put it a little more personally: why don’t you always follow the Golden Rule?

In truth, the answer does ultimately lie under the category of selfishness, but it can be interesting to explore that selfishness at times; to diagnose the problem a bit further before finding a solution and prescription to solve it.  The reason why you might be hesitant to follow this Golden Rule probably falls into one or more of three different aspects of selfishness, the first of which might sound a little something like this: I don’t treat them the way I want to be treated because they don’t deserve it.

Whether it is something as simple as kindness or something as complicated as love, it is possible that you may not be entirely wrong in your discernment of their worthiness to receive something from you.  You might be right.  However, do you see how selfishness has crept its way into your heart?  When you refuse to follow this command from Jesus toward another person you are, in essence, saying that they don’t deserve what you deserve.  They don’t deserve what you have earned or what you have worked so hard to attain.  You have declared yourself better than them, worthy of what they have made themselves unworthy to receive.

The second option is closely related.  With some sort of self-righteous piety, you have determined that it is actually better for them if they don’t receive a free gift from you because you are simply enabling them to continue on in their lives without earning or working hard for anything on their own.  You have determined that it is your right and your responsibility to teach them some responsibility and you, above Jesus, himself, know how best to carry that out: by refusing to do to them as you would have them do to you.

The third hidden agenda behind your selfishness, if you can believe it, is likely the most self-centered of them all.  You refuse to help, be kind, or show love to someone else because you aren’t getting anything good out of the deal.  They are just taking advantage of your goodness and never return the favor.  How many times do I have to keep calling or texting my friend without him ever asking me how I am doing?  How many act of service, words of affirmation, or physical touches do I have to give my spouse before she returns the favor?  Is it asking too much for someone to love me for a change?

Love even your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you.

Jesus does, indeed, continue on about how, if you follow this rule, you will receive a reward and you won’t be judged and you will be forgiven.  However, not once here, or in any other portion of Scripture, does Jesus say that the reason why you ought to follow this command is so that you will receive your desired outcome.

There is a marked difference in the teachings of Christ between the reason behind and the results of a Christian’s thoughts, words, and actions.

The irony is that, in reality, many of you do treat your enemies as you would have them treat you, even when you know they don’t deserve it, when you believe it won’t help them, and even when you know they are just going to take advantage of you.  But, something is different with those you love, isn’t it?  Your expectations are higher for those you love—especially because it is much easier to see the results of the way you treat those that you love.  Yeah, the idea of world peace and the ending of world hunger is awesome and amazing to think about and aspire toward but, honestly, would that really change your day to day life all that much?

Compare that, though,

– with having a husband who washes the dishes and gives you flowers on a regular basis,

– with having children who don’t have to be told a third time to get their pajamas on, brush their teeth, and get into bed,

– with having a boss who respects you and your work with bonuses and raises and words of praise,

– with having a friend who will finally listen to you and your problems for once.

– that selfishness that causes you to disobey Jesus’ Golden Rule is based almost entirely on the result that your life won’t get any better if you follow it.

Stop worrying about the results.  Concern yourself, instead, with the cause.  Do not give to your children because they are cute and cuddly.  Do not lend to your neighbor because some day you may need someone to lend to you.  Yes treat others in the way that you would like to be treated…but not so that they will treat you the same way.

Instead, treat them the way you would like to be treated because you have already been treated well by your God who gave you all things; who filled your cup to overflowing.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  You didn’t deserve it, but God showed you love and forgiveness anyway.

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.  He prayed for those he loved as he was actively winning their salvation.  Did they learn any responsibility for their sin from his action?  No, they spit at him, beat him, hurled insults at him, and drove nails through his hands and feet.  But Jesus showed love and forgiveness anyway.

Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  Jesus fed thousands, healed the sick, and raised the dead.  Did people shower him with money?  Did they offer to him their daughters to marry?  Did they give to him a palace with a richly ornamented throne to rule over this earth?  He received nothing in return, but showed love and forgiveness anyway.

Do to others as you would have them do to you—because of what your God has done for you.  Show love because, not so that.  Do not love everyone, even your enemies so that your life will get better or so that this world will become a better place.  Love everyone, even your enemies, because when you were, by nature, blind and dead enemies of your God, your Jesus showed love to you.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Is Anointed to Make Missionaries

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Anointed to Make Missionaries” based on Luke 5:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, February 10, 2019

Did you notice the strong connection between the readings in Isaiah and Luke today?  In both, God calls workers to share his Word; first Isaiah, then Peter, James, and John.  In both, before the call is made, there is an impressive showing of God’s glory; for Isaiah, it was in a vision where the Temple shook and something as simple as the train of God’s robe filled the Temple and, of course, for Peter, James, and John there was this miraculous catch of fish that happened after catching nothing all night long.  And, in both these readings from God’s Word, that show of God’s power elicited the same reaction from his prospective missionaries.  Both Isaiah and Peter recognized that they were in the presence of God Almighty and were absolutely terrified—and then they were comforted, and then they were called.

It is actually quite interesting to note the timeline of Peter’s call into the gospel ministry.  He had already been in Jesus’ company for some time.  He must have witnessed some of the other miraculous signs that Jesus had been performing.  He would have been a part of the crowds that had been gathering from all over to hear Jesus preach and teach.  In fact, he was so enamored with Jesus that Luke records, in the chapter just before the Gospel appointed for today, that Peter had invited Jesus into his own home and, subsequently, watched as Jesus healed his mother-in-law.

Peter had been praying with Jesus.  He had been meditating on the words that Jesus had been saying.  He was gaining quite a bit of respect for this great teacher.  So, naturally, when Jesus asked to use his boat as a pulpit to preach to the people on the seashore, he obliged.  And, even when Jesus tried to tell him how to do his own job, after fishing and catching nothing all night, he submitted his pride and acumen to what the Rabbi wanted.

Prayer with Jesus and meditation on what Jesus said.  That’s actually two-thirds of what Martin Luther said makes for a great theologian and missionary for God.

And, so, as the time was coming for Jesus to call Peter into his ministry, it was time to initiate that important third aspect.  Prayer, meditation, and, in German, Luther called it Anfechtung.  In Latin it’s called tentatio.  In English?  Well, there’s not really a word for word translation, but it is often described as an agonizing internal struggle—you know, like the kind when you find yourself face to face with the Almighty God who created you and, if he so wished, could destroy you.

You don’t have to read a biography about Luther to understand why he emphasized that last part, do you?  Haven’t you experienced the same to be true?  Don’t you find out the most about your God and your faith when you are going through or have gone through an agonizing internal struggle?

Or, maybe it’s easier to look at it in comparison.  You just got a promotion at work.  Your marriage couldn’t be stronger.  Your kid just won another award and you just finished your basement renovation.  Sure, you may recognize the guiding hand of your God behind it all and be thankful for his blessings, but which one causes you to spend all day talking to your God?  Which one forces you to your knees, recognizing your helplessness, completely dependent on him?

That’s not to say that God’s physical blessings in your life are bad or that they somehow would disqualify you from being one of his workers here on earth.  But, as it was for Isaiah and for Peter, it is important for you to recognize and remember exactly who God is, who you are, and what he has done for you before you seek to share that truth with others.

Your own personal Anfechtung and tentatio may differ from those around you.  For some it is sickness, disease, or the separation of death.  For others it is persecutions that come for being a Christian.  Still others experience it when the Devil continually reminds them of that one scientific fact that doesn’t seem to jive with what the Bible says, when a Christian doesn’t act very Christian-like toward them, when, for what seems like no reason at all, a wife turns her attention to another man, or when all that life is throwing at them just becomes too much to handle.

It is in those moments when Christians, who have spent time in prayer with Jesus, who have meditated on the words that he has said, seek to find strength outside themselves because they recognize they cannot do it on their own.  They realize, like Isaiah, that they are ruined in the presence of God and, like Peter, that their sin causes them to be unworthy of his care and concern.

There in the depth of despair, helpless and hopeless, in an existential and anxious awareness of your own failings and faultiness, is when you can finally search for, and find, true hope and assurance outside of yourself.

Don’t be afraid.  That’s what Jesus said to Peter and that’s what he says to comfort you as well.  Yes, the consequences of sin surround you in this world and they are difficult and painful and cause agonizing internal struggles.  But none of them, no matter how powerful, can overpower Jesus and his work done for you or take you away from the love that he has for you.  In fact, in his love for you, he often uses those terrible times in your life as opportunities to draw you closer to himself.

When you are sick, he sends you to pray and meditate more on his Word, where he tells you I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

When you are afraid, he sends you to pray and meditate more on his Word, where he tells you fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, and uphold you with my righteous right hand.

When you are overwhelmed, he tells you to Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.

When you sit your 7-year old on her pretty pink ballerina bedspread, hold her tiny hands inside your own, and tell her that her mother is dead, he speaks and says I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

He overcomes your anfechtung and tentatio with the only thing that will work; the only thing more powerful than them all: himself.  He gives you all that he is and all that he has done for you—from his perfect life lived in your place and sacrificial death to pay the price for your sins to his ability and promise to work all things for you and for your good; to fulfill for you each and every one of your needs.

He has cleansed you.  He has made you worthy in the eyes of your God.  He has given you the strength to endure anything that this world might throw at you and now—after prayer, meditation, and an agonizing internal struggle, he calls you to share that cleansing, that worthiness, and that strength with everyone that you may meet.

Yes, God has made missionaries to share that good news with people in far off lands who do not yet know it, but even here in Hartford, among your co-workers and in your own circle of family and friends, God has called you to be his theologians and missionaries.  The fields are ripe—go harvesting.  Even if you have been working to catch your fish all night, drop down your nets again.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Believe and Therefore Speak

Guest Pastor John Boggs delivers a sermon entitled “We Believe and Therefore Speak” based on 2 Corinthians 4:13-15 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, February 3, 2019

Transcript not available

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is Anointed to Fulfill the Scriptures

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus is Anointed to Fulfill the Scriptures” based on Luke 4:14-21 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, January 27, 2019

It was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day.  That didn’t start simply after his baptism in the River Jordan, his temptation in the wilderness that followed, or when he got back from the wedding at Cana.  It was his custom from the 8th day of his life.  At his circumcision, in some ways not unlike after a child is baptized today, Jesus was welcomed into the family of God and, after that ceremony, he was brought to weekly worship.

However, even though it was his custom, there was something that made this Saturday’s worship attendance a little different.  His presence at that particular place of worship was somewhat of a homecoming experience.  He had been away—being baptized at the River Jordan, facing the devil’s temptations, attending a wedding and, after that first miracle, performing other miracles as well.

In addition, news had been spreading about him lately.  The Nazareth Daily Bugle, if it would have existed, would have had op eds written about the local boy who had turned into a countryside and countrywide phenomenon.  People wanted to hear him preach and teach.  They wanted to watch him perform signs and wonders.  They just wanted to be around this captivating man.

So, it is no surprise that when Jesus went back into the synagogue that he grew up inside, the people would want to hear what he had to say.  Somewhat similarly to what is done in worship services today, prayers, songs, and readings from God’s Word were regular portions of the synagogue’s liturgy and order of service.  And, after a few readings, there was time for a speaker to preach a message based on one of those readings.  (If only we had kept the custom of sitting down to preach that message!)  Either way, when the time came for that Sabbath’s sermon, Jesus stood up to read and sat down to preach.

What would the local boy say?  What applications could the carpenter’s son proclaim from Isaiah’s prophecy?  In the verses that follow the Gospel reading appointed for today, it seems as though the people didn’t much care for his sermon.  But it wasn’t because he still needed some seasoning in his presentation, like a seminary student who preaches the whole counsel of God with gestures and inflection that could use a little more experience.  Nor was it because he had one of those sermons where he probably could have said amen 6 or 7 times already, but just said the same thing again and again.  They certainly couldn’t have been upset about it being too long—it was only 8 words!

No, the reason they didn’t much care for his prepared remarks was because, in those 8 words, he was claiming to be something special and something for which they had been waiting so long to see.  In fact, their waiting was so long that their impression of how those scriptures would be fulfilled had gathered some extra expectations that Jesus certainly wasn’t living up to.

They wanted a king.  They wanted political freedom.  They wanted someone to sit, not on a synagogue chair, but on a golden throne in an ornate castle and spread the borders of his kingdom with actions, not simply with words.

Is that what you want in your Jesus?  Someone who isn’t only going to speak, but is going to act?  Someone who will fill your bank account. Someone who will turn this corrupt democracy into a productive theocracy.  Someone who will support you when you do what feels right to you.  Someone who will take action against the terrorists and those zealots who kill and destroy in the name of false gods.

Like the people of Nazareth, there are times when the expectations of who Jesus, the Christ, should be overshadow exactly who God told you he would be.  Instead, rather than looking for signs and wonders, listen to him.  Listen again to Jesus’ short sermonette: Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

The one who fulfills the Scriptures did so, and does so, for you through what you hear.

The work Jesus was anointed to accomplish, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, doesn’t have anything to do with your bank account, corrupt politicians, or terrorists.  It didn’t deal with the Messiah, the Christ, that people wanted, but the one that they, and all people, including you and me, needed.

Friends, you were poor; not because your savings couldn’t support your daily physical needs, but because you were lacking the wealth of the riches stored up for you in heaven.

You, too, were captives; not because you can’t get your governmental representatives to pass laws against abortion or in support of your personal political platform, but because you had a master who enslaved you and forced you to act in contrast to what your conscience told you was right.

However, though your conscience protested, it is not as though your slave-master, the devil, had to whip you into submission to serve him in sin.  Many times, all he had to do was suggest something enticing to your own sinful nature—a nature that was blinded from seeing the difference between selfishness and selflessness.

You were oppressed by the devil, this world around you, and your own sinful nature, which kept you in the state of being a poor prisoner, without any hope of seeing the light of God’s truth.

And, while you were looking, either for ways to continue down the road of death and destruction, or to take the high road of enlightenment, one day, either quite recently or many years ago, the scriptures that testified about Jesus were fulfilled in your hearing.

Someone, somewhere, at some time, came to you in the power of the Spirit.  Whether their preaching was a 35 minute sermon delivered rather awkwardly or a quick whisper which wrought welcome relief in your time of woe, it was dynamic; not because of what you saw or felt, but because of what you heard.

It may have been attached to the waters of your baptism, taught to you in a Sunday School classroom, sung into your heart by your mother while you cuddled in her warm embrace, or heard in Steinbrenner’s sermon last Sunday, but either way, anyway it was preached, it was powerful because, through it, the Spirit that was on Jesus (v. 14) then went to work in you.

That good news brought the wealth of salvation to your poor soul, freed you from your enslavement to sin, by opening your eyes to see Jesus as the only way to heaven.

The power of the Spirit, sent through the Word that you heard, convinced your heart to trust that Jesus’ perfect life was lived in your place and that his atoning sacrifice was made to bring you at one with your creator.

The power of the Spirit, sent through the Word that you heard, produced faith in your heart that unlocked Jesus as the fulfillment of all of the Scriptures.  Sinful assumptions and expectations are removed and your ears have heard how Jesus is your Messiah and Christ, the same One who was promised to Eve and Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that, because of what he has done for you, the Lord’s favor rests upon you year after year.

Whether you’ve been spending your time away in foreign lands, facing the temptations of the Devil, or attending weddings, make it your custom to come back to your home church week after week to hear his proclamation to you.  Jesus was anointed to fulfill the Scriptures and he did, for you and for all.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Our Family Needs Most – Jesus!

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “What Our Family Needs Most – Jesus!” based on John 2:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, January 20, 2019

I recently read that in 1960 there were 308 cases of child abuse reported in the U.S.  Today, there’s a report of child abuse every ten seconds.  In 1960 the divorce rate was under 20%.  Today, the divorce rate is nearly triple that.  Would you be surprised to learn that in 1960 teenage homelessness and teenage suicide were not nearly as prevalent as they are today?

I’m not suggesting that the year 1960 was a little slice of heaven on earth.  What I am suggesting is that the home…the family unit…the very core that God designed is under a tremendous amount of stress today.  I am suggesting that the devil, that roaring lion, has been trying to sink his teeth into the family unit for generations upon generations.  I am suggesting that societal trends are doing less to build up and support God-fearing families and they’re doing more to tear them apart.

What are Christians to do?  Run scared?  Surrender?  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?  I am suggesting that we redouble our efforts….that we regroup…that we surround ourselves with godly influences and peer groups and friends who will support us in our Christian faith, not try to sabotage us.  And mostly, I am suggesting that we rally around the One Our Families Need Most – Jesus.

Today in our Gospel we see him as he often shows himself in Scripture…steady…caring…ready to help.  It’s the first of his miraculous sings, we’re told.  Well, it must have been a doozy, huh?  Actually, it was all pretty lowkey.  It happened in a little town called Cana at a little wedding.  Wedding celebrations lasted days, even up to a week.  People took off of work and celebrated with the family.  Wine was not only a staple – something people would drink with meals, but it was also part of the celebration.  At some point the wine ran out.  Mary approaches Jesus.  Jesus reminds Mary that he will dole out blessings at his rate and in his time.  Mary steps back and waits on Jesus.

Isn’t that a beautiful, peaceful picture…Mary steps back and waits on Jesus, telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Our homes could use a little more of that…waiting on the Lord…trusting in his hand of blessings…trusting him to give at his rate and in his time.  If I had to make a list of things that would instantly make my life better, what would I include?

  • More money
  • Better health
  • A boss who appreciates me
  • More money
  • A spouse who understands me better
  • An extra week of vacation
  • Did I mention more money?

Instead, you already have what your family needs most – Jesus.  And he knows how to take care of you.  Bring your requests to him…big ones and small ones…just like Mary did.  Pour your heart out to him.  He’s listening.  But then step back and wait.  Step back and trust.

Turning water into wine may not seem so flashy, but it does show you and me that Jesus cares…he pays attention.  When things matter to us, they matter to Jesus too.  But know this, just because this miracle of turning water into wine might seem lowkey, but it is no simple matter.

In 1988, first game of the Word Series – A’s versus Dodgers.  Bottom of the 9th.  2 outs.  Dodgers are down 3-4.  After a nearly 7-minute at bat, Vic Scully, Dodgers announcers exuberantly shouts out, “The impossible has happened.”  That’s because Kirk Gibson, who could barely walk, stepped up to the plate and hit a 3-2 slider over the right field wall…home run…Dodgers win.  “The impossible has happened.”  Improbable yes.  Unlikely, yes.  Against the odds that a badly injured Gibson would hit a home run in that scenario, yes.  But not impossible.  Impossible means it cannot be done.  Impossible means there is no way something can happen in the natural course of things.  Impossible means it would take a miracle…the hand of God…intervention from God himself.  Kirk Gibson hit a baseball 375 feet.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of people who can and have hit a baseball that far.  That’s not impossible.  Turning water into wine.  That’s impossible.  That takes power.  That takes the hand of God.

With Jesus we get used to seeing the impossible happen.

  • The Son of God takes on human flesh and is born of the virgin Mary.
  • The Son of God lives perfectly and dies sacrificially – paying for ALL sin.
  • The Son of God says, “whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life”

This powerful Son of God intervenes.  He takes care of our biggest problem of sin and carts it away – removes it from the equation.  He confronts our biggest obstacle, death, and turns it into a sleep…a doorway to heaven.  That’s a miracle!  That’s something thousands of people cannot do….only ONE can and has.

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee.  He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.  The Gospels are filled with miracles.  Again and again Jesus did things that only God could do.  This miracle in Cana, along with all the other miracles, got people to pay attention to his greatest work (that only God could do):  his death and resurrection.  AND these miracles  bolster and build up the faith of his disciples.

Don’t the miracles of Jesus do the same for us?

  • If those miracles ignited the faith of his disciples, don’t they also ignite our faith?
  • If those miracles caused the disciples to be excited to follow Jesus, to drop everything and follow Jesus…to become life-long students of Jesus and his Word…don’t we too?

The world is not a nice place.  Our families struggle at times.  Let’s not wish we could turn back time and revisit the 1960’s, let’s instead run to Jesus…rally around Jesus.  What Our Families Need Most…we already have.  Jesus.  Helper in every trouble, the Forgiver of every sin, the Listener to every prayer, the Provider of every need…and we pray, the welcome Guest in every marriage…every home…every family.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is Better than Just OK

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus is Better than Just OK” based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, January 13, 2019

The nervous couple sits in a hospital room, anxiously waiting for the surgeon to arrive. They ask their nurse, “Have your ever worked with Dr. Francis?” “Oh yeah,” she says, “He’s okay.” As they scrunch up their noses at that less than enthusiastic endorsement, the surgeon himself comes bebopping into the room, loudly chirping, “Guess who just got reinstated?!?!” And under his breath he whispers, “Well, not officially.” The rest of the commercial from ATT continues in that general direction, all leading up to the tagline: Just ok is not ok. And the message hits home. When it comes to important stuff—like a surgeon, or to a lesser degree—your wireless service, just ok is not ok.

How about when it comes to your eternal salvation? Obviously, just ok is not ok. You don’t want to be on your death bed, having gone with a provider who only has 75% success rate. You would rightfully be quite nervous to stand before the eternal judge, having put your trust in one who can only guarantee that God will…probably let you into heaven. When it comes to the most important stuff like having a Savior, just ok is not ok. You need the best. You need a guarantee. You need someone who inspires your confidence. In our text for this 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, we see that Jesus is the right man for the job of saving you. Jesus is so much better than just ok.

When John the Baptist says “one who is more powerful than I will come…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (He will)…. gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” you know he’s not talking about agriculture. Gathering wheat and burning up chaff refers to sending people to their eternal destinies.  It lets you know that this is important stuff, the most important in fact. We’re dealing here with the something that matters for eternity.

Isn’t it easy to get messed up on that? How much more important the next life is than this one! So often when we’re going through especially dark days, eternity becomes almost an afterthought. A “taken for granted” that gets quickly acknowledged and then pushed aside as we seek relief for more pressing pain. “Yes, yes, I have a Savior who rose from the dead for me. Yes, yes eternal life in heaven gives me hope. I don’t doubt those things, Pastor. I love those things. But….I want something to save me from the pain that I’m feeling right now.”

This world around us offers us any number of saviors (small s) that say they can help with that. There are all kinds of unhealthy behaviors can numb our pain. Overspending, overeating, overdrinking. Porn says that it can save you from pain. Social media offers a temporary escape to happier times and places. Maybe it’s a boat or a cabin that offers refuge and respite. Maybe it’s living vicariously through our kids, maybe it’s an obsession with career advancement or house pride—there’s any number of little saviors in our lives that people turn to make us feel ok.  But depending on which one we’re talking about those saviors range from just ok at best to sinful Soul-destroyers at worst.

They may give relief, but it doesn’t last. They may numb heartache, but heartache comes back tomorrow. That makes all those things sub-par saviors. Only Jesus gives you relief that is long term, forever lasting. That makes him so much more than just OK.

His baptism is his promise that he’s all in with you for the long haul. When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.  A couple weeks ago, we pointed out that Jesus’ investment with us as shown by his willingness to share our humanity and all the negatives that come with it. Today, we see Jesus’ investment with us in another way, in his willingness to stand in line, side by side with everyone else and be baptized. Jesus wasn’t baptized because he needed forgiveness of sins. He had no sins. He was baptized to send a message: I’m walking in your shoes. I’m standing with you. The things that humans do, I will do as well. You and I are in this together. Jesus is better than just ok because he is totally invested in you.

Lastly, in the account of Jesus’ baptism, we see that the Father and the Holy Spirit think Jesus is more than just OK too. As he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” There’s something about a powerful, personal testimony that makes moves us even when nothing else will. I would never have bought an instant pot, but when my sister talked about how easy it was to use….  We attend a certain church, send our kids to a certain school, dine at a certain restaurant, wear a certain brand of shoes all because someone we trust said, “I’ve had a really good experience with this. I totally stand behind it.”

Isn’t that what’s also happening in our text? If God in heaven says Jesus is more than ok—that he is the Son who brings a smile to the Father face, we nod our heads in agreement and joyfully concur. That’s all that we need to hear. Jesus is so much more than just OK because God himself gives him a personal, powerful endorsement.

You know that Jesus is more than OK. You knew that before you came today. So what’s the impact of this message for you? First of all, your baptism connects you with Jesus. What he is becomes what you are. And so if the Father looks at Jesus and says, “In him I am well pleased” that means that he also looks at you and says, “In you, I am well pleased.” All because you have a Savior who’s more than just okay.

And being attached to Jesus with the insoluble bonds of water and promise means something else too. It’s summed up nicely in a phrase that you may have passed over without a second thought when we read our text. At that moment, “heaven was opened.”  That’s what Jesus came to do. His perfect life fit the lock, his innocent death turned the key, his glorious resurrection pushed open the door that Adam and Eve had slammed shut. Jesus is more than just an okay Savior and that means heaven is opened for us.

Even if you knew that before you came maybe, by God’s grace, you leave a different person than when you came. You and I have an awesome Savior, one who’s so much better than just ok. And that stokes the fire in our souls. We want to be better than OK for him. Maybe we leave here a little less content with obedience that’s just ok, with a just okay reining in of our eyes, our thoughts, our mouths.  Maybe we’re no longer so okay with just okay marriages, just okay parenting, just okay worship, just okay Bible Study, a just okay prayer life. Maybe instead, by God’s grace we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Maybe we, by the Spirit’s power become even better models for our kids of what living faith looks like. Maybe we, by the Spirit’s power start to take our faith all the more seriously–actively seeking to grow and improve and to truly be invested in the One who is so truly invested in us. That would be more than OK. That would be awesome. Amen.