Sermons & Blog Posts

RSS Feed

Defying the Opposition

Sermon: “Defying the Opposition”

Lectionary Series A; The First Sunday in Lent

Sunday, March 1, 2020 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1-11 

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

In the movie Hoosiers, the unlikely Huskers from the little town of Hickory find themselves in the Indiana State Basketball Championship playing against the highly favored Bears from South Bend. By any stretch of the imagination, Hickory did not stand a chance, and yet as the great underdog stories go, Hickory defied the opposition and took home the State Title, going down as one of the greatest upsets of all time.

In the movie, right before the game, the team chaplain leads the team in a Biblical devotion. He bases his devotion on the story of David and Goliath. Likening the team from Hickory to David, he attempts to inspire the players to victory as they recall that Goliath, though the heavily favored opposition, was defeated.

Defying the opposition is exactly what David did in the face of Goliath. Goliath was the champion warrior of the Philistines. The Bible records that he was nine feet tall. Like many favored athletes, arrogance oozed from his very being as he taunted the Israelites to send someone to fight him. When David heard Goliath speak, he set out to defy the opposition. Even though he was only a youth, and by far the underdog, in the strength of the Lord, he went to fight Goliath. And with one stone from his sling, David defeated Goliath.

By all appearances, immediately after Jesus was baptized, when the Spirit sent Jesus out into the wilderness, He looked like the underdog. Here he was all alone with no one to comfort or support him. Here he had fasted for forty days. In every respect physically, Jesus was weak and isolated. He was vulnerable to defeat.

The devil saw his chance, and he took it. If only he could get Jesus to fall to his temptations, even just once, then victory would be his. The hope of the world would be shattered.

So in a series of three carefully calculated temptations, Satan went in for the attack. First he went at the obvious, the belly. For one who has not eaten for forty days, this would seem to be a simple step. 

But, Jesus defied the opposition. It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

So the devil went in again. Only this time, he tried to fight fire with fire. He used the very word of God against Jesus tempting him to defy death by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple.

But, once again, Jesus defied the opposition. “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7).

The devil continued his prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour Jesus, and tempted him with all the kingdoms in the world and their glory.

But Jesus didn’t hesitate to defy the opposition once again putting him in his place. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).

Then the devil left him. The enemy was defeated. Though by every stretch of the imagination, Satan looked to be the highly favored foe. But looks can be deceiving. For even in Jesus’ weakest human state, His strength far surpasses that of the devil. You see, this text is not to teach us how to fight temptation, but rather to assure us that Jesus has already fought in our place and won the victory.

Jesus’ whole purpose in coming to this earth was to defy the opposition of the devil and defeat him once and for all. And that is what He did. Fast forward in Scripture, and it looked like all hope was lost. It looked like Satan had finally won the victory he had so coveted. But as I just said, looks can be deceiving. For there on that cross, beaten, bruised, and bloodied, was none other than the devil’s worst nightmare. In a knockout punch heard round the world, Jesus finished Satan off by dying our death. 

We now live in that victory even as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Though sin still entangles us and temptations to sin are sure to come, we do not go into battle isolated, weak, and unarmed. We go into battle in the confidence of Christ who fought in our place and was determined to save us.

I recently watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge once again. It tells the story of the Seventh Day Adventist Desmond Doss who refused to bear arms in the Second World War for religious reasons. Serving as a combat medic in his unit, he found himself in Okinawa with his fellow comrades. When all hope looked to be lost, Doss distinguished himself by saving 75 men who would have most likely died in the battle. And he did it all without a gun in hand. While the fighting was the fiercest, he secured those soldiers safety by dragging them out and hoisting them upon his shoulders.

Jesus has hoisted us upon His shoulders. We were helpless, doomed to die. We were no match for the devil and his temptations, nor are we ever. Just look at us. Here we are gathered once again…another week of being beaten and bruised by the devil. And how many times have we fallen to those temptations? We can’t even keep count. Each of us was left for dead, dead in our trespasses and sins.

But the God and Father of all mercy, sent His Son to save us…to stare Satan down…and to take him down. And that’s what He did as He hoisted our sins upon His shoulders and hung upon the cross in our place. He forgave us, and He finished Satan off once and for all. 

Oh sure, Satan may still prowl around for awhile until Christ returns again, but know this: It is finished! Satan is a defeated enemy.

Defeated by none other than Jesus, our Savior who (as Scripture says) in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. So as Scripture continues: Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15b-16).

We do need help when we are tempted. But the good news is that Jesus came to be our help. Our Savior stood up for us when we couldn’t stand ourselves. He took the blows that Satan threw, and counter-punched and came out on top.

So, when you are tempted…and note the word “when”. It is not “if” you will be tempted, but “when”, because we will all be tempted. When we are tempted, we do not rely on our own strength to defeat the enemy. We rely on Jesus who has already won. He is our Savior. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

And so we pray in the confidence of Christ’s victory, again and again; “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And that is exactly what He already did.

You see, as Scripture tells us, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1st Corinthians 10:13). (Pause)

Look, if we could resist temptation, then we wouldn’t need Jesus. But thanks be to God, we have Jesus standing in our place, victorious, with His foot firmly planted on the Satanic serpent crushing his very head. (How’s that for an awesome image of victory?)

It is as we just sang: “Though devil’s all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God; LSB #656).

That word is Jesus. We rejoice today in our champion Jesus, who took Satan on, head on, and won, not once, twice, three times…he is down for the count. And now Jesus has passed His victory on to us. He defied the opposition in our place. He didn’t sit on the sidelines to watch us lose the battle. He valiantly fought for us, carried us upon His whip-laden shoulders, and brought us home to safety.

As we journey through Lent, take comfort that our salvation is secure. Jesus told us we can take heart, and we most certainly can. We don’t have a God who succumbed to temptation, and lost the fight. Our God has made sure that finally when our last hour comes, He will give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, through Your Son You have promised us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Govern our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that in our daily need, and especially in all time of temptation, we may seek Your help and, by a true and lively faith in Your Word, obtain all that You have promised; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Listen to Jesus

Sermon: “Listen to Jesus”

Lectionary Series A; The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Sunday, February 23, 2020 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 17:1-9 

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

What is something that our parents expect of us day in and day out as we live in their household? What is something that teachers tell us to do if we want to know how to do an assignment correctly? What is something coaches demand of us if we want to know how to run a play? What is something our bosses remind us of so that we know what is the next step in the project we are working on? What is something that even God Himself tells us to do? And what is that something that all of them expect of us, but we rarely ever do? Listen.

Listening leads to learning. Listening helps us gain understanding. Listening shows we care. Listening displays respect. And yet…we rarely ever do it.

Often when I lead premarital counseling, I will take couples through reflective listening skills. These are skills that teach the couple to listen so intently to the other person that they can repeat back what the other said. Then, before proceeding in conversation with a response, one must ask first: “Did I understand what you are saying correctly?” If not, they need to let the speaker speak more, because there is more listening that needs to be done. It is a tedious process for most, but incredibly valuable for the sake of a marriage…or really any relationship.

God’s Word tells us in the Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly ‘hear’ and learn it.

God expects us to hear Him gladly. After all, Scripture tell us that faith comes by hearing. God expects us to listen to Him. So it is today, and so it was on that Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus made His way up a high mountain with Peter, James, and John. And there on that mountain, our text says that Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And Moses and Elijah were there conversing with Jesus. But then here it comes…

And Peter said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Did you catch it? Did you catch what Peter did? Instead of listening in on a conversation between the Son of God and Moses and Elijah, what did he do? He interrupted them. Peter interrupted Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Did you ‘hear’ what I said? Peter interrupted them.

Interruptions put a halt to hearing and listening. No longer are we concerned with what the other is saying. Now we are only concerned with what we want to say. Here Peter has the chance to listen in on what might be one of the greatest conversations ever known to humankind, and he has the audacity to interrupt.

Interruptions in our lives are a constant. We sit down to read our devotions for the day, and the phone dings or buzzes. We come to church and the phone probably does the same thing. We try to have a nice family dinner, but everyone just interrupts each other. We gather for a meeting and how many times does the conversation get derailed by interruptions of some kind or another?

What this has led to is an inability to focus. We are so consumed with ourselves and our own desires that we can’t seem to hone in clearly on what another is saying. I have often wondered why many counselors have time parameters that they do for their sessions with people. They usually make their sessions last about 40-55 minutes. Why is that? It’s probably because listening takes a lot of work and energy. So it’s no wonder we don’t like to do it. We are too concerned with ourselves to truly care that much about someone else.

Now that may sound rather harsh, but consider Peter there on the mountain. Was he concerned about Jesus and what he was saying, let alone Moses and Elijah? No. He just wanted to stay there in that moment as long as he could, and so he wanted to ensure that everything would be in place, tents and all, to make it happen. 

What he did not want to do was ever leave the mountain. Jesus had just told them that He would be suffering and dying soon. Why leave the mountain…ever? It would be so much better to just stay. That’s what Peter wanted.

How often do our selfish wants and desires detract from our ability to listen…and this especially comes to who we think Jesus is? At this point Peter seems to think that Jesus is an equal to Moses and Elijah. After all, the accommodations he was offering were equal for all three of them. But nothing could be further from the truth. And there it was before him as bright as light, as Jesus literally shone forth as bright as the sun. But Peter couldn’t see it, because Peter hadn’t been listening.

So, in an interruption to outweigh all other interruptions in the course of history a cloud descends upon the mountain, and out of the cloud, none other than the Heavenly Father interrupts Peter and says: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.

You will note in the text that Peter never speaks again. He is rendered speechless. Peter, of all people, who seems to have something to say at every turn throughout the pages of Scripture, actually is silent. 

Silence is what it takes in order to focus in and listen. It means closing our mouths and stop interrupting, stop speaking, and actually tune in to what God has to say. 

This Jesus is not just some other prophet. This Jesus is not just some other Old Testament figure. He is not just one of the guys up there on the mountain. Just like we heard at His baptism, so we hear it here. This Jesus is none other than the beloved Son of God. This is God in the flesh. This is the promised Messiah, the Chosen One, Immanuel, God with us.

And just like it was for Peter, James, and John, so it is with us. Now is the time that we need to be listening to Him. Not later, but now. Because He has some wonderful things to share with us as we navigate the difficulties of this world, just like He did with His disciples before they descended that mountain. 

Notice, that Jesus is the next one to speak in the text. Here the disciples had fallen on their faces and they were terrified. And they should be. The Almighty God had just been speaking to a small group of sinners. Why wouldn’t they be terrified? They had no business being in the presence of God.

Nor do we. We come here into the house of the Lord, and we are covered in the filth of our sin. We have failed to listen to God and gladly hear and learn His Word. We don’t pay attention to His commandments. We constantly place things on par with God or worse yet, even above Him. We have failed in our prioritizing of putting God first in our lives, because like Peter, we would rather put ourselves in God’s place. We would rather be the ones interrupting God and thinking that somehow our plans, our ideas, our ways are better than His ways. And for that sinful arrogance, we all should be terrified. Because sinners who stand in the presence of God only get what they deserve, and that’s death.

Peter, James, and John, were scared to death. But then in His ever so loving and compassionate way, Jesus came and touched them and said, Rise and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

The Son of God tells them to have no fear, and in their hearing all fear is removed. And why? Because Jesus is there. Jesus removes all reason for fear and trembling. He did so for them up there on that mountain, and He does so for us well.

You see, as we enter into the season of Lent here this Wednesday, we know that Jesus didn’t stay up there on that mountain. He descended it with His disciples, and on He went to Jerusalem. There He went all the way to the cross, and there He spoke words for us to listen to again and again: “It is finished.” The work is done. Your sins and mine were finished off once and for all on Calvary. There Jesus stood fixed on the cross to die our death and mine and to forgive us for our sins. 

Hear it again and again. “It is finished.” Listen…and let it sink in. Are there any sweeter words for us to hear? As sinners who stand in the presence of the Almighty God here today, there certainly are not, and never will be. There can be nothing better than to know that sin and death are defeated for us once and for all.

And just like He did for His disciples, so He does to comfort us in our fears. He reaches down and touches us and tells us that we have nothing to fear. In His body and blood, He touches us with His own flesh and blood, removing our sin, and fills us to overflowing with His love and forgiveness.

No longer do we approach death in fear and trembling as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. For He has promised to be with us on the journey as He speaks to us in His Word. He strengthens and encourages us all the way through the cross and to the empty tomb. 

That is, after all where the journey ends. Just like the disciples saw Jesus arrayed in His glory there on that mountain, so it will be for us. We follow Jesus all the way to the resurrection, when we too will be raised and we will behold Jesus in all of His glory. 

So, have no fear, and keep following Jesus. Gladly hear His Word, and He will see us through to life everlasting with Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Tough Love

Sermon: “Tough Love”

Lectionary Series A; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, February 16, 2020 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:21-37

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

When I was a kid, our neighbors had a cottage on Gull Lake in Southwest Michigan that we enjoyed visiting. Michiganders call them cottages instead of cabins. Just FYI. At any rate, one of the things I can remember that we as kids liked to do was to take out the canoe on the lake and paddle around. But invariably, at some point, we would get a little out of control (I know that’s hard to fathom with boys). And when we would get out of control, we would rock the boat to the point that it would tip over. Then we would love to swim underneath the canoe where there was this pocket of air for us to go in as if we were in our very own submarine. Rocking the boat for us was a fun adventure. 

Rocking the boat in day to day living is hardly ever fun. In the Sermon on the Mount, one might say that as Jesus preached, he rocked the proverbial boat. And that is what happens when anyone has some tough love that they desire to share with another person. 

Tough love is saying what needs to be said while at the same time knowing that the one receiving the love may not like what they hear. There is a high risk of rejection and fallout, so rarely do we like to enter into situations where tough love is the topic of the day. We would much rather avoid such conversations in an effort not to rock the boat, in an effort to maintain the status quo, and keep the peace.

Jesus, as we know, from His own words did not come to keep the peace. He even said that He came to bring division. That division would come with the piercing and slicing reality of the truth of His Word. And whenever God’s Word of Law is spoken, there are those that receive it well, and there are certainly those that don’t. 

Today’s text from Matthew, chapter five is chock-full of Law. But like I teach our catechumens, God speaks a word of law to us out of love. The Ten Commandments are all given in love. The summary of the first table of the Law (Commandments 1-3) is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The summary of the second table of the Law (Commandments 4-10) is “love your neighbor as yourself.” And the summary of all the Commandments, is one word: “Love.”

God loves us, and so He graciously gives us his commands because He doesn’t want us to separate ourselves from Him. He doesn’t want us to get hurt. He loves us. 

Think of it this way, and perhaps you have heard me say this before. If a young child were about to touch a hot stove, what would you do? Would you just sit back and watch them get hurt and burn themselves? No! We would quickly tell them “No!” and perhaps grab their hand and push it away from the stove. In love, we tell them what to do to keep them safe and free from harm. The same is true with God. He loves us enough tell us what we need to hear even though we may not like to hear it. He loves us with some tough love.

Today’s text gets at some very tough love, and it will no doubt rock your proverbial boat as a sinner who will stand before the Almighty God.

Just listen to verses twenty-one through twenty-four, for example: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:21-24).

Jesus speaks a word of tough love to those of us that bear grudges in our hearts. For any of us who hold hatred in our hearts toward another Christian or insults them, Jesus says that we will be liable to the fires of hell. A word of love doesn’t get tougher than that. So, Jesus directs us to seek reconciliation whether we are the ones who sinned or have been sinned against.

This is a very difficult lesson. No matter if we are the ones who have sinned or have been sinned against, what is true more often than not is that both parties have hardened their hearts. So, Jesus calls us to repentance of our hardness of heart and forgive the trespasses of others as we have had our trespasses forgiven. 

But, if we rely upon our own tank to forgive, we will always run dry. We will never have enough forgiveness to share on our own. Which is why as we confess our own sins, Jesus gives us more than enough forgiveness to share. But notice that it is not our own forgiveness that we use to forgive others. It is His gift that is given to us and through us. (Pause)

Now take this next set of verses of tough love from Jesus: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out, and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:27-30).

Jesus words literally cut to the heart today just as they did two thousand years ago. For that is what it all boils down to when it comes to sin: a matter of the heart. In the beatitudes, which is how Jesus began this sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

Unfortunately, our hearts are far from pure. We have hatred in our hearts, which we addressed a moment ago. And we have lust in our hearts. Jesus says, even if we look with lustful intent at someone else, we have committed adultery in our heart. Just by looking with lustful intent.

Now no one is going to like to hear the following, but these are statistics of lustful intent in our day and age here in the twenty-first century: The average age of a young boy’s first exposure to pornography is eleven years old. The average age for girls’ first exposure is thirteen. Children under the age of ten make up twenty-two percent of on-line pornography consumption. Thirty-five percent of what is looked up on-line is pornography. And statistics reveal that 40 million people in America regularly look at porn. That’s one in every eight people in our country. These are heart-breaking statistics.

No one likes to hear about this, just like I am sure that no one liked to hear Jesus talk about it two thousand years ago. We would much rather like to think there isn’t an issue like this in our world and act like it could never effect our congregation. But when 1 in 8 are impacted by this sin in our country, how can we not say it has entered into our world as well?

Such statistics call upon us first and foremost to repent if we are caught in any of the sins of adultery. And it also calls upon us to seek help to safeguard ourselves and our children against further assaults from the evil one. 

No one ever thought that the invention of internet, along with things like the smart phone could become so dangerous. But that is the case nonetheless. The internet has become yet another avenue to attack us. Which is why we need to help ourselves and our kids to be safe-guarded from the assaults of the evil one. Be it filters that can be added to devices to accountability partners. We all need help when it comes to facing Satan. 

That help ultimately comes in our Savior who saw us in our sin and rocked the boats of our lives by speaking some words of tough love that we needed to hear. And we didn’t even get to everything in our text for today. Jesus goes on to speak on his desire for marriage and his desire for us to speak the truth, but there just isn’t time for us to get to all of what Jesus said in our text for today.

The thing is, that even though hearing the Law may rock our boat, remember that Jesus says it all because He is lovingly leading us to repentance. That is, after all, the reason for the law…to show our sins and our need for a Savior. Jesus is our Savior, and He loves us enough to say what needs to be said and to love us with some tough love. (Pause)

Think about that child by the stove again. Because that is how God showed His love for us. Seeing us in our sin, doomed to die eternally, God didn’t sit back and watch us get burned. He said, “No!” And with His Son, He reached down from heaven in the person of His Son. 

But when His Son hung upon the cross, He did sit back and let Him take the heat of hell in our place. In the toughest love ever, the Father sat back and watched His one and only Son get burned by the fires of hell as He endured the wrath and separation of God because of our sins of hatred, lust, and on and on the list goes. In love for us our God experienced hell on earth as He hung there to die our death. None of us can begin to fathom just how tough that must have been for the Father to sit back and watch His child suffer and die. But that is what it took…that is what it took to save us from sin and death. 

For God so loved the world that He gave. How can we not marvel at the sacrifice that the Father made? Parents, can you imagine giving your child over to death to save another? Kids, can you imagine your parents giving you over to death to save another? No. We can’t. But He can, and He did.

And because He did, your sins and mine are forgiven. That is why we come here. Our hearts are not pure. We are filled with hate and lust, but the Father of all compassion sent His Son to create in us clean hearts. And thanks to Jesus, that is what we have been given. 

In the forgiveness of our sins, and in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us His perfect self. He removes all sin. He forgives us our trespasses, and in turn we can forgive the trespasses of others. No matter our sinful situation that we find ourselves in, we always have hope with our God. For we have a God who with the toughest love ever, gave His Son to save us. And for sinners in need of a Savior, that’s all we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A Beautiful Light to the Gentiles

Feb 9 2020 A Beautiful Light to the Gentiles; Isaiah 58:3-9; 1 Cor. 2:1-12; Mt. 5:13-20

            Black ivory coffee. Some people love a good cup of coffee. I like coffee from time to time. Starbucks, Caribou, Columbian. That all sounds good, doesn’t it? But have you tried the black ivory coffee? Well black ivory coffee is made in Thailand, and it is made by having elephants eat coffee beans, which is then pooped out by the elephants. Then the beans are picked out, cleaned and made into coffee. I don’t know about you, but that makes me say, “Yuck!” Yuck. I don’t want that coffee. 

Well, in Matthew 5, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” But, if salt loses its saltiness, well then “Yuck. That’s no good.” And what good is a light if you are just going to cover it in the darkness, yuck. Well, Jesus’ words on salt and light are our focus today.  

And to explore this concept we will first begin with an illustration. A story about Kylie Bisutti. Kylie Bisutti is a former model and the author of the book I’m No Angel, published in 2013.  In the book she describes a bit of her life story. Bisutti had always dreamed of becoming a model at a very young age and her dreams would come true, but it wasn’t what she imagined. She did not grow up Christian, but became Christian in high school, at the age of 15, after one of her friends invited her to church. It was during this time also that she was just beginning to launch a modeling career. Later she married a Christian man who had a great influence on her, but when she was modeling at the time she didn’t think twice about the influence her modeling career had on her. But after being told she should flirt with celebrities and after not feeling very dignified during photoshoots eventually she gave up modeling altogether. This inspired the book. She put as much space as she could with that type of lifestyle. She turned down the show Dancing with the Stars. She turned down a role on a TV show on the CW. She gave it all up. She has said of her past life, “The truth is... I used to live a life that was detestable. I used to live a life indulging my desires, rationalizing why what I was doing was ok and normal yet the more I read the Bible, God convicted me of my decisions…I’m so glad God changed my heart.” In the end Kylie is glad with the results that God has done to her life. She is happy and wholly satisfied how Jesus has made her among the righteous and how He has transformed her life into something beautiful.

            To put it another way, Kylie has salt in her display to world. When she shows her obedience to the Lord. When she shares how Jesus has changed her life, she is acting like a light to the world. Much of Kylie’s former life was just kind of yucky and she knew it. Because it was full of sin. But Jesus redeemed it and transformed it. 

            Concerning light and salt, Jesus also states that this salt and light is met with some conflict. It is met with some friction. Jesus implies to us that the world is darkness. That is why it needs light. And the darkness often would like to stay dark. The world would like to stay plain and dull in sinfulness. Jesus further describes this conflict when He says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” And in that one verse Jesus summarizes all conflicts in the world. 

            And where does that conflict start? It all starts in a garden. It all starts when temptation comes to man in the garden of Eden, and man was overcome by temptation. When man and woman disowned their Creator. And why is that significant? Because it is the moment when darkness tried to snuff out the Light. It is the moment when salt became tasteless. And then yuck, sin enter the world. And in sin you and I have a desire to forfeit that light and salt. We have a desire to rebel. 

            Now, in history there are at least two ways many have rebelled in darkness, rebelled in bland dullness. The first is to serve ourselves. To serve ourselves and not God. That really is the prevailing message of the world. Serve yourself. Don’t serve God. We are our own masters. We don’t need a pie in the sky God to tell us what is good and not good for us. And this idea manifests in many ways. For example, hedonism. Hedonism says, “Seek pleasure. Avoid suffering. That’s all that matters.” Do what is good for you. Avoid harm. Be tolerant. Advocate tolerance. That’s all that matters. And that can appear to be sound advice, because it is often understood as, “Isn’t it good when we are all just happy? Isn’t it good that you’re happy and I’m happy. The Hindu is happy where he is at and the Muslim is happy where they are at?” Well, it’s a dangerous road. And it is a dangerous road because it is chaos. And chaos is exactly what Satan always wanted to get. Because it is lawlessness. It is disorder. It is wild, rampant and out of control. All that ends in chaos and disorder. And that is what unfolded when Cain killed Abel. That is what unfolded when many left God’s Light and spit out His salt and became wicked. In wickedness we say yuck to God even when it is our sin that is yuck. 

            Well, the second way we often rebel is to create a new order. The first way to rebel ends in chaos, the second is to reorder God’s creation in a way we like it better. For instance, legalism. What did Jesus warn His people against the Pharisees over and over again? By and large their legalism. The Pharisees thought they had it all together because they thought they were following all of God’s commands to the letter. Only what they really did was they created a new religion. They were following an order, just it wasn’t God’s order. And legalism isn’t just found in the way of the Pharisees. It’s found in most other false religions. Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize working your hardest to escape suffering. Islam likewise emphasizes being on your best behavior so as not to displease Allah. Furthermore, legalism is found in governments, and businesses, and families. It is the voice that domineers the law just for the sake of the law. Do it or else! Or else you will have it coming to you. Legalism doesn’t seek to pursue people personally. Legalism is not gentle in love. Legalism seeks to destroy anything that doesn’t measure up to the ideal. Legalism crushes free thought and critical thinking. And so what often happens in legalism is you have a clique mentality. And if you are in the clique—if you are on the team, so to speak—well then we’re good. You will be valued as okay. But if you don’t fall in line, well then I’m sorry but you don’t deserve anything. You don’t deserve to have the privileges others are granted. You don’t deserve to speak. You don’t deserve even your life, and we might just take that from you. From Pharisees to dictators to communists, this pattern happens over and over again. And if you live in that environment long enough, you can’t but help and think “Yuck. There has got to be a better way than this.”

            Now, what is interesting about both pitfalls, serving ourselves in chaos and serving another religious order, in something like legalism, is it all falls under 1st commandment stuff. You shall have no other gods before Me. Why shall we have no other gods before God. Because without the true living God we dissolve into chaos and we dissolve into false religions. We lose order because we are not connected to the God of order. We then walk in darkness, and are dull tasteless death destroyers because we are ordered to serve ourselves and false religions.

            So, what did God do about this? God began to bring back order. He established Himself as the only true reliable and living Lord. He demonstrated love, mercy, and justice. He communicated His Word to His prophets. He made promises and plans to restore us and He sealed it with a covenant. And from Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Elijah, to Isaiah, all the way down to God incarnate Himself—that is down to Jesus—God has carried out His salvation plan. And Jesus is the centerpiece of it all. Everything hinges on Him and His message and His mission. 

Jesus redirected us toward Himself with His words. With His words like His sermon on the mount, and parables about lost sons and lost sheep, and words about being born again in Him, having new life in Him, words about properly carrying out God’s instructions. Jesus spoke His message. Jesus healed lepers, gave the blind sight, cast out demons, and performed many miracles. And it was all a big preparation to get us all to gather to Him. Because soon He would carry out His goal. He would go to the cross. And there on the cross mercy and judgment came together in one event. Jesus was judged and condemned to suffer the wrath of God. Jesus suffered so that mercy would be bestowed upon us. It is the ultimate act of love. And in this act chaos is brought to order. And all false religions are brought to shame. And it is the beginning of a major transformation. It is where God took something yucky and turned it into something savory. 

Because in Jesus we are given light that illumines and salt that gives taste. We are reordered in the direction of the Creator. We are taught to love as Jesus loved us. Not to love like legalistic religions teach. And not to love only ourselves, but to love sacrificially, because Jesus loves us sacrificially. In Jesus we are taught to practice patience and kindness. We are taught to be a light and beacon for the non-Christian world. To direct the world to God’s healing by showing the world that we go to Him for healing all the time. We share the message of God because that message changed our lives. We keep a watchful eye to guard ourselves from sinning because it is so easy to do. We at times defend ourselves and the innocent from violence and bloodshed with the sword because God protects us and He stops violence and chaos when it is destroying His creation. We baptize and we teach. We make disciples. We let the salt God gave us season us. And we let the light God gave us shine. That is our response to the message and action of Jesus. That is our response to the message and action of God. For, we are light only when we are transformed and illuminated by the Light source. We only have salt in us when we are fed by the grace of God. So that through Jesus we are tasty and delightful to God. And we shine because Jesus shines. 

So, here are the key elements: God’s Word, God’s divine action, and our response. To get a more concrete picture of this, let us return to our Kylie example. Kylie Bisutti heard God’s Word and through it the Holy Spirit made her a believer. There her life was reordered. And her response was a positive yes—yes, I will heed and harken to God’s words.  It took some time before she realized that she was living a life of chaos and disorder. That there was a major discrepancy between her lifestyle and occupation and living out her Christian faith.  But when she kept reading God’s Word, God took further divine action to turn her heart and draw her even closer to Him. The “Aha” light went on and Kylie would not compromise God’s Word. So, she severed ties with modeling and fame. She was made salt and light in her actions, all initiated and motivated by God actions. And salt and light she was, when she was kind to non-Christians who took offense at her words. She has spoken her testimony in hopes others are also transformed to light and salt and drawn closer to God. And it is not she who transforms, but it is the Living and Loving God who transforms. 

So, do you want that black ivory coffee? Yuck, no. God doesn’t want it either. Let Jesus transform you. Be salt. Be a beautiful light. A beautiful light to ourselves, to our families, to the gentiles. Let your works shine forth. For with Jesus, we are happy and satisfied. For He has made us something that is not yucky, but savory. He has made us righteous. He has transformed our lives into something beautiful. May that be ours today and forevermore. Amen. 

Depart in Peace

Sermon: “Depart in Peace (United We Go)”

Lectionary Series A; Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; Stewardship Series (United in Christ)

Sunday, January 19, 2020 

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).

As a pastor, I am given a remarkable privilege to sit at the bedside of many who are near the time of their death. In some rare instances, the person who is near dying is still able to communicate to some degree. In even rarer instances, the person is still able to receive the body and blood of Jesus one last time before they close their eyelids in death.

In these ever so rare instances, it is such a joy to be able to boldly proclaim that the very body and blood of Jesus that they consume now is the same Jesus that they will soon see in heaven. I can remember instances where I know this was the last meal they ate on earth…the foretaste of the feast to come.

When you come forward to the table of the Lord, that is what you are receiving. Though your eyes may tell you it is only a wafer of bread and a sip of wine, God’s Word tells you it is none other than His Son, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

That means that in a matter of moments, you will see Jesus. You will see Him as He reveals Himself to you. And upon receiving Him into Your body, forgiveness, life, and salvation is now yours. You are now at peace with God.

All those sins that you have committed. Forgiven. All those sins committed against you. Gone. You are completely and totally cleansed of all that once doomed you to eternal death and damnation. And with that…with Jesus in you…you are able to depart in peace.

It is by no mistake that the Nunc Dimittis is located in the committal at the graveside before the casket or the urn is laid into its resting place in the ground. This person who once confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has now departed in peace. Their soul is now with Jesus. And with the body and blood of Jesus in their body, they will soon be raised to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Ask any pastor, and many will tell you that a funeral is their favorite part of ministry. It is not because we have some love of the morbid reality of death. No, this is a time when all earthly things don’t matter at all and everyone is tuned in to hear God’s saving words of comfort. And what greater words can we hear than those words of the Nunc Dimittis as we grieve: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

The truth of the matter is, every time we receive the Lord’s Supper, God is preparing us for the day of our death. Think about it. Why do we go to the Lord’s Supper? We are sinners in need of forgiveness. That is exactly what we receive at the table of the Lord. Forgiveness. And as forgiven children of God, we are now at peace with God. No separation exists between you and the almighty God. You are now at peace.

Simeon had been given this awesome privilege to know from the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he personally saw the Messiah with his own eyes. So, with regularity, he went to the temple of the Lord to await the arrival of the promised Christ-child.

Then one day, the day we mark today, the Presentation of Our Lord, there He was! Jesus’ parents came to fulfill the law that any child that first opened the womb would be presented in the temple and called holy to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to the Law of the Lord.

Here His parents were to do just that. And when Simeon saw them, he could not hold it in. He had to go and just grab ahold of baby Jesus and hoist Him in the air. Any parent who hears of a stranger hoisting their child out of their arms and into the air is kind of freaking out right now. But not Joseph and Mary. The verse after our text says that they ‘marveled’ as Simeon held their child in the air and spoke the words of the Nunc Dimittis that we know so well as we feast upon the body and blood of Jesus.

That marveling is what we are invited to do here today as we are welcomed to see with our own eyes our Savior Jesus as He comes to us today. How is it that we who are poor, miserable sinners are given such a privilege as we are here today? And not just today, but Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday. 

But it can be so easy to take this gift for granted. It can be so easy to cast aside being in the presence of Jesus and think that we have better things to do on a Sunday. It can be so easy to teach our kids that going to church is optional, even though our parents would have never thought of such a thing. But, that is where we are at in our world today.

When we choose to be elsewhere on Sundays other than the house of the Lord, we miss out on what Simeon so beautifully stated: It is because of this child that I can depart in peace. Nothing else in this world can provide the true peace that passes all understanding that Jesus can and does.

But our desires are so often tainted by a world of sin, and we look for peace in the things of the world: financial security, selfish pride, more stuff. We look for peace in the tangible things of this world, but as the saying goes: “He who dies with the most toys still dies.”

I wonder if that sinks in for us as we navigate this stewardship initiative. Do we hear these sermons and these presentations by our leadership and do we just let them go in one ear and out the other? Or do we really think about what we have heard, ponder it, and think about how we might use what God has given us to His glory, rather than our own?

As you think and ponder on that question, I want you to ponder on this: the One hoisted up in the air in Simeon’s arms. Any of us who have ever held a baby up in the air knows that it is a beautiful image to behold. Often times, the baby smiles as they are whisked up to higher heights. They look around and behold the world from a whole new perspective, one they would never have had unless they were not held up by the arms of another. Keep that image in your mind: Jesus hoisted up in the air.

Now picture that those arms of Simeon are replaced with the outstretched arms of a cross. And instead of the gentle hands of an elderly man holding him there fixated above all those around, instead what fixes Him there are nails. Nails driven through His hands. And instead of someone speaking the beautiful words of the Nunc Dimittis, now there are people gathered around hurling insults at Him as He suffers in anguish. And where Jesus may have smiled and looked around from those heights as an infant in awe of the world around Him, now He looks down on those below and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And with His last breath utters, “It is finished.” 

Hold that image in your mind, the image of the Son of God hoisted in the air dying your death, forgiving your sins, loving you beyond all measure. For it is in that moment that your departing in peace was made possible.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Brothers and sisters, united in Christ, this is what our life of stewardship flows from. All of our giving, be it time, talents, treasures. It all flows from the pierced, bloodied hands, feet, and body of a Savior who loves us beyond all measure. We give because we can’t help but give thanks to our God for all that He has given us. 

I know that sometimes we lose sight of what it means to be a steward of God’s gifts. We get distracted. We sin. We wander away. But time and again, like Simeon, we return back here…into the house of the Lord. And it is here as we see Jesus once again with our own eyes that our life of stewardship is renewed. We can’t help but return thanks to our God who gave His Son so that together as His saints, we may depart in peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Called to Unity

Sermon: “Called to Unity”

Lectionary Series A; Third Sunday after the Epiphany; Stewardship Series (United in Christ)

Sunday, January 26, 2020; National Lutheran Schools Week Service

Epistle Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment (1st Corinthians 1:10).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God calls us through the apostle Paul to be in unity with one another. He calls us to say the same thing, to be on the same page, to be pulling in the same direction, to have the same slogans.

If you walk in the door by the office, and take a right toward the gymnasium and look up to your left, there on the wall are the four pillars of the covenant of our ministry together. Those four pillars are Unity, Integrity, Excellence, and Service.

We are called to be in unity with one another. Under that heading of Unity, our covenant states that we are: “Baptized in the name of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) we are joined together in a common faith, common worship, and a common purpose to serve the Lord and all people while using our individual and collective gifts.”

A common purpose. What is our common purpose here together? Indeed our mission statement at Zion is Sharing Hope Teaching Christ through Word and Sacrament liturgical living. That is certainly what we are all about here at Zion. And the submission of our school states that we are Christ-Centered, Academically Strong, and Respectfully Operated. This is also what we are all about here at Zion.

But, when we think about our kids, what is our common purpose that we have for ourselves with regard to our children? For that, we need to dig a little deeper, deeper into the Word of God. Proverbs 22:6 would seem to say it best: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not turn from it.

Our common purpose here that we are called to join in unity with one another is to train up our children in the way of the Lord so that when they get old, they will still be confessing the faith that they were given in their baptism by the Triune God. Isn’t that our hope? Isn’t that our purpose? Isn’t that our common goal?

Pastor LaPlant and I could tell you that one of the greatest joys that we have is when we see that goal come to fruition. Sitting at the bedside of someone nearing their last breath. Hearing them confess the faith they were given in their baptism as they look forward to beholding Jesus with their own eyes in heaven is one of the greatest things we are privileged to be a part of. Again, I ask, is that not our common goal for both ourselves and our kids?

Our theme verse for this year really sets forth that goal. Psalm 23:6, which we spoke earlier in the Psalmody says: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Goodness and mercy. It is the goodness and mercy that God gives in His Word and the Holy Supper that will strengthen us to make the journey to our final day where we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. But we can’t do it on our own.

God invites us to look long term here. Think of it as a marathon, and not a sprint. What is it that God gives us to make the journey to heaven? He gives us Himself in His Word and Sacrament. This is the food that we need in order to endure to life everlasting.

Any of us who have kids in our house understand that. How often do our kids need to be fed? If we asked them, it would probably be every twenty minutes. Certainly if we have teenagers. So it is with all of us. We need what God gives in order to continue on in our life of faith.

This is why God’s Word calls us to be in worship, to not neglect meeting together as it says in the book of Hebrews. It is in God’s house where we are united with Him through His Word and Sacrament, and where are we are united with each other as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. To abandon this practice of joining in the house of the Lord will only be detrimental to our life of faith before God and our life of faith lived out with others. 

St. Paul says what will also be detrimental to us is if there are divisions among us. Again he says, I appeal to you…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united.

Unfortunately, the devil enters in and drives division among us…in our churches, in our school, in our homes, in our workplaces, and everywhere really. 

I hate to break it to you, but even though we are Christians in a Christian school, we are still sinners. And sinners sin. Sinners cause separation. Sinners cause division. It’s what we do best…unfortunately.

St. Paul’s admonition to have no divisions among us is a call to repentance. If we are fostering division in any way, we are sinning. We are separating ourselves from God. We are placing ourselves on a slippery slope that leads away from Jesus. The wages of sin is death. Jesus doesn’t want us to die eternally. So through Paul, he calls us to unity with one another. To be on the same page. And that all starts with Jesus and His cross. He bids us all to come and die. To confess our divisiveness, and be forgiven. 

What does this call to unity call upon us to confess? Let’s ask ourselves as students and parents, faculty and staff? Have we been unkind to each other? Have we formed cliques and excluded others? Have we said things that have only cut others down and hurt their reputation? Have we chosen to talk behind someone’s back rather than go and address the issue directly with the person we are talking about? Have we hurt someone?

If we take time to truly assess our thoughts, words, and deeds in light of these questions, there is not-a-one of us here who is innocent. There is not-a-one of us who could have not have handled something differently or said something in a different way. We have all in some way fostered division among us, and we have all been hurt by divisions in our lives. We are all in need of repentance and healing, and we are all in need of change in our sinful ways. So, let us confess, and be forgiven in the name of Jesus. 

That is honestly one of the greatest joys of serving at Zion Lutheran School. We are privileged to be able to address the divisiveness of sin head on with the Law and the Gospel of God’s Word.

Our students are taught that the law shows their sins and their need for a Savior. Teachers are then able to show the student the error of their ways. And then, upon the student’s confession, the teacher has the joy of speaking the Gospel that shows their Savior as they share the absolving forgiveness given in Jesus.

That is true for our students, and that is true for all of us as Christians. We each are sinners. There is no way around that fact. Just like there is no way around the fact that we have all been the cause of division in our life. But all hope is not lost…and that’s because of Jesus.

Jesus entered into the great divide that existed between God and us because of our sin. He willingly came down from heaven to earth to take our sins upon Himself and to suffer all upon the cross of Calvary. There, He endured the division from His Father as He called out to Him, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” 

There as He bled and died our death, the division from God as well as our death were done for once and for all. Now are sins are forgiven, healing from division is given, and our salvation is secured. We have been joined to Jesus.

This is what we had opportunity to rejoice in here today as we were all blessed to witness Kim, Sydney, and River be baptized in the name of the Triune God and welcomed into His family. No longer are they separated from God, but through water and the Word, God has worked faith in them to believe in Jesus as their Savior and now they are children of the heavenly Father.

We join in rejoicing in this reality for them, just as we join in rejoicing as a body of believers in Christ. We have been called to unity with one another with a common purpose. We have been joined together to come alongside of each other to help raise these students in the one true faith to life everlasting. 

Parents and students, faculty and staff, all in a partnership together. Now that is certainly something to rejoice about. It is just as our theme verses for this National Lutheran Schools Week states: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1st Thessalonians 5:16-18).

As you walk down that same hallway that I told you before as you are headed toward the gym, there is a bulletin board that has this on full display. Check it out if you are here for lunch tomorrow, because I can honestly say, that is the unity I am blessed to behold day in and day out in our school, and no doubt you see it too as we all seek to train up our children in the way they should go.

For those of you that won’t see it, let me describe it for you. It just happens to be located under those four pillars of our covenant of Unity, Integrity, Excellence, and Service. There are five words on the bulletin board and underneath there is a picture of our students. Those five words are Joyful, Thankful, Peaceful, Faithful, and Hopeful. And in the pictures, you will see our students rejoicing together, praying together, pledging allegiance to the United States flag and the Christian flag together, singing together, and the last one shows them gathered together at the foot of the cross.

And it’s that last one that really hits home the nature of what it means to be called to unity. We all come as sinners, but thanks to the division Christ endured on that cross, we have been united…united to Christ, and united to each other. Thanks be to God! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

"Called to be Saints Together....

Sermon: “Called to be Saints Together (United with each other)”

Lectionary Series A; Second Sunday after the Epiphany; Stewardship Series (United in Christ)

Sunday, January 19, 2020 

Epistle Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:1-9

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Apostle Paul writes: To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He then further writes: God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1st Corinthians 1:2-3, 9).

Saints together. Fellowship. These are words of camaraderie, family, and teamwork. To be called together into fellowship informs us that we are surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ here in this congregation, throughout the world, and even with the saints who are already in heaven.

Have you ever stopped to consider that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer or confess the Creed, that thousands and even millions of Christians are doing the same thing throughout the world? Perhaps it is in a different time zone or a different language, but through it all, we are called to be saints together. We are united with each other into a fellowship centered on Jesus Christ.

Who is it in your life that helped you to become a saint in this fellowship? For most of us, it was our parents. They were the ones who brought us to the baptismal font to be baptized.

Last week, we focused our attention on baptism. Baptism unites us to Jesus as He joins Himself to us. Baptism is where our life of stewardship begins as our old sinful self is drowned and we are raised with Jesus to live anew before God. In our baptism, we receive all the treasures of heaven, and all we have is given to us to further God’s kingdom.

I am curious. How many of you here were baptized here in this very church? Wow! Wherever you were baptized in the name of the Triune God, that is where you were called to be children of God, called to be saints together, called into the fellowship with Jesus, God’s Son.

Now since the day of your baptism, who are those people who have encouraged you to remain in this fellowship as saints together? When you stop and think about that for a moment, you quickly realize that you did not get to where you are now on your own. God has placed all sorts of people around you throughout your life so that you may be encouraged to remain in this faith-filled fellowship. So who are those people in your life? 

I can remember Reseda Wickenhauser telling me about the impact of Teacher Ernst (as he was called) all those years ago here at Zion’s Day School. There I would sit next to her for private communion at the nursing home, and even at the age of 102, she could still tell me of the impact that her grade school teacher had had upon her all these years later as she still confessed the same faith she had been taught nearly a century prior.

I can remember Harold Hill at the age of 96 telling me about his pastor teaching him confirmation and how he still would recite his confirmation hymn before he went to bed each night. Only it was in German. “So Nimm Den Meine Hande Und Fuhre Mich.” “Lord, take my hand and lead me upon life’s way, direct, protect, and feed me from day to day, without your grace and favor, I go astray, so take my hand O Savior, and lead the way.”

For me, it was my youth leader, who looked at me on the first time we met and told me I was headed with him to Chicago for a youth evangelism ministry called Ongoing Ambassadors for Christ. Though I can remember being terrified before going, I knew after that weekend, and with my youth director’s encouragement, that the Lord was calling me to serve as a pastor.

How about you? Who are those people who have helped you to remain saints together in fellowship? A parent, a friend, a teacher? No doubt you have a few stories you could share yourselves. And that is the natural result when baptized believers are called to be saints together in fellowship with Jesus Christ. There is this beautiful bond formed between us by the blood of Jesus where we rejoice in the fact that we are all in this together. We all have the same goal in mind. We all long to be with Jesus for all eternity. 

Here at Zion as those who are United in Christ, we are “Baptized in the name of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) we are joined together in a common faith, common worship, and a common purpose to serve the Lord and all people while using our individual and collective gifts” (Zion’s covenant).

That common purpose here at Zion is our Mission Statement: Share Hope and Teach Christ through Word and Sacrament liturgical living. As sinners in need of a Savior, we live our lives fed and nourished by God’s Word and Sacrament so that we are renewed and refreshed to Share Hope and Teach Christ.

This is what our life of stewardship is all about. As baptized believers, we keep coming back here to gather together in fellowship with one another. We know we can’t serve the Savior without His strength, and we know we can’t do it alone either. We need help. So God calls us to be saints together who serve the Savior with the many gifts He has given to us. 

This invites us to ask of ourselves, what opportunities lay before us now that could impact the faith life of another in a positive way? What conversations could we be having that we aren’t now that could help guide others to the faith? You know, like the ones we have benefited from when others took time with us. What ways could we be serving in our home, congregation, neighborhood, and workplace that might open the door for others to grow in their faith, while at the same time, we benefit from serving as well?

You see, that is the awesome reality of being a part of a congregation. We have been brought together as a family of faith. We each have the privilege of having an impact on each other’s faith. It takes a village, right?

No doubt as we think of those people who have had such an impact in our lives, we could all echo the words of St. Paul: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1st Corinthians 1:4-8).

I can’t echo those words enough. I can’t thank God enough for the grace He has given to you, and for the countless gifts He has bestowed upon you, and that in that in the end, you will stand guiltless before God thanks to Jesus.

Guiltless. That’s what we long for. Each and every one of us gathers here for one united purpose. We long to be guiltless before God. But there is not-a-one of us who is guiltless. We are all guilty. We have all sinned in thought, word, and deed. We are all doomed to be damned in our sinfulness. And that’s why we gather together here. We are poor, miserable sinners who long for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And that is what we receive thanks to the grace of God given in Christ Jesus. Salvation with Jesus.

Have you ever stopped to consider that as we gather as saints together in this fellowship? Have you ever stopped to think that as we gather today, we are preparing for that day when we will gather together for all eternity to rejoice in God’s salvation given in Jesus? Yes, one day we will stand before God, guiltless, free from sin, covered in the shed blood of Jesus, wearing robes of righteousness, purchased for us by Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

I can remember one gentleman that I visited several times before his death. He was stricken with cancer, and with each visit, we knew it was not going to be long before the Lord called him home. But every time, I heard in his voice this great confidence that this was not the end of the story. I heard that confidence in the way we would end our conversation. We would always end by exchanging these words: “I will see you again.” Each of us knew that if this was the last time we saw each other on earth, it would not be the last time we would see each other for eternity. I look forward to the day that we can meet in the presence of Jesus and say to each other: “I told you I would see you again.”

That is what we have been called to as saints together. We have been called to something so much more than just this temporal earthly life. Our call to be saints together ushers us into the halls of heaven. And in a matter of moments we will receive a foretaste of that feast to come.

In Christ’s body and blood, we are joined in a fellowship as saints together where our God makes sure that we are not lacking anything as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiveness, life, salvation. He gives us all that we need and then some. Our tanks are never empty. 

And that goes for our life as stewards of God’s gifts as well. We who are not lacking in any spiritual gift, are blessed to share from what we have been given to share: the grace of God what was given us in Christ Jesus.

So, as those who have been enriched in every way and those who are guiltless before God, let us give thanks for our fellow saints around us, and continually look for ways to encourage and build one another up in the faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Posts