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Rejoice in the Lord

Sermon: “Rejoice in the Lord”             

LSB Series A; Proper 22

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 11, 2020

Epistle Reading: Philippians 4:4-13

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

          Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

          One might be inclined to say that Paul is trying to make a point here. After all, he not only tells the Church in Philippi to rejoice, but he even goes so far as to repeat the command. In fact this short book of the Bible contains the word “joy” in various forms sixteen times. So, yes, Paul was trying to make a point.

          What was there to rejoice about? That might have been what the Philippian Christians were wondering. How could they rejoice when they faced constant persecution? How could they rejoice when their very livelihoods, and even their lives were at stake? How could they rejoice when they could not freely practice the faith that had been handed to them. Rejoice? There was nothing to rejoice about. Easy for Paul to say.

          Was it really easy for Paul to say? Paul was writing this letter from a prison cell. He looked around and saw bricks and bars in every direction. His dining fare was prison rations. His body no doubt stank of the horrific odor of clothes worn out and dirty, and the body of a man who desperately needed a bath. There was no light to encourage him from the shining of the sun. Prison was an awful place to be, and yet Paul still called upon the people in Philippi to rejoice.

          He calls upon us to do the same. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

          What is there to rejoice about these days? The Twins are out of the playoffs…again. The Vikings are having a pretty rough start. But hey, at least you aren’t a Detroit fan.

Sports aside, what is there to rejoice about these days? We are now nearing seven months in a pandemic that has altered our lives in ways that no one could have predicted. We have been cooped up in our homes, told to function in ways that are simply not natural to us, and we are separated from those we love and care about. Rejoice?

          Many of us if we would dare to venture out find ourselves doing so in fear and trepidation. Riots and unrest have us rethinking how we will spend our free time. Do we venture into the Cities? Do we travel to that state, whatever state it is? Rejoice?

          The presidential election is nearly upon us. Many of us are looking to rejoice in the hopes that our candidate will win, come the day after the election. But if we have learned anything from our current political climate, a decision by that date seems unlikely. Though we certainly all need to vote, there is a caution to all of us not to look to our leaders to save us and serve as a form of savior. If we do so, this is a time of great fear and uncertainty. Rejoice?

          Then if that is not enough, we have our own ‘stuff’ going on in our personal lives. Diagnoses, depression, dementia, discouragement. Kids learning at home and stressing us out. Parents trying teach lessons to kids, and kids getting stressed out. Teachers trying to balance home life and distance learning. Everyone trying to adjust to Zoom this and Zoom that, and we simply crave human interaction. Isolation and loneliness abound because we have been cooped up and restricted for far too long. Not being able to see our loved ones, not being able to hold their hand or give them a hug. Rejoice?

          It would seem that Paul’s command is simply impossible to obey. Rejoice? We can’t rejoice if there is nothing to rejoice about. And I am confident I did not cover all of the reasons not to rejoice. No doubt the Philippians could add a few to the list as well. 

          But there is a key distinction here in this command of Paul’s that we need to make note of. Paul does not simply say: “Rejoice.” He says: “Rejoice in the Lord.” Always. Again I will say, Rejoice. 

          Note that this rejoicing is not in the circumstances of this world that is fallen and in decay. This rejoicing is solely based on Jesus and the gifts He gives as we live in this world of sin. It is vital that we understand that so that we can, in fact, Rejoice.

          A couple of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to attend a conference being sponsored by the Synod in partnership with DOXOLOGY near Wichita, Kansas. The conference was called “Take Heart”, based upon the words of Jesus as He was walking on the water towards His frightened disciples in the boat being rocked by the waves on the Sea of Galilee. Yet, in their fear, Jesus called out to them “Take heart, it is I.” What comforting words to storm tossed sailors…and to us as well as we are tossed by the storms of this world.

          Throughout the conference, I spoke with several pastors, and heard of the great hardships and discouragements that they have gone through as of late. They spoke of the challenges of the fact that even though there was less going on at the church, everything simply takes more time and energy. Plus, everyone in church, including the pastors are all a bit more restless and on edge these days because of all of the discouragement and the fact that there still seems to be no end in sight. They spoke of the aching reality of not being able to visit their people and interact with them as they once had. It was not easy to listen to, because in many of the conversations, it was like listening to the thoughts that were inside my own head. 

          Yet, through it all, we took several times, six to be exact (in 48 hours), to pause for worship. It was in each of those moments that we commended our cares and concerns for our congregations, our families, and ourselves to the Lord, while at the same time, we heard of our God who loves us, never leaves us nor forsakes us. We sang praises to our God in hymns and psalms, and we each were refreshed by the great care and concern of our Lord who loves His bride, the Church.

          And then it was time to go home. A retreat after all, is a temporary thing. In fact, it is as the chaplain there told us, “a retreat is a military maneuver. It is meant to be a time to step back, regroup, and then return to the battle.”

          For myself that battle remains ongoing here, and I Rejoice in being a part of it with you. We do not know how much longer this pandemic is going to go. We don’t know if the racial unrest and rioting will cause us harm and danger. We do not know what will come of the elections. But what we do know is that we have a Savior and God who will not abandon us though the war wages on. 

          I can’t emphasize that enough. In a world of so much isolation and separation, there is this beautiful truth that remains for us to rejoice in. It is as constant as the rising sun over the fields ripe for harvest. Jesus is present with us. We may look at the circumstances around us and think otherwise, but that would be to look for him in the wrong places. Jesus is present with His people right where He said He would be. 

          As I have told you before, Jesus is the worst at Hide ‘n’ Go Seek. He tells you where He is. He is in His Word. Just think of that for a moment. Each time that you open up your Bible, you are paging through the very love letter of the Savior who bled and died for you. It’s no wonder that many Bibles have the words of Jesus in red. The Bible just drips with the blood that Jesus poured out for you on Calvary.

          He is also in His Sacrament. Many of us here have had the privilege of once again receiving the Sacrament now that we have returned to in-person worship. But there are those who are still worshipping at home on-line. Though some came to our trial service this past week for those over the age of 65 and those especially vulnerable to the virus, there are those that have yet to return. If that is you, and you desire Christ’s holy supper, please give the office a call, and we will set up a time of private communion for you. 

          You see, when it comes to rejoicing, what greater gift is there than to be able dine on Christ’s feast of forgiveness that He gave to His disciples on the night that He was betrayed, on the night before He died on the cross to take away our sins.

          In fact, our Old Testament Reading and Gospel reading speak of feasts. On this day, we rejoice in being invited to the feast. Sinners that we are, we are welcomed to the table of the Lord. We are clothed in a wedding garment, a robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are directed by Christ to dine on the delectable delicacies of His body and blood, given and shed for us.

          Yet this is only a foretaste of the feast to come in the resurrection. There is much more that awaits us, a holy buffet in the halls of heaven. It will be a feast of rich food and well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined, as Isaiah tells us. And there, our God will swallow up death forever and He will wipe away the tears from our faces.

          And what will our response be to this gracious gift? Isaiah tell us: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and REJOICE in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).

          Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

          What may sound like an unreasonable demand is really anything but. Our Savior who loves us beyond measure has turned our eyes from the circumstances of this world to the feast that awaits us beyond this world. And there, serving as our host will be none other than Jesus, our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

Let us pray. (This is the collect for 5th Sunday of Easter as the Church rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus.) O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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

Pressing On Toward the Goal

Sermon: “Pressing On Toward The Goal”             

LSB Series A; Proper 21

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020

Epistle Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

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

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:12-14).

What is our goal as Christians? What is our goal as members of Zion Lutheran Church and School? What do we all hope will be the end result?

Our mission statement here at Zion is Sharing Hope, Teaching Christ through Word and Sacrament liturgical living.

Our vision is to be disciples by following Jesus Christ to the poor…the meek…the destitute…the lonely…the burdened…the sick…to sinners…to the cross…and to the empty tomb.

Our strategy is to be the Royal Priesthood by sharing what we have been given to share through cradle to grave Christian education.

Our tactics to carry out this mission, vision, and strategy are Caring Conversations, Biblical Devotions, Rituals and Traditions, and Service.

That is what this congregation is all about. But what is our overall goal? These days, our goal has been in many ways been thwarted by a desire to return to what is normal. With all of the unrest and chaos in our daily lives, we long for things to be…well…normal again. But was normal always that good?

Pastor Tim Appel, in a recent article he posted wrote the following about “Normal”. He writes:

“There’s a new idol in town these days. His name is Normal. I suppose he’s not new, technically speaking. He’s been around for so long that you probably didn’t even realize he was there until about five months ago, about the time “social distancing” entered your vocabulary. Normal didn’t like his sudden exit from the scene. That’s why he’s been particularly busy since March, trying to regain his foothold. Here’s how he attempts his ascent to your idol of choice. He tells you life will be okay again once he’s back in place. Once the kids are back in school without masks. Once you can go to the grocery store without wondering how close you are to someone else. Once football stadiums are packed to the brim again. Once everything is back to Normal, life will be okay.

I beg you: don’t fall for his lie. Normal will not make everything okay again, for normal was not okay from the start. Running here and there and everywhere with no real reason other than that’s what everyone else was doing was Normal, but it wasn’t okay. You can think of examples from your own life: the things that were Normal, but weren’t really okay. Don’t fall for Normal’s lies again. The Christian response coming out of this pandemic must not be a return to Normal. The Christian response coming out of this pandemic must be a return to Jesus and His Word.”

When it comes to goals, and pressing forward toward those goals, how might we as individuals and as a congregation not make the goal a return to normal, but instead press forward to that which Paul directed us?

St. Paul tells us that the goal for us is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The goal for any and every Christian is the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

Is a return to Normal going to attain that goal? Well, not if Normal had our priorities set apart from Christ being at the center. 

So, as crazy as it sounds, perhaps, there is a silver lining in the midst of this pandemic. This is an opportunity for all of us to pause and reboot…to align our goal with the goal of St. Paul.

What is it that will help us to get there, to remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of everlasting life (Revelation 2:10)?

St. Paul makes it very clear that we can’t make it there by our own doing. He writes: If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to Zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Philippians 3:4b-6).

Paul made clear that worldly accomplishments or accolades of any kind will not help us to attain our goal. In fact, this is what he had to say about anything he had achieved in this world.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

St. Paul considered his worldly works and efforts to be rubbish, to literally be synonymous with dung. They are of no worth in comparison to knowing Christ and being found in him. What matters most to him is to share in Jesus’ sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and in the end, attain the resurrection of the dead.

If our goal is a return to normal, then we need to ask if that normal was beneficial to our attaining the resurrection of the dead. Were our priorities centralized around Christ? Were we more apt to skip church for the extracurriculars that consumed our lives? What about our devotional life and prayer life? Was it at the top of our daily list, or did we just have too much going on? Why would we make it our goal to return to Normal if Normal was not beneficial for our relationship with Christ?

So, let’s ask ourselves: As we are given an opportunity to set the stage for our a new normal in our lives, what is our goal as we seek to Share Hope and Teach Christ as our mission statement so clearly states? Will our goal be a return to all things that this world pushes for…pride, power, wealth, gain, and glory…or will our goal be to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus?

If it is the latter, I need to tell you something: It is not going to be easy. It will be an adventure with all sorts of twists and turns and we can’t do it without help…a lot of help. In fact, we can’t do it on our own at all. 

You see, where in this world, all the glory is based upon our merits, our works, our achievements…when it comes to the resurrection of the dead, your works and mine mean nothing. And that is hard for us to hear. We don’t like our merits meaning nothing. We like the pats on the backs and the atta-boys and atta-girls. We like the trophies and plaques on the wall that have our names on them.

But, if the goal is the resurrection, it is time to forget a life that seeks self-glorification. It is time to lay down those trophies at the foot of the cross and humbly confess that without Jesus we are nothing. Without Jesus, we can’t make it…we can’t make it to the finish line. We need help. We need someone to carry us to get there.

In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, British sprinter, Derek Redmond had qualified for the semifinal of the 400m with the fastest time in his heat. He was looking strong when suddenly he pulled up—his hamstring had torn. 

          Rather than crumble to the ground, Redmond continued hobbling toward the finish line. Surprisingly, he didn’t have to finish the race alone. Redmond’s father, Jim, ran from the stands and brushed off security to join his son. With tears in both eyes, the Redmonds finished the race together.

          You and I are simply too weak and wounded in our sin to get to the resurrection of the dead. But, there is One, Jesus Christ, who has pressed on toward the goal for the prize, and the prize was you. He carried His cross to Calvary through the crowds who were ridiculing Him, and spitting Him, and hitting Him. He was nailed to that cross as the soldiers treated Him with utmost cruelty. Yet, He kept going, and He did not stop until it was finished. It is finished.

          Then three days later, it truly was done when He rose from the grave. Then at that very moment, the resurrection of the dead became yours as He swallowed up death once and for all in victory.

          That victory is now yours as Jesus has literally joined you in the race. Matthew, chapter eleven tells us: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

          Jesus has yoked Himself to you so that you may make it to the finish line, and press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. You didn’t have to earn it. It is solely a gift won for you by Christ, and given to you by Christ as well. So relish the victory that has been given to you by the One who pressed on toward the goal and achieved it all for you. 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.

The Authority of Jesus

Sermon: “The Authority of Jesus”             

LSB Series A; Proper 21

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 27, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:23-27

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

The Pharisees had a question. Actually they had two questions. Both were questions of authority. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” In essence, they were saying… “Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are to come on our turf and do the things you have done?”

‘The things’ they were referring to were all the events of the past 24 hours. After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus had entered into the streets of Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” on what we now know as Palm Sunday. In the eyes of the religious leaders, the ‘whole world’ had gone after him. 

Then He had come into the temple and in a terror, He had flipped over the tables of money changers and those selling items for sacrifice. He had made a whip of cords and drove the people out. The great money making scheme of the Pharisees had been scattered and shattered.

And though they didn’t know about it, Jesus had also cursed a fig tree and it had died. And now here He was back in the temple, the very placed He had turned upside down the day before, and He was teaching. What audacity this man had! Who did He think He was?

          You may recall that a few weeks ago, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16).

          What Peter confessed that day, the Pharisees would have no part of. In no way would they admit that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah. To do so would mean that their power and authority would be gone. To do so would mean that they would have to humble themselves before Him. To do so would mean that they would have to submit.

          We see now why they got up in His face and questioned Him as they did. They had to stop this guy. They had to keep Him from threatening everything they held dear.

          But Jesus was wise to their plot. Instead of answering their question, He responded with a question of His own. This reminds me of my Greek Professor, Charles Froehlich. He was an amazing teacher, and he was so generous in the amount of office hours that he would make available to his students. As I battled with learning the language, I often found myself in the chair seated across from his desk, and there I would ask my questions. And without fail, every time, he would follow up my question with a question of his own. It drove me nuts. I was always like, “Why don’t you just answer the question?” But, you see, the good teacher that he was, it was not his goal to give answers, but to help us as students discover the answer for ourselves.

          No doubt the Pharisees went nuts when Jesus answered their questions with a question. No doubt they thought to themselves, “Why don’t you just answer the question, and be done?” But Jesus, is a good teacher, you see.

          He asked: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

          It was enough to drive them mad. They couldn’t answer the question. If they said from heaven, they would be stuck because they hadn’t believed in him. If they said from man, they would have to face the wrath of the crowds, because they held John to be a prophet. So they were left dumbfounded, and could only say, “We don’t know.” So Jesus refused to tell them by what authority He did the things He did. (Pause)

          You see, as we examine this text, the question is not, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The question is not even, “Who do you think you are?” The question really is directed at the Pharisees, “Who do you think you are to question the authority of the Almighty God in the flesh?”

          Jesus did not need to answer their questions simply because they didn’t come up with an answer to His question. He didn’t need to answer their questions because He is God. And God doesn’t have to answer to anyone. He can do whatever He pleases.

          If He saw fit to enter into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” and then march into the temple and overturn tables and drive the people out, then so be it. If He saw fit to curse a fig tree and then enter into the temple and start teaching the day after He trashed the place, then so be it. He is God. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

          But the Pharisees didn’t want to submit to that truth, and unfortunately, we struggle to do so as well. Do we humbly submit to God? Do we pay heed to the message of John the Baptist and repent like the tax collectors and prostitutes who gathered by the river Jordan to hear him preach the good news, or are we like the Pharisees who were deemed a brood of vipers because they would not bear fruit in keeping with repentance?

          When we don’t like what the pastor is saying when what he is saying is based upon God’s Word, do we question his authority? Is the preacher called to speak by the authority of God or man? Answering those questions makes all the difference as to whether we pay attention or not.

          When God’s law is spoken to us, are we convicted in our sin, or do we dig our heels in, questioning Jesus’ authority in our lives, trying to justify our actions,  and in essence say, “Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?” Who do ‘we’ say the Son of Man is? Is Jesus God in our lives?

          What is our attitude toward the Almighty God? Is it one of humble submission, or are we more inclined to snub our nose upward at Him? Do we really think we know better than He does? Do we really think we have the authority to defy the living God?

          Sad to say, but we do? Every time we sin, we defy the authority of the living God. Every time we sin, we might as well be saying that we think we know better than God. Every time we sin, we might as well be saying, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority? Who gave you authority in my life to tell me what to do? Who do you think you are Jesus?”

          Dear brothers and sisters, we are in no place to question the authority of the Almighty God. Not ever. Not no way, not no how. We are never in the position to question Jesus’ authority in our lives. 

          So, why do we do it? We want the power. We want the authority. And though we may be creatures, created by God, we want to unseat the Creator.

          This is precisely what the message of John the Baptist is so crucial for us, day in and day out. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” 

In fact, the kingdom of God is here…today…in the Word, in the Sacraments…the Son of the Living God is present with us. And He calls us here today to confess our sins, turn from our sinful ways, and rejoice in submitting to His authority in our lives.

          By His authoritative Word, He spoke, and everything in all of creation came into being. The trees you see, the mountains, the oceans, the animals, and even you and me. Everything around us came into existence by His authority.

          When a young boy was filled with an unclean spirit, all Jesus had to do was rebuke the unclean spirit and command that it come out of him, and that is exactly what it did.

          When the storms rocked the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and the disciples were filled with fear, He walked on the water, pulled Peter up from drowning, and calmed the winds and the waves. All done by His authority.

          When in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Judas and the soldiers came to arrest him, Jesus asked, “Whom do you seek?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And when Jesus said to them, “I am He, they drew back and fell to the ground. All He had to do was identify Himself and they immediately fell to the ground. (John 18)

          Did you hear all of that? By His very Word the universe was created, demons submit to Him, storm submit to His command, soldiers fall to the ground in submission at the mentioning of His name. 

          And though He did all that, He did not hesitate to submit to the will of His Father’s authority to come to this world of sin. He did not hesitate to subject Himself to the conviction and sentencing of the so-called powers and authorities of the world. He humbled Himself, took the form of a servant, carried His cross, and gave His life. 

          As it says in the book of John: “For this reason the Father loves Him, because He lays down His life that He may take it up again. No one takes it from Him, but He lays it down of His own accord, He has the authority to lay it down, and He has the authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18).

The cross couldn’t hold Him, and the grave couldn’t keep Him. Crucified, dead, and buried, by the authority of the Almighty God, He burst forth from the tomb alive. And ascending into heaven, He declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). (Pause)

          We gather here today under the authority of the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Son of the Living God. Having confessed our sins, in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. 

          This is the One we confess to be Savior and Lord on this day, and all the way until the Last Day. And on that day, Christ will come with the sound of the trumpet and the voice of an archangel, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. In His name. Amen.

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

Counting on Christ's Forgiveness

Sermon: “Counting on Christ’s Forgiveness”             

LSB Series A; Proper 18

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 13, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:21-35

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

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will by brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).

What are some things that you count? Do you count sheep at night as you try and fall asleep? Do you count dollars in your savings account to see if there is enough there to retire? Do you count bushels of grain per acre when the harvest comes in? Do you count the days until school starts for the year, or the days until school is out and summer vacation is here? Do you count the minutes that each sermon lasts or this service lasts? What are some things that you count?

Do you count sins? Do you count your sins? Do you count the sins committed against you?

You see, today’s sermon is about forgiveness, and the practice of counting sins runs ‘counter’ to forgiveness every time.

Peter wanted to know something we all want to know. He wanted to know when he could be done forgiving his brother, whoever his brother was that he was talking about. He thought counting up to seven times was enough. Jesus told him, not seven times, but seven times seventy.

So, does that mean that we are done having to forgive someone upon the 491st sin committed against us? Hardly.

The point being made here is that when it comes to forgiveness, the key is not to count at all.

In the parable that Jesus told to help Peter sort this out, there was a man who owed the king an enormous debt. The king then called the debt due. But there was no way the man could pay it, so he begged for patience, and he would pay back the debt.

Let’s stop there for a second to explore what this man was asking. 10,000 talents is equivalent to 3.5 to 4.5 billion dollars. So, let’s take the lower number, just to be nice. That would be equivalent to 200,000 years in labor or 60 million working days. (Pause) And he wanted the king to have patience with him so he could pay it all back (said sarcastically)? Yeah, right!

But, instead of locking him and his family up, the king had mercy upon him and forgave him the entire debt…all 10,000 talents…just like that. Gone…forever.

Unfortunately, such mercy did not serve to be contagious in the life of this man. He turned around and took his newfound freedom to be an opportunity to demand that a debt be paid in his favor. The debt was far less, just 100 denarii, or 100 days wages. Still a fairly large sum, but nothing like what he had been forgiven.

Well, word got around, as it always does, and the king heard about it. And though the forgiven servant begged for patience again, he was imprisoned nonetheless, until he could pay back all of his debt, something that was never going to be able to happen. (Pause)

This is a grave warning to any of us who have ever desired vengeance or held on to a grudge against someone who has sinned against us. It is as Jesus said in the sermon on the mount earlier in Matthew, chapter six: For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).

The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What does this mean? “We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.”

The expectation here is not that my forgiveness is dependent upon my forgiving someone else. That would put my salvation in my hands. The expectation that Jesus has here is that in any and every situation, we are to forgive. As God forgives us, so we are to forgive others. Don’t count the sins committed against us. Instead, if there is anything to count, it is in thanksgiving for all of the sins that we have had forgiven by our Father in heaven thanks to Jesus Christ.

But if we choose to hold on to the grudges against someone else because of their sins, we are choosing to reject Christ’s forgiveness for us. And yes, there are those who have been terribly sinned against. There are those of us who wonder, “Why should I forgive them, if they have never apologized?” 

This call from Jesus to forgive is not to negate the hurt you feel in your heart because you have been wronged. But it is a call to stop holding on so tight to the need for grudges and vengeance, and start holding onto God’s mercy given to you. Start holding onto mercy, and let go of the grudge. 

How long have you held onto your anger? How long have you held onto your hatred? How many times have you counted the sins of another committed against you? For most of us, the answer is far too long. So now is the time to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

See here that this text is all about restoration and reconciliation that comes in forgiveness. Think of it this way. Think of a tank of gas. If the tank is full, the car will go where you want it to go. If it is empty, it won’t go anywhere. But here is another thing to consider. Even if the tank is full, if there is a kink in the hose, the car still won’t go anywhere because the fuel can’t get to where it needs to go.

The same can be said when we behave like the servant who had his debt forgiven. Instead of rejoicing and giving thanks for the forgiven debt he had been afforded, instead of sharing his celebration with others by forgiving them, he chose to put a kink in the hose and cut off the forgiveness by demanding that a debt be paid by someone else.

The same can be said of us whenever we walk away from church having received God’s gifts, but then we turn around and fail to share God’s gift of forgiveness with others. It is entirely inappropriate to ask God for forgiveness, and then in turn not forgive someone else.

So, who do you want vengeance against? Who are you bearing a grudge toward? Whose sins are you counting? (Pause)

The apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1st Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).

Did you catch it? Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love doesn’t keep count of sins. This is the love our God has lavished upon us. We didn’t deserve it in the least. Our sins are far more than we can count. And just one of them separated us from Him forever. Just one. That’s all He would have had to have counted. Just one.

But our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay us according to our iniquities. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us. He forgives all of our iniquities. All of them (Psalm 103).

His love is patient and kind. It doesn’t keep record of wrongs. His love never fails (1st Corinthians 13).

Nor will it fail in our lives either. No matter how deeply imbedded the hurt, anger, vengeance, grudge, what have you, there is forgiveness there to be received and to be shared. It is not yours to keep to yourself by putting a kink in the hose. It is yours to give.

From His cross, His never-failing, steadfast love poured out for you. Just think of all of those sins of yours He took upon Himself. Just think of the awful things we have thought, said, and done. They are just too many to count. Yet, He took all of them…every last one of them, and He took them from you, and now not-a-one of them will be counted against you. Not-a-one. Your slate is clean. Death is no longer yours to endure. Hell is no longer your fate. Now you can rest easy in the patient forgiveness of Jesus, your king, who has graciously forgiven you.

Let’s be honest. We are incapable of forgiving others. We can’t do it seven times or seven times seventy times. But with Christ’s forgiveness in us, we can forgive others. 

So, go forgive, not because you are saved by what you do, but because you are forgiven. Go forgive, not to save yourself, but because you are saved. See here that when God tells us to forgive, He does so for our good. What God desires of all of us is that you and I forsake counting sins and instead count on Christ’s forgiveness so that we may forgive others from our heart. 

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, You have forgiven us all of our sins. We did not deserve such a gift, yet You gave it to us anyway. And though this gift is more than we need, we often struggle to share it. You know our hurts, You know our anger, our hatred, our bitterness and grudges. Soften our hearts with Your love. Make us bold to seek reconciliation. Help us not to count the sins of others, but instead help us to rejoice in the forgiveness You have freely given to us to be shared through us with those around us. 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.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

Sermon: “The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven”             

LSB Series A; Proper 17

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 6, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:1-4

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

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4).

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 

Just imagine what it must have been like for this little boy. First and foremost, he was privileged just to be there in the crowd in the presence of Jesus. But then, all of a sudden, by no doing of his own, he was whisked toward Jesus to become his object lesson for the disciples. And not only was he the object lesson, but he was elevated in status as well. For Jesus says that he, a young child, was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Just imagine.

And just imagine the shock on the disciples faces when Jesus placed this child before them as the answer to their argument. We know that the disciples had a tendency to argue over status. But a child? Jesus, are you kidding? Children are naïve. Children are gullible. Children are dependent and needy.

The school is now filled with children, and depending upon the age bracket, the level of neediness and dependency ranges. The older the kids get, the more independent they become. But the younger ones, they need help with just about everything, opening their snack, turning on the faucet to wash their hands, putting up their chair, zipping their coats (when the time comes), reaching a higher shelf, and on and on it goes.

To be told that a child was the greatest just about flipped the world upside down for the disciples. In the first century, a child was “regarded as inferior because they were not guided by rationale thinking. As those who were physically weak, subject to the will of adults, and susceptible to sickness, children were not admirable. If children were to be praised, it might only be because of the potential they possessed for becoming something in the future” (Gibbs, Matthew Commentary, p. 891).

The point is, children were not examples of greatness. But as a father of four children and one who walks the hallways and into the classrooms of many-a-child, one just can’t help but marvel at children, and especially their faith.

Children have this remarkable level of acceptance when it comes to the Word of God. What they are taught, they do not tend to argue. They simply believe it because a trusted individual shared the good news with them. This speaks to the importance baptism which creates faith in children, catechesis which nurtures that faith, as well as our day school, Sunday School, and all forms of Christian education. 

Children are also like sponges. They are not preoccupied with the cares and concerns of this world to the extent that adults are. They don’t watch what is on the news. When they hear a Bible story, they eat it up, and can often recite back what they learned to others. Also, because they are dependent upon others to learn about Jesus, they don’t try and add anything to the mix. They aren’t consumed with power and status, trying to prove themselves, or anything like that. They are humble, and just want to be fed and nourished.

Children have a God-given desire to learn, which is why they are probably always asking “Why?” They seem to recognize that everything that they know comes from someone who knows more than they do. They are not know-it-alls who think they have it all figured out. They know they don’t. So they delight in being fed knowledge. And what greater knowledge for them to be fed than the Word of God.

Conversely, adults have a way of being the exact opposite. No longer are we subject to the naiveté of a child. We do think we have things figured out. And often it is our human reason that gets us into trouble. We forsake trust for self-reliance. We trade dependence for independence. We forego humility for pride. And the more puffed up we become, the more we think of ourselves as better than others.

What is it about our need to one-up others? Why do we feel the need to compare ourselves with others and figure out a way to come out on top? Is what we see in our political atmosphere for the last several years a model of good behavior?

It just seems like everyone is determined to lift themselves up, while at the same time putting the other down. Isn’t that pretty much what we see in political ads from both parties today? But it isn’t limited to political parties, is it? How often in our conversations do we try and put others down? How often do we make efforts to show that we are the greatest?

Such an atmosphere and attitude only leads to losing what is of utmost importance. Those who are the greatest. What impact will such behaviors have upon the children of our nation? What impact will such behaviors have upon those who are truly needy and dependent? Will all such care and concern for those in need be lost in a mess of pride-filled parading of egos of all sides of the political spectrum?

As Christians, we are called upon to turn and become like children, to lay aside our egos. Lay aside our need to compare ourselves with others, and one up others. We are called upon to do the one thing that is most unnatural: Repent, and admit that we aren’t great. We are in need. We have nothing. We are dependent. We are weak.

Weakness, is by no means an easy admission. We would much rather put on the façade that we are strong, we are great. In a world of riots, violence, hurricanes, and more, how strong and great are we feeling these days? Are any of us feeling up to the task to conquer the world? No doubt we are all feeling a bit helpless. No doubt we are all feeling a bit weak.

And that’s because we are weak. We are not able to conquer the world. We are not able to fix all of the world’s problems. But even more than that, we can’t fix the greatest problem: sin. It is our sin that makes us the most needy, the most dependent. And it is our sin that drives us to a humble position on our knees before the Almighty God.

When we are on our knees, we see things from a different perspective. We see things from the perspective of a child. A child is always looking up to those around them. They are always looking up to those that can fulfill their needs.

If ever there is a time for us to get on our knees and take the perspective of a humble child, it is now. And while we are there, kneeling before God, it is a time to repent, and admit our weakness, admit our sins, and while we at it, to pray.

One thing has become clear during this pandemic is that our lives have been re-ordered in countless ways. And in doing so, there is the great risk that we have lost sight of what it means to be a child of God.

A child of God doesn’t have all of the answers. A child of God doesn’t jockey for position. A child of God doesn’t rely upon themselves for salvation. A child of God is just that…a child. And a child has needs. 

What are our needs? We may think what we need is peace in a world of violence. We may think we need our candidate to win the next election. We may think a lot of things, but what we need more than anything is to be daily fed by God’s Word and to regularly receive Christ’s forgiveness.

Far too often as adults, we think we have outgrown our need for God and His gifts. Far too often we have cast what God gives in the Divine Service aside thinking we are just fine without it this week. Far too often we have thought that we are know-it-alls so we don’t need God’s Word like a child in Sunday School. But nothing could be further from the truth. We never graduate from needing God and the gifts of His Word and forgiveness. If anything, we need it more each day. We need Jesus more each day.

Let’s not forget that as Jesus said that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is a child, that Jesus Himself came into this world as a child. He came as an infant, dependent, needy, humbly born into a poor family in a stable and placed into a manger. Where the religious and political leaders were jockeying to be the greatest, He humbled Himself by taking the form of a servant and subjecting Himself to their conviction: death on a cross. Though He truly is the greatest One, He became the least. He laid aside His crown for a crown of thorns. He gave up His throne in heaven for the throne of a tree on which He died. And He did it all to forgive us and save us and make us His own. For we are now children of the Heavenly Father. (Pause)

Baptized into the name of the Triune God, no matter our age, we are children of the Heavenly Father. Which means that we, just like that boy Jesus brought before the crowd, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Dependent, weak, and needy as we may be, we have been elevated to the status of greatness. And that’s all because of One who is our strength, who meets our needs, and who really is the greatest: Jesus Christ our Savior. In His name. Amen. 

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

Following Jesus

Sermon: “Following Jesus”             

LSB Series A; Proper 17

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost; August 30, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 16:21-28

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

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

It is not going to be easy. How many times have we heard that line, or something similar to that? It is not going to be easy. 

Some of us think this way about a task that has been given to us by our boss. They outline all of their expectations, and while processing it all, we think, this is not going to be easy.

Some of us think this way about school work. As the school year has just now begun or is about to begin, students across the land are receiving instruction and syllabi from their teachers or professors. No doubt many are saying to themselves, this is not going to be easy.

          Some of us think this way when we have a conflict in a relationship, be it with a neighbor, friend, spouse, child, parent, or otherwise. We know that by remaining silent, nothing will get accomplished. Reconciliation will never occur. So, we know we need to go talk to them. But as we think about that, we think to ourselves, this is not going to be easy.

          There is much in this life that is not easy. Even though the company, Staples, launched the “Easy Button” back during the Super Bowl in 2005, we know that it is just not that simple. Life is not that easy.

          The same could be said for following Jesus. It is not easy.

Now it is true that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We live in a world where there is freedom of religion. So we want to be careful. We don’t live in Saudi Arabia or China or in Somalia. In countries like those, and so many others, Christians must be very careful in practicing their faith. In some cases they face threat of fines, imprisonment, or even death. Christians in those parts of the world, and in many others, can certainly attest that following Jesus is not easy.

But it is also not easy for us…but for very different reasons than what is going on in other parts of the world. Once again, Jesus said: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Deny ourselves. We live in world that is all about me, myself, and I. This country has staked its identity on personal gain and growth. We rarely think we have enough and we rarely are concerned with others. Our eyes are not fixed on Christ, because we have conditioned ourselves to look more often in the mirror. What do I want? What do I need? What makes me happy?

To deny ourselves would mean to turn away from these questions, and instead look outside of ourselves and realize that this world that we live in is not a solar system that revolves around us. But just think about how consumed we are with ourselves. Think about our conversations, our thoughts, our actions. Think about just how consumed we are with “Me!”

Denying oneself is coming to terms that I am nothing without Somebody else. That Somebody is Jesus. Where He is the One who is in the lead, and we are the followers. Where He gives direction, and we fall in line behind Him and go where He goes.

But we don’t like that. How many of us like to be in charge? How many of us like to call the shots? How many of us when we are put in a position of following are instantly thinking about ways we could do things better than the person leading? Or how many of us go to the length that we start thinking about how we might unseat the leader and assume the position ourselves? How many of us like to be King or Queen of the hill? To some extent, we all do.

Following is not easy. And that is especially the case when we consider that the path the leader is taking us on is not going to be easy…especially when we know that the road is going to be marked with suffering.

That was Peter’s issue. Listen again: From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (Matthew 16:21-23).

Oh, what a difference a week makes. Last week, we heard Peter confess that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Now this week, he is being called Satan, by Jesus no less. But can we blame Peter?

Peter didn’t want to hear that Jesus was going to have to suffer. And as one of His followers, he didn’t want to suffer either. Like all humans, Peter was more interested in personal gain and glory.

This is what is called a theology of glory. Gene Edward Veith, well known author, scholar, and professor writes that “a theology of glory expects total success, winning all battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. 

If a theologian of glory gets sick, they expect God to heal them. If they experience failure or weakness, then they are often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of their faith and sometimes questioning the existence of God” (ligoneir.org).

Needless to say, Peter was questioning Jesus. He was not only questioning Jesus, but the very path that God the Father had set out for Him. Peter wanted Jesus to go on teaching and preaching and doing miracles, and then reign as king in this world. That way, Peter too, would be granted success and glory.

But glory doesn’t come in the path that is most easy. Glory, eternal glory, comes in the path that leads to the cross. This is the theology of the cross. Veith goes on to say in quoting Martin Luther: “When God chose to save us, He did not follow the way of glory. He did not come as a great hero-king, defeating his enemies and establishing a mighty kingdom on earth. Rather, He came as a baby laid in an animal trough, a man of sorrows with no place to lay His head. And He saved us by the weakness and shame of dying on a cross. Those who follow Him will have crosses of their own: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”” (Matthew 16:24) (Ligoneir.org).

We have been called into a theology of the cross, not a theology of glory. Though it is not easy in such a self-centered world, we have been taught to set our minds on the things of God rather than the things of man. We have been instructed to turn our hearts and minds away from a constant pursuit of happiness to what truly provides satisfaction.

Consider the question Jesus asks: For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:26).

These are simple rhetorical questions. The answer is ‘nothing’. If we set our sights only on personal gain and glory in this world, we will be left with nothing. If we set our minds on the things of man, we will be left with nothing. Truth be told, we will be left separated from God forever in hell.

And that, my friends, is why Jesus willingly and voluntarily went the way of the cross. He knew that we could not do what was demanded of us. He knew that our sights were constantly set on the ways of the world, and in so doing, we were doomed to be damned.

So, Jesus denied Himself. He left His throne in heaven. He laid aside His personal glory where He was seated next to the Father, and in exchange He was fixed to a cross. He set His mind on the things of God, the will of His Father, and paid the price that should have been ours. And in so doing, with the paid price of His precious blood that was shed, He gained the whole world. He is our Savior. He is, as Peter confessed last week, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

And now He calls upon us to follow Him. It won’t be easy. There is no easy button. Standing up for our faith, especially in the world we are living in these days, is not easy. There will be sacrifice. There will be suffering. But there in the midst of that suffering, Jesus is there. As we take up our cross and follow Him, Jesus is there. 

He is here today to give us strength and encouragement for all that yet lies ahead. And in the end, Jesus will return in glory. He will welcome us into His presence. All suffering will cease. And the One who was raised on the third day will welcome us into His glory for all eternity. So, let’s all keep following Jesus, and to God be the glory. In His name. Amen.

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

Building God's Church

mon: “Building God’s Church”             

LSB Series A; Proper 16

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; August 23, 2020

Gospel Reading: Matthew 16:13-20

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

Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:15-18).

How does the Church get built? 

Our congregation began back in 1883 just north of here in what used to be known as Helvetia. The original church building was built for $850. The church proper that you sit in today was built at the cost of $10,000 in 1905. The basement was excavated and refinished in 1941. The narthex and basement bathrooms were added in 1949.

But is that how the Church is built? Is building a church solely a matter of bricks and mortar? Does the mantra, “If you build it, they will come” actually work? No, a building does not ensure that a Church is built.

So, how does the Church get built?

Is the church solely built by how many people are inside? Just get the pews filled, then the church will be built. Is that how it works? These days, that’s pretty difficult. Not only are we living in a country where Christendom is in decline, but we are also living in a global pandemic. We began with 40 people per service upon our return, then 60, now 90. And it looks like this could be our maximum for quite some time. Who knows?

But in the midst of this pandemic, there are a couple of things I have been told. When the pandemic was in its initial stages, it was said that 27 million more people that usually attend church were watching church services. 27 million. It was also told to me that when the services all went online, that there was a moment where Facebook crashed. Yes, if those stats are true, Jesus crashed Facebook.

But is that how God’s Church is built? 

Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my church. Is the rock a physical piece to the church’s puzzle? Is the rock more people in the seats? Is the rock more views on-line? No.

Now there are those that would contend that Jesus is saying Peter is the rock on which the church is built. But is that true? What do we know about Peter? We know that almost all of us can relate to him. He always says what’s on his mind. We know that he walked on water, and then took his eyes off of Jesus and sank before being saved. We know that in the text next Sunday, Jesus will rebuke him and say “Get behind me Satan.” We know that he promised never to deny Jesus, and then did it three times. We know that Jesus restored him to discipleship, and through him, God did remarkable things to build the Church.

The rock is not Peter, even though Peter’s name means rock. The rock is the confession that Peter boldly makes. Specifically, the rock is the One whom Peter confesses as the Christ. It is Jesus, the Son of the living God.

So, how does the Church get built? By confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God…by remaining faithful to Word and Sacrament ministry… where Jesus is our firm foundation upon which we stand, all other ground is sinking sand. He is the One who builds His Church.

The Church is the assembly or gathering of all believers. Right now, here in this pandemic, we assemble both in person and on-line, and we gather around the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, to confess that Jesus is Lord.

This distinguishes the Church from everything else in this world. Where the world places value above all else in power and wealth and material gain, our sole source of salvation is in the promised Messiah who has come, has died, has been raised, and will come again.

Throughout the history of the Church, He has graciously used people as His instruments to grow His Church. Consider Peter, who after having denied Christ three times and was restored as a disciple, boldly addressed the people at Pentecost when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given. It was on that day, while preaching that sermon, that three thousand souls were saved.

But it was not Peter that saved them. It was Jesus, the One Peter boldly confessed as Savior and Lord.

Consider Paul, who after having ravaged the church and gave approval of the stoning of Stephen, confessed Christ to both Jew and Gentile. Though he endured imprisonments, stonings, shipwrecks, beatings, and more, the Church continued to grow. 

But it was not because of Paul. It was because of Jesus, the One Paul boldly confessed.

Consider how you came to faith in Christ. It was not by anything that you said or did. It God at work through the means of water and the Word at your baptism. It was God using someone who passed on the confession of Christ to you. It was someone taking the time to share what they had been given to share, the love and forgiveness of a Savior named Jesus.

For some of us that happened as an adult. For most of us it was probably as a child or at infancy. The book of Proverbs tells us: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

I think of that verse, especially as we are about to begin a new school year. Our school has seen an increase in enrollment of 30 students. That will be 30 more children and their families daily hearing of the love and forgiveness of the Savior. That will be that many more children and their families being given opportunity to confess that Jesus is Christ.

Here in a day and age where it may be so discouraging to see what has happened to our church with all the restrictions in place, God has opened this door through the ministry of our school like we would have never thought possible. Is this how God is building His Church right now? Perhaps. Lord willing, we will see that it is so.

And who knows how this congregation might be stretched during a time like this to boldly confess Christ? Who knows what opportunities yet await us? 

What we do know is that now is not the time to be silent. Now is not the time to hide in fear and forsake our confession of Christ. Though we see on the news that there is growing opposition to Christ and His Church, Peter’s confession ought to embolden us to speak out all the more. Even though we are limited in our church attendance right now, that does not give us license to turn our backs on Christ and forget that we have been called to be His witnesses. Though we live in the midst of a world of darkness, the light of Jesus shines all the brighter.

It did in Peter’s life as he confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord, and so it is for us as well. This confession of Christ was given to us a gift in our baptism. It was publicly affirmed at our confirmation. When we confess the name of Jesus as Lord, not even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Though we may look out into this dark world and think that Satan is winning, he is actually on the defensive. A gate is meant to keep someone out. And he just can’t do it. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Himself busted through those gates to declare His victory. 

Though all looked to be lost as He hung upon that tree, nothing could have been further from the truth. Though Satan was no doubt delighting to see the Son of God suffering and dying, little did he know that just such a sacrifice was the means by which he would be defeated. For when Jesus said, “It is finished,” that is what it meant for Satan and his so-called reign. It was finished. Satan is a loser. He is a defeated enemy, and He ain’t got nothing on the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ.

He ain’t got nothing on stopping the building of Christ’s Church, because He has given His Church the keys to the kingdom. Jesus said to Peter: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19).

God is building His Church through the forgiveness of sins. Every time you confess your sins and are forgiven, Christ’s Church is being built all the more. Satan is being crushed, and you are being renewed and restored. Through His holy Word, Christ, the Son of the Living God now resides in you. He is now at work in and through you, and the gates of hell will not prevail. They don’t stand a chance. Jesus has stomped on the head of the serpent and he is done for.

Yes, God is building His Church, and now He sends you out as His instruments to do just that. Through your vocations, your stations in life, in the power of the Spirit of Christ, you confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. So keep confessing, and rejoice in watching Christ’s Church grow. 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.

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