Fear Not

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Dear children of God who have nothing to fear: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Fear is something with which we are all acquainted, at least to some degree. Whether it is fear of flying, fear of dogs, or fear of the dentist, we’ve all been afraid of something. There are also greater fears, like fear of disaster, fear of cancer, fear of death. We don’t generally fear such things until such a time that we must face them. We don’t fear disaster until that disaster appears to be looming around the corner. We’re not likely afraid of cancer until the doctor tells us we have it. We may not even be afraid of death until we are told we have only a few weeks to live. Nevertheless, we know fear.

Fear is part of our lives because we are sinful. If we were able to trust God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, we would never fear anything. But we are sinful so we cannot trust God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. We have fears about all kinds of things.

God knows this. That’s why when Gabriel announced to Mary that she will conceive and bear Jesus, he said, “Do not be afraid.” That’s why the angel announcing the birth to the shepherds started by saying, “Fear not.” That’s why when the disciples saw Jesus walking on water, He said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” God knows we fear all kinds of things, that is why He continually tells us, “Fear not.”

In our Gospel reading, Jesus told His disciples three times to have no fear. Jesus was sending them to preach His Word and He was telling them what to expect from the world. The world called Jesus Beelzebul, the prince of demons, so Jesus told the disciples not to expect any better treatment – but to have no fear. Jesus told them that they will be hated by all for His name’s sake, that they would be persecuted, that they will be maligned – but to have no fear. Jesus warned the disciples that their own family members would betray them and deliver them to death for preaching God’s Word – but He said have no fear of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

The funny thing is for us, Jesus’ very words not to fear cause fear in us. If He tells us not to fear persecution, our response is, “I sure hope I don’t have to face persecution” because we are afraid. That’s us. We fear. So we need to hear again and again, over and over, “Do not be afraid. Have no fear even of those who can kill the body because they cannot kill the soul.”

“Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This sounds like a threat from Jesus, and in a way it is. Only God can punish a person, body and soul, by casting him into hell for eternity. Thus, we should fear God so that we seek to avoid those things that deserve His wrath and punishment. We should fear God and do what He wants instead of giving in to pressure from man. We should stand our ground and do what we know is right, regardless of how other men may respond to us or even threaten us. Man can do nothing to us compared to what God can do to us if we turn our backs to Him in order to avoid conflict with men.

However, we don’t need to fear God like He’s out to get us. We don’t need to fear God like He wants to punish us; like He wants to hurt us in some way. Rather, we fear God like children fear a perfect Father. We know that He loves us and wants only what is best for us. He may discipline us as a father disciplines his children, but it also is out of love for us and is for our good. We fear God in the sense that we want to do what pleases Him. We fear God in that we revere, respect, and trust Him. As the First Commandment says, we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7). The fear of the Lord is knowing who He is and what He has done for us. Fools do not know God and do not want to learn. Fearing the Lord is trusting in Him for salvation. Fools trust in themselves for salvation and do not know what God’s Word says and have no desire to learn.

Fearing God is thus trusting Him above all things. When we fear God, we have nothing to be afraid of. When we fear God, we do not even have to be afraid of His punishment.

The reason we don’t need to fear God’s punishment is because Jesus has already been punished for us. The punishment of our sins has already been paid by Jesus’ death for us. That’s why we are forgiven. That’s why we are God’s children through Baptism – because we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.

John writes in his first epistle, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment.” (I John 4:18) Fear has to do with punishment, but since our punishment was put on Jesus we don’t have be afraid. We don’t need to fear God’s punishment or anger because His perfect love casts out our fear. His love shown in sending His Son to die for our sins casts out fear because we have no punishment waiting for us on Judgement Day.

Whatever difficulties we must face in our lives, we know we have nothing to fear. Our feelings sometimes can still get the best of us and we may feel fear, but those are especially the times we need to hear God’s words of comfort and promise. Fear not. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even death is nothing more than the doorway to heaven. You are safe in your loving Father’s hands.

He who cares even for the sparrows, cares for you. Not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father. You are of more value than many sparrows.

Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. An insignificant detail that changes continually and we ourselves don’t even care to know, but God knows. Not one of your hairs falls to the ground apart from the Father.

God shows such love and care for you so you know you have nothing to fear, no matter what you must face. God is with you. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life waiting for you. Fear not. Amen.

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


Saved from Wrath

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost based on Romans 5:6-15

Dear people saved from wrath: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

God created us, and as our creator, He has the right to tell us what we are to do and what we are not to do. As Almighty God, He makes the rules. As the source of all wisdom, He knows what rules are best for us. We may not like the rules, but they are not for us to decide. The rules are for God to decide, and He has decided, and He has given us His commandments to follow.

Punishment is threatened for one who breaks God’s commandments. This may make it sound like God is cold and mean, but it’s not true. Our creator knows what is best for us and for society as a whole, that’s why He has given us rules to follow. Following God’s Laws results in good order, peace, and the welfare of all. God’s Laws protect us from each other so that we don’t hurt or harm each other. They protect the weak and vulnerable and threaten those who would prey on them. God’s Laws threaten punishment and wrath on those who disobey the Laws and cause strife, harm, disorder, and hurt to others.

The wrath of God on sinners is thus righteous and just. It is fair. It is sinners getting what they deserve. We’re okay with that. We want thieves and murderers punished. We want troublemakers and peace disturbers punished. Anyone that would seek to hurt or harm us in any way we definitely want punished.

What we are less okay with is being grouped in with the sinners who justly deserve God’s wrath and punishment. We prefer to think of ourselves as pretty good. Maybe not perfect, but really not so bad either.

We tend to think that what we have done hasn’t really caused much strife, harm, disorder, or hurt to others. Yet, it is our selfishness that has caused broken relationships and broken families. It is our anger that has escalated fights. It is our gossip that has hurt the reputations of others. It is our jealousy and greed that has us chasing the almighty dollar to the harm of our families and to the detriment of our spiritual well-being.

We do deserve the just and righteous wrath and punishment of God. We cannot undo what we have done. Promises to try to do better don’t help our situation. We are too sinful and weak to save ourselves.

The good news is that while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If it was up to us to be strong and stop sinning, that would never happen. We’re too weak. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are weak and struggle to do what is right. We struggle to put others first. We struggle to speak well of others. We struggle with anger, lust, jealousy, greed, and most every other sin under the sun. But in our weakness and inability to save ourselves, Christ died for us. Christ took the punishment of our sins onto Himself. Christ took the wrath of God onto Himself in our place.

This shows God’s love for us. We see that God is not cold or mean towards us. He loves us. He created us, gave us commandments to follow which are for our good, and because we have failed to follow His commandments, He sent His Son to save us by fulfilling the Law for us and dying in our place. God loves us so much that even though we have destroyed His creation with our sin, He still sent His Son to save us.

One would scarcely die even for a righteous or good person, but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, while we were God’s enemies, while we were dead in our trespasses and sins and had done nothing to deserve forgiveness, Christ died for us.

“There is no one who will save us except the One who loved us so much that while we were yet sinners, He died for us. Do you see what ground this gives us for hope? For before this there were two difficulties in the way of our being saved. First, we were sinners, and second, our salvation required the Lord’s death, something which was quite incredible before it happened and which required enormous love for it to happen at all. But now that it has happened, the rest becomes that much easier.” (from John Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Epistle to the Romans)

If this is what God has done for us while we were His enemies, much more He can be depended on for salvation now that we are reconciled! Much more is our eternal salvation certain now that we have been forgiven and declared righteous on account of Christ. Much more is our eternal home in the new heavens and the new earth certain now that Christ has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

If God saved us while we were His enemies, we can expect and hope for all good things from Him now that we are reconciled. He has even given us the Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weakness and strengthens us to follow God’s commands with a willing heart. On this side of heaven we will never follow God’s commands perfectly, but we are given the desire to do what is right and pleases God, and strengthened in doing it, so that we might live lives of good order, peace, and welfare.

God created us. He is our creator. He showed His love for His fallen creation in saving us while we were His enemies, saving us from the punishment we justly deserved because of our failures to keep His commandments.

Christ died for us. He is our Saviour. He saved us from the righteous wrath of God we deserved. He has reconciled us with the Father and thus earned for us eternal life. Amen.

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

Holy Trinity

Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity based on Matthew 28:16-20

Dear disciples of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s an animated movie called “Up” in which the dogs in the movie continually get distracted by the sight of a squirrel. Whatever mission they have going on, whatever discussion they are in the midst of, even if serious and intense, the second the dogs see a squirrel, everything else ceases, they turn and stare at the squirrel, and shout out “squirrel!” It is humorous how easily the focus of these dogs can turn away from what they are doing; how quickly they get distracted from what they are doing every time a squirrel is near.

How easily dogs get distracted in a movie may be funny, but how easily the church gets distracted is not so humorous. The church has a mission, given to her by her Lord, but all too often, the church acts like these dogs, losing focus of the task at hand very easily. The “squirrels” of this world so easily distract the church, whatever those squirrels may be.

First, what is the mission of the church supposed to be? Jesus tells us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus has given His church on earth the mission of making disciples.

Jesus has also given the church the means to make disciples: baptizing and teaching. There are no other ways to make disciples of Jesus except for baptizing and teaching. Too often the church gets distracted from this truth. Too often the church starts to spend all of its energy doing other things to try to make disciples.

Instead of baptizing and teaching, some churches are tempted to entertain in order to make disciples. But entertainment doesn’t make disciples of Jesus; it makes disciples of entertainment, and the world entertains better than the church ever can. Instead of baptizing and teaching, some churches are tempted to start every imaginable program, camp, and event under the sun. Soccer camp may be fun but it makes disciples of soccer, not disciples of Jesus. Even programs that are good and helpful to the community can be a distraction when those programs replace the only means that Jesus has given to His Church to make disciples – baptizing and teaching. Such programs can become the squirrel that distracts the church from what she is supposed to be doing – baptizing and teaching.

And these two things go together. Baptism goes with teaching and teaching goes with Baptism. Baptizing children without teaching them the faith into which they are baptized will result in the children leaving the faith when they grow up. It is like giving a child a meal to eat when they are young and then never feeding them again. Faith must be nurtured by the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper.

Likewise, teaching without baptizing is like teaching someone about God’s gifts but not actually giving the gifts; teaching about how forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, and adoption as God’s children take place in Baptism, but then not giving those gifts. Thus, these two means of making disciples go together, as Jesus clearly commands.

Baptism in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is indeed a gift. Everything that is received in Baptism is hidden in the water, like a present you receive that is covered in wrapping paper. The wrapping paper covers up the gift so that you cannot see what it is.

If you receive a gift that has a peculiar shape, the shape of the package can give you a hint as to what is inside. Something like a frying pan, tennis racket, or drill that’s in wrapping paper can still give you a clue as to what the gift is. So also the visible appearance of Baptism gives you a hint as to what the gift of Baptism is.

Titus chapter three gives us more than a hint, telling us that Baptism is a washing of rebirth, poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Baptism washes away our sins. It is a drowning of our Old Adam with its sins and evil desires, and the emerging of a new man arising to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. The wrapping paper of Baptism is water, but the gift in the wrapping paper is the washing away of sins and eternal life. The benefit of Jesus fulfilling the Law for you is given to you in Baptism. The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus’ death on the cross for you is given to you in Baptism.

Baptism does such great things because you are baptized into the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are baptized into the name of God the Father, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. You are baptized into the name of God the Son, the Word through whom all things were created; the Word who later became flesh and dwelt with us and died for us. You are baptized into the name of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God that hovered over the face of the waters and brought life into being.

Yes, the Trinity is a mystery to us, but a mystery worthy of adoration. We cannot understand the triune God, but we can confess who He is based on His Word that He has given us about Himself. In the Athanasian Creed we get as specific as we can get without inventing something that God has not Himself told us. Attempts to simplify the Trinity so as to be understood by man, or attempts to explain the unexplainable fall into various errors and heresies. Instead, we cling to what God Himself has given us, and confess this to be our faith in the one true God and how He has saved us.

This faith is what the church confesses, and this faith is what the church teaches. This faith is the focus of the church’s existence so that we don’t get side-tracked by all the distractions that can occupy our focus. This faith is the gift of God to His church, the faith into which we are baptized, and the faith by which we are saved. Amen.

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

Let us then confess our faith in the triune God in the words of the Athanasian Creed on page 319.

Living Water

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost based on John 7:37-39

Dear people who thirst for living water: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The province of Saskatchewan is susceptible to drought. The famous “dust bowl” conditions of the 1930s resulted in one of the most destructive prairie drought periods of that century. 1961 and 1988 were also years of drought, with the driest parts of the province receiving less than half of the average precipitation. The most recent drought period was from 2000-2003, with 2001 being the driest year in more than a century.

Most of you know very well the consequences that drought has on the province because of your involvement in farming or even just in living in the province through these times. Wetlands and wildlife are threatened. Municipal water supplies are diminished. The risk of forest fires is heightened. Livestock production is disrupted and crop yields are devastated. Drought has resulted in billions of dollars of losses to Saskatchewan agriculture (source: The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan).

You know what thirsty land is like, and you also know what it’s like when you yourself are thirsty. After exercise or working outside in the hot sun, you have found yourself dehydrated. After spending time in the hospital, dried out by medication and lack of fluids you may have found yourself very thirsty. After farming dry land in the hot sun, the grass crackling under your feet as you walk around dried up sloughs, your own tongue has also craved cold, refreshing, clear water, as the land has.

We can also speak of thirst in spiritual terms. David confesses in Psalm 32 that his sins left him parched. When he kept silent and did not confess his sin, he writes that his bones wasted away through his groaning all day long, for day and night God’s hand was heavy upon him; his strength was dried up as by the heat of the summer. A thirsty soul is one that is distressed because of sin and terrified over evil committed. A thirsty soul longs for the cold, refreshing, and clear water of forgiveness from God. Thus, Psalm 42 says, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Also, Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus gives living water that becomes a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:10,14).

If we do not recognize our thirst, however, we have no desire for living water from Jesus. The preached Word is despised by those who are not thirsty for it; by those who do not recognize their own sinfulness; by those who turn inwardly to look to themselves to quench spiritual thirst.

But just as you cannot turn inwardly to look within yourself for water to hydrate you when you are physically thirsty, so you cannot look within yourself for living water to hydrate you when you are spiritually thirsty. You must get water from outside yourself. You must go to the fridge, to the well, to the water cooler to get a drink of water when you are physically thirsty. When you are spiritually thirsty, you must go to where Jesus gives living water: to the waters of Holy Baptism, to the spoken word of Absolution, to the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

You have undoubtedly heard the advice to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. We may not truly require quite that much, but water is very helpful in preventing fatigue, flushing out toxins, boosting the immune system, and so on. Drinking water regularly prevents you from getting to the point that you are parched.

There is no set rule for how much spiritual water you should drink each day. The Psalms speak of devotional time in the morning, noon, and evening (e.g. 55:17). Certainly, Sundays are the day of the Lord, for receiving living water from Jesus in the Divine Service.

Just as physical water is good for us physically, spiritual water is good for us spiritually. It is helpful in preventing spiritual fatigue and indifference. Spiritual water flushes out the toxins of sin and false belief, and boosts faith, our spiritual immune system which keeps us spiritually alive.

Because of our sinful flesh, we have cravings to drink all kinds of things that aren’t good for us spiritually. We seek contentment, satisfaction, and pleasure from all kinds of things in this world that will never give any of these things even though they promise to do so. We chase after worldly success, worldly pleasure, worldly mammon, worldly praise, but none of these things will quench our spiritual thirst. Rather, they make us even more thirsty, even if we don’t realize it.

Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus gives living water in the water of Baptism, the word of Absolution, and the bread and water of Holy Communion. Not because the water used in Baptism comes from heaven, but because the water is included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. Not because Absolution is spoken by a sinless man, but because Christ Himself has commanded repentant sinners to be absolved in His name. Not because the bread and wine of Holy Communion are special in and of themselves, but because Christ Himself instituted the Sacrament of the Altar to give us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all our sins.

Through these means of grace, Jesus gives us living water. It is living water because it brings us to eternal life. It is living water because Jesus died for us to give us eternal life.

The more we drink the living water that Jesus gives, the more our thirst is quenched. Not so that we would not need living water any more, but that we would desire it more and more. Living water quenches our thirst so that we are turned away from seeking contentment, satisfaction, and pleasure from drinking the waters of the world; those waters that will never give any of these things even though they promise to do so. Living water turns us away from chasing after worldly success, worldly pleasure, worldly mammon, worldly praise.

All of this happens from drinking the living water that Jesus gives, because through the living water, the Holy Spirit is received. “Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” ’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

The Holy Spirit is received in the living water of the means of grace. The Holy Spirit creates faith in you and also works in you to turn you away from drinking those things that are harmful to your salvation. He quenches your thirst through the forgiveness of sins so that you are content and satisfied. He gives you living water to the point that out of your heart will flow rivers of living water. Living water from Jesus fills you to the point that the living water flows from you to others, so that you yourself become a conduit of Jesus’ love and forgiveness to others.

In our lives, we may experience physical thirst and drought, but we need never experience spiritual drought because Jesus freely gives us living water that quenches our spiritual thirst. Through the living water, the Holy Spirit is received who forgives our sin, brings us to eternal life, and causes us our hearts to flow with living water. Amen.

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