Walking as Christians

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost based on Ephesians 4:17-5:2

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

Through Baptism, you are clothed in Christ. Christ Jesus has claimed you from darkness and ignorance. He has taken you from walking in the futility of your mind to walking as His baptized child. As a consequence of this, you have been changed and are not to follow the old man which is corrupt through deceitful desires; you are not to follow the desires of the flesh.

The Holy Spirit tells us through the apostle Paul in our Epistle lesson that we Christians are not to walk as the pagans and unbelievers of the world. We are given several examples of how we are to be different from unbelievers: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (4:25-32)

With the Fifth Commandment, God protects the body, with the Sixth the spouse, and with the Seventh temporal possessions. Just as God does not want our neighbour’s money or possessions taken away from him, God does not want his reputation, good name, and upright character taken away from him, so God gave us the Eighth Commandment (cf. LC 255-256). God knows how many families have been destroyed by gossip and slander and how many congregations have been split because of people breaking the Eighth Commandment.

God’s command to not bear false witness against our neighbour includes the particularly detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on. It is a common evil plague that everyone prefers hearing evil about their neighbour rather than good, although we ourselves are so bad that we cannot suffer that anyone should say anything bad about us (LC 264).

This is what unbelievers do. They destroy the reputations of others so that jobs are lost, careers and marriages ended, and mobs rise up to judge what is not their place to judge. You are commanded not to do the same.

You are then warned by the Holy Spirit to not sin in anger. “It is better not to be angry at all. But if one does fall into anger he should at least not be carried away by it toward something worse.” (Chrysostom) On no account are you to be carried into swelling rapids by the impulse of rage (Jerome). You are commanded to not give rein nor yield to the impulse and promptings of wrath, but to beware of doing what your wrath would have you do (Luther).

Instead of sinning in anger, you are to not let the sun go down on your anger. You are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. You are to be reconciled with God and with those who have made you angry, rather than giving the devil the opportunity to lead you into other sin because of your anger.

You are told put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and clamour, along with all malice. Bitterness is a resentful attitude of the heart that arises from the belief that you have been treated wrongly. Clamour is angry shouting and malice is an attitude of ill-will towards others and the desire to do them harm. The connection between these can be seen in anger leading to bitterness and angry shouting, to lying and speaking ill of someone, and anger can even lead to the desire to do them harm.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. How is it that you can forgive someone who has sinned against you? Because God in Christ has forgiven you.

God forgave you all your sins through Baptism, but because you have sinned since Baptism and have been angry and gossiped and slandered and been bitter and shouted angrily and desired harm to others, thus God forgives you again and again. The entire Christian life is a continual return to your Baptism, a continual drowning of the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance.

The danger of not daily being sorry for your sins and repenting of them is also mentioned in our text. Impenitence is the same as having a hard heart and being calloused. When sins are constant and repeated without repentance, you begin to be calloused to the sins, and your hard heart does not feel the accusations of your conscience. You start to argue that it is no big deal that you talk about someone behind his back; that you are justified in your anger; that your bitterness is right because you have been mistreated. That is not the way you learned Christ! Repent. Repent and believe the Gospel.

For you, Jesus suffered bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander and malice. Jesus was treated unfairly but He did not become bitter. In anger and wrath Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Even crucified He still bore clamour and slander and malice.

Jesus died on the cross for your sins, but He is not bitter with you. Jesus suffered the righteous and just wrath and anger of God over your sins, but He is not wrathful or angry with you. Jesus suffered for your sins of anger and slander and gossip and lying but He bears you no ill-will.

Jesus is tender-hearted, forgiving you all your sins because He loved you and gave Himself up for you, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. His fragrant offering covers the foulness of your sins.

Daily repentant of your sins. Be sorry for your sins and trust in Jesus for forgiveness because He will never withhold it from you. He gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins and through them strengthens you to eternal life, so you know you have His forgiveness.

In Baptism you have put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. All your sins are covered. You are righteous and holy. Thus, you do not walk as the pagans do. You walk as a child of God because your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. Amen.

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

Fed by Jesus

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:30-44

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

God gave manna to the children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years to physically nourish and strengthen them. Just as God’s people were set free from slavery through the waters of the Red Sea, so we are set free from the slavery of sin through the waters of Holy Baptism. Just as God fed those whom He freed from slavery with manna from heaven, so we are fed by the bread of life, who is Jesus Christ himself. Just as the children of Israel couldn’t “stock up” on manna for another day but needed to gather it every day as their daily food, so we need Jesus every single day. We need his precious Gospel. We need the words of life He alone can give. We need to take His flesh and blood into us by faith, as well as by eating and drinking the sacramental bread and wine, which are, as Jesus plainly teaches, His real body and blood.

We see in His miraculous feeding of the five thousand that Jesus is the Creator. He worked a miracle that only the Creator could do. He created. Where there had been only five loaves and two fish, He created enough food to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children, and with twelve baskets of food left over. Consider who this man really is. He is God. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the one who sustains all things by His mighty power. He is the one who made us in His image, male and female. He is the one who rained manna from heaven, and now has come down from heaven to be with us, never to leave us.

Jesus is our Creator. We tend to think of God the Father as our Creator. This is of course true, but God is not divided. Saint John writes in the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (Jn 1:1-3) God the Son was also creating, as was the Spirit of God who Genesis tells us was in the beginning hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together, one God.

Jesus created us, and He still sustains us. He gives us what we need for this body and life. Even more, He gives us eternal life. He has joined us in our own flesh and blood, that He might bring us back to Him as pure, holy, and perfect saints. He came to do what we could not do. He came to restore God’s lost and fallen creatures. He came to redeem us body and soul. See Him do what only the Creator can do. It is our Creator who has joined us in our human flesh and blood by becoming a human being while remaining the Creator God. Jesus is true man. He is a man in every single respect. He is like we are in all things except that He never sinned because He could not sin since He is eternally pure and holy.

Jesus provides us with what we need for this body and life, but the time will come when this earthly life will end. We will all die. This is for what Jesus prepares us most of all. He prepares us for death, because He has died the death we deserve. The eternal death we deserve for our sins was swallowed up by Jesus’ death. We have eternal life waiting for us as our promised inheritance because we are baptized into Christ. We have eternal life waiting for us because Jesus Himself forgives sin in Absolution.

And Jesus gives us His true body and blood to spiritually feed us. There are two kinds of eating and drinking that take place in the Lord’s Supper: physical and spiritual. The physical eating and drinking is done bodily with the mouth. The spiritual eating and drinking is through faith. Just as the mouth receives the body and blood of Jesus – because that’s what the sacramental bread and wine are – faith receives the benefits of Christ’s body and blood: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Our Creator God who has taken on our flesh gives us His body and blood to recreate us through the forgiveness of sins. He feeds us hungry souls who are burdened by sin. He nourishes us and strengthens us by forgiving our sins, and He thus nourishes us and strengthens us to eternal life.

Jesus provided physical food to the five thousand, but it wasn’t really about the bread and the fish. Jesus’ miracle showed that He is God; that He loves those whom He has created; that He is the provider of everything they need. He wanted the people to realize that He is their Creator, and they should go to Him for everything they need.

Jesus provides physical food for our bodies, but He also wants us to realize that He is God; that He loves us; that He provides everything we need, and so we should pray to Him for our every need.

Our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. With our sins forgiven, there is nothing to keep us from eternal life. With our sins forgiven, we will inherit Paradise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, as He did to little Roslyn this morning. Baptism is not just some empty tradition. It has God’s command and His promise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Absolution, as He did to you this morning. Absolution is not the pastor’s forgiveness, but God’s. It has God’s command and His promise.

Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, as He will give to you this morning. The Lord’s Supper is not just some superstitious gimmick. It has God’s command and His promise.

The reason you know that Jesus gives you forgiveness of sins in these ways is because He is the one who created you. He can and does give you everything you need. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and take your punishment in your place. He gives you the benefits of His death in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

The God who created you will also raise you from the dead. It is His promise to you, because you are baptized into Christ and strengthened and nourished by His Word and Sacrament. As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, so you too will rise, and our loving Saviour will give eternal life to you and to everyone who trusts in Him. Amen

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

(This sermon borrows much from two of Rev. Rolf Preus’s sermons on John 6.)

The Word – Opposed, but Salvific

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:14-29 (Amos 7:7-15)

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

The preaching of God’s Word is opposed everywhere it is heard. The prophet Amos was told to leave the land of Israel and never again prophesy there; never again to speak God’s Word to them there. John the Baptist wasn’t just asked to leave and never preach again. He was beheaded in prison.

Both messengers of God had merely preached the Word God had sent them to preach. Amos called the people of Israel to repentance over their idolatry and various other sins such as taking bribes, fornication, and not helping the needy. John certainly called the Israelites to repentance over many sins, but it was his calling of Herod to repentance over adultery that he was put to death.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are despising God’s Word when you don’t come to church. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are robbing God by not giving more offerings to support this congregation. You don’t like it when I tell you that sex outside of marriage is sin and that those who live together outside of marriage are to repent. God knows what discord and conflict has been caused in this congregation when I have called couples living in sin to repentance.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant, but it is necessary for salvation. It is necessary that you have God’s Law preached to you so that you would recognize sin to be sin and repent. It is thus necessary that you support this congregation so that it can remain here, and the preaching of God’s Word can be heard here.

If you don’t support this congregation, and it does close, where are you going to go to church? An ELCIC “Lutheran” church in town? They don’t call sinners to repentance. They harden sinners in their impenitence. Did you know that at their sister church’s teen assembly in the U.S. earlier this month they had a boy who says he is a transgender girl speak to the teens about God’s call for him to be transgender? This was received with loud cheering by the teenagers. They had a woman who cross dresses as a pastor have the teens repeat after her that homosexuality is beauty. She also has drag queens perform at her church, calls some of Scripture “wretched,” teaches that hell is not real, and views the Wiccan goddess as an aspect of God. (See https://www.exposingtheelca.com/ for this and much more.)

Is that where you are going to go to church and is that where you’re going to send your children and grandchildren for youth camp, or are you going to support this congregation so that God’s Word can still be heard here in this place?

No one else is going to support this congregation. Those who are on the membership rolls but despise God’s Word aren’t going to give a red cent. Nor should they. Why would they support the preaching of God’s Word which they don’t want to hear? Why would they support the preaching of repentance which they despise? They’d sooner support an ELCIC congregation that encourages them to keep sinning. They need to be removed from membership, but that’s another matter. The point is that you need the preaching of God’s Word here, and in order for you to have it, you need to support it.

It is not for my sake that I say this, but yours. It doesn’t matter what happens to me. Like Amos, I can be told to leave here and never again preach God’s Word to you. Like John the Baptist, my preaching can be stopped by the authorities who hate God’s Word. For your sake, you need God’s Word preached to you. You need to support this congregation so you do not lose the great treasure of the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

God can keep this congregation here until Christ returns. If He does so, it is not for your sake that He acts, but for the sake of His holy name, which you have profaned (cf. Ezek. 36:22). You have profaned it by not supporting the preaching of His Word or gladly hearing and learning it. You have profaned God’s name by your sins which have caused God’s name to be blasphemed by unbelievers (cf. Rom. 2:24).

But God does not save you because of what you have done or left undone. He saves you for His own name’s sake. He has sprinkled you with water and cleansed you from your uncleanness, and from all your idols He has cleansed you. He has given you a new heart, and a new spirit He has put within you. He has removed the heart of stone from your flesh and given you a heart of flesh. God has put His Spirit within you, and He will cause you to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules (cf. Ezek. 36:22-27).

And God says to you, “Bring the full tithe… And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:10-12)

God promises you every blessing in giving your tithes and offerings to Him. The greatest blessing is that your offerings ensure that His Word remains in your midst; that Absolution is still spoken to you to forgive your sins; that Christ’s true body and blood are still given to you to nourish and strengthen your faith.

The truth is that you have supported and do support this congregation, otherwise it would not be here today. God has already moved your heart to give to Him, and He continues to move you to give.

I am confident that you will ensure that God’s Word is preached to you, not just today, but for years to come.

In this world that has abandoned sanity, you need God’s Word preached to you in its truth and purity. In a world that watches some vile, bottom-feeder from Hollywood say, “God bless abortions” on her Netflix special, you don’t need a church like the ELCIC that encourages abortion. You need to hear the truth that God abhors abortion as a detestable and horrendous sin.

In a world which cannot differentiate male from female, natural from unnatural, or good from evil, you need to hear the truth that God created us male and female, and that He instituted marriage for one man and one woman for life.

You need to hear what is right and true so that you will also recognize where you have departed from God’s thinking and followed the world’s thinking. God has His Law preached to you so that you would turn from sin and receive forgiveness.

Forgiveness is after all what God wants for you. It doesn’t matter the sin, God wants to give you His forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable, whether it is living together outside of marriage, homosexuality, divorce, or abortion. Jesus knows these sins. Jesus died for these sins.

Jesus didn’t think that He was coming to die for people that were overall pretty good. He knew our detestable and wicked sins of rebellion and selfishness, and He came to earth to die on the cross for them. He came to forgive sin. He came to give new life. He came to soothe guilty consciences that have made decisions that cannot be undone. He came to give comfort to you, living in this world of confusion and chaos. He gives you His body and blood to keep you in Him to life everlasting.

Cling to God’s Word and do everything you can to ensure it is preached to you. The Law that points at our sins is not pleasant to hear, but it diagnoses our sinful condition, so that the soothing ointment of the Gospel will comfort us with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). Cling to its light to stay on the path that leads to everlasting life. Amen.

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

The Scandal of the Cross

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:1-13

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

What is it about Christianity that turns people off? If you ask a million unbelievers, you may hear a million different reasons. The music is not exciting enough. The church building is too old. The people in church are too old. The pastor is too odd. Certainly, when scandals appear because a pastor or congregation has fallen into some sin which even the world finds distasteful, that is used as a reason why Christianity turns people off.

However, these are all excuses. They are not the real reason people are not interesting in being Christians. They real reason in Christ. They are offended by Christ, His Word, and what He has done.

Accusations can be made that a particular pastor was not winsome enough, friendly enough, or pleasant enough. He didn’t use the right words or say them in the right ways. That accusation cannot be made against Jesus, however. Yet, Jesus offended people. The people recognized His mighty works and His wisdom. They said, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?” They still took offense at Him because He just appeared as an ordinary man, and from their own hometown and even household. Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

Jesus is no god dreamed up by men. The gods dreamed up by men are superheroes with superpowers who cannot die. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades the ruler of the underworld, and Athena the goddess of wisdom and courage. Men dream up gods in their own image encumbered with their own desires. Indeed, one Greek philosopher wrote in the 6th century B.C. that such writers attributed to their gods “all that is shameful and disgraceful among men; they steal, commit adultery, and deceive one another.” (Xenophanes of Colophon)

The gods invented by men do not die. The true God, Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and did die.

There is no greater scandal to the world. First Corinthians calls Christ crucified a stumbling block and folly; it is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Cor. 1:18, 23). The world doesn’t want a God who suffers and dies, so they are scandalized by Jesus. The world wants a god who fosters and encourages them to follow and fulfil the shameful and disgraceful desires of their hearts, so they are scandalized by Jesus.

It’s not like churches haven’t tried to remove the reasons people give for being turned off Christianity. They’ve thrown away the ancient liturgy and hymns and moved to music that entertains. They’ve built multi-million-dollar buildings, attracted young people, hired charismatic pastors, and hidden their sinful scandals.

Do you know what they’ve thrown away in the process? The scandal of the cross. The scandal of Christ crucified. You could sit through their services and never hear of Christ crucified, which is the very centre of our faith. Nor will you hear the other Scriptural truths that accompany the message of Christ crucified. You won’t hear that Baptism saves – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ absolves sinners through Absolution spoken by pastors – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ gives forgiveness of sins with His true body and blood to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper – that too is a scandal to the world.

Christ’s message of truth will always be rejected by many. Jesus Himself taught in Nazareth and even performed miracles there, but they rejected Him, and Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

When Jesus sent out His ministers two by two to bring to other towns the same message He Himself was preaching, Jesus knew that not everyone would receive the message. Thus, Jesus told them, “if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Jesus prepared them to accept the fact that their preaching of repentance would be rejected; that their preaching of Christ would be rejected; that God’s Word would offend many.

Jesus doesn’t instruct His ministers to cater to what the people want to hear. He doesn’t tell them to be friendlier if their preaching is rejected. He doesn’t tell them to water down the preaching so that it will be palatable to the populace. He doesn’t tell them to be more exciting or entertaining if the people don’t hear. No, Jesus says that if they don’t listen, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. Matthew records that Jesus continues by saying, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (Matt. 10:15)

Watering down the message of the cross will not save anyone. Entertainment and catering to people’s desires will not save anyone. Preaching about Jesus as if He’s a god dreamed up by man will not save anyone. That is why Jesus sends His ministers with the task of preaching the cross.

Only the preaching of the cross of Christ saves. That God took on human flesh and became man is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true. That God the Son died on the cross for the sins of men whom He created is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true.

And yes, the forgiveness that was earned on the cross is given to us in the ordinary water used in Baptism, in the words of Absolution spoken by a sinful man, and in underwhelming bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

God intentionally chooses ways and means to save us that are scandalous to human reason so that we would realize that our salvation is a miracle. It is not something that we do, but something that God has done for us.

God has given us the gift of faith. We didn’t discover the faith by our own efforts or in-depth studies. All our efforts would only lead us to see the cross as a scandal. However, God has miraculously opened our eyes to the truth of the cross.

God initially gave us faith in Baptism. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God continues to strengthen and nourish our faith through Absolution and Holy Communion. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God became man and died for our sins. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us.

Christians don’t let the imperfections of their congregations keep them from hearing the Word of Christ. If there are imperfections with the music, the building, the people, or the pastor (which I assure you is always the case), Christians still come to hear the word of the cross. Foolishness to unbelievers, but for us who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God that saves us and brings us to life everlasting. Amen.

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

Faith in Tragedy

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 5:21-43

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

When terror or tragedy strikes, it is common these days to claim strength in the midst of weakness and helplessness. For example: “Humboldt Strong” and “Toronto Strong.” It says that we are strong enough to get through this tragedy. We are strong, so we will survive, and life will go on.

What is it that makes us strong? Our resolve and determination? Our self-confidence and smug attitude? Our faith in ourselves to stay strong? These will not help us in tragedy.

Faith in Jesus will help us in tragedy and crisis. Faith in Jesus will get us through.

But this faith is not self-confidence. Faith is not confidence that you are strong and can take on the world.

Faith is humble begging. It is throwing yourself at the mercy of God. It is Jairus falling at the feet of Jesus and begging Him to heal his daughter. Faith is reaching out and touching Jesus’ garment for healing and falling at his feet as did the woman with the discharge of blood. Faith is trusting in God’s mercy even though we deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment because of our sins.

So you see, faith is not strength. It is relying on the strength of another, namely Jesus. Faith comes from weakness.

Ask anyone who says that they have strength in themselves to deal with tragedy. They will say they don’t need faith in Jesus. They have faith in themselves – they have no use for faith in Jesus. If you have the self-confidence to get through anything this life throws at you, you reject Jesus because you say you don’t need Him.

Faith is the opposite of self-confidence. It is denying yourself and clinging to Jesus for salvation, comfort, help, and for everything you need.

We heard of the faith of Jairus and the woman with the discharge of blood. Jairus was a prominent man, one of the rulers of the synagogue. He would have been well known, well connected, and well respected. Then we have the woman, who would have been ritually unclean because she just wouldn’t stop bleeding. She had spent all her money on doctors who were not able to help her at all. In fact, the text says she suffered much under many physicians and her condition only grew worse. According to Jewish law, she was unclean and forbidden from even worshiping in the synagogue which Jairus ruled.

Two people on opposite ends of the spectrum. Both in need. Jairus’s daughter was sick to the point of death. In fact, she died while Jairus was with Jesus. She was twelve years old, born about the time that the woman had started bleeding. Both Jairus and the woman went to Jesus for healing, because both had faith in Jesus.

Faith is rather a simple thing. Faith is knowing God as He is revealed to us in Jesus, assenting to the truth of God’s Word, and trusting in God, especially for the forgiveness of sins because of Jesus’ death for us.

Faith is trust in Jesus, even when we don’t have all the answers. Faith does not ask, “Why did this happen to me?” but simply trusts in God’s mercy. Having faith means realizing that all the bad things that happen in the world are not only because of everyone else’s sins, but our own sins, too. Having faith means realizing that God is justly displeased because of my sins.

This brings us back to faith coming from weakness, not strength. In our weakness, we trust in Jesus for salvation, comfort, help, and for everything we need.

Faith does not come from within us. Faith comes from outside of us. Faith is the gift of God. As Ephesians tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one my boast.” (2:8-9) God gives us faith as a free gift.

We cannot attain faith by our own powers or strength, but we can lose our faith when we rely on our own powers or strength. This is seen most often when Christians forget how God strengthens and nurtures faith. They forget that God keeps them in the faith through His Word. They forget that God nurtures them in the faith through the Lord’s Supper. They think that they don’t need God to keep them in the faith because they are strong enough on their own. They stay away from where God preserves them in the faith, thus they fall away from the faith.

Faith does not preserve itself. Just like faith does not create itself but is given by God through the means of grace, so also faith does not preserve itself, but is preserved by the means of grace. The second you think that you don’t need to hear God’s Word regularly and receive holy communion frequently, you are relying on your own strength and are walking down the road that leads to falling away.

Faith trusts in Jesus no matter how things appear. In the midst of suffering, it appears that God does not care. It seems like He is not listening to your prayers.

You don’t think everything seemed bleak to the woman who was able to get no help from doctors, only suffered more, and now had no money either? You don’t think she had prayed to God every single day over those twelve years, crying on her knees, and begging for help? Yet she still had faith that simply touching Jesus’ garment would heal her! After God had not answered her prayers for twelve years, she still had faith and trusted in Jesus.

Such a faith cannot come from within. The only way she could have such faith was because God had given her the gift of faith.

Jairus’s daughter’s future also looked bleak as she was so ill. Undoubtedly, Jairus also had been praying for healing before he went to Jesus, but instead of getting better, his daughter approach closer to death’s door. Then she died.

But having faith means believing in the resurrection of the dead, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Saint Matthew tells us that after his daughter died, Jairus said to Jesus, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” His daughter died, but Jairus still had faith in Jesus.

Your prayers for healing, comfort, and the end of suffering will be answered. No matter how bleak things appear, Jesus will make an end of them as He has promised. You may have to wait twelve years for healing like the woman, or you may have to wait until you die, but Jesus will give you healing, comfort, and end your suffering.

We trust in Him who is the resurrection and the life. We trust in Him because He has given us the gift of faith. He who suffered our sins and sicknesses on the cross will give us healing in His good time. He will save us from our illnesses and sins and even death itself, because He has conquered these enemies of ours.

Jesus continues to preserve our faith through the hearing of His Word and the eating and drinking of His body and blood. He continues to forgive our sins and will keep us in the faith until we die. And then when He returns, He will raise us from the dead like we are merely sleeping and give eternal life to us and all who have died in the faith.

Don’t think you are strong enough yourself to get through tragedies and crises. Rather, in your weakness, trust in Jesus and His promises to you. He will see you through. Pray to Jesus for healing and help even if He has not answered you for twelve years. Pray to Jesus for life in the midst of death.

When you do face tragedy, do not claim to be strong. Instead, in your weakness and helplessness, cling to Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. Amen.

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

Mere Words Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 4:26-34

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

Talk is cheap, it is said. This is of course true of man’s word. It is far easier to talk of great things than accomplish them. It is easier to say that you care than to show that you care, just as it is easier for politicians to make promises than to deliver on those promises once elected.

We are so experienced and familiar with empty talk and vain words, that we tend to hold words to be of little significance or value. Even worse, we recognize our own gossip, slander, complaining; our own name-calling, cursing, and lying and we may indeed say silence is better than words.

Yet God has chosen to save us through words. Not just any words, but His words. God has chosen to save us not through miracles that we witness; not through astonishing incidents we experience; not through overpowering sensations we feel. God has chosen to save you through the humble means of human words. He has chosen to save you from eternal death and hell by His Word.

They are very particular words that save: words that express the Gospel – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins on the cross; particular words that tell you that God loved you so much that He sacrificed His Son for you; particular words that proclaim you justified, that is, declared not guilty for Christ’s sake through faith, when you believe that you are received into favour and that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.

These words are sown into hearts. The sower sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The sower simply scatters the Word. He’s not worried about the outcome.

Anyway, the growth is not in his hands. The earth automatically produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

It may seem like a small, insignificant seed. Just mere words. But these seeds grow up and become larger than all the garden plants and put out branches so that birds can make nests in their shade.

God’s Word produces. It produces faith – saving faith which brings us to heaven. It produces works – good works which serve our neighbour and supply the proof that faith is living. God’s Word produces. It does not return to Him empty, but accomplishes that which God purposes, and succeeds in the thing for which He sends it (cf. Is. 55:11)

This is true for Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well. Without God’s Word, the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit.

Without God’s Word, the bread and wine are plain bread and wine and no Lord’s Supper. But with Christ’s words, “This is my body… this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” He gives us exactly what He promises: His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

God’s Word does what it says it will do. It produces faith and it produces good works, which are the fruit of faith.

Jesus continued the parable saying, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Scripture often calls the close of the age or Judgment Day, the harvest. Once the grain is ripe, it is harvested.

There is only one Judgment Day, but in way, it does not come at the same time for all of us because we all die at different times. As the book of Hebrews tell us, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Heb. 9:27) After death, there is no opportunity to repent or believe or do good works – these are all to be done while we are still alive.

Do not look at death from an earthly perspective. Look at death from God’s perspective. When the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come. When God has called His elect to faith and He has produced growth in them so that that are ripe, He harvests them into His barn. He takes them home to heaven.

From an earthly perspective, we sometimes hear it said that it was too soon. My parents were taken too early. My spouse died too soon. My poor little child died too young. God says, when the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come.

The earthly perspective forgets that heaven is our aim, our goal, our home. It is God’s aim, goal, and home for us. When our loved ones die in the faith, that is God harvesting His ripe grain. It is God taking His children home.

We have the same aim and goal as all believers – to be forever with the Lord. However, since we are still here on earth, that means it is not yet time for our harvest. It means that we are not yet ripe. We are still here to grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith. Even bed-ridden believers can pray for others while on their deathbeds and provide a witness of hope in God’s promises to their families. We can grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith until we are ripe, and then the harvest comes.

The harvest will come. The time will come when your appointed time to die arrives, and then comes the judgment. Because God’s Word has been sown in your heart and faith has sprouted and grown, you will be ripe for the harvest.

You have nothing to fear in death or on Judgment Day because Jesus has already been judged for your sins. You are baptized into His death and resurrection and you eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of all your sins, so you will receive your promised inheritance of eternal life.

This is not empty talk or vain words. It is almighty God’s promise to you that is sure and certain. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s promise to you will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). Man’s words are empty. But when God speaks, it is already done. Amen.

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

Jesus: Crazy, Possessed, or God?

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 3:20-35

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

Jesus is out of His mind, claimed His family. He is possessed by Satan, said the scribes. Whoever does not do the will of God comes to the same conclusions.

You either take what Jesus said and taught, believe it, and do the will of God, or you reject what Jesus said and taught, do not believe, and do not do the will of God. It’s not a game of picking and choosing. You don’t pick and choose what you like out of what Jesus’ said and taught. It’s all or nothing. You must conclude either that He is God and speaks the truth, or He was insane and a lunatic. Everything He said and did He said and did as God, or He said and did for Satan. There is no middle ground.

There was no denying that Jesus had been casting out demons. Satan’s unclean spirits fell down before Jesus, and He showed His power and authority over them by casting them out. Jesus has power and authority demons. He was casting them out either by the power of God, or the power of the devil, the prince of demons.

The scribes argued that Jesus did it with the power of the devil. They said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out demons.” They rejected what Jesus said and taught, so that was the only conclusion to which they could arrive.

His family wasn’t much better. They said that He’s lost His mind. He’s off His rocker. He’s gone crazy. His family went out to seize Him; to grab Him by force and take Him away from the crowds because they were saying, “He is out of His mind.”

The followers of Christ should expect no different treatment from those who do not do the will of God, whether they are our family or not. Where we cling to what Jesus said and taught, they will think that we are out of our minds.

Jesus said things with which our rational minds have problems. The man Jesus says that He is the Son of God the Father, making Himself equal with God (Jn 5:17-18). He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53)

You must either believe what Jesus says or conclude that He is out of His mind. If you do believe Jesus’ words, then the world will conclude that you are out of your mind, just as they have concluded that Jesus is out of His mind.

To conclude that Jesus is out of His mind is much the same as concluding that Jesus is in league with Satan. Since the work of the Holy Spirit is calling sinners to believe in who Jesus is and trust His work of salvation, those who reject the Holy Spirit’s call to faith and say that Jesus is crazy or demon-possessed are in danger of committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

The calling of the Holy Spirit may take place over a significant period of time, but there comes a time when faith either takes root or is rejected. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is refusing to believe, denying the Gospel, rejecting who Jesus is and what He has done. This is why the sin against the Holy Spirit is mortal and unforgiveable. It is a rejection of forgiveness.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to reject His call to repentance. It is not about any particular sin, but it is refusing to turn away from any sin and receive forgiveness. Every other sin can be forgiven. No other sin is an eternal sin. We are all sinful and commit sin every day. Some Christians even fall into great shame and vice in their weakness. But these sins are not the same as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is refusing to turn away from sin when you are called to repentance and faith through God’s Word. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is not any act of sin, however heinous, but a state or habit of sin which someone wilfully choses and in which he persists in opposition to the Holy Spirit.

It is important to note that Jesus did not say that the scribes or His family had already committed the unforgiveable sin. He warned them of the danger of committing it. We know certainly that Jesus’ brothers James and Jude later believed (cf. I Cor. 9:5), and especially James became an important figure in the early church. We know that Jesus’ mother Mary believed and is found at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:26-27).

The warning is that if someone hardens his heart when the Holy Spirit is calling him to faith, he is in a very dangerous place where the Holy Spirit may eventually stop calling him. Death may come. Christ may return. This then is final impenitence and unbelief – the unforgivable sin which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

However, the Holy Spirit has revealed to us that Jesus is God and He is not out of His mind. We cannot always understand His mind. His thoughts not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9).

God does things that don’t make sense to us. He allows things to happen in the world and in our lives that we cannot see as being good.

Yet we trust in Jesus. We trust that He loves us and does everything only for our eternal good. Surely He only wants what is good for us since He has plundered us from the devil.

Satan did not defeat himself. Satan did not cast out Satan. Jesus bound Him and then plundered his house. Jesus rendered Satan powerless and then saved the captured prey from his house.

In our sins, we were hopeless to save ourselves and escape from Satan. Because of our sins we deserve to spend eternity with Satan in hell. But Jesus would not have it so. Jesus is the stronger one (cf. Mark 1:7) who bound Satan. Jesus “took captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8) and plundered Satan’s house, saving us from under his power. Our sin which held us captive under Satan has been forgiven. We have been released from the Law which would accuse us (Rom. 7:6).

Satan’s reign over us has been destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our sins do not keep us captive to Satan. Jesus bound Satan and he is thus powerless to hold us captive. And since Jesus took captivity captive, captivity itself is captured. There is no longer any captivity to threaten God’s people. Christ has conquered sin, death, and the devil and He has made us free. There is no threat of hell for us.

All true believers come to the same conclusion. We take what Jesus said and taught, believe it, and do the will of God. We believe and follow Jesus’ Word even when we cannot completely understand it. We believe and follow Jesus’ Word even when the world rails against us for being crazy. We believe and follow Jesus’ Word, because His Word is eternal life. His Word has given us faith in His death for us, so that we know that we have been plundered from the devil and are safe in His Church where He forgives our sins and brings us to eternal life. Amen.

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

Treasure in Jars of Clay

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost based on II Corinthians 4:5-12

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

We take division as a given when it comes to many things in this life. Even within families we are divided by politics and we root for opposing sports teams. We accept this. Aunt Molly won’t get invited to the summer family barbeque because no one wants to listen to her never-ending songs of praise to the Liberal Party. Uncle Jack won’t get invited to watch the football game with the rest because he cheers with a bit too much fervour for the Bombers. We don’t have any problem with this. This makes sense to us. Yet we struggle with the words of Jesus that He brings division; that families and even the visible church on earth will be divided, requiring us not to share in altar fellowship with those who do not believe, teach, and confess what we do.

Show all the zeal you want for your favourite political party. Show passion and enthusiasm for your favourite sports team. That’s all well and good. People have no problem with that. But you had better not show zeal for Jesus and His Word of truth. Doing so, you will immediately find yourself in real conflict. You had better not confidently confess what you know to be true because that will offend people and then you will have conflict of the kind with which people do have a problem.

Most especially, this is the life of the ministers of Christ. If a pastor is going to fulfil his ordination vows, he will deal with and face conflict. Not polite disagreement. Not respectful dialogue. It is conflict of eternal proportions, as we take our place in the conflict between heaven and hell; between God and the devil.

Saint Paul writes that death is at work in pastors. Ministry is deadly. That’s why we are tempted to take the easy way out. Avoid the conflict. Keep the peace. Do not acknowledge division. Just give people whatever they want. In other words, we are tempted to not fulfil our ministry.

Our own unworthiness doesn’t help either. We are not worthy to undertake this task of ministry. We’re poor, miserable sinners just like our parishioners. Saint Paul himself said that he is not sufficient in himself for the task of ministry (II Cor. 3:5). He called himself the foremost or chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15) and the least of the apostles (I Cor. 15:9).

However, he also writes that our sufficiency does not come from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God who has made us competent to be ministers (II Cor. 3:5-6). We are just jars of clay; earthen vessels. Such vessels are cheap, unappealing, and rather common. They are the least valued and bound to break sooner or later.

Yet, astonishingly, God gives His divine treasure, His own presence of grace which is absolutely priceless and beyond all value in wretched vessels awaiting destruction. Through pastors as jars of clay, God gives His great treasure to His people. God being our sufficiency, we share in Christ’s sufferings (Php 3:10), and as we heard Saint Paul write to the Church in Corinth, “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake… So death is at work in us, and life in you.”

Indeed, Saint Paul writes to the saints in Colossae that he rejoices in his sufferings for their sake, and in his flesh, he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, the Church (Col. 1:24). Certainly, Paul is not suggesting that he is adding to or completing Christ’s work of atonement, but rather, that his weaknesses and sufferings as Christ’s messenger, and the death at work in him, helps the power of Christ and the glory of God truly shine. The jar of clay is seen to be what it is, and God’s divine treasure is seen for what it is.

So also, every pastor’s weaknesses and sufferings are for the sake of the Gospel. Every conflict we face is for our congregations, even when those conflicts come with members of our congregations. Death is at work in us for the sake of our congregations.

We may be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but we are not crushed, driven to despair, forsaken by God, or destroyed. Yes, even if are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, it is in order that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

In what way is the life of Jesus be manifested in pastors’ bodies? By us never dying? Certainly not. Rather, the life of Jesus is manifested in what He does through our mortal bodies.

The life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies when Jesus uses our mouth and hands to baptize and save an infant from the devil’s clutches. The life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies when Jesus absolves a penitent using our mouth. The life of Jesus is manifested in our bodies when we distribute His living body and blood to His people, giving them eternal life. Death is at work in our bodies which are made of earth and will return to earth, even while life is at work in you, to whom Jesus gives eternal life through us. This manifests the life of Jesus in our bodies.

Jesus gives His treasure of eternal life in jars of clay. The life of Jesus will also be manifested in your mortal flesh when He raises your bodies from the dead. That is the life of Jesus manifested in you. Sinful men deserving eternal punishment being raised to eternal life.

The light of God has shone in your hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is the treasure given to you in jars of clay.

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” If a pastor is preaching about himself, he is proclaiming himself, not Christ. That’s an immediate warning flag and a sign of false teachers. A pastor is to preach Christ crucified and to serve Christ’s bride, the Church, even when it means facing affliction and conflict. He is to proclaim not himself, but Christ, and bring to Christ’s people the great treasure of the life of Jesus.

The life of Jesus is your eternal life, because He lived and died for you. To this treasure we cling even in affliction and conflict; even when we see that it causes division. Christ in His conflict with death, defeated death, so even as death pursues us all the way, we know that the life of Jesus will be manifested in us when He raises us on the Last Day.

Christ sends this message to you in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. Christ and His life for you are the treasure. Cling to that truth with all zeal, passion, and enthusiasm, even if it causes division. Amen.

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