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.

Absolution is from Christ

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

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

Many people find Absolution offensive. Only God can forgive sin, they say. How then can you have a pastor saying, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?

It is true that only God can forgive sin, but in what way has He promised to forgive sin? He sends His ministers to forgive on His behalf, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ has the authority to forgive sin. He earned it by paying for every sin ever committed through His suffering and death. And Christ gives that authority to His Church on earth. When a pastor speaks the forgiveness Christ has sent Him to speak, it is Christ Himself who forgives sin. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, so it is He who decides how He wants to forgive sin. Christ has chosen to give forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men sent to His people for that purpose.

Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it is somewhere out there for you to find. Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in heaven. Forgiveness of sins needs to come to sinners, where sinners are. That is why Christ instituted the church. The church is the place for sinners to gather and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to the church.

Since forgiveness belongs to the church, no man can assume the office of pastor without a call from the church. The church, to whom forgiveness belongs, must call a pastor to give this forgiveness to them. No one can appoint himself to be a pastor. This is what it means in Romans 10 where Saint Paul asks, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” They cannot preach unless they are sent. They must be called by God through the church.

Christ instituted the office of the ministry, or the office of pastor, for the purpose of preaching His Word and giving His forgiveness. It is the office or the position that is special, not the man who occupies the office or position. There is nothing special about the man John Nieminen. He has nothing to say to you. He has no special wisdom, insight, or knowledge to impart to you. Yet when your pastor speaks Christ’s Word to you, it is Christ Himself who speaks to you. When your pastor forgives you your sins, it is Christ Himself who forgives you your sins through the Word He has given your pastor to speak.

This is why pastors wear albs or robes. They cover up the man and remind you and me that it is only according to his office as pastor that he has the right to say one word from God. This is also why pastors are called by their title. It’s not a matter of pride or conceit, but rather a reminder to you and to me that I’m not here of my own doing. I didn’t decide one day that I think I’ve done enough studies, look on a map and say, “I’m going to move to the prairies and serve these two congregations in Neudorf and Melville as their pastor.” No, God called me here to be your pastor. He called me through you, the church. You called me to come and speak God’s Word to you and forgive you your sins in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not here as John to do what I want or speak what I want. I’m here as a pastor, doing what God has commanded me to do, and saying what He has commanded me to say.

There are some things I’m tempted to not preach or teach. I’m tempted to avoid saying things that get people upset. I’m tempted to not touch sensitive topics with a ten-foot pole. But I don’t have a choice in the matter, unless I am going to be faithless to the One who has called me to teach and preach to you.

I must preach God’s Law to you. I must tell you what God commands you to do in every aspect of your life. It is necessary, not because you can fulfil the Law of God, but so that you will recognize your failures to do what God commands and repent of your sins. It is necessary for me to preach the Law so that you realize that you need forgiveness and that you would desire to receive that forgiveness.

I must preach the Gospel to you. I must tell you that Jesus died on the cross for all your sins, so that every single sin is forgiven: big sins, little sins, public sins, secret sins. Jesus took the punishment of every single one of your sins so that you have the promise of eternal life instead of eternal punishment in hell.

I must forgive the sins of repentant sinners. I must also retain the sins of the unrepentant.

Those who are offended by a man forgiving sins are even more offended at a man retaining sins. “Who are you to judge?” they say. Once again, we have to go back to the Word of Christ Jesus Himself, who says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Withholding forgiveness is not done arbitrarily or based on the whims of the pastor. Here too, a pastor must follow the Word of Christ. It is only the impenitent sinners who have their sins retained and are not forgiven; those sinners who refuse to turn away from their sin; those who have no desire to do better.

Every sinner who is repentant is forgiven. The weak sinner who struggles with his sins is forgiven. The repentant sinner who has again fallen and thought, said, or done something which breaks God’s holy Law is forgiven.

This is where Absolution comes in. Absolution gives forgiveness to the weak and doubting heart. It strengthens faith. It is Christ’s Word spoken to you in His stead and by His command.

When you hear the words of Absolution, it may be the voice of your pastor you hear, but you are hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus instituted the office of the ministry for the benefit of His Church, so that through the ministers who faithfully proclaim His Word, Jesus Himself is speaking. When Jesus commands it to be spoken, so it is.

You can thus be confident in the Absolution you receive from your pastor. The forgiveness he speaks is not his own forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God. He is the messenger of Christ, speaking that which he has been commanded to speak; forgiving what he has been commanded to forgive.

Your faith is thus in Christ and His promises, nothing else. Christ cannot deceive or lie, so you can confidently trust His word of forgiveness which He speaks to you through the mouths of His ministers. Ministers come and go, but Christ’s promises to you are eternal. Amen.

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

By Whose Authority?

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 21:23-32

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

As Jesus was teaching in the Temple, the chief priests and elders of the people questioned Him saying, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

The question of authority is an important one. Not just anyone can show up in the Temple to teach. Not just anyone rides into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna” as Jesus had done earlier in the week. Not just anyone throws out money changers and salesmen from the Temple as Jesus had also done that week.

The chief priests and elders of the people were questioning Jesus’ authority to do what He did and say what He said.

In answer, Jesus asked them a question in return, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” Jesus asked them this question, because it has the same answer as the question they asked Him.

If Jesus’ authority is from man, then His forerunner’s authority is also from man. If Jesus’ authority comes from God the Father, then His forerunner’s authority is also from God the Father. If the chief priests and elders would have answered Jesus’ question correctly, they would have also answered their own question correctly. But they refused to answer.

When John came preaching a baptism of repentance, the tax collectors and the prostitutes repented and received the forgiveness of sins. They stopped living in their sin. They turned from sin and produced the fruit of repentance (Mt. 3:1-6). The chief priests and elders, on the other hand, did not repent of their sin. They presumed to say that Abraham is their father as if that is a substitute for repentance. They were saying, “We are God’s children, so we don’t need to repent. We don’t need to do the will of the Father.” Thus, Jesus told the chief priests and the elders of the people, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”

The chief priests and the elders of the people had rejected John’s baptism of repentance. Sure, the tax collectors and prostitutes need to repent, they thought. They thought that they themselves were so good and so righteous that they didn’t need to repent of sin. They thus rejected the Saviour. They rejected the Saviour as preached by John the Baptist, so they rejected the Saviour standing before them, teaching in the Temple.

Of course, it makes sense that if you reject Christ’s messenger, you reject Christ who sent the messenger. Christ says to His ministers, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

Thus, you are stuck with the same question about your minister. Is my ministry to you from God or from man? If it is from man, then come to church when you feel like it, and don’t come when you don’t feel like it. If my ministry to you is from man, then take what you like from the things that I say, and discard those things that you don’t like. If my ministry to you is from man, then I am speaking my own opinions and ideas, and you really lose nothing if you don’t hear what I say.

However, if my ministry to you is from God; if I have been called by God to serve you here in this place, then you better be here, hearing what God has called me to say. If my ministry to you is from God, then take what I speak to you from God’s Word to heart, whether you like it or not, because it is not my opinion, but the Word of God. If my ministry to you is from God, then it is He Himself who is speaking to you through His Word, it is He Himself who absolves you, it is He Himself who gives you the body and blood of His Son to eat and to drink.

By what authority am I doing these things, and who gave me this authority? When Christ sends His ministers, He tells them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. So when He sends His ministers to preach His Word and administer His sacraments, He has the authority to do it, and His ministers do what they do and say what they say by Christ’s authority, not their own.

That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in Baptism. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to baptize. That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in Absolution. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to absolve you. That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to distribute to you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ, and He sends His ministers to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name. Repentance, because we are all sinful and must turn away from our sins. Forgiveness, because salvation does not come from our own work or efforts to save ourselves.

If forgiveness of sins comes from our own work or efforts to save ourselves, the chief priests and elders of the people would have been in good shape because of all the good that they did. However, good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer (LSB 555 st. 1).

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else. Jesus is the one who fulfilled the demands of God’s Law for us. Jesus is the one who suffered and died for us. Jesus is the one who rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else. Faith does not look to our works. Faith does not look to our sins. Faith does not look to how successfully we have managed to avoid the sins of our weak flesh.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone because we don’t need anything else. In Him we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In Him we have salvation full and free. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone because in Him we have the promise of health after illness, of joy after sadness, of life after death.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, so as He has promised you, He can and will bring you to where He is, so that where He is, you may be also. Amen.

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

The Marks of the Church: Consecrates or Calls Ministers

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service

Dear people served by Christ through His called ministers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The true Christian church, or God’s holy people, is recognized by the fact that she consecrates or calls ministers. Why is this a mark of the church? Because Christ instituted the office of pastor. There must be one who publicly and privately administers, gives, and exercises the Office of the Keys, Holy Baptism, and the preaching of the Word, those marks of the church that we have heard about in previous sermons, as well as the Sacrament of the Altar which we will hear about in Maundy Thursday’s sermon.

The church did not sit down in a council one day and decide that they needed to create an office or position of pastor. Rather, Christ Himself instituted the office of pastor. Ephesians 4 tells us that Christ gave not only the apostles, the prophets, and the evangelists of the past as gifts to His church, but also pastors (Eph. 4:8-11).

Why is a pastor a gift to the church? Because he equips the saints, he does the work of ministry, and he builds up the body of Christ are the reasons given in Ephesians 4 (v. 12). In other words, a pastor is a gift to the church because Christ gives His gifts through the pastor to His church.

Since the office of pastor was instituted by Christ, He is also the one who decides who can fill the position. First Corinthians 14 (vv.33-40) and First Timothy 2 (vv.11-15) exclude women from the office. First Timothy 3 excludes unsuitable men: those who are not above reproach, who are divorced, or who are not sober-minded and self-controlled; those who are not respectable, hospitable, or able to teach; those who are drunkards, violent, quarrelsome, or lovers of money; those who do not manage their household well or keep their children submissive with dignity; and finally, those who are recent converts or those not well thought of by outsiders (vv. 1-7).

While holiness of life is indeed expected of all Christians, there are special requirements for the office of the holy ministry. Christ does not want His sheep hurt or misled by the shepherds that are supposed to take care of them. Pastors who cannot teach God’s Word properly or do not set an example of good works and holy living can lead others into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Pastors are instructed to be an example to their flock in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (I Peter 5:3; I Tim. 4:12). The church neither shall, nor can, tolerate public vices in her ministers.

Further, a pastor does not decide what to preach or what to teach. He may decide which text to preach on. He may decide which book of the Bible to study for Bible class. But God’s Word is God’s Word and that is what the pastor is to preach and teach. The pastor doesn’t decide what is right and wrong. He doesn’t decide if infants should be baptized or not. He doesn’t decide whose sins should be absolved and whose should be retained. He does not even decide who should commune and who should not commune. All these things have already been decided by God’s Word. The only question is if the pastor is going to be faithful to what God has called him to do as a steward of the mysteries of God (I Cor. 4:1), or if he is going to be faithless and serve his own belly (Rom. 16:17-18).

As it comes to preaching and teaching, Saint Paul instructs the young pastor Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim. 1:13) Scripture gives us a sound pattern of words. Don’t try to be creative. Preach the Word. Don’t try to be edgy. Preach the Word. Don’t try to entertain. Preach the Word.

Christ also instructs His ministers saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Christ did not say teach them to observe those things that they want to observe. He didn’t say teach them those things that are socially acceptable and tolerable; those things that people don’t find offensive. Christ did not say teach them to observe what you think they should observe. Christ’s instruction and command is for His ministers to teach people to observe all that He has commanded. There is no picking and choosing.

How can Christ command such a thing? As He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He is the one with the authority. The church is His. The people are His. The pastors are His. Thus, what is taught by His pastors to His people in His church is up to Him, not to anyone else.

Christ gives such clear instructions for pastors to follow because He knows better than pastors. A pastor may have the temptation to let something slide or to avoid dealing with some matter because it is difficult and will cause conflict. “Maybe if I’m just friendly to them and ignore the obvious sin then I can win them over and they’ll repent.” Trust me, every faithful pastor in the history of the church has had the temptation to let things lie. Christ knows better. Christ knows better how to save than we do. Christ has given us His Word which leads to repentance and saves. A pastor’s friendliness will never save anyone, but the Gospel saves. Baptism saves. Christ saves through His means of grace.

Note Christ’s promise which He gives to His ministers and to His church, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Until the end of the age, that is, until the end of time, until the end of the world, Christ will be with His church. Christ will be in His church giving His gifts that He earned on the cross through His called and ordained servants.

Christ speaks His absolution through the mouth of the pastor. Christ baptizes in His name with the hands of the pastor. Christ gives His body and blood to eat and drink from the hands of the pastor.

Thus, it is a mark of the true Christian church that she calls pastors to faithfully preach God’s Word, exercise the Office of the Keys, and administer the sacraments. Where the church consecrates or calls pastors to faithfully give these gifts of Christ, there is the true Christian church. This must be so because Christ Himself gives His gifts through the office that He instituted to care for His people in His church.

Because Christ uses pastors to give His gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, the office of pastor is necessarily found in the Christian church. A Christian church is recognized as such because Christ calls ministers to faithfully serve His people there by giving His gifts. God’s holy people cannot be without faithful pastors and faithful pastors cannot be without God’s people because together they are the church, the holy people of God. That is how you can recognize the true Christian church. Amen.

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

*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).

Who is Fishing?

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 4:12-25

Dear people on whom the light of Christ has dawned: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The misapplication of the text in our Gospel reading is responsible for more unnecessary feelings of guilt in the Christian church than possibly any other. Note that I said the misapplication of the text, not the text itself.

Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The misapplication is when you are told this is a command for you. The guilt comes in when you see that you have not done it.

The misapplication happens all the time. Sunday school curricula have taught it, as have many pastors. It appears on mission banners and in mission songs. It’s used as a slogan for evangelism programs and a rallying cry for outreach. In fact, some of you may have the idea engrained in your minds that of course Jesus has called you to be a fisher of men.

The guilt comes when you see what Jesus says this involves, and you see that you haven’t done it. Have you left all and followed Jesus? Have you left your home, your friends, and your family to tell others about Jesus? Have you left the place where you were raised and your family roots to bring the Gospel to others? Have you left your career in the secular world and become a fisher of men?

That’s what Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to do. Jesus called them, and Scripture says Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed Him, and James and John immediately left the boat and their father and followed Him. They left their occupations and their sources of income to do what Jesus called them to do, trusting that Jesus would provide for their needs.

When you think that Jesus has called you to be a fisher of men, you can’t help but feel guilty if you haven’t done it. Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John was absolute. They left everything behind and followed Jesus. It wasn’t some part-time position for which Jesus was recruiting. He didn’t call them so that they could make an evangelism call in their spare time or invite their neighbour to church when they happened to bump into them at the post office. He didn’t tell them to drop a couple dollars for mission offering and consider it fishing for men.

Jesus called them to follow Him for three years, to learn from Him, to witness what He said and did, and then He sent them to the far reaches of the known world to bring the light of the Gospel to those living in darkness. He taught them and trained them and then sent them to teach and train others. Jesus called these men for this specific task.

Callings are personal. God called David to rule as king. He did not call you to rule as king. God called Abraham to sacrifice his son. He did not call you to sacrifice your son. Jesus called the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. He has not called you to do so. Just so, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be fishers of men. He has not called you to be a fisher of men.

If you see Jesus’ words as a command to you, you cannot help but feel guilt over what you have not done. The thing is, you have enough guilt to deal with over what Jesus has called you to do that you don’t need the additional guilt of failing to do what Jesus has not called you to do.

Jesus has called you to teach His Word to your children. He has called you to be a witness to the Gospel in your personal life, to your family, friends, and co-workers. He has called you to support those He has sent as preachers of His Word both at home and in distant lands.

There’s enough guilt here for all of us without inventing additional guilt, as we recognize how we have failed to teach our children the faith as well as we should have; how we have failed to have family devotions and teach the importance of faithful church attendance; how we have failed to witness to our family, friends, and co-workers or even invite them to church; how we have failed to support the Gospel both among us and in distant lands. Yes, here we have guilt for failing to do what God has called us to do. We have enough guilt on our hands to deserve eternal punishment in hell.

This guilt, however, is not ours to bear. Not because we’re not guilty, but because Jesus bore our guilt for us. We cannot undo what we have done. We cannot change the consequences of our past failures and mistakes. Jesus, however, has borne our guilt and sin for us. Jesus has taken the guilt of our sins away from us. His death wasn’t just a show, but rather it was a payment for sin – for our sin. It was a complete payment for all the sin of the whole world, so you know it was a payment for your sin.

This is the greatest news in the world. It’s the greatest news for your children to hear. It’s the greatest news for your family, friends, and co-workers to hear. It is the greatest news for you to hear.

It is the great news that Isaiah prophesied saying, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matt. 4:16)

Jesus is the light of the world. He shines on us and the darkness of our sins is gone. The dark stains of our sins are removed from us as the light of Christ shines upon us.

The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world did not come to seek those who are perfect. He came to seek sinners. The Great Physician did not come for those who are well, but those who are suffering from the sickness of their sins. The light of the world did not come to seek out other lights that were shining in the darkness. Rather, He came into a world enveloped in the darkness of sin to be the light of the world. He came, shining as the radiance of the Father’s face to shine upon our human darkness, piercing the night that shrouds our race (LSB 914 st. 1). God the Father has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of light, the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). Our past failures to let the light of Christ shine through us have not dimmed or overcome the light of Christ. Christ continues to shine on us. He continues to forgive our dark sins and strengthen us to walk in His light. He continues to shine on us, even in the shadow of death, until He takes us to be with Him in eternal light where there is no darkness at all. Amen.

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

The Lord of the Harvest

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 10:1-20

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

“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.” The kingdom of God is discussed as a harvest, similar to the parable of the sower. We are told the harvest is great; there is much harvest that needs to be gathered. However, the labourers are few. There are few who have been sent by the Lord of the harvest to labour to bring in the Lord’s harvest.

Thus, Jesus instructs us to pray to the Lord of the harvest so that He would send labourers into His harvest. This is one specific request for which Jesus has told us to pray. We have clear instructions that this is according to God’s will and that we should pray for it. If Jesus Himself has told us to pray for this very thing, do you not think God will answer this prayer?

We have our answer in the text. No sooner had Jesus given this instruction to pray that God would send out more labourers, than He immediately sent the seventy-two to work in His harvest. He sent the labourers even before anyone had a chance to pray that He would send more labourers. Jesus says, “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest. Go…” His very next word to the seventy-two is “go.” Jesus is already answering the prayer that He tells us to pray.

So don’t get the impression that the harvest is out of control. Don’t get the impression that labour shortages will prevent God’s kingdom from coming. Don’t get the impression that the harvest is up to us – as if the harvest is ours; as if the labourers are ours; or as if the kingdom of God will only come through our prayers (SC II.2).

This is not just some random harvest Jesus is talking about. He says it is the Lord’s harvest. More than that, He is the Lord of the harvest. Even further, He sends labourers into His harvest. The harvest is His. The labourers are His. The results are His.

See, when it comes to His kingdom and His promises, Jesus is all about certainty. He will not leave anything to chance. Jesus sends His ministers with His Word into His harvest to bring about His kingdom. He gets rid of all the uncertainty by giving us His promises, and by giving us real physical elements combined with His Word that make His kingdom certain among us.

Jesus has given us Baptism which has the physical element of water that is physically poured over the head as one is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:18-19; Mark 16:16; I Peter 3:21). There remains no uncertainty after Baptism. No one needs to wonder whether they are truly baptized or not once it has taken place. All the promises of Baptism are given in Baptism and there can be no doubt that those promises are for you since you were baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27; Titus 3:5).

Jesus has given us the Sacrament of the Altar which has the physical elements of bread and wine that are physically received in the mouth along with Christ’s own Words of Institution which tell us that we receive His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; I Cor. 11:23-25). There remains no uncertainty with the Lord’s Supper. No one needs to wonder if their sins are truly forgiven after receiving the Lord’s Supper. All the promises of the Lord’s Supper are given in Jesus’ true body and blood and there can be no doubt that these promises are for you since you yourself receive Jesus’ body and blood.

Uncertainty arises only when the institutions of Christ are not followed, such as when one is not baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit or when an element other than Christ’s mandated element of water is used. Trying to be innovative and creative, some people, instead of baptizing in God’s triune name, baptize with characteristics or descriptions of God. They might say, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer” instead of what Jesus commanded. Others want to use other elements, such as rose petals, instead of water for Baptism. As ridiculous as this sounds, I’m not making this up! Such novelties remove all the certainty of Baptism as they do not follow the institution of Christ.

Uncertainty arises also when the institution of Christ is not followed with respect to the Lord’s Supper. If bread is replaced with some other element or if wine is replaced with some other element, all certainty is lost in the Lord’s Supper since these are not following the institution of Christ. Some church bodies use crackers and grape juice, but they do not believe that Jesus true body and blood are present anyway, so not only do they not have certainty, they outright deny the very Words of Christ.

Uncertainty is also introduced in the Sacrament of the Altar if one who is not sent by the Lord of the harvest presides over it. That’s why the church ordains men to carry out the functions of the pastoral office once they have been tested and examined and legitimately called by God through the church. It’s all about certainty so that you know that you receive what Christ has promised you receive. If you have someone who is not a pastor, or a woman who claims to be a pastor even though the Lord of the harvest has specifically excluded her from the role, you have no certainty as to what you receive since you are not following the institution of Christ.

Rest assured, this has nothing to do with the character or the person of the pastor himself. A pastor is just another sinful man, but God takes this sinful man and calls him through the church to be a labourer in His harvest to speak His Word and give out His gifts. That’s why all of God’s gifts are certain – they don’t depend on your pastor, but on the Word and institution of God.

Without God calling pastors through the church, you would simply have chaos in the church. You would have self-appointed pastors who want to teach their own ideas instead of the Word of God and gain followers for themselves and their own earthly gain. It would be like someone hopping a farmer’s fence and starting to harvest the farmer’s crops without the authorization of the farmer. Since they are the farmer’s crops, it is his harvest, and he sends his labourers to gather in his harvest for him. In the church, this is for the sake of good order as it is on the farm, but even more, it is the institution of the Lord of the harvest; it is for your certainty, so that you know what you receive.

The Lord of the harvest is so adamant about the certainty of your salvation, that He has also given you His sure and certain Word. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will not pass away (Luke 21:33). He has given you His Word, so that you can recognize truth from error, and also recognize the labourers the Lord of the harvest has sent from the false teachers with which the world is filled. The Word of God is what is sure and certain, and it is your responsibility to compare what your pastor preaches to what God says in His Word. This protects you from following false teachers or from being misled into false doctrine.

The Lord of the harvest sends His labourers into His harvest. We pray that He would send them, and He answers our prayer before it is even uttered. God gives His sure and certain gifts through His labourers so that you are sure and certain that you receive what God has promised you receive – the forgiveness of sins. And the Lord of the harvest has given you His Word which leads and guides you in His truth to life everlasting. Amen.

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