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June 20, 2021 "Jesus Calms the Storm"

“Jesus Calms the Storm”  Rev. Steven Sommerer

June 20, 2021 Fourth Sunday of Pentecost

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Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 

The sermon text is from Mark 4:35-41:

            That day when evening came, He said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat. There were also other boats with Him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet!  Be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”  So far the text.

 

            As the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee, Jesus slept under the stern of the boat.  When I think of Jesus sleeping in the boat, I think of two things.  Firstly, Jesus was exhausted, preaching and doing miracles through long days and praying through long nights.  That’s a good reminder for us that we don’t have to be guilty over rest and times of refreshment.  It’s not ok, nor is it healthy, for able-bodied people to just receive government benefits to stay at home and do nothing.  Paul wrote, “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.”  But labor and relaxation both have their place, and both are necessary.  I’d only add – when you go on vacation find an LCMS church where you’re going.  We don’t vacation from Christ. 

So, Jesus sleeps in our text, and He wasn’t pretending.  While true God, Jesus is truly a man.  You get hungry and tired and need food and rest, and so did Christ.  Hebrews says, “Jesus was like us in every way except without sin.”  Jesus could only be our Savior and Substitute by becoming a real, flesh and blood man.  Only by sharing our flesh, though without sin, could He take our place under God’s Law and keep it perfectly for us.  And only as true man could our God really die for the sins of the world. 

That said, this storm wasn’t your run of the mill storm.  Our text says a “great storm, a hurricane squall” came up battering and swamping the boat with wind and water.  We can imagine the disciples fighting to save the boat, trying to stay afloat.  Finally in desperation, they woke the Sleeping Savior: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Christ Jesus stood up in the stern of the boat, “rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”  And our text says, “It was completely calm.”  He said it, and it was.  

But hold on a second.  If Jesus’ nap proved His manhood, how could He command the wind and waves.  Humans don’t have power over nature, the wind and rain. The strangeness wasn’t lost on the disciples:  “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”  Our Introit Psalm 107 says, “Yahweh, the Lord made the storm be still and hushed the waves of the sea.”  In the words of Job 38, only the true and living God can command, “Here shall your proud waves be stayed.”  Only God could have such awesome and immediate power over an incredible hurricane squall.  Only God can demand the winds be still and they obey.  This is the most important point of our text - Jesus as true God assumed human flesh, and He had to be God and man to be our Savior. 

But the disciples’ behavior is also instructive for us.  They battled desperately against the storm.  Had they really understood who shared their boat, they would have turned to Jesus in prayer sooner rather than when they were at their wits’ end.  Do we really value prayer and believe in it? Do we seek it out for ourselves and from others?  And if we don’t believe really believe in a God who loves and hears and answers prayers, maybe that’s why God sends calamity in the first place.  Sometimes we need to be knocked down before we can look to God’s open hand of grace.  As a kid, it was always good to learn my lessons when the spankings were light. Hebrews says, “God disciplines those whom He loves.  Do not despise God’s discipline, He is treating you as sons.”  

Like the disciples, we very foolishly try to handle things on our own.  We forget that we have access to the all-powerful God who died for us.  We’ll handle the big stuff.  We think. Our kids need to pay for college, instead of trusting God’s care we get them jobs on Sunday morning so their faith suffers as their wallets grow.  During illnesses or painful events in our lives, during troubled times in our marriages and families or other crises, too often we go it alone and struggle vainly in isolation from our Savior.  And sometimes when we realize we can’t do it, we still fail to believe and trust that God can.  But God will send the hurricanes that you need in your life, because your eternal life is more important than building your house on the sandy shore.  God sends the storms you need, so you run to Him. And if that seems unpleasant, at least the One who sends the storms, knows how best to rescue and cares enough to sit with you in the boat. 

Only with Jesus do you travel this life safely.  Only in the shelter of His saving promises may you know peace and comfort.  Your doctors are doubtlessly wonderful, but if your trust is in them first or your job or your smarts, your god is a false god. “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”  The disciples didn’t yet truly know Jesus.  That only really came at Pentecost with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Even after Jesus miraculously calmed the storm, instead of praising the Living God, they were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this?” 

Only in Jesus’ death and resurrection, only by the power of God the Holy Spirit can we sinners know and believe God’s answer to the disciples’ question:  “Who is this?”  This crucified Savior, this Lord who rules over the storms of life, is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Only in Christ can you know God’s perfect love for fallen people… only in Jesus can you understand the Holy Trinity’s desire to save…  Only in His dying proclamation can you know with God’s own certainty that there’s nothing left for you to do to be God’s forgiven, blood-bought children.  “It is finished,” Jesus said, and in His dying word, you can know death has forever been swallowed up by life and victory. 

At Calvary and at the empty tomb, you find God’s answer to the disciples’ question:  “Who is this?”  This is the God that loves and forgives, the God that makes you part of His family through faith.  This is the God who poured for you His unbreakable pledge in His Baptismal waters, that all who believe and are baptized will be saved.  Just as Jesus’ word stilled the stormy waters, so in your Baptism Jesus’ mighty Word makes your baptism His waters of life.  And this is why it’s so important we bring our babies to Christ in Baptism. He says, “Let the little ones come unto Me.”  And that faith given in God’s watery Word clings to God’s sure promises.  

About Jesus’ calming of the storm, Dr. Luther wrote:  “Sometimes it appears the Lord does not see us, and has entirely forgotten about us, as He does here in the ship, and sleeps.  He lets the waves overwhelm the ship, He lets the devil and the world rage against Christians so that it appears that we will certainly sink and drown. In His own time, however, the Lord awakes and shows His might, rebukes the littleness of our faith, the fear and fright of His disciples, listens to our pitiful cries, and ‘stills the noise of His people.’”

If the storms of life drive you to fear, let it be God that you fear, not the storm. Because you know He loves and watches over you.  He promises to walk with you in life’s storms.  He promises you a kingdom beyond this world, a place beyond the waves and struggles of this life, a peace that surpasses human understanding for all who believe.  That blessed assurance, doesn’t rest on you and on your ability to sail well.  It rests on your Savior who promises never to leave you nor forsake you.  

Ultimately, as the disciples and all those who have departed this life in faith have found, our hope is in heaven - a place where the storms never rage.  Entrusting our lives to Jesus, we travel safely through this life’s turbulent storms, but one day all the restlessness of our times will subside and there will be a great calm as we stand in the presence of our God and Savior.  The Savior who stilled the storms of sin and death, brings us into His heavenly harbors, where “there will be no more weeping and no more pain and God Himself will wipe every tear from our eyes.” Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

May 23, 2021 "Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord"

 

“Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord”  Rev. Steven Sommerer

May 23, 2021  Pentecost Sunday

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

            

            Today in the Church Year we celebrate the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost.  The God we worship is the Triune God.  That means that while God is one, He is three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While God is of one will and desire that we be saved, each of the distinct persons of the Trinity does in communion with the other its unique function.  God the Father is God; the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but there aren’t three Gods – only one… and, yet, within that unity, each person does His work.  God the Father in communion with the Son and the Holy Spirit is Maker of heaven and earth. God the Son is the Redeemer who came from the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit’s work is less known, but equally important… the Spirit sanctifies us by calling us to faith.

            The Prophet Ezekiel shows us the Spirit’s work when Ezekiel has a vision of a valley filled with dry bones…  Notice, the text emphasizes, “They were very dry.”  But through the preached Word of God, the Holy Spirit caused the valley of dry bones to come back to life.

            The point is the natural mind and heart of man is very dry… there’s no spiritual life in you.  You’re a bag of dead bones wrapped in skin.  When the Word of God is preached, the Holy Spirit brings the dead to spiritual life.  “Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ,” Romans 10 says.

            The Holy Spirit’s unique, necessary, saving role in the Trinity is to take what Jesus did at the cross and bring it into your ears and your forehead and your lips through the Means of Grace, so that you can know Jesus and be alive in Christ and be saved.  Jesus says in our Gospel:  “The Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus. 

And the Holy Spirit creates faith.  It’s arrogant to think we can come to God on our own power and own terms.  Until the Holy Spirit works in you, you can’t choose for Jesus – you’re nothing but bleached, sun-dried bones.  You can’t decide for Jesus.  You can’t invite Jesus into your heart.  Ephesians says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Until the Holy Spirit came into your life, you weren’t morally neutral, checking out the spiritual landscape and picking Jesus.  1 Corinthians says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the spirit of God.”  Romans says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.”

Our fallen condition is such that we foolishly believe we’ve got great spiritual capacity, but it’s only from the Holy Spirit through God’s Spirit-given Word that we learn the devastating reality of the Fall: “No one comes to Me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father draw Him.”  You aren’t OK.  You aren’t basically good people.  You aren’t fine on your own.  You need an infusion of life – and, praise God, that’s just what the Holy Spirit does in the waters of Baptism. 

So many foolishly think they sustain their own faith… so soon after confirmation or when they move away from home they don’t worship, don’t read the Word, don’t receive the Sacraments… in their minds, they’re OK.  If that’s your thought, repent…  If you starve your faith, no matter how good you feel about yourself, you will burn in the fires of hell forever.  You and I need to be rescued and delivered by the Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God.  Ephesians says, “Faith is a gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” 

The Holy Spirit is also the true author of the Bible through His chosen writers. There are only two ways that the Holy Spirit changes us from dead, dry bones to living children of God.  Jesus says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God, unless he is born again of water and the Spirit.”  “Water and the Spirit” is Baptism.  The Holy Spirit chooses to locate Himself.  He doesn’t hide.  He comes to us in Baptism to forgive our sins, as we see in Peter’s sermon from Acts 2: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”  Baptism is God’s mighty Word joined to water…  He locates Himself so as to be found… so that you will be baptized and get your kids baptized, and know where to find the most precious life-giving power of God – right there in the water and Word.

Generally, churches that don’t baptize babies are also churches that don’t believe we are saved by grace alone.  That teach you must take the lead and make the connection to God.  But this dishonors God and takes His glory and credits the sinner. Paul said, “Faith is a gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” 

Another way God creates faith and bestows His Holy Spirit is through His saving Word.  1 Peter says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and enduring Word of Christ.”  In God’s Word and Baptism, the Holy Spirit does just what Jesus says, “He testifies about Christ.”  God’s Word comes in two main teaching, a Law Word, that convicts us of our sins and ties us in knots.  It says, “You are lost and cannot be saved on your own.”  Then comes the Gospel, the Word of God’s grace in Christ that loose the chains that bind us and sets us free in Jesus’ cross-won victory. 

What else does the Holy Spirit do?  He strengthens your faith.  You can’t stay a Christian if the Holy Spirit weren’t constantly reaching out and working in your lives through His Word, Baptism, and His Holy Supper.  This is why you don’t baptize your children and then kill their faith by starving it.  You don’t carefully disciple your child till confirmation and then say now you’re on your own..  The Spirit doesn’t just start you off, He wants to strengthen and preserve your faith, but it’s like our bodies need food, our souls need God’s Word and Sacraments. Philippians 1 says, “The Lord who began this good work [of faith] in you, will carry it on to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So especially, dear graduates, don’t starve your faith.  Be fred with the Word of Life. 

What else does the Spirit do?  Well, the Holy Spirit brings new impulses and empowers you to do God’s work as the Holy Spirit reaches through you to bless the world.  The Holy Spirit is alive and powerful and active.  You don’t graduate to be useless bumps on a couch collecting money and being cared for.  In the same way, God didn’t save you and me to be bumps on a log, but to “live under Christ in His kingdom, serve Him in everlasting righteousness and blessedness.”  God has given you your time, talents, and treasures to use for the work of His Church and for the spread of the Gospel.  “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your body.”  God wants to use you; the Spirit says, “You are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works He prepared in advance for you to do.”  Can you help with Bible School or Sunday School?  Why not?  Is your fear stronger than the Holy Spirit?  I don’t think so.  Can you invite your neighbor to church or talk to your own kids, classmates or teammates about Jesus?  Why not? You know God promises to give you the words…  So put on your big boy pants and get to work.  God would use you to do great things for His Kingdom.  Get over the excuses and go! 

King David taught us a good prayer for the many times we fail God:  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me, Cast me not from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”  And now as a forgiven child step out in faith; pray, worship, serve Him, and all this under the assurance that God in His grace has called you and joined you to Jesus’ resurrection victory.  You have a life of purpose as you are saved by God’s grace and serve your Savior.

Even your perseverance in the faith until Christ’s return isn’t your work.  The Holy Spirit works in you, Philippians says, to will and to act.  Luther wrote one of the most beautiful confessions of the great saving work of the Holy Spirit, teaching us that our faith, began, continued, bringing forth good works, strengthened and preserved until death all flows from the Spirit.  It’s so perfect and concise.  I encourage all your homes to have the catechism or this hymnal, and use that Catechism to teach God’s truth.  Turn with me to page 323 in the front of your Lutheran Service Book. As we celebrate God’s life-giving, faith-creating, body-raising Spirit we’ll speak together the 3rd Article and meaning in the 1st column there on page 323. 

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the truth faith. In the same way, He calls gathers enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.  In this Christian Church, He daily and richly forgives the sins of me and all believers and on the last day He will raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true.”   Thank you, Jesus, for your Spirit.  Kindle in us the fire of His love.  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

May 9, 2021 "A Sermon on the Family"

“A Sermon on the Family”  Rev. Steven Sommerer

May 9, 2021  Sixth Sunday of Easter

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Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

 

The sermon text for this morning is from our Gospel lesson from John 15:9-17. Jesus said, “This is My commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”

 

Undeniably, the worst plague ever unleashed on humanity, responsible for more deaths than any pandemic in recent centuries is the anti-Christian, political philosophy of Karl Marx.  It’s superspread in our universities and media by people who excuse its atrocities with the notion it just hasn’t been tried by the right people.  

It’s nearly impossible to get a true idea how many have died from that political pandemic in the last century.  As a philosophy it is purely destructive of the family, spiritual, cultural and political institutions.  It sows anarchy and a lack of respect for authority and civil order.  It always tears down, but never builds back positively. I have that in mind as I noticed a smarmy professor this week likening motherhood to a form of eco-terrorism. Railing against the true God, the eco-marxists worship nature instead, but they will never live under the misery their ideas create.  That misery is reserved for their foolish students and followers. 

It’s not only half-witted professors who devalue the gift of motherhood and family more broadly.  In a recent survey 59% said that a woman should tell an employer she had kids when applying for a job.  41% thought it would hurt the woman’s chance of getting the job.  But in a focus group giving feedback on the issue had the guys thinking the woman should tell the boss, that it was positive and admirable and showed multi-tasking ability.  The women in the focus group said don’t tell, fearful that the family would be considered a hindrance to work performance. 

This time of year, we talk a good game about the gift of mothers, but for the most part our culture doesn’t truly value them, even ridicules the June Cleaver types that choose the home for their vocation.  This sermon isn’t really about whether a young girl wants to be a lawyer or doctor or farmer or engineer.  It’s about Christians affirming the Godly importance of family, if it be God’s will, and that marriage is a blessing if God provides a Christian spouse, and that children aren’t a form of terrorism against the earth, nor something to be vaccinated against, but a gift to be received if it is God’s will.  

We affirm today Christian families praying together at the family altar, meals together and re-claiming the priorities of the home from coaches and school activities. We affirm parenting in a Christian way so our kids don’t circle the cultural toilet on the way to hell.  Yes, today we rejoice in the gift of our moms, but even as we rejoice in our parents, we remember that there is only One perfect Father in heaven, and we are members of His family by grace for Jesus’ sake.  God’s grace extends to moms and dads, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and as often as we fail in those important callings God’s grace is bigger than our failures. 

That said, even as we focus on Christ, the church must say something to affirm God’s will for the family.  Being a Christian mom means developing calluses on prayer-bent knees, learning and sharing God’s Word in discipline and daily conversation.  A Christian mom is a professional teacher, counselor, doctor, nurse, chef, janitor, launderer, chauffeur, waste removal expert, party planner, childcare specialist, and a million other jobs, all rolled into one. It’s impossible to assess a mother’s value. 

A Christian mom’s highest calling and greatest value lies in her sanctifying place in the Christian home.  1 Corinthians 7 says the godly mom sanctifies her family as the love of Jesus shines in and through her heart by word and witness.  Lord, thank you for such moms.  Many of you, like I, will one day whisper a prayer of thanksgiving before God in heaven for moms who prayed with us and for us and brought us to Jesus to hear about a love even greater than the love of any earthly parent – God’s love in Christ.

No other vocation in Scripture is as highly praised as the Christian mom.  It’s true dads are given the charge to be sacrificial, servant leaders in their homes.  Godly husbands are called to mirror Christ who loved His Bride the Church, leaders with Godly courage and conviction, willing even to lay down his life for his family.   That’s a man’s God-given job.  But with the possible exception of 1 Timothy 4, where pastors who insist on pure life and doctrine save themselves and their hearers – I can’t think of any vocation that stacks up to God’s verdict over Christian moms. Only of mothers is it said in 1 Timothy 2: “She will be saved through childbearing – if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Notice, moms too are saved by continuing in faith… But God really thinks Christian moms are important!  The Psalmist says moms share in God’s creative work as He “knits us together in our mother’s wombs – fearfully and wonderfully made!” 

Today seems a good day to say something about the Christian family.  God calls husbands and fathers to mirror Christ in loving service as head of the home and wives to submit themselves in reverence to Christ. This is a complementary relationship, not a tyrannical one.  The Godly man isn’t king of the home perched on his throne.  A husband’s headship doesn’t diminish but exalt and support a wife and mother.  It provides a shelter for her gifts to flourish and to be praised.  “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the Church,” Ephesians 5 says.  How did Christ love, not by “being served but serving and giving His life as a ransom for many”?  The Godly woman in Christ is blessed when the Godly man leads and sacrifices and empties himself for his family, even dying for his home.  And where the world preaches independence, the Christian woman knows it’s good for her and her home to have a man who models Jesus’ service.  It’s good for both when husband and wife affirm and support the other.

From early on boys must be taught how to be Christian young men and servant leaders in their homes and church – not spoiled, entitled kings in need of being served, but servants with a heart to model lovingly Christ’s care for His Bride.  Any woman would be wise to run away from a prospective husband whose mom waits on him like an infant.  So also parents teach daughters to be Godly helpers, encouraging and affirming their husbands to be the head of their home, not spoiled princesses.  Any boy would be wise to run away from a prospective wife who disrespected her father.  Both our sons and daughters are taught love isn’t something you fall into, it’s not using someone else’s body, it’s a commitment under Christ for hard times, not just the good. 

Dear young people, if you are at or near dating age, don’t even begin to give your heart to someone who doesn’t love Jesus and can’t be what God desires in your home.  Boys, if the girl you are dating would never consider submitting to a husband out of reverence for Christ – run away as quickly as you can.  It’s not worth the heartache.  Girls, if he’s lazy and entitled – and you’d never trust him to be a Godly head of your home – run away.  You won’t change what they are.  You notice, God never commands a man to make sure his wife submits, or commands a woman to scold her husband to be the servant leader.  God addresses His wisdom to each to take care of their calling.  

Husbands and wives who follow God’s plan for the family are too concerned for the other to get hung up keeping score over who has the authority, who’s the boss and in charge.  Life is better for both.  Both are fed and nurtured in God’s grace and forgiveness, and both let God’s love flow through them into their families. 

Where there is tyranny and lovelessness on the part of the husband or rebelliousness and power struggle on the part of the Christian wife, repentance and mutually sharing God’s forgiveness reorders the marriage and the home becomes a place where forgiven sinners loved by God – forgive other sinners loved by God – freely giving what we’ve freely received from God for Jesus’ sake. Godly homes aren’t perfect. They’re rooted and established in the Heavenly Father who sent His perfect Son, sacrificing His own life for the sake of Christ’s Bride the Church!  Jesus didn’t wait for you and me to get this right.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and that’s in every family!

            Today we thank God for the Christian family and more specifically moms.  We pray God’s strength for those who long for the gift of marriage and family.  And we pray God’s strength for those whose relation to their parents has changed, and they have become the caregiver.  “Honor your father and your mother” is a commandment that applies when you are young or old.  Sometimes as our dearly loved parents age that may not simply mean obeying mom’s every wish, but in honoring and caring for them, making decisions to get and give them the care they need, but may not want.  The 4rh commandment is the only one with the attached promise, you will live long on the earth.  When we are young, our lives are blessed by a parent’s care, and we honor them.  When they are old, our parents are blessed by our care and honor.   

            Whether it be husbands to wives, parents to children or children to parents.  We never quite reach the ideal God’s Law demands.  True love is embodied in sacrificial commitment.  I don’t reach that, and you don’t either.  Just as Eve was drawn from Adam’s side in Paradise, Jesus’ Bride the Church was born from His bloody side when that spear spilled forth water and blood. Jesus emptied Himself for you – not in fleeting emotion – but in sacrificial love and service for your sake and for all His Church.  Into our world of marital fits and starts and family resolutions and failures, our Savior is bigger than our sins.  He gives you a new heart.  You have been born again in the water, Spirit and blood, betrothed to your Savior until the day we enter Christ’s wedding feast.  “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, to present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless.” Amen.

            Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia! And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

 

 

May 2, 2021 "The Vine and the Branches"

“The Vine and the Branches” by Rev. Steven Sommerer

May 2, 2021 Fifth Sunday of Easter

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Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia! Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

            The sermon text is from John 15:1-8.

 

            When I was a kid, my four brothers and I would help on the farm with Aunt Jane and Uncle Lloyd, and we’d get to work with our closest cousins and be traded back and forth, whether it was planting tobacco or hauling hay or whatever was going on. And those are the best memories. The work was hard, but we were outside with our cousins, and Aunt Jane always made the most wonderful meals when we came in from the fields.

            Working with the tobacco was the hardest even though, by the time I was old enough to help it was probably only an acre or so.  After the tobacco was planted, you had to follow and cover the plants and water them from the creek.  As the plants grew they were topped so they wouldn’t flower.  Once the bud was removed the plants put out sucker branches that if you didn’t get ‘em off the plant, would suck the plant’s energy away from producing nice broad tobacco leaves.  Then, of course, the leaves would be scored as poorer quality and bring less money. 

            I don’t remember the suckering part.  I know my mom and her 11 brothers and sisters suckered the plants for her dad when she was growing up.  I can’t remember if we did that when I was a kid, or if that was done with chemicals by then.  But it’s always stuck with me that suckering or pruning the plant was ultimately good for it.  As long as that sucker was attached, it kept the plant from putting its energy into the leaves.

            Jesus is the True Vine. You are the Branches.  A branch can’t connect itself to the Vine.  That’s not how it works.  And you didn’t connect yourself to Jesus, decide for Him, invite Him into your heart or make Him your Lord and Savior.  You were baptized into Christ.  Just after our text, Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”

            So, you are a Branch off Christ the Vine because you were baptized into Christ.  Jesus said, “You are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.”  Now, your spiritual life comes from the Vine that nourishes you the branches.  “If a man remains in Me and I in Him,” Jesus said, “He will bear much fruit.”  How do you remain in Jesus?  Through faith.  How is that faith nourished?  The life-giving, death-defeating flesh and blood of Christ is the nourishment that flows into you.  That’s the gift of the Lord’s Supper.  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood,” Jesus said, “has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the Last Day.”  So, Jesus feeds you with Himself, given for you for the forgiveness of sins.

            Now, what’s interesting in our text is that the Heavenly Father, the Vinedresser, prunes you His branches so that you become more fruitful.  God wants you to bear fruit.  Galatians 5 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  As a Christian if you bear no fruit, you aren’t a real Christian.  Your faith is a lie and you are going to hell.  “Don’t be deceived, God is not mocked,” Galatians 6 saysIf your faith is of the sort that you can live nasty, disgraceful lives, then you are the withered, lifeless branch Jesus talks about; and if that’s so you will be gathered, “thrown into the eternal fire of hell and burned.”  John the Baptist said, “Bear the fruit of repentance.”  Please, dear branches, beloved of Christ, don’t let yourself believe you can be a living branch and still live like hell.

            The fruits or good works you bear don’t make you a living branch.  It’s the Vine you are joined to, the Spirit-given faith and the Word of Life flowing in you, that makes you alive.  Look at 1 John 4: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us... If God so loved us, let us love one another.”  Notice, the fruit comes from God.  Philippians 2 says, “It is God who works in you both to will and to act according to His purpose.”

            Our Epistle from 1 John 4 tells us the kinds of fruits God will produce in you, if you are indeed a living Branch of Christ.  Firstly, you’ll test the spirits and avoid false teachers.  Living Branches care about truth.  Avoid false teachers and all who deny that Jesus came and still comes in the flesh in His Sacrament.  Secondly, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.”  You cannot claim to be of God and hate your neighbor.

            God connected you to Jesus the Vine to bear the fruit of love.  Racial anger and bigotry cannot exist in the heart of a Christian.  We cannot despise those with whom we politically disagree, even if they are profoundly misguided.  Because we love them, we will oppose ignorant, misguided or even demonic ideas, but we can never hate.  In reality, that only hurts and forms an ugly, dark scar on your soul. All people are souls for whom Christ died; and we and they need Christ the Savior of sinners.  There are so many in need whom God would have you love and serve, and even when we get careless God uses our vocations to reach through us. God protects through policemen, heals through medical workers, teaches and clothes through parents, feeds through farmers.  Each of your given vocations is a way God serves and loves through you. 

Sometimes our vocations become a source of sadness. Maybe we wish we could do something else or start to get burned out.  That’s when, you must remember that you serve God in that calling, by serving your boss; by teaching that high school student; or by being a Sunday school teacher or Church council member, or a wife or husband to your spouse.  If you grow weary, “Cast your cares on Jesus,” Peter said, “He cares for you.”  Your callings are good and God-pleasing works, and if they cause frustration your God can uphold you and strengthen you.  And even when the mother diapering a baby through sleep-deprived eyes, wants to give up from exhaustion, that’s God’s work, and it’s holy and precious to Him. Jesus is the Vine and His strength flows through you; even as He puts His own life into you at the Lord’s Table.

            One of the great certainties of life is that you will suffer.  If you live any amount of time, you will experience persecution and hardship; the values you cherish as a Christian will be assaulted; the health you enjoy will slip away.  Even for branches off the Vine, much of life involves pruning.  And Jesus warns His 12: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.”  Your joyous and good moments in life are times for you Branches to be strengthened for the days when life’s winds and storms will surely come and blow hard, lashing the Branches and threatening to sever your connection to Jesus.

            One of the most precious passages of all Scripture is in our Epistle: “God is love.”  Yet, we think if God is love we shouldn’t go through trials; that if anyone should have it easy, it’s the Branch connected to Christ.  But with those old tobacco plants, if the tops weren’t cut and the suckers pulled, the leaves would be puny.

            Only God knows the trajectory of your life, and the crosses you’ll bear.  And only God knows how He’s working all things for the good of you His child.  I might have an idea how that should look, but God is smarter than you and I are. God knows that there are times when distractions and possessions and chasing after stuff can make us withered, lifeless branches. 

Selfishness and pride can cause us to love ourselves rather than let God’s love flow through us.  Pruning may never be comfortable, but God has an ultimate end in mind – that is to save you by God’s grace through faith in Jesus alone. That’s called the life of faith. God knows better than I, so we trust in His judgment.  The One who loved you so much He stepped from heaven to live and die for you and rise from the dead could never – not in a million years – have anything but your best in His heart of love.

            As a partial genius, what I have noticed is that when I’m tempted not to discipline my kids, it’s never because I love them; rather, it’s from a love of self or desire not to be bothered.  But good tobacco farmers sucker and vinedressers prune.

Hebrews 12 says this about your Heavenly Vinedresser: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

            Beloved, you belong to Jesus, adopted sons and daughters in His family.  He loves you with an unfailing love.  Trust the Vinedresser, as your lives bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  And know that no wind or storm, nothing in all creation can sever you from Christ the Vine and His perfect love.  Amen.  

            And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

             

   

            

April 25, 2021 "Jesus the Good Shepherd"

“Jesus the Good Shepherd” by Rev. Steven Sommerer

April 25, 2021 Fourth Sunday of Easter

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Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

            

The sermon text for this morning is from the 10th chapter of John:  Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” 

 

I would guess that in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, even as it is today, there was no more familiar and beloved Psalm than Psalm 23.  Think about your favorite passages in Scripture, and so often Psalm 23 rises to the top.  “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” 

When Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd, He’s not just playing around with a well-known theme.  He’s making a claim to be God in the flesh.  He’s the Good Shepherd who “restores the soul; leads in righteous paths; is with us through death’s dark valley.” He’s the Lord, the true Shepherd. Jesus leads His people to good food and green pastures, and God’s sheep can trust His voice and follow Him.

In Ezekiel 34, Yahweh the Lord condemns the lying false shepherds of Israel that were misleading God’s sheep, and God promised that “I Myself will search for My sheep and look after them.  I Myself will be their Shepherd.  I will tend their lost and bring back their strays… I will save My flock… and will place over them one shepherd, My servant David, and He will tend them.”  That’s such a powerful prophecy because it says God will be the Shepherd, and then His servant David is the Shepherd.  But King David had been dead 400 years.  Jesus is God the Good Shepherd, the true and final Davidic King, born in the City of David Bethlehem, born from the Tribe of David. 

Jesus is no hired hand.  He doesn’t run away when times are bad.  When our lives are crumbling around us the Good Shepherd promises, “He will fold you to His breast, there within His arms to rest.”  When the wolves attack and our dearest friends turn away or are too weak to help, Luther wrote: “For us fights the Valiant One whom God Himself elected.  He holds the field forever.”  You are His sheep, His flock.  He created you.  He put His Name on you in Holy Baptism.  In the midst of a world with a million false shepherds, lying voices that don’t care for God’s sheep… you Little Lambs of Christ the Savior must learn your Shepherd’s voice.  “I know My own and My own know Me,” Jesus said, “My sheep will listen to My voice. So, there will be one flock, one Shepherd.”   

That means you aren’t dumbstruck followers.  Your ears are attuned to Christ.  As sheep in God’s flock, you are to learn God’s Word and have Godly courage to analyze the lie and turn from it.  Modern Christians sometimes think, “All roads lead to heaven.”  That’s not so.  God doesn’t give His sheep the right to decide it’s close enough or to skip from one shepherd to the next.  You are to speak with Peter’s courage in our Acts 4 reading: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus said, “You will never follow a stranger; in fact, you will run away from him because you do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 

Sheep get a lot of flack for being followers, easily led, if you can get one going, you get them all.  Which is true and good – if your leader is the right leader.  You are to be so single-mindedly devoted to Jesus’ voice you won’t drift after every clever, well-marketed imposter.  2 Timothy says, “Hold fast the pattern of sound teaching entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit.” 

As God’s people, the sheep of His pasture, learn again to love the voice of the Good Shepherd, who speaks words of life and salvation for the sheep.  Our children and grandchildren need to hear words of life from the Good Shepherd in Sunday school and midweek, or they’ll never learn to recognize the Shepherd’s voice.  Make Bible class your priority where you share God’s Word together.  Invite to church and Bible class your neighbors and friends who don’t hear Christ the Shepherd’s voice.  Center your home around the family altar where you hear God’s Word. 

Jesus tells us this is all the more necessary because “the wolf attacks God’s flock and scatters it.”  Peter wrote, “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The devil, his lusts and his lies, practically seep, like sludge, from our televisions and computers.  Satan devours careless sheep through pornography, profanity, by glorifying sinful lifestyles and making us live for stuff. Until we have buried in our heart the voice of the Good Shepherd, we’ll chase after every temptation and treat the world holds out to us.  Again, today, your Good Shepherd is calling you and me, “Repent!  My sheep listen to My voice.” 

As God’s own sheep, you heard His voice and His heavenly call, when you were baptized into God’s flock.  Through His precious call, your Good Shepherd adopted you into His flock and family. Even as we wander, the Good Shepherd searches you out and finds you, lifts you to His shoulders and carries you home.  In Luke 12, Jesus said, “Have no fear, little flock, the Father has chosen to give you His Kingdom.” 

In this Easter season, rejoice and remember your Good Shepherd saved you. The Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God with fault or blemish, and John the Baptist pointed us to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  God the Father sent His Son to restore you to life through Jesus’ resurrection from the grave.  Our Living and Risen Christ, in the words of Isaiah 40, “The Lord gathers His lambs and carries them close to His heart.” 

As we’ve now reached the middle of the Easter season, rejoicing in the empty tomb, we sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd in the angels’ promise, “Christ is not here, He has risen just as He told you!”  Like a brave shepherd caving in the skull of a fierce wolf, Christ the Shepherd crushed the devil’s head, leaving death itself powerless to hold God’s baptized people.  Through faith in your Mighty Shepherd you are eternally safe in God’s heavenly flock. 

Today, God uses His Word to feed you and strengthen you.  As God’s Word rings in your ears, is read, marked, learned and taken to heart, your spiritual lives become strong, daily returning to the pure fountains of forgiveness in the Gospel.  1 Peter 1 says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.” 

The Good Shepherd never promises the road you travel will be an easy one.  That’s a lie from the devil who always wants us to seek ease and comfort and then splits us from the Shepherd when the road gets rough.  And we are our own worst enemy, always nibbling and craving the luscious grass that leads us away from Jesus and His flock.  Romans 8 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.”

Yet, our Epistle reminds us, “God is greater than our hearts.”  Our Shepherd lives and reigns to all eternity.  He promises to be with you always, “even to the end of the age.”  He strengthens you for the journey by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.  Even as you travel life’s rocky paths, the Shepherd never stumbles.  He holds you in His strong hands.  His Word gives you courage that heaven is your future: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me;  Thy rod and they staff they comfort me.”

Through treatments or testing, good health or ill, it isn’t always easy to feel the presence of our Good Shepherd, but Isaiah tells you, “Fear not, for I have redeemed youI have called you by name;  you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  When you pass through the rivers;  they will not sweep over you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Jesus went on to tell the Jews, “My sheep hear my voice and follow me, and no one can snatch them from my hand.”  I love that. Jesus is true God and man.  The devil is not stronger than Christ.  “Neither death nor life, angel nor demons… nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He is stronger than the devil, this sinful world, and our sinful flesh, and “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  Nestled in the nurturing presence of the Shepherd’s voice you are eternally safe.  Trusting in your Shepherd: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life and, in Jesus, you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

                        

 

March 21, 2021 "A God who Serves"

“A God who Serves” by Rev. Steven Sommerer

March 21, 2021 Fifth Sunday in Lent 

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

 

            The sermon text for today is from Mark 10:32-45 previously read.

 

            Our God is a God who serves… who, indeed, came not to be served, but to serve.  Even our Sunday worship services are called Divine Services, because the important thing about what happens here – the thing we emphasize - isn’t our worship, but God serving and giving.  God loves to serve His children with His gifts.  Psalm 23 tells us He “spreads a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”  Talk about turning human wisdom on its head.  God joys to serve you.  He even says that’s how you glorify Him best, by letting Him be the God who delivers.  “Call upon Me,” God promises, “in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.” 

Of course, James and John have some different ideas.  Their vision of God’s Kingdom didn’t involve service, but positions of power and glory at the right and left.  To them, Jesus was going places, and they were ready to hitch themselves along for the ride.       How is it with you?  Are you much different?  Are you quick to empty yourself in service and love?  Or are you fast to assert your stature and prominence?   Is self-assertion and leaping to the front of the line more your style?  I’ll always remember when I was a kid how we’d have potluck dinners and there was always a scrum with the kids pushing to get through line first?  I can still see the scene when my mom pulled me aside and informed me how obnoxious it was for us able-bodied kids fighting to the front and leaving our senior saints behind.  I hadn’t thought of it.  But that’s kind of a maturity thing that we’re theoretically supposed to outgrow. 

Most of the time we can put on a good face for each other, probably it’s our parents and spouses who know we’re still pretty selfish.  We know what happens to those who exalt themselves, Jesus says they will be humbled.  James and John – and probably you and I – need to be humbled… need to be stripped of our self-love… need God’s gift of repentance, so that from our knees we can look into the heart of the God who serves. 

In God’s wisdom and will, He doesn’t give us little cubicles in heaven at right and left, He places us in vocations where we receive God’s good gifts and learn to serve and share those gifts with others.  God feeds and cares for you through your boss, and when you serve your boss, you serve God and your customer.  God sets you in a family so He can give daily bread through moms and dads and we can serve each other as God commands us, children learning to honor and serve their parents in glory to God.  Parents become stand-ins for God, as God reaches through them, and parents express their love and praise to God in honoring and obeying for Jesus’ sake.  

That’s how God works to provide earthly blessings, but it’s the same when 
Christ gives His spiritual gifts and grace. God doesn’t convey grace by lightning bolts from heaven, He calls pastors to preach, and the Word always accomplishes the purpose for which He sent it.  Within the Church, God calls us to give our time and our talents and our money to support the preaching of the Gospel and we pray that God’s Kingdom come by the power of His Spirit.  Within each of these callings or vocations in the community, workforce, family and church, we steward God’s gifts for the duration of these short lives, receiving God’s goodness and giving back for His Kingdom.   

In God’s will and design He gave marriage to serve His children, never to be had selfishly without commitment, but a life-long commitment between one man and one woman…  We must constantly reinforce this with our young people.  No marriage can begin with God’s blessing when we don’t follow God’s will. That means marry a Christian and don’t play marriage or shack up, do it God’s way.  Scripture says Christ has His Bride the Church.  Jesus didn’t use and take advantage of His Church without commitment.  In the beginning Eve was drawn from her husband Adam’s side.  We see Christ’s commitment when His Bride is drawn from His Bride by the water and blood that flowed from Jesus at the cross. 

Marriage isn’t playing house waiting till we can get all the extraneous things in order.  In marriage we learn to serve another person for whom Christ died… learning to forgive one another for Jesus’ sake; to empty oneself in service to another;  to rejoice and to give and receive love, trusting He will give us all that we need.  Within that holy calling, children are raised to know the Savior.  In God’s design this one man and one woman gift is His loving service for the good of His children, as two selfish sinners learn to love as we have been loved.  Christian marriage becomes a picture of Christ and His Bride the Church.  “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” 

James and John didn’t trust God would give what they needed.  Maybe they were worried they’d get lost in the shuffle, that Peter and Andrew were starting to rise to the top.  They didn’t trust God knew best how to save them; what best they needed.  Their real problem is a first commandment problem, they didn’t fear, love and trust in God above all things.  They thought they could be Jesus’ handlers.

James and John and their desire for power and position led to a fight.  Christ had just explained He would soon die and rise from the dead… Their politicking behind the scenes led to war among the 12, because none of the 12 trusted God would take care of them.  They were all afraid Jesus wouldn’t see how they deserved to be first and greatest.  When the devil planted the seed in James and John that they deserved better, soon Jesus’ disciples were all behaving like children..  No one cared about serving for Jesus’ sake. 

Jesus’ worldview is very different – He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  That’s true for you disciples of Jesus too.  You are strangers here.  Heaven is your home.  For all the good gifts we enjoy, our calling is to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, not running from the hard things in life.  Doing God’s will, even if it costs more money; even if people try to convince us not to follow God or walk in His path.  

What’s right doesn’t change, because it’s more difficult.  Marriage isn’t disposable when it gets hard.  We learn to serve.  Human life isn’t disposable when it’s old and frail or aborted when inconvenient in the mother’s womb.  Life is a gift we honor it.  True faith trusts even life’s crosses are for our good and shouldn’t be despised or worked around.  When those crosses are heavy and hard, “God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.”  Philippians 2 says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing taking the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

God the Father created all things in heaven and on earth through Christ the eternal Son.  But this sinless Son of God chose to take human flesh.  He chose to do hard things - to walk the path of rejection and humiliation and horrible suffering so that you and I could share His eternal heavenly home.  He became weak, so you could be strong in the assurance of your salvation.  He chose poverty, so you could be rich with heavenly mansions in your future.  He chose death, so you could know a perfect life that never ends where you’ll share with Jesus the riches of His love that you can’t even begin to imagine.  Beloved, since Christ so loved you, “Love one another.” 

Christ didn’t come because His disciples then or now get it right.  Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  That little word ransom goes back to slavery days.  When a slave was purchased, the ransom price was paid.

Jesus paid your price.  He gave His life.  He emptied Himself in sacrificial service for you!  You’ll find that message all over the Bible.  1 Corinthians 6 says, “You are not your own.  You were bought at a price.”  1 Peter 1 says, “It was not with perishable things such as gold or silver that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect.”

Jesus’ perfect life, sufferings and death were for this very reason, so that slaves like you and I, who push and pull for prominence and power, could hear and believe and rejoice – we’re free!  He came so that we could learn true contentment in His love.  We don’t have to find our greatness by stepping on someone else’s head, like our classmates, or spouse or kids or fellow workers or even our church family.  Greatness is found in the saving arms of Jesus, not pushing someone else’s head down so you can step higher.  We find God’s greatness, not in our striving, but in resting in Him. 

Just as then at the cross, once again, today, God is among us as One who serves.  God is – love.  He serves us in His Word, at His altar, washes us and forgives us, and just like that Last Supper, He says, “I have given you an example by washing your feet that you should do likewise.” By God’s grace you are washed clean in His love.  As God is serving you, may God enable us to serve each other.  Amen.

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

March 7, 2021 "God's Wisdom is Loving"

“God’s Wisdom is Loving” By Rev. Steven Sommerer

March 7, 2021  Third Sunday in Lent

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

            The sermon text is from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 previously read.  We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. This is our text.

The picture of Jesus in our Gospel doesn’t square very well with the modern take on Jesus.  If anyone thinks they know anything about Jesus and Christians it’s that they’re supposed to be nice.  But rather than being quiet and sweet, and attempting to facilitate a discussion of the injustice going on at the temple, Jesus fashioned a whip and chased out the money-changers and their animals, throwing over their tables.  He acted like He owned the place, which, of course, He did.

So, what’s your take?  Do you think Jesus came to be nice?  Was He like a modern therapist affirming every person, refusing to make judgments?  For those who want the polite, nice, but not assertive Jesus, these verses sound a discordant note, as though He won’t fit the mold of nice, inoffensive, easily-ignored Jesus. 

I want you to do something for me.  I’ve always asked my confirmation class to do this, and I want you to do it to yourself, then with your sons and daughters, especially high school or college aged, and your grandchildren.  Ask if you will be saved and why?  On what basis do you believe yes or no?  Ask your kids if they know anyone who won’t be saved; or, it’s better if you ask it this way, do you believe any of your classmates or friends are going to hell if they die today?  It gives you a window for having important discussions with your kids.  But it’s also kind of a way to think about what sort of worldview we or our interviewees have embraced. 

What I’ve found is that even among people who grew up in Church, many have mentally traded Jesus the God who cleansed the temple for the nice, easy-going version.  Jesus 2.0, you might say.  Many Christians simply can’t imagine that someone could die and go to hell. 

The root reason is we don’t believe God’s Law anymore: Don’t really believe that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  And not believing that we don’t believe what follows: “And are saved by grace through Jesus Christ.”  People just kind of assume they’ll be in heaven, because they deserve it.  They’re nice.  Jesus is nice.  It’s all nice.  It’s why many don’t care about going to church, they don’t hunger and thirst for the righteousness Jesus gives in His Word and Sacrament.  You don’t hunger and thirst for Jesus when you’re full of yourself. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  God doesn’t save nice people.  The fact is: there aren’t any – “no one who does good”, Romans says.  There are only sinners who: a) die in sin or b) sinners brought to repentance by the Holy Spirit.

The heresy that says everyone’s saved is called universalism.  Universalism believes in a nice god, not a judgey, mc-judgey pants.  But St. Paul would answer: “If righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing.”  Jesus said.  “Wide is the road that leads to destruction and many travel there; but narrow is the path that leads to life and only a few find it.” Our text says, “The wisdom of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing; but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Sometimes liberal Bible teachers say stuff like: the Old Testament condemned the practice of homosexuality, but nowhere did Jesus condemn it.  A woman in our community serving in a pastoral role said exactly that in the newspaper on Feb.25.  She said that the Old Testament talks down homosexuality, but she said essentially Jesus was unconditional love so He is probably OK with it. 

But you know good and well, Jesus spelled out very exactly God’s will for sexuality: “Have you not heard!  In the beginning God made them male and female; for that reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two become one flesh.”  The liberal Bible teacher was saying – not only is Jesus not the God of the Old Testament, but He’d probably disagree with that God – maybe because that One isn’t nice. Now you’ll have to work with me here, because this sermon isn’t really about homosexuality.  It’s about worldly wisdom vs. God’s wisdom.

It’s a dangerous lie no true pastor should repeat to say that Jesus isn’t the God of the Old Testament, the Great I AM.  And no true Christian can repeat it.  It’s the demonic idea of driving a wedge between the God who gave the 10 Commandments in our Old Testament lesson (Ex.20) and Jesus, as though Jesus isn’t that God from Mt. Sinai.  Dying worldly wisdom says, “That God is mean.  Jesus is nice.” 

Look at our Old Testament lesson and remember way back in Exodus 3 when God called out to Moses from the burning bush and told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go.  Moses made all kinds of excuses why he didn’t want to go, and finally asked “Who should I tell him sent me?”  God answered, “Yahweh, I am, who I am.”  Yahweh is hard to put into English.  It means “I am” or maybe even “I am the God who is.” Sometimes people pronounce it Jehovah, but it’s the personal name for God in the Old Testament, like my name is Steve.  God’s is Yahweh, IAM.  You see in our English translation of Exodus 20:2 that when it’s Yahweh the “I Am” personal name of God, instead of writing the Hebrew Yahweh, your Bible writes it in all capitals, “LORD.”

Now, I want you to remember in John 8, Jesus was arguing with the Jews and telling them He is the eternal God over creation.  Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” Liberal Bible teachers often pretend Jesus never claimed to be God.  Jesus was nice, they say; certainly not that disagreeable God of the Old Testament who gives Commandments and Laws. 

But in John 8 when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am”, the Jews understood Jesus was saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.  I’m the One who spoke from the burning bush.  I’m the One who gave the 10 Commandments on Sinai.  I’m the One God who said in the Garden of Eden, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.  What God has joined together let no man separate.”   Not only did Jesus claim to be the God of the Old Testament.  He proved it by His resurrection.  The Jews understood the claim He was making, so they picked up rocks to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy. 

So why am I telling you this?  It’s kind of involved, but if it helps you to consider it, I put the argument in a paper form you can pick up in back.  No Christian should ever claim that Jesus is different than the God of Mt. Sinai.  If Jesus isn’t that God in human flesh, He isn’t your Savior.  He clears the temple, because it belongs to Him, and they’ve turned His house into a den of thieves.

Shame on those rascals for turning God’s house into a commercial money-making enterprise.  Jesus won’t be nice about that.  Sometimes being nice isn’t being loving, especially when to be nice tolerates and approves of sin.  In this case the theft of the money-changers.

Our culture and even the Church culture slips into the nice Jesus’ mode, as though everyone is going to heaven by being nice.  Our kids stop going to church because nice Jesus takes everyone to heaven.  We talk nasty and hatefully to others.  We watch trashy stuff.  We live for money and piling up stuff, because we think Jesus is nice- It’ll be OK.

Jesus is the Eternal God, the Great I AM, as the glory of God dwelt in the temple and filled the Most Holy Place.  Now, the Glory of God dwells in Jesus’ human flesh.  “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory as of the only-begotten Son of God.”  Jesus’ body is the new and true temple that being torn down God rebuilt on the third day by raising Jesus from the dead.

You never do anyone a favor by sheltering a fellow sinner, homosexual, heterosexual, transexual, your son or daughter, Jew, Muslim from God.  You don’t do them or yourself any favors by pretending any human being is exempt from the universal call to repentance.  Our society calls it nice, but it’s loveless and careless.  It lets people go to their judgment without warning. And that’s not nice, and certainly not loving. 

The Church’s invitation isn’t come be nice, like us nice people.  It’s come fall on your face before I AM, the Only God who is.  Fall before Him in repentance.  Repentance isn’t just for homo or hetero or my mean neighbor.  It’s for you and me.  Repentance is for sinners.  That means everyone.  1 Timothy 1 says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  God’s call isn’t to those people out there: it’s to all flesh and blood sinners who need a God who shared our flesh and blood in every way except without sin.  The God whose death emptied death of its hold forever.

There are a lot of modern Greeks who still think the message of the cross is foolishness, and they’re still going to die in eternal hell. Don’t try to spare them the foolishness of the cross.  Don’t try to apologize for Jesus or clean it up or try to make it somehow comprehensible to jive with politics in the year 2021.  God’s Word is a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.  Don’t be ashamed of it, but believe it and speak it faithfully and fearlessly.  You and I need it.  Our kids need it.  Trust God’s Word.  Don’t try to soften or change God’s Word for yourself or your high school or college student.  God can stick up for Himself.  His Word has its own power to change hearts. 

Speak the Law of God.  It actually is truly loving, because in spite of the devil’s lies, the Law shows us the best shape of human life.  Why would you want to shelter your kid from the best form of life?  That’s as dumb as not telling your babies about eating vegetables because it makes them uncomfortable. 

More importantly, Paul says, “The Law is put in charge to lead us to Christ.”  Only as each and every one of us know we are sinners will we care that we have the Greatest Sinner Saver of All.  The God who gave His Law on Sinai, suffered its judgment for you on Golgatha. Repent.  Don’t trust in yourself, but trust in the temple that God the Father rebuilt on the third day, the Christ who conquered death and the grave forever.  Amen. 

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

   

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