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"The Lord's Prayer" July 28th, 2019

“The Lord’s Prayer” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost July 28th, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 11:1-13

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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 Luke 12:  Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

            “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  The man in our Gospel lesson is unnamed.  It’s not important.  Jesus answer is really a refusal to insert Himself into the argument between brothers over the inheritance.  There were courts for that.  Our holy faith isn’t a club to beat people into giving us our way.  Not when Christ came to call us all to an eternal, heavenly inheritance through faith.  So, Jesus doesn’t settle the man’s inheritance battle, but if the man listened, and if you listen, His words get to the heart of the problem.

            Any time you put kids together and set a toy in the middle, you’ve lit a fuse.  It’s virtually certain that little hands will soon be clutching and clawing to pry the prize from the other, and crying and screaming will ensue… usually impassioned pleas to mediate the battle, “I want it… I want it… It’s my turn.”  Whether a toy or an inheritance, our corrupt natures get the best of us.  I want what’s mine, and what’s yours too, if I can get it! 

The situation doesn’t improve as we age.  Getting stuff can become our all-consuming lust.  “Take care and be on your guard against all covetousness.”  We can own or possess money and homes and cars and smart phones, stocks and bonds, crops and fields, or we can be owned by them and enslaved to them.  Do you live for the latest smart phone?  Are you nagging your folks for the fancy jeans all the cool kids wear?  Does your joy in life fluctuate with the stock market? 

Be on your guard” is an interesting phrase.  It’s the same word the Holy Spirit used in Luke 2 to describe the Christmas shepherds in the field outside of Bethlehem keeping watch over their flocks by night.  A shepherd stood guard over his sheep.  A shepherd was on guard because predators are always prowling for an easy meal.  As surely as there are sheep there would be wolves prowling for a quick snack.

            Jesus teaches us to be on guard against all kinds of covetousness.  To covet is the root of all sin… coveting is a creeping cancer that takes root in our minds and spreads until it consumes us with greed and anger and fears that we aren’t being treated fairly.  It grows into brotherly battles over kid’s toys and family battles over an inheritance.  And coveting is just as big a problem whether rich or poor.  Luther’s Large Catechism calls covetousness the most common idol (or false god) on earth.  “He who has money and possessions feels secure [apart from God] and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the middle of Paradise.  On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God.

            God forbids coveting.  He commands its opposite.  Be content.  Be content with what God has given you; pastors content with their congregations; congregations with their pastors; wives with husbands and husbands with wives; parents with children; workers with their jobs.  Those who learn contentment learn the secret to joy and peace.  We learn it when we learn each day God will give our daily bread – that is everything I need. 

            Our text has two important phrases: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions… [and] So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  On the topic of money and stuff, Jesus has more to say than any other, because coveting is a big problem.  We all struggle to be content with what we have.  “No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “you cannot love both God and money.”

            Be content!  Stand guard over your heart like a good shepherd chasing away the wolves.  Guard against the lack of trust that plunges us into despair at every loss or the fevered excitement until we have the newest phone or gadget.  In the book of Job we meet a Godly man of great wealth.  Job’s every earthly possession, even his health was stripped away from him, and it always strikes me that in breath-taking family loss and personal catastrophe, Job spoke with the voice of faith, “The Lord giveth; the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

            Life’s stuff, while all are good gifts from God, can become a curse when we let them consume us.  Sometimes tragedy and personal loss drive people away from God in despair.  On the other hand, during terrible times of loss and great suffering, the church has grown.  Perhaps, in the midst of persecution or Great Depressions we start to remember the difference between temporary stuff and things that have eternal value, like our faith and love for Christ.  St. Paul wrote in Philippians 4, “I have learned the secret of contentment, whether well fed or hungry, in abundance or in need… I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  It takes maturity to give thanks to God for what little we have, or for taking away what we do have, because God promises to give us all that we need.

            All the gifts God provides are good… to receive them in faith is to be grateful for our family, food, nation, church, job and home – even for the crosses in our lives that remind us of the Savior who bore the cross before us.  We neither deserve life’s good things, nor are they guaranteed to us.  They are gifts.  I hope not, but you may have to have everything in your life stripped away before you realize that truth of God’s goodness, but if that’s what it takes… Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Better learn your lesson and be saved through faith in Jesus, than to die a beautiful corpse. 

            We could fill many pages of things that are good about our lives, health and family and on and on… but each will be taken away.  Not to be morbid; it’s simply a fact that wisdom calls for us to be rich toward God.  1 Timothy 6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire riches fall into temptation… for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

            Being rich toward God is to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  Being rich toward God is to realize that our deepest and most profound need is the One Jesus fulfilled for us by sharing our flesh and blood and dying our death at Calvary’s cross.  Being rich toward God is to live as children in our Heavenly Father’s house, certain that Jesus has gone “to prepare a place for us in His heavenly mansions.”

            So be on your guard… If I know anything with certainty, I know before this day is over, maybe even before the service is over, you and I will be back at our coveting ways.  The Rich Man in Jesus’ parable learned too late that the answer wasn’t eat, drink and be merry. 

            Let your life and your family and your marriage and job… let all that you have and hope to be or do rest in the certainty that your Savior is rich in love toward you.  Use God’s gifts to you this side of eternity to sow seeds that bear eternal fruit.  Be generous in your gifts for God’s Church and toward your neighbor.  Know that you and your eternal future were the dearly loved objects of His affection, such that He tasted the deepest depths of poverty and suffering and pain.  Burn into your hearts the beautiful promise of 2 Corinthians 8: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”… eternally rich in our heavenly homes.  Amen.     

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

"The Better Part" July 21st, 2019

“The Better Part” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 21st, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 10:38-42

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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 (Ps.19). Amen.

The sermon text is from Luke chapter 10:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (NIV)

Hosting in those days was not for the faint of heart! Imagine 15 people came over to your house for the day! It’s no big deal for Jesus. He fed 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish… but it’s a little hard to blame mortal Martha for her panic. Before the days of microwave ovens and stoves I wouldn’t want to feed 15 people. Pizza from Little Caesar’s wasn’t an option – so much as I’d love to sit at Jesus’ feet to listen to Him teach – I get why Martha sweated and worried over a meal for her Honored Guest.

When her frustration finally boiled over, Martha did the unthinkable. She blamed Jesus and brought Jesus into her family spat: “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work? Tell her to help me!” That’s bone-tired frustration talking. It’s bad enough Mary lets her down, anyone with siblings understands that. In Martha’s mind, Jesus let her down… why didn’t He see the injustice?

Jesus answered gently, but made clear that Martha had misread the situation. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many things, but one thing is needful; for Mary has chosen the better portion, which won’t be taken away.” Martha thought preparing the food was more important. Jesus reminded Martha that “no one can live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Filling the stomach is one thing, but better to be fed portions of God’s Word.

You and I have all said or thought what Martha did. Jesus, why don’t they help me? Why do the same people get stuck doing all the work at church? Why do 10% do 90% of the work and the giving and the sweating? Yet, in our victim status we find a little bit of self-congratulation. It is hard to find workers in God’s Church for councils and work crews and committees, but it’s easier than filling Bible classes. Many can watch a three hour ballgame or 2 hour movie but when church hits an hour they run for the door. Truth is, I and probably some of you, are just lazier versions of Martha.

After feeding the 5000, Jesus warned the crowds: “Don’t work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.” Earthly food can only keep you alive for 70-80 years give or take. God’s heavenly food gives eternal life. In 2 Timothy 3, Paul says God’s Word “is able to make you wise unto salvation.” Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life.”

The words of Jesus are the better portion. They are “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword,” Hebrews 4 says. Jesus’ words are just as necessary for eternal survival. Important enough to meditate on God’s Word in our homes; to teach it to our children; to talk about it when we walk life’s road. Important enough to make Sunday school and Bible class a priority on Sunday mornings even during your summer vacation. Jesus’ Word is the better portion. And we are blessed to live in a time and place where every Christian home has a Bible, and we live in a land we’re free to read and study it together.

Once upon a time, I was talking with someone with a Missouri Synod connection about joining our church. In the course of our talk, he said, “Tell me about what your church has to offer; what activities; what programs you do in the community.” I don’t want to be snotty. It’s a legitimate question, but wrong-headed, as though what we have to offer is we put on more Blood Drives than the Methodists or hold more Food Drives than the Baptists, comparing church man-hours like stats on a bubble gum card.

In a way it reminded me of youth sports, where we kids used to go out and play ball. Nowadays, we have to buy pants and belts and pay umpires. We’ve made it better, we think, because we’re organized and the kids aren’t wearing off-brand blue jeans. But, listen to me, especially for young people with boundless energies and high ideals, the purpose of church isn’t to organize your life. Your church needs your energy and your service and your dedication to serving your neighbor. The church suffers when her young self-segregate so you don’t have to look at us oldsters. You have a vocation to serve God in your congregation, home, and community, and God commands you to “do the good works God has prepared in advance for you to do.” But it’s wrong-headed to rate a church by programs and sweat per person. Church is where you are fed and strengthened, where Jesus is present for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Sometimes folks like a church that gives them a life-itinerary of projects and activities. Again, not wrong in and of itself. But, appealing as that may be especially to the young, the one thing needful in church is where Jesus gives you His very body and blood, baptizes you into Christ, speaks words of Law and Gospel, sending you into your workplace, school hallways, summer ball team, with your family and friends. That’s where God put you to “be the light of the world that men may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

I’ll never forget a few years ago, a father lamenting his friend sending their son to an enthusiastic, charismatic youth church. The dad said how could he blame the guy, he just wanted the best for his kids. But how good for the kid to be sent to a church that rejected the flesh and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, that stole away baptizing of babies, that preached conversion as an emotional decision, not a gift of God by grace alone. That kind of gift is like being poked in the eye with a sharp stick. That’s a little like Martha. It’s not that the Word of Jesus wasn’t important, but we like to make what we’ve got going on a little extra important. The devil doesn’t want the church focused on Jesus or to pray with our Introit: “Lord, turn my feet to Your testimonies; teach me Your statutes.”

Martha got it wrong, because she thought she was the hostess and Jesus the guest; that the really important things were what she was doing for Jesus, not what He was giving her. Mary got it right, because she saw Jesus as the Host. She sat like a child at His feet. Since all of Christian life is worship, the real issue in our text for today is “What’s the proper approach to Christian worship?” Do we first serve the Lord or first be served by Him?

Mary has the right theology of worship and life. Martha thought she honored God by first serving Him and offering up her thanks and praise by doing. That has its place, of course, but Mary rightly honored God by faith’s humble acceptance of His Word.

When you step into God’s house, His service to you, the Good Shepherd’s Divine Service of His little flock, is what really matters. God gives heavenly nourishment, the forgiveness that we desperately need. When Dr. Luther and the Lutheran Reformers began calling our Sunday worship “ Gottesdienst” the “Divine Service”, they were rejecting the notion that our gatherings are our job or all about what we’re doing. We aren’t here primarily to give God something He needs from us. We don’t offer the Mass as an unbloody sacrifice to God, but we receive life and grace in the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. It’s not about our “doing”, but our receiving forgiveness, life and salvation.

The most important thing for us, as it was for Mary and Martha, is that God serves His gifts. Our prayers and songs and offerings certainly follow receiving God’s gifts, but they never eclipse the gift of sitting at the Savior’s feet. You’ll note even our Christ-centered hymns focus not on me, but focus our praises on the God who saved us through His Son and feeds us by the power of His Holy Spirit.

It’s counter-intuitive… it’s against the grain to think of God’s Word and His Divine Service being where He serves. Jesus said, “I have not come to be served but to serve and to give My life as a ransom for many.” We receive Jesus’ Divine service, not in the busy-ness of human doing, but in the stillness of listening to the words of Jesus. The Lutheran Reformers wrote in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: “The highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive the forgiveness of sins.”

For Mary and for Martha, one thing was needful. There would be time later to honor Jesus by cooking and serving Him. Far more important - the one thing needful – was that Jesus serve them with the gifts of His Word of Life. In your life, only one thing is needful, not beating the after church crowd to the restaurant, not being distracted by the daily grind of life. That one thing is Christ the Savior. This Son of God sent from heaven died and rose again that we might be forgiven for all our distracted lives. This Savior, true God and truly human, sends us the one needful thing as He gives us His Holy Spirit through His Word and feeds us at His Table on His life-giving body and blood. Take a break from your busyness and listen to Jesus: “Come to Me you who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.” Amen.

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

 

"Who Is My Neighbor" July 14th, 2019

“Who Is My Neighbor” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost July 14th, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 10:23-36

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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 Luke chapter 10:23-36 previously read.

In our text, a religious expert, a canon lawyer, tests Jesus with the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” We know an inheritance has nothing to do with what you do. An inheritance is something you’re born to; something that comes from being a part of the family. Someone dies and leaves the estate to the heirs; that’s how it works. What he really meant was: “What can I do to earn my salvation?” It’s a wrong- headed question… you don’t earn salvation. Your adoption is by grace, and you receive it through faith.

So Jesus turns the question around. “What does God’s Word say? How do you read it?” Now, this expert in the Law could shine:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” His mind knew the answer, but his heart still didn’t get it… His heart still didn’t get that good works aren’t about measuring out just the appropriate measure of love to certain types of people. True love is about hearts changed by God’s grace through faith.

God wants us to love our neighbors by the votes we cast to honor God’s Word in society, by the work we do for our bosses, by loving our spouses and caring for our children, by the aid we offer the hurting and hungry, by visiting and caring for our elderly and shut-ins. God loves our neighbors, our parents, our children and community through us. True love doesn’t argue who counts as neighbor? How little can I get away with? How narrowly can I define God’s Law of love so it’s no inconvenience to me?

1 John 4 says, “We love because God first loved us.” God’s love doesn’t ask, “How little can I do.” True love prays, “Lord, lay some soul upon my heart and love that soul through me; that gladly may I do my part to win that soul for Thee.”

Love begins at home. That’s why the Second Table of God’s Law begins, “Honor your father and mother.” 1 Timothy 5 says, “If anyone doesn’t provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Galatians 6 expands the circle of love beyond family. Paul writes, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” So first, family, next we love fellow Christians… You might say Jesus’ parable is the “rest of the story.”

So here’s the parable… A certain man went down from the hills of Jerusalem through the rocky badlands of Judea to the city of Jericho in the valley of the Jordan, the lowest river valley in the world. The region is ideal for robbers, with good places to ambush travelers along the boulder-strewn descent. Bandits jumped him along the road and beat him within an inch of his life, stripped him, robbed him, and left him for dead.

Shortly, a priest came down the road. We expect this to be good news, but when the priest saw the dying man, he ignored the dying man and passed by. There’s cause for optimism when next, came a Levite, a temple worker, but again he was unmoved by the suffering of the dying man and passed by. That’s two respected religious leaders who never lifted a hand to help. Finally, came a Samaritan, bound up his wounds, took the victim to a nearby inn, paid for his expenses and promised to pay whatever the cost to save the wounded man. At great risk to himself he acted. He loved the dying man above and beyond what might seem reasonable.

To get the parable, you need to understand that Jews and Samaritans hated one another… they were neighbors but divided by serious religious issues, and a big dose of racial hatred. Perhaps, as divided as modern day Jews and Palestinians, or even republicans and democrats.

Yet, Jesus asks: “Which of these men was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” There could be only one answer: “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus’ response? “Go and do likewise.”

The lesson is clear. Those whom God calls us to love are those in need. Are the ones God puts in front of us in each moment.  We owe the debt of love even to the enemy. You can’t turn away looking for a neighbor you prefer when God’s put the needy in your face! In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Every person whom the Lord puts near you is someone God would love through you. When you deny your neighbor and harden your heart, when you turn your family into a battleground where no one forgives and grudges held, when you deny the helping hand you become murderers in the sight of God.

When we turn away from human need and refuse the hand of charity, we destroy life and all that God would have us respect and cherish. When the Law doesn’t recognize an infant’s right to life, we’re given to speak and vote to protect them and to support adoption agencies and crisis pregnancy centers and women’s shelters. Likewise, our

elderly aren’t dropped into the hands of government to be warehoused and forgotten, but loved and visited and remembered – and that’s a calling for the whole body of Christ. When the community gathers resources to feed the hungry, that’s God’s work and extends His love. When our neighbor is in need, we are God’s hands to serve.

This Parable is God’s Law… God teaches us how to put “flesh-and-bones” on the Gospel… God wants you to see Christ in your neighbor and love as God loves you. That’s God’s will for you whether it’s that nearest neighbor across the dinner table or even the “enemy” that’s a little harder to love. May God open our hearts to mercy!

Many church fathers, Luther included, recognized that this parable is, in many ways, a picture of Christ Jesus. He was hated and rejected by the religious leaders, yet Jesus didn’t pass by on the other side. Beaten, bloodied and dying, Jesus didn’t avoid our sufferings, but made our death and our sin His business. He took our wounds and death upon Himself. Only Jesus could step into our world to bind up our broken lives, dying a bloody death in our place.  He dresses our wounds and bandages our cuts with His Gospel words of forgiveness flowing from Calvary’s cross. He lifts us to His own shoulders and carries us “through the valley of the shadow of death.”

But Jesus didn’t act once and be done with us. Our gracious God carries us to the safety of the inn and entrusts us to its keeper. The inn is His Church where the glorious Gospel of God’s grace nurses us from death to life. Here God washes us with pure water in the promises of Baptism. He nourishes us with heavenly food by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we eat and drink of Christ’s very body and blood. Here, in God’s Church fed and forgiven by God’s gifts, the Words of our Lord bring strength and health to bodies battered by our spiritual enemies.

Ephesians 2 says, “When we were dead in trespasses God made us alive in Christ Jesus.” In the healing hospital of God’s Church, He washes us, dresses us and gives us never-ending eternal life. Never any exorbitant over-billing! When Jesus paid the price, it is paid in full. Every sin charged to His account. By His blood, it’s paid in full!

But here’s the rest of the story! Resuscitated and refreshed in God’s healing forgiveness, you are discharged – sent into the world to extend the arms of God’s mercy to your neighbor - everyone. God has gifted you for a reason. You own nothing. Everything you are and have belongs to God. With your time, talents, and treasures God has given you to share His work binding up the broken and bringing mercy to our neighbors. You aren’t to “pass by on the other side” to avoid doing anything useful in God’s Kingdom. Your church, your family, your workplace and neighborhood is where God calls you to love and give and serve, and God promises to bless that service.

The legal expert approached it in the way of the Law. What do I have to do or how little can I get away with doing? The Law has no power to save. Salvation is by inheritance. Jesus died to make you an heir.

For us who were dead on the side of the road, it’s not about what we do to justify ourselves. Your life is about what God will do for your neighbor through you and me. So don’t waste one moment of your life counting up and measuring and parsing out what you have to do… look at what you’ve been given and are given everyday, and freely give what you’ve freely received. Amen.

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

"Free to Bear Fruit" June 30th, 2019

“Free to Bear Fruit” by Steve Sommerer

Third Sunday after Pentecost June 30th, 2019

Sermon Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

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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 Galatians 5:1, 13-25.  “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be bound again by a yoke of slavery.  You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”

Did your parents ever scream, “How could you do that?  What could make you do something so dumb?”  No, that never happened to me either!

We are God’s children born again sons and daughters by the washing with water through the Word.  As sons and daughters, you are free from the Law and its condemnation and judgment – set free in Jesus to live out God’s calling without the unbearable burden of working your way to heaven.  “For freedom Christ has set you free.”  But you aren’t free to live as though Christ means nothing to you.  In Jesus, you aren’t driven by the whip of the Law, but compelled by the love of Christ as the Holy Spirit produces the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  If that were only the end of the story!  At the same time, we are adopted children of God within us we carry that selfish, sinful flesh that only cares about me, me, me, me.   

When Jesus returns on Judgment Day, this won’t be an issue.  When we get our resurrection bodies the sinful flesh will be done away with once and for all, but here and now it’s a real problem, a daily battle against our fallen selves and self-will.  Paul’s words for today are teaching us how to live our identity as children of God without slipping back into the obvious acts of the sinful nature: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like.  Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God”, Paul says

Should I give that offering? Gosh, I’d rather take the family to dinner.  Should I overlook the dumb remark he made?  Boy, I’d like to put him in his place.  The sinful flesh doesn’t want to be restrained by God’s Law even though it’s His good will for us.  But Christianity isn’t freedom to wallow in sin.  That’s not freedom, it’s slavery to the devil.  “Those who do such things,” Paul says, “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Our Old Adam, the sinful nature, looks at others and puffs up in pride.  The sinful flesh glamorizes the Hollywood morality or treats people as trash to be trampled underfoot, fighting and quarreling and gossiping.  The sinful flesh lusts after money, is jealous of those who have more, is never content, never trusting that God will give what we need.  Your sinful flesh wants you to live lawlessly. 

The better way is to be set free.  Freedom in Christ is to live under the assurance that Jesus kept the Law of God perfectly for you.  Your failures were put to death in Christ on the cross, and through Spirit-given faith, that perfect life of Jesus has been declared yours.  The glorious liberty of full and free forgiveness in Jesus was literally poured over your head when the Holy Spirit clothed you in Christ in Baptism and gave you the gift of faith.  When it’s right, faith isn’t lawless, but mighty and living and active in the world.  It sounds like the old hymn: “Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone And rests in Him unceasing;  And by its fruits true faith is known, With love and hope increasing.  For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply The proof that faith is living.”

You bear the image of Christ.  You are baptized.  You are free in Christ to live out your identity as His children.  Sometimes a mom or dad or both might put their arms around your shoulder and say, “Son/Daughter, I love you and always will.  You’re mine.  Wherever you go, you carry my name.  You’re my child.  You don’t need to live or talk or act, like those other kids.  That’s not who and how we are!”   

And that’s not a dreaded slavery.  It’s freedom to live in a relationship you were born into by the power of the Holy Spirit, an identity you were born into in Baptism’s watery Word.  Galatians says, “For freedom Christ has set you free… now walk by the Spirit and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.”  Don’t look to your own goodness!  Don’t think you’ve got to earn your identity.  Romans 9 says, “It doesn’t depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”  What God’s Law demands of you, Jesus has spoken over you.  The righteousness you need to live; He declares to be yours.   Romans 8 says, “There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  God be praised!  That’s His Word, and all His words are true. 

But don’t forget whose child you are and squander eternal life with Christ.  God calls you daily to put to death the sinful nature in you through repentance and faith.  Because you have Christ your Big Brother and God your Heavenly Father, you get to walk by His Spirit.  But you aren’t free to lie face down and die in the pig slop of sexual sin, pride, greed, anger and quarreling.  You were clothed in Jesus in Baptism. 

Christian freedom when it’s abused can go two directions.  Firstly, we use our freedom to live like sons of the devil.  That’s just another form of slavery.  Secondly, abused freedom starts to take such great pride in our splendid spiritual development we take our eyes from Christ and break our arms patting our own backs.  Better to focus on Christ who alone 1 Corinthians calls our “righteousness, holiness and redemption.” 

How do we make war against the flesh?  Ephesians 4 echoes our text from Galatians 5: “Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Daily make it your prayer, “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”  If you want a heart warmed by the love of Christ, stand near to the fire.  The friends you choose, the movies you watch, the music you listen to, the websites you visit either strengthen you in Christ or wreck you. 

If you want a strong Christian family with an eternal future, God’s Word and Sacraments are the way God plants you and waters and makes you strong and free men and women in Christ.  Jesus said, “Sanctify them by Your truth, Your Word is truth.”  God’s Word makes you living, fruitful branches off of Christ the Vine.  Jesus said, “I am the Vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.  Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”  Remember the branches don’t make the vine living.  It’s Jesus the living Vine that makes us fruitful branches. 

Suffering and hardship also make us fruitful as the Divine Gardener prunes back the unfruitful branches.  God disciplines His children that being trained by it we bear the fruit of patient hope and learn to “call upon Him in the day of trouble.”  Prayer is to a Christian as breath is to a living body.  If a body is alive it breathes, so alive in Chrsit our prayers and pleas ascend to the throne of God’s grace. 

You are free, because Jesus God’s Son set you free, indeed.  You are free to bear the fruit that God works in you to will and act to His glory in the places you have been planted.  The fruits are His.  He works in you “love, joy, peace” and all the others.  Don’t submit yourselves again to the yoke of Satan’s slavery.  Make it your prayer to say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  Amen.

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

"Clothes Make the Man or Woman" June 23rd, 2019

“Clothes Make the Man or Woman” by Steve Sommerer

Second Sunday after Pentecost June 23rd, 2019

Sermon Text: Galatians 3:23-4:7

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

During Vacation Bible School this week we had three Liams and two Reece’s.  We had a couple Macy’s and Micah’s.  It was the hardest week ever for picking out kid’s names.  You might guess that one addition to their clothing helped a lot, and that’s the nametag.  Without the tag the clothes didn’t quite jog my memory, but for VBS the nametag is the perfect complement to the clothing ensemble. 

Sometimes Our clothing speaks volumes about who we are.  Many times as a pastor my clerical collar has earned the greeting, “Hello, Father.”  If I go to the store sometimes and I have on slacks and dress clothes, inevitably someone will say, “Excuse me, sir, can you tell me where to find the extension cords (or some such thing)”?  Like it or not people form opinions about us on the basis of how we dress.  Growing up, we were taught you dress up to go to God’s house.  You weren’t supposed to go to church so people could check out what you wore it was just a sign of reverence for God, a sign of bringing the best.  In my first church full of farmers in Nebraska that might mean the farmers newest pair of overalls, but the idea was the same.  When we played sports the coaches told us to wear our uniforms with class, tuck in our shirts and keep them laundered, it reflected on the rest of the team.  Young people, when you dress modestly, you show that you care more for your Savior than Hollywood fashions.  Showing your body off becomes a distraction and a way the devil would lead others into sin.  Dress like a Christian young man or woman.

Our text for today says: “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Dr. Luther’s Galatians commentary notes Paul’s not really talking about clothes.  Our appearance as Christians, our face to the world, is a reflection of who we are in Christ.  How does the world see you?  By your appearance, your choices, the words you use, the choices you make people read you like a book.  What witness do you make to the world when you speak or act in a way that cheapens the Christian name?  Will unbelievers be drawn to Christ when they see us or will they suspect there isn’t much to admire in Christ or Christians?

Not only are our clothes a reflection on us, but our behavior reflects on the faith we confess and the Savior we love.  Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  It’s worth considering whether our words and actions glorify God or bring great joy to the devil. 

Like it or not, every moment of our lives is a confession before God and the world about our faith in Jesus.  Each morning we choose the clothes we’ll wear into the day, when as Christians we might better pray God’s guidance to wear our faith and hope in Christ in such a way that it honors God; that our words and actions glorify Him, not bring dishonor on the God who calls us “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”  As a pastor or dad, and you within your vocations, we give an important witness to those we love by how we are – and how we choose to glorify God with our bodies.

One honest moment’s reflection proves that our problem is our words and actions don’t stand up well to scrutiny.  They leave us torn and soiled.  From the bad things we do to the good things we don’t do, at the end of the day we’re far from spotless.  Like pigs wallowing in the mud, we carry the encrusted layers of failure.  Hebrews says, “Without holiness no one will see God.”  As kids when we came home filthy, mom wouldn’t let us into the house until we hosed off outside.

God had every right to turn us away.  Our best works and greatest accomplishments still don’t measure up.  According to Isaiah even “our righteous acts are as filthy rags” before a holy God.  And yet our text says, “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law that we might receive the adoption of sons.”  In Jesus, the God who embodies perfect holiness, chose to make our problem His.  He clothed Himself in our miserable failure, living spotlessly under God’s Law for us, never sinning in word or action.  The pure and unblemished Lamb of God, 2 Corinthians says, “Became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.”  At the cross the only sinless God-man carried our sins and received God’s judgment in our place and He has become our “righteousness and holiness and redemption.”

Your identity in Christ is a gift to you through Spirit-given faith.  You and I don’t often live as sons and daughters of Christ the King, but God stripped away our sin-encrusted failure, and clothed Jesus in those sinful rags, so that through faith we could be clothed in Christ.  By God’s standard we haven’t lived up to our callings as moms and dads and church members and employees and friends and citizens, but our Heavenly Father is the perfect Father who restores His prodigal children to the family.

Baptism in many ways seems ordinary – a little water with God’s Name.  But baptism isn’t just another empty commitment you and I make in a life of unfulfilled commitments.  In Holy Baptism, you and I were clothed in our Lord and Savior.  His perfect righteousness is the holy garment that covers our failure.  In water and Word, God made a promise He intends to keep, a pledge sealed in the blood of His Son.

When God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit clothes us in Jesus, God counts our sins as Jesus’ sins, washed away because He wore them to the cross.  Baptized into Christ, through faith, our Heavenly Father sees Jesus’ righteousness as our own.  Our eternal death and judgment already happened.  Romans 6 says, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?  We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father we too may live a new life.”

The world tends to place great stock in fashions that change every year.  You’d spend a fortune trying to buy the newest and latest, and in no time, you’d have to start again.  Here in Baptism God clothes us in the unfading glory of Christ as the Holy Spirit calls us to faith.  God chose our outfits and tailored them perfectly for us.  When we were little and our parents handed us our clothes we wore them trustfully.  We baptized children receive our garment of Christ to cover us, and we wear Him trusting that His radiant robe of righteousness never goes out of style into eternity.  Isaiah 61 says, “My soul rejoices in my God for He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”

Unless Jesus comes before that time, each of us will one day die and lay down these earthly bodies.  When we were small our baptismal putting on of Christ was symbolized by the wearing of a white robe – the Christening gown – because by watery Word we put on Christ’s righteousness.  For many another white gown will cover you one day, when you close your eyes in death, a white pall will cover your casket - the final reminder that these bodies clothed with Christ in Holy Baptism will wear Jesus’ righteousness into our heavenly home.  All of us will rise bodily when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead.  Believers to eternal joy.  Unbelievers to unspeakable suffering.  Be watchful for that day.  Don’t be caught unprepared.  Repent of your sins.  Love and trust in Jesus with all your heart.  Only His righteous robes can bring you home, and they’re yours for free.  The robes of Christ’s righteousness are as certain and timeless as the watery Word that makes us belong to Him.  Amen.   

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

 

"Keep My Word" June 16th, 2019

“Keep My Word” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

The Holy Trinity June 16th, 2019

Sermon Text: John 8:48-59

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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 John 8:48-59.  Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.  Yet, I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge.  Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” 

            June was a young bride, not yet 20, when her husband Carl honeymooned with her three days before entering the service.  He left her his most cherished items and the ring he’d worn only days before shipping out, and she left him a simple cross to carry into battle.  After intense training Carl joined 160,000 Allied forces to storm the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago on June 6.  With his earthly gifts, Carl told June to keep him close to her heart, and her little cross would remind him of her prayers and their hopes for the life they would build together when he returned. 

            Late in the day, after the landing zone was secured and the recovery of the dead begun on Omaha Beach, Carl was found lying in the sand, clutching the cross.  He would never know the victory that began there on that day Eisenhower called the beginning of a great crusade, but his broken body lying in the sand knew the greatest victory that day, when He was called to stand before His Savior.

            After a few years of struggle, June resumed her life.  Eventually she did start her family with a man she loved and children to rear.  Until her dying day, the promise she made to her dead GI was kept, the gifts they exchanged were cherished and before June’s casket was finally closed after a full and happy life, the treasures from Carl were placed close to her heart.

            In John’s Gospel important words of Christ are highlighted with, “Amen, Amen” or “Truly, truly.”  In our verses for this morning, Christ the Bridegroom leaves His Bride the Church this solemn charge, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never taste death.

            What does it mean to keep someone’s word?  A grieving widow might keep gifts from her beloved for many years after the earthly ties that bind are broken.  How does God’s Church keep His Word?  Is it a trinket we tuck away or a lucky charm we remember when life gets rough?

            The Greek word for keeping Jesus’ Word means to guard it and protect it, as one might clutch something precious to one’s heart.  The Jews who were hostile to Jesus’ ministry had just accused Christ, not of speaking God’s Word, but the devil’s word.  Jesus said they were speaking from their father the devil who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.  Indeed, Jesus calls the devil the father of lies, all falsehood comes from Satan the first liar.  The devil’s original attack on the First Family in Paradise was, “Did God really say?”  It was an attack on the Word.  Adam and Eve didn’t keep it.

            Our verses show the devil’s shameless ploy, the Deceiver calls good, bad, and bad good, true love makes you a hater in the devil’s sick view.  “Aren’t we right in saying You are demon-possessed?” they say to Jesus.  Satan is the first of many spin-doctors who twist and turn good to bad and bad to good.  And it always remains so.

            “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word.”  This is important.  Truly, truly, it is so.  As the Bride of Christ, how are you guarding and keeping the Word?  It’s not enough to tuck it away in a memory chest.  It’s not enough to have your family Bible gathering dust in your home, unopened and unfamiliar.  Dear Bride of Christ is that how you would treasure heaven’s highest gift from your Bridegroom?

            The ancient Collect of the Word in the Church’s liturgy taught us to pray, “Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning.  Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

            Your Bible classes, Sunday School, the family altar in the Christian home which for God’s sake must be rebuilt, our Bible school this week and your devotional reading of the Portals of Prayer and the Word, have but one goal, that the Bride should take joy in the voice of Christ her Bridegroom, and follow Him in the way to His Wedding Feast in heaven.

            All lies originate with the devil.  It’s true the world and our sinful flesh present their own opportunities for compromise and surrender to sin.  But Satan is the father of lies.  There aren’t equally valid perspectives on human sexuality.  There’s only God’s view that marriage is between one man and one woman for life; and the devil’s lie that says pornography, shacking up, homosexuality are OK.  Keep God’s Word.  Paul said, “Don’t condemn yourself by what you approve.”

            There aren’t two equal perspectives on money and possessions.  There’s God’s view that “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”  That’s the view that says you aren’t owners but managers using God’s gifts for His glory and kingdom for life’s duration.  You steward treasures that aren’t your own, knowing life here is short, but laying “up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal.”  And there’s the devil’s view: that it’s all yours and the most important thing is you having your way.  “Keep God’s Word.”

            As in our text, the people called good, bad, and bad, good.  Their father was the devil.  So, life in the Last Days is marked by folks gathering great numbers in churches and legislatures and media and Facebook mobs to say what their itching ears want to hear.  The very public push to normalize every form of abomination is in its own way witness to the truth.  Every public outcry, every march and protest against those who speak with God’s Word bears a louder witness that the Fallen world knows it stands under God’s judgment, and that their only hope of escaping that coming judgment is to gather cheerleaders for their cause.  In truth, there is but one loving, redemptive path – through repentance and the cross of Christ.

            If you are among those who have accepted that the path of love is to excuse sin or rename it or glorify it in the name of being loving, you are deeply wrong.  The devil was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never taste death.”

            Then and now, the dying world, standing under God’s judgment, would take up stones to rid the world of God’s truth.  But Jesus said, “Truly, truly, before Abraham was, I AM.”

            Jesus is Yahweh the Lord, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, “Tell Pharoh, I Am who I am.”  Jesus is the eternally true God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who took up the cause of His dying world – and so took up your cause as well.  He didn’t come with fleeting comfort to dull the truth or paper it over with happy phrases.  He came to receive once and for all in His sinless flesh, the full fury of God’s wrath against all sin and every sinner. 

            Nearly 1700 years ago, this past Wednesday, the Emperor Constantine convened a council at Nicea to speak God’s truth that Jesus was fully God and fully man who had come to save His fallen world.  That truth was being obscured and Christians were called then, as we always are, to speak God’s truth and condemn the devil’s lies.  The Creed formulated there stands through the centuries testimony to the eternal Son sent from heaven to nail your sins to the cross and bury the condemning lies of the devil in an empty tomb.  Jesus is God with the Father and the Spirit and He invites you to receive His grace as you drink from Him “the fount of living water that wells up to eternal life.”  Covered in the blood of Jesus the devil’s lies and condemnation hold no power over you.  Joined to His death and resurrection in Holy Baptism and trusting in His victory, you too have passed from death to life.

            “Truly, truly, if anyone keeps My Word, He will never see death.”  Don’t fill your ears with lies.  Don’t allow the devil to falsify God’s truth.  Don’t listen to the clever arguments of dying men.  Jesus said to the saints in the ancient church at Philadelphia, “Behold, I set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.  I know that you have but little power (and that’s still true of God’s Church in this world, humanly speaking) and yet you have kept My Word and have not denied My name.  I am coming soon.  Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.  To the one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.” 

            Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word.  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.  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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