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Oct. 25, 2020 "By God's Grace Alone"

“By God’s Grace Alone” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Reformation Sunday Oct. 25, 2020

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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 8:31-36.  Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples.  Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”  This is our text.

            Today, we give thanks to God for faithful preachers of the Word like Dr. Martin Luther.  Nearly 500 years ago, God restored the truth of the glorious Gospel that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone for Christ’s sake alone.  True believers in every age died trusting in Jesus’ alone, but that central foundational doctrine had for many years been confused, obscured and rejected by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that directed sinners to find mercy in Mary or in humans striving to do the best that they could do… rather than, the Church pointing to Christ alone.  And so, at its core, the Reformation was not something new, but a return to the old timeless truth of Scripture.

We usually date the beginning of the Reformation to Dr. Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany on October 31, 1517.  But the Lutheran Church, because it aims to be and desires nothing more than to teach God’s Word, walks hand in hand with the Church of every age. The first president of our Missouri Synod, the Rev. C.F.W. Walther wrote 150 years ago:  

So long as there has been an orthodox church on earth, there has also been the Lutheran Church. She is (as strange as that sounds) as old as the world, for she has no other doctrine than the patriarchs, prophets and apostles had received from God and preached. Certainly, the name Lutheran first arose 300 years ago, but not what is signified by the name. So as often, therefore, as the question is to put to us: ‘Where was the Lutheran church before Luther?’ it is so easy to answer: She was everywhere that there were Christians, who believed in JESUS Christ and his holy Word from their hearts, and would not let themselves be dissuaded from this faith, which alone saves, by any human institutions or who finally in their tribulation in death found refuge in [Jesus].

 

May God deliver us from the ever-present temptation to build His Church on personalities, even personalities as mighty and memorable as Luther.  The hymnist teaches us the Church’s prayer in every generation: “Grant, then, O God, Your will be done, That, when the church bells are ringing, Many in saving faith may come Where Christ His message is bringing: “I know My own; My own know Me.  You, not the world, My face shall see.  My peace I leave with you.  Amen.”

Back then, Luther wasn’t particularly pleased that his “back-to-the-Bible” movement was ridiculed as being Lutheran – he preferred simply Christian. We should be pleased to see that name disappear, so long as the words he taught on the basis of God’s Word remain strong – namely, that no human work or merit makes us righteous before God.  “It is by grace you have been saved,” Ephesians 2 says, “through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one may boast.”

Jesus said in our text, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples.  Then you will know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.” Teaching or doctrine drawn from the Living Waters of God’s Word is life itself.  Doctrine, or teaching, that rests on the words of our Savior doesn’t splinter us into disagreeing factions, it unites us to Christ the Vine as living branches nourished by the Holy Spirit.  The words of Christ are not one part of the Church’s life, second to human relationships, they are life and salvation.  Let it be our prayer that God, by a special work of His Holy Spirit, should cause us to love His Word so deeply that we would rather lose every penny and even our lives rather than lose one Word from God’s Book of Life. That we would suffer every hardship to make it our life’s goal as living links in the Church’s chain to share the Good News of salvation by grace through faith alone with our loved ones and all the world. 

What that means, dear family in Christ, is that God gives you the joyous opportunity to learn what you believe – to dust off the old catechism and read God’s Word; To join in Bible class and become unshakably certain of your soul’s salvation by building your life on God’s Word.  “If you hold to Christ’s teaching, you are truly His disciples.  Then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” 

It may seem strange, but I think the first truth recovered in the Reformation teaching is found in our text – that we are slaves to sin and death.  The Jews replied to Christ in disbelief: “We are Abraham’s descendants.  We’ve never been slaves to anyone.”  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” 

People wonder, “Why is it so important to first understand our slavery to sin and death?”  Because until they realized they were slaves to sin, they didn’t care about being set free. They didn’t care about Jesus as their Savior, because they didn’t think they needed saving.  They thought they were good enough on their own.  If in your mind, sin isn’t too big a deal, you’ll have a very small view of Jesus.  If you have a bloated view of how good you are, you’ll never understand the joy of being saved by grace alone.

It’s in the recognition of our absolute and utter inability to free ourselves – desperately hogtied by the shackles of sin – we finally learn the joy of Jesus’ redeeming work.  God the Father sent His Son – a true Son in the Father’s house – to break the shackles that bind us in death.  Jesus took real flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  A true Son over God’s house, entered into our slavery and bondage.  He chose the path of suffering and death to free you from the hellish curse of dying in slavery. 

Your Lord Christ did what you were powerless to do by living a sinless life under God’s Law.  Jesus wasn’t enslaved to sin.  He is the perfectly free and sinless Son of God, but made Himself a slave, being born as our saving Substitute, keeping every demand of holiness that you and I don’t and can’t.  The sinless Savior walked in your shackles of slavery and carried your brokenness and bondage as His own.  He died in your slavery and mine, so that you and I could share in His freedom as true sons and daughters of God – adopted children in God’s family.  Because He was truly a man, He could be born under the Law for us – and He alone fulfilled the Father’s will.  Because He is truly God, the Divine blood shed for us blots out the penalty of our own slavery to sin and death. That’s grace – God’s undeserved love… Grace is God’s love that didn’t wait to find good in us, but demonstrated His grace in that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

In the pages of God’s Word, Luther preached the truth that brings us joy today. To live in slavery is miserable and hopeless.  It’s a living death with hell the only guaranteed future.  But God’s Son has set you free.  Romans 8 shouts God’s freedom promise: “Therefore, there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Our epistle has it: “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law.”  It’s the same saving promise that is as old as the Church – the same Gospel announced to Adam that the Seed of the woman would come and crush the devil’s head.  The problem we slaves were powerless to solve, God made His problem and nailed it to Jesus’ cross.  When God the Father raised Christ from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, God trumpeted this mighty truth, that Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect.  In Him and through faith in Jesus, you are not slaves but beloved sons and daughters.

Our freedom in Christ isn’t freedom to sink back into sin’s slavery, but freedom to move joyfully into our daily callings sure of God’s gift of eternal life. The Holy Spirit liberated you when He called you to Jesus in the waters of Baptism, speaks your sins away in the words of Absolution, and feeds and forgives you in the real flesh and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.  This same Spirit who saves you by grace alone makes you a part of Christ’s Body the Church, and in this Body of Christ He moves us in love and forgiveness and kindness to one another.  Through our connection to Christ the head, we are joined to each other as fellow forgiven brothers and sisters. 

Faith isn’t what you do, the last little contribution you have to make to save yourself.  Faith isn’t your ability to climb the last ladder rungs into heaven.  Faith is God’s work when the Holy Spirit sets you free to trust Jesus’ promises washed over you in Baptism and poured into your lips…free to stop counting up your works and rest in Jesus’ work.  Because Jesus lives, you are free to know Christ your Brother is even now preparing a place for you in God’s heavenly home.  Faith is freedom to rest in the most precious words you’ll ever hear – “This Jesus is for you for the forgiveness of your sins – you are free!”  Amen.

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

Oct. 11, 2020 "A Sermon for the Fearful"

“A Sermon for the Fearful” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

19th Sunday after Pentecost October 11, 2020

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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 Philippians 4: 

            Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. So far the text.

            Do you get nervous as election day gets nearer?  I sure do.  It’s hard to escape the media’s relentless, and often completely slanted portrait, of which candidate is a political messiah and which a political villain.  Of course, media monsters and slimy politicians know the immense power to be had from sowing fear.  If I know Candidate A represents a sharp turn toward Communism, I’ll work hard against him. If Candidate B is secretly trying to kill old people with the Coronavirus, I’ll be quick to apply for a mail in ballot.  Fear is the indispensable tool of every politician, and finally really a tool of the devil. 

But that shouldn’t bother you and me, after all you and I are Christians. You learned the Catechism, “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”  You know 1 John says, “Perfect love drives out fear.” You remember Jesus warning, “Do not fear the one who can destroy only the body, but fear [God] who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”  Yet, here I am fearful, if my candidates don’t win, the country will never be the same. I try to remember the Psalmist word: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.”  

In 1932 FDR gave his Inaugural Address to a nation mired in the Great Depression.  With breadlines and shanty-towns popping up in all our large cities and unemployment surging past 24%, the president entered office with these memorable words: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”  FDR ginned up fear to win a landslide in that election, just like every politician gins up fear.  Nowadays, FDR’s condemnation of fear would earn him ridicule as some kind of macho cowboy, and he’d be sent to sensitivity training.  But his words were correct.  Fear paralyzes.  It causes poor choices.

In practical terms, fear has its usefulness.  I have a friend who got bit by a copperhead trying to pick it up by the tail.  I thought that was pretty dumb.  Fear protected me from that mistake.  But that’s not simply fear it’s commonsense.  Coronavirus is serious.  I don’t go out of my way to acquire it, although it is tempting since my health insurance will cover it in full if I get it before January 1. Still, I’ll just wait till it comes on its own, even if it costs me next year.

            What causes you fear and steals your joy?  Is it the election or finances? The Virus?  Is it more the worries for your family getting sick? I know how some of you ache inside this morning over a very ill brother or a spouse in treatments or hurting family? It’s no fun laying awake at night. Hard to rejoice at that.  And no matter how much we’d like to think about whatever is good, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, the devil keeps bringing us back to the mourner’s bench.  

            We’ve named a few things that can make us anxious and troubled and we could grow the list – family and marital issues, school problems or no school problems, arguments among former friends or family feuds, or a job that saps your joy. 

Before we do that, though, let’s note the spiritual roots of anxiety and fear, after all psychologists often tell us nothing can make me angry or sad or bitter or troubled.  An event is just that, a happening just a happening, only I have the power to let it become for myself what college students might call a trigger. 

A political yard sign or a poorly chosen word by a neighbor doesn’t have to sending you plowing through your neighbor’s yard.  Anxiety or worry, like anger, is a choice you make when you see what’s going on around you and choose how you’re going to react.  You can’t make me joyful or sorrowful.  Your actions are your own.  Old school mom’s didn’t have time for a lot of psychological mumbo jumbo when they were sweating over a load of laundry and their kids were pouting – they needed results, so they’d just say something like:  “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” Dads might say something like, “I’ll give you something to be sad about.” 

            There’s actually a spiritual root of anxiety and despair, just as there’s a spiritual root to all evil and suffering.  “Out of the heart come all evil thoughts,” Jesus said.  We’re sinners, lost and condemned, living in a lost and dying world.  That sinful flesh feeds on anxiety and fear.  Fear makes us controllable.  It doesn’t want me to “Rejoice in the Lord always; or think about whatever things are pure, lovely and commendable.” 

When things are well, my sinful flesh covets more and more.  When money is tight and things are going badly, my sinful flesh cries out anxiously, “Can God really give me TODAY my daily bread?” When I’m sick or a loved one is suffering, when I’m a lonely senior saint and the house seems to big and quiet, my sinful flesh, sows the seed of worry, “Is God really working all things together for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purpose?”  When the media blasts more virus terror into our ears, we may wonder if some secret medicine will save our life; instead of trusting, I’m not going to live one minute longer than God has allotted for me.   Has God really, in the words of our Isaiah lesson, “swallowed up death forever”?

            There may indeed be health issues that are part of this conversation, but spiritually speaking, the root of anxiety is a faith problem, not a physical one.  The anxiety is a symptom of the underlying cause.  If we can’t rest in Jesus and rejoice in Him, it’s because our god isn’t the true God.  We really are looking to ourselves to take care of ourselves.  Paul said of our sinful nature, “In my sinful flesh there is no good thing” and in Romans 8 “The sinful mind is an enemy of God.” And rather than running to God, my flesh worries how I’ll ever solve my and the world’s problems.

            At this point, however, hopelessness, anxiety, and despair besides being unproductive are also unnecessary.  The reason that we may find hope and contentment and peace is a familiar reason – just a hard one to remember when the storm clouds of life gather over us.  God mounted a DDay Invasion of our broken world to conquer that enemy of our sinful flesh.  God stormed the beaches to rout the devil and stomp out the worst the world has to offer. He did it by sending His sinless Son to a lowly Bethlehem manger. 

            Jesus, who was truly God and yet truly man born of the Virgin, carried in His body the fullest weight of the world’s grief and pain. He carried my and your sorrows and more. Yet, at the cross these didn’t win the day.  He conquered for us death and despair, suffering and sinfulness by suffering its final end – death.  He rose from the dead, rose from the ashes of all that would bind us, to offer us true and living hope. 

If our problem is a faith problem that keeps us from always and only looking to Jesus, Paul has the answer in 2 Timothy 2:  “If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;  If we endure, we will also reign with Him.  If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.”

            When you are weak in faith and riddled with anxiety and despair, God’s love and strength towers over you and enfolds you in the unbreakable arms of His Heaven-sent Savior.  When Paul cried out in despair, God’s answer rang out:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Causing Paul to rejoice even in sufferings:  “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak then I am strong” in the Lord.

            The Christian life is cross-shaped.  Jesus said we must “take up our crosses and follow Him.”  Even for Christians trouble and turmoil are the daily cross that you will carry, but for you who are in Christ, you know that God carried this cross to the bitter end and buried it in His empty tomb.  Don’t overcome with the power of positive thinking.  That’s not what I’m saying.  I’m assuring you that in Christ you are already “more than conquerors through Him who loved you”;  that, in Christ, 2 Corinthians says, “These light and momentary troubles are achieving for you an everlasting glory that far outweighs them.”

            We don’t overcome anxiety and turmoil by making lemonade from life’s lemon.  God overcame and gives you the victory through Christ’s blood-bought redemption. Jesus said, “I have told you these things that in Me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.”

            The strong arm of God’s grace has descended into this world to raise you from fear’s clutch.  “Do not be anxious about anything.”  Jesus Christ is alive, and He’s not weak and helpless to face your problems today.  Pray with the Psalmist:  “I waited patiently for the Lord;  he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire;  He set my feet on a Rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” 

            A couple weeks ago Philippians 1 read, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  Since God is still the Almighty God who holds you, there can finally be no bad outcome. If we live, God will care for and keep us.  If we die, in Jesus heaven is our home.  And lest you forget it, He poured it right over your head: “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  He feeds you with the medicine of immortality – the body and blood of Jesus in His Holy meal.  He issues you a hotline to heaven by which you call upon His name, “Not being anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition making our requests to God.”

            Like as not, tomorrow you’ll cave into fear and worry. We’ll forget Paul’s word, “Do not be anxious.”  Remember that you are not God.  You take too much on yourself.  He knows better than you how to save you – and how to get you through today.  Jesus is alive and at God’s right hand, ruling all things for your eternal salvation.  So think about that: “Whatever is true, honorable, just, whatever is pure, lovely, commendable, if any thing is excellent or praiseworthy, think about those things…  You can do all things through Christ who gives you the strength.”  Amen.

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

Oct. 4, 2020 "Forget the Past - Focus on Christ"

“Forget the Past - Focus on Christ” By Pastor Steve Sommerer

18th Sunday after Pentecost October 4, 2020

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

            The sermon text is from our Epistle lesson from Philippians chapter 3: 

            Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. So far the text.

            Before Christ converted Saul on the Damascus road, he thought he was doing God’s work by helping kill Christians like Stephen.  He took great pride in his ethnic heritage as a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin.  He was a Pharisee and was proud to be more dedicated than the rest.  He devoted his life to living under the Law and trying to keep it perfectly. 

            But his rigorous religious program – his zeal for destroying the church – all the priorities of his early life faded away when the Risen Christ appeared to Him on the Damascus Road.  All that used to puff Paul up with great pride, now became his shame and a cause for repentance and crying out to God for forgiveness.  He discovered the truth: all his trust in the way he had conducted his life, not only didn’t help Paul to be saved; rather, they condemned him. Paul’s trust was in Paul.   

But after that life-changing encounter with the Living Lord where Jesus appeared to Paul in a blinding light, Paul said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”  He says basically, “I was wrong.  My good works don’t mean a thing.  Nothing else in my life matters.  The only thing that matters is Jesus.”

            It reshaped his life and worldview.  No longer would he chase after a righteousness of his own.  No longer would he concentrate his life on his own goodness and works, but he strove from that day forward through blessings or struggles to focus his life and hope and heart’s trust on Christ, the Church’s One Foundation.  He learned to trust in a righteousness that comes from God and is given us freely through faith in Jesus:  “I consider [my former works] rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”

                It should be very clear, according to Scripture, that if you build your life, hope, focus, and eternal future on worldly things, whether entertainment or work or family, then with those perishable things you, too, will be consumed in the Judgment.  In this life, you can’t serve two masters – “You can’t serve God and money.”  Any other foundation than Christ our Lord must go down to the fires of hell “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Simply put there’s no place for pride on Judgment Day, no pride in our goodness, our church attendance, our power and position as respected members and leaders in the church.  In Galatians 6, Paul said it simply and beautifully, “May I never boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

             So, here’s Dr. Paul’s prescription for us who have yet to wake up; his prescription for us who know where our life’s focus ought to be, but so often worship false gods like self, family, money, jobs, entertainments and amusements.  “Stop looking at yourselves!” I think Paul is saying. “Stop living for a world that’s dying, and stop storing up for yourselves treasures here on earth – even if the treasures you’re storing are the good merits you think buy you brownie points with God.”  The righteousness that you and I need comes from outside of you.  It comes as a gift from God.  “I consider all things rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, but that which is through faith in Christ.” 

Our Introit reminds us, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”  Only in the face of Christ the Crucified do you see heaven’s answer for your self-absorbed, mis-directed lives.  The perfect life Jesus lived, was lived in your place.  Because you and I can’t and don’t, He stepped in to do what only God in the flesh could do.  That’s the righteousness that Paul, and we, hold on to.  Jesus carried your unrighteousness, your sins, to Calvary, and clothes you in His own perfect robes of righteousness.  And for you and I who are clothed in a “righteousness not our own” we forget what’s behind and strain forward, “pressing on to the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

            By the Spirit’s power through faith, you have been baptized into our Lord Jesus and wrapped around in a righteousness not your own.  When your Heavenly Father looked upon His Son at the cross, He was covered in your sins.  Now, when God looks at you through faith in Jesus, God the Father sees His baptized children – you and me – covered in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness and cleansed in Christ’s blood. 

            That’s your Christian hope and calling – “The upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” With that hope of heaven in your future, serve God, disciplining your bodies, “becoming like Jesus in His death, that by any means possible we attain the resurrection from the dead.”  As Paul notes, we are not already perfect – we are forgiven; we are justified.  That means we are declared righteous; and for us who are declared righteous by His grace, we make it our life’s goal to serve Him with the people and in the places God puts us.              

You didn’t start this work yourself.  Faith is a gift.  The Holy Spirit created it. He daily strengthens your faith as He feeds us in His Word.  Joined to Jesus in a living faith, nothing is more certain that God’s forgiveness and salvation, because God doesn’t lie.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me has eternal life.” For a child of God who rests in Jesus there is no reason for us to live in fear of the future.  When you rest in Jesus, you don’t need to live fearful of your future.  A few years ago, I visited with a Roman Catholic woman at the nursing home and we talked about the joy of heaven, and she said, “Well, we all hope we end up there”, kind of a thing.  No. Jesus took hold of you.  No need to doubt His strong arms.  He said, “Nothing can snatch you from My hand.” 

            Paul wrote:  “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  Hear that. Let that re-shape your understanding of what and who you are called to be as a Christian.  Let it change your priorities.  Let it set your house in order.  “Press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of you.” You could never earn your salvation by works, but you can squander and forfeit it through laziness and unbelief. As God’s forgiven children, God wants you to be different – wants to use you to impact your family – to impact your friends and this world every moment until He comes again, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” 

Far too often we Christians look at our lives, our church or Sunday school, and other opportunities to serve and we complain and moan.  We may get so frustrated we give up – let somebody else do it.  Sinful, lazy frustration may even cause us to skip through life looking for the perfect church or wife or husband or kids, rather than working to serve God’s purpose where He plants us.  You are “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”  Maybe that’s bringing kids or grandkids to Sunday school or volunteering with the Sunday school or praying and pledging for the Rescue mission or helping with the youth group.  Maybe it’s being a helpful, loving neighbor or friend or inviting that friend who doesn’t go to church to come along and sit with you.  Maybe it’s calling or sending cards to a shutin or sitting with an elderly saint to relieve a weary caregiver.   

Rooted in the certainty of a righteousness not our own – covered in the blood of Jesus, we are called to “Strain toward what is ahead. Forget what’s behind.”  Jesus is the Savior and the perfect Model.  He had a goal.  Christ strained toward His goal of rescuing and redeeming you into a restored relationship with God so you could share His home in heaven.  Because He successfully accomplished His goal, burying our sins in an empty tomb and rising from the dead, what lies in our future is assured. 

You don’t have to live life dwelling on the sin-scarred failures of the past or puffing up with pride over some good work that could never be good enough.  We forget what’s behind and declare it all rubbish, “that we may be found in Christ Jesus through faith, not having a righteousness of our own that comes from the Law, but that which is through faith.” 

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

 

Sept. 27, 2020 "In Jesus, You Get to Serve!"

“In Jesus, You Get to Serve!” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

17th Sunday after Pentecost Sept. 27, 2020

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            May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always!  Amen.

            The sermon text is from Philippians 2:1-4,14-18 previously read.

I don’t want to.  Do I have to? I’m sure you’ve felt that way too – maybe every time the alarm goes off you ask that question: Do I have to?  Can you remember the fear in school when your teacher started telling you what she expected, and the list seemed endless?  I have to do all that?  Parents, do you remember some of your child’s really severe diaper blowouts?  Do I have to? Maybe your Sunday morning starts out by the devil trying to talk you out of church?  Do I have to?  Or it’s time to write your tithe check to support God’s church, but there are so many things you could use it for.  Do I have to?

Our Philippians text gives a beautiful picture of how God wants us to be. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy… be in full accord and one mind.”  Good works before God don’t come from being whipped by the Law or crushed with guilt.  Truly Spirit-motivated works flow from our encouragement and comfort in Jesus. 

If you spend all your days asking, “Do I have to?  I don’t want to.”  If you selfishly horde your time and refuse to serve and volunteer for church or neighbor. If you are only and always about you and taking care of yourself, endlessly asking, “Do I have to?”  Do I have to pray?  Do I have to study the Word?  Do I have to go to church?  Do I have to be content with what’s mine?  The answer is clearly, “No, you don’t have to.”  You don’t have to be a child of God… no gun is held to your head. You can deny Christ and go to hell.  That is an option you have.  But that’s the real choice you make when you choose not to care about God and His Word… You don’t have to love Jesus you can be condemned to hell.

The truth is: as long as we’re in this sinful flesh.  Even we Christians have to wage war against our worthless, selfish sinful flesh, and it’s endless, “Do I have to?”  But don’t wage war by excusing or justifying that nasty lazy streak in you? Don’t side with the sinful flesh that hordes your time and won’t love or care for anyone else.  That lazy, selfish sinful nature can only be attacked in one way, pointing your finger at it and coming clean.  Dear God, forgive me for always asking “Do I have to?”; forgive my selfish, miserly heart that only cares about me; forgive me for not seeing service in church and Sunday school and community and family as things we get to do for Jesus’ sake.  Forgive me for asking “Do I have to?”

I think this is why so many institutions in our communities are crumbling. There are too few willing hands and giving hearts, and to the extent we are exposed, the answer is repentance. This dying world needs Christians and God’s Church to view our sanctified lives, not as, do I have to, but in Jesus I get to!

You know who didn’t have to?  Christ Jesus didn’t have to.  According to the will and plan of God the Father, Jesus stepped from eternity into time when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He didn’t have to, but He loved you and me and a world of lost sinners more than equality with God.  I’ll just read the verses immediately after our text: “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  He didn’t have to do any of that, but He wants you to be His forgiven, loved, a redeemed child of God and to share His heavenly home. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.  No one takes my life from Me; I lay it down of My own accord.  I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”

What I’m describing is the difference between how a slave serves, without hope, with no love for the master versus how a son or daughter of the family serves in love.  You have been set free from slavery to sin, death and the devil – set free from the lazy, selfish sinful flesh – but set free to serve… and it’s not “Do I have to?” If God gives you life and the moments of your day, our prayer should be “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated Lord to Thee; Take my moments and my days; Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

Look at our text from verse 14: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning

that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in a crooked and twisted generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life!”

            I had the privilege of knowing a dear saint who served in her church Sunday School for nearly 60 years.  When she was young, the classes were overstuffed with energetic boys with clip on ties and girls with bonnets and dresses.  Over the years, her fellow teachers stepped aside – the younger ones need to do it.  But Louise prayed and studied over her lessons each week, lessons she had taught many times.  In the more recent years, she had small classes, often combined with a few grades, and sometimes only the student, neighbor that she invited and brought herself. She never considered letting go of the honor that was hers to tell many about Jesus, or just a few.  Louise taught future pastors and teachers of God’s Church. She taught future moms and dads, elders and council members of the congregation.  She taught students who saw her example and became blessings to her own congregation and to God’s Church at large.  She always said she got more out of it herself than anyone else. That’s joyful service to God, without grumbling or questioning, she shone like the stars in the universe, because she learned as a young girl what we should teach our children - not to ask “Do I have to?”  She knew her life was a gift from God and her eternal life was a gift of His grace.  She was unworthy of that love, and service was her way of saying thank you for God’s goodness. 

            Do you have to?  Most don’t anymore.  If you don’t, you won’t be any different than anyone else.  But think of it this way, it doesn’t matter how old you are, God has given you the breath in your body, the voice to sing His praise, the lips to speak for Him, the hands to serve Him.  He’s given you love and His full and free salvation, marking you as a redeemed son or daughter of the Living God.  You don’t have to do anything, but if you will let Jesus’ love have its way with you, there are many things you could be privileged and honored to do for the sake of Christ.

            Galatians 3 says, “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  You know longer live, but Christ is alive in you.  Jesus who is the “light of the world” illuminates your today and tomorrow to “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  “Shine like stars in the universe, holding fast the Word of life.” 

Don’t be a California, rolling blackout, darkened by sin, because you think church is the place to be a Christian, but nowhere else.  You miss opportunities not only by being lazy, but also when you forget your lives are extraordinary… there’s nothing dull about them. When you’re joined to Jesus in baptism and live with Him through faith, God would shine through you everywhere at all times.  Remember the old song that echoes Jesus’ words: “This little Gospel light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine!  Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m gonna let it shine!”

So that’s your calling – to radiate the love of Christ – to shine in a dark world. Unlike some boring jobs – your Christian calling is new and fresh every morning – it’s new with every person God brings to you, from your grandchild to your customer at the store.  Some are joyful like singing with your grandchild, some are less joyful like picking up around the house to serve your husband or wife. Every new situation becomes an opportunity to let God use our hands and lips and feet in His service.  Think of the mailman who walks the same path day after day, month after month, year after year delivering mail.  He may think, “How can I serve God?  My life is so boring.”  Yet, each day he delivers checks that feed families.  He helps the elderly person with a heavy burden.  He keeps a child from running into the traffic. He feeds his own family as he uses his God-given strength.  You and I will never know all the ways God uses and reaches through us to touch others. 

Life isn’t always about doing the glamorous thing, but in humble ways we serve God by husbands and wives, parents and children serving one another, by church members not dismissing themselves because “someone else could do it better than I can”, but doing what God gives us to do.  God’s Law teaches us the shape of what a Christian life should be, but the Gospel of Christ brings it to life.  You are loved and redeemed, so shine like lights in the world.  Find joy in serving.  And look for opportunities; don’t avoid them.  “Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed,” 1 Corinthians says, “do it all to the glory of God.”  Amen.  

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

Sept. 20, 2020 "To Live is Christ"

“To Live is Christ – to Die is gain!” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

17th Sunday after Pentecost Sept. 20, 2020

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

            The sermon text for this morning is from Philippians 1 previously read. 

            For the next four weeks, we’ll preach on our Epistle lessons from Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi.  I’d like to challenge you for this month to do a little homework.  The book is only four short chapter, so read through the whole book each week – 4 times total, and you’ll treasure the beautiful promises you’ll learn by heart. 

Philippians has been called Paul’s Epistle of Joy. As you read, you will see why Paul encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord always.”  But what’s amazing is Paul wrote from a Roman prison, waiting to stand trial.  Roman prisons 2000 years ago weren’t much to be joyful about!  Yet, Paul had just received a report from Epaphroditus that his little Gentile church – the first one in all of Europe – the Church at Philippi was standing strong in the teachings of Christ they had heard from Paul. 

            Why was Paul in jail?  Well, Paul refused to stop preaching about Christ Jesus.  Everywhere he went, He told how Christ was handed over by the Jews and crucified under Pontius Pilate.  More than that, Paul told how death could not hold Jesus.  Christ bodily rose from death and the grave on the third day, even appearing to then Saul on the Damascus Road.  Saul had tirelessly murdered and persecuted, arrested and did the worst in his power to stomp out the Church of Christ.  Then one day on the Road to Damascus to terrorize believers in the infant church, Jesus spoke to him from a blinding light, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city, and I will tell you what you must do.”  

            After Paul saw Jesus alive, he went about building God’s Church with the same fierce passion and dedication that he had once used to destroy it.  Because Paul had such a reputation for hatred of Christians and the Church, when he traveled tirelessly telling folks Jesus was alive – it was hard to argue against him.  He won converts, or to say it better, the Holy Spirit used Paul’s preaching to bring many to know Christ as the Savior.  And since the devil hates all that is of God and all that’s good, Paul’s Jewish enemies, unable to defeat him in argument, started riots and uproars, arresting Paul as a disturber of the people – though his only guilt was to preach Christ risen from the dead.

            But even under arrest, Paul told the Philippians, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel?”  While the Church wept and worried that Paul was in jail, Paul saw God’s hand at work.  Even in suffering God has His own purposes to accomplish.  That’s a good reminder for you not to judge failure or success in worldly ways.  We might judge our work for Jesus a miserable failure, but it might be your child or grandchild or one of our preschool children who hears the Gospel.  God works when His people are faithful and share God’s truth, and He works even in suffering.  Isaiah 55 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

            God calls you and me to be faithful, bold to speak, courageously standing against the world for the sake of the world.  Did you think that would be easy?  It breaks our heart to see the devil so nasty and bold and proud, sowing hate and deceiving so many people such that an entire generation and more no longer believe in an absolute truth and think you’re a hater if you dare believe the same things that were so blatantly obvious to any rational person only short years ago.  If it’s possible, advanced education and media manipulators have made us dumber, weaker, more spineless.  Will the Church, will you and I, cower and lick our wounds, afraid to speak God’s truth because the devil has so blinded the eyes and shut the ears of the Masses? 

            Paul saw his imprisonment as opportunity.  In fact, the whole imperial guard learned about Jesus while Paul was in prison, and Paul said, “Most of the brothers, having become confident, are more bold to speak the Word without fear.”

            You aren’t in a Roman jail, but now is no time for cowards.  While culture would program us to be limp and weak, deferring to the devil’s lies.  Your home needs you to be more than that.  Your church needs you to be more than that.  Your God gave you your family, large or small, stop crouching in your cell and stand up.  Your classmates may not hear God’s truth from anyone else, if you belong to God speak it out. Your co-workers don’t need box scores they need Jesus.  Christians cannot cower in fear.  Look with me at the words our text uses; words like: “Confident; more bold to speak; without fear; not be at all ashamed; with full courage; standing firm in one spirit; striving side by side for the Gospel; not frightened by your opponents.”

            “Without fear” is what God wants you and me to be, even as Paul was. But that kind of fearlessness can only come if you know to the very depths of your heart that this is God’s world and He still “works all things for the good of those who love Him.” Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.” 

I’m not telling you to be naïve.  Your girlfriend or boyfriend might not want you if you refuse to live a trash life. Your friends might not hang with you, if your talk is spiced with more love of Jesus and less nasty jokes or dirty words.  If your social media started showing the daily devotions from the Lutheran Hour – which they should – instead of the latest political train wreck, you might lose followers or friends.  Your kids might squirm if you draw God’s line in the sand and refuse to let ‘em go the way of the world. 

            I would be the last one to think I did it well, but to my boys I say, and you to your own, if God made you a man, then for God’s sake be God’s man.  If He made you a woman, for the sake of your Savior, be the woman God made you to be.  Nowadays, you might be canceled.  You may one day be imprisoned.  You may be fired.  You may have to find a new friend circle.  Reflecting on the decline of the Church in the United States Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in 2015: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."  But if you suffer for the advance of the Gospel, you may not be happy, but you can have God’s joy as Christ is exalted in you.

            You know the places, church, American citizens and voters, parents, children, students or teachers.  A million different places God puts you to be His man or His woman.  It might be farming the fields from which God gives daily bread. It might be the healing hands of doctor or nurse.  Or the tender touch of a mother or dad.  It might be teaching in home or in school to prepare youngsters to be useful citizens with more to offer than the latest culturally approved garbage.  Absolutely, your calling must include prayer and be carried out in prayer.  If you are God’s man or woman, pray like it.  Wear out your knees praying for our country, and leaders, and for the Church and for your pastors here and in Kenya, Deaconess Lorna, and the spread of the Gospel.

            Paul was bold because he knew the final score.  Note our text says in Greek “This will turn out for my salvation.” The translators say deliverance in v.19, but it’s the same word as in v. 28.  In both verses, Paul is sure of first His salvation, and verse 28 sure of their salvation - - to which Paul adds: “And that salvation is from God.”

            So, there it is!  If God gives you the salvation why should you be frightened!  Why should you hide under the table afraid of a virus?  Is God that small?  Yes, it’s better to die and be with Christ, but that should never cause you to hurry or hasten your death.  Suicide has no place for one who hopes in Jesus.  The devil is a liar and murderer.  He wants you to think God is small and weak and you are all alone. 

            Satan hear this proclamation; I am baptized into Christ.  Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled; And against your tyranny God my Lord unites with me.  Look at our text: “Stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel, not frightened by anything.”  “And take they our life, Goods, fame child and wife; Though these all be gone; Our victory has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

            What was true for Paul is true for you.  “For to me to live is Christ; to die is gain.”  You are joined to Him.  No power in hell can separate you from the Risen Redeemer.  Galatians 2 says, “You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you.  The life you live in the body you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself up for you.

            You are a baptized child of Christ.  Every breath you draw this side of heaven, you are a loved, protected, precious soldier of the cross of Christ, victorious because He is the Victor.  You may indeed be sure of your salvation, because you didn’t earn or deserve it, Jesus did, that’s what Paul says and “that salvation is from God.”

            To live is Christ – life is a blessing - but if today is your last day, to die is gain.  Your soul doesn’t flutter to the winds but is carried by God’s angels to the bosom of your Father, and one day your body will stand up from the dust of death: immortal, incorruptible, imperishable.  Body and soul, through faith in Jesus you have an appointment with your God in heaven.

            And notice verse 29, “It has been given you for the sake of Christ that you should believe in Him.”  Even your faith, God didn’t leave to chance.  He gave it… a work of God the Holy Spirit.  But the other gift that we are more reluctant to receive, “It has been granted you… not only to believe, but to suffer for His sake.” God forgive us for trying to wiggle out from under life’s crosses and make us bold to live for you, strong to suffer for you, joyful to die in you.  Amen.   

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

Sept. 13, 2020 "To forgive is divine"

“To err is human, to forgive is divine” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

15th Sunday after Pentecost Sept. 13, 2020

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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 Matthew 18:21-35 previously read.

            “How many times must we forgive?  Up to seven times?”  I chuckle because Peter must have felt himself pretty generous in allowing for seven cracks at forgiveness, but Jesus answered 490 times.  Jesus didn’t mean our patience and willingness to forgive stops at 491, but He meant it never ends, because it starts with God’s grace to us and flows through us to our neighbor.  That’s the point of the parable. 

            In the parable, God is the king who settles the accounts.  Peter and you and I are the ones with the great debt we can’t repay.  Jesus said the servant, we, owed 10,000 talents.  It’s an absurd, impossible number for a slave to borrow and more than could be repaid in many lifetimes. 

            The ESV text note says 1 talent was about 20 years’ wages for a laborer, but this slave owed 10,000 talents.  Jesus’ parable is making a theological point about what you and I really owe God, and the fact there’s nothing you can ever do to pay it back. What’s our debt?  The Law says, “Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.”  Our deficit is that we go through each day withholding the love and honor owed to God. Instead, we put it in our account. It’s a first commandment issue. Because our hearts are wrong toward God, neither do we love our neighbors.   

            But now you and I are like the man in the parable, we get our mental calculator and start begging for more time.  What scheme can I do to pay it off?  Hell is where we belong.  It’s what we’ve earned, and that’s where the debt will be paid.  God, have mercy.

The servant cried out, “Have patience with me and I will pay you everything!”  What a joke! Good luck amortizing that debt!  But here’s the surprising part, the king didn’t put him on a schedule of payments or put a lien on his property or sell his assets.  The King who is God our Gracious King forgave the debt. 

            That’s why Jesus came from heaven to pay the price. You and I, unable in the smallest bit to settle our own score with God, are worthy only to fall under God’s eternal judgment.  “The wages of sin is death,” Romans 6 says. All that we’ve stored up for ourselves by the conduct of our lives is God’s wrath, and one day every last soul will stand before God and the accounts will be opened. 

Wiggling and squirming and scheming didn’t save the slave.  His cause was hopeless, so long as he tried to solve it his way.  Jesus’ parable could only end well because of the nature of the King.  Your gracious God doesn’t look into you and make a judgment you’ll rise to the occasion and pay your debt.  He makes your debt His own responsibility.

To be sure, the debt that is forgiven will be repaid, just not by you, not from your puny resources or accumulated treasure of good works and virtues.  It’s paid by the King Himself.  “The Son of Man did not come into the world to serve but to be served,” Jesus said, “but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  1 Peter 1 says, “You were ransomed from your futile ways… not with perishable things, such as gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or spot.” 

Jesus is God’s eternal Son, God of God, light of light, very God of very God. Christ has everything.  Everything was created through Him, yet in Mary’s womb and Bethlehem’s manger, the King of Kings became the lowest and least.  He was born as we are in every way, except He is the sinless Lamb of God, all that He might live perfectly, without any debt of sin, then to offer His saving blood on Calvary’s cross.  Jesus stepped alive from Easter’s tomb, so that debtors like you and I be finally and forever forgiven.  So when the King has wiped your debts out forever, don’t go around looking for a way to claim them again.  Faith rests in the words of the King.  God has declared your problem to be His own, and in Christ God has declared that debt paid.  It’s finished.

Sadly, the parable doesn’t end there.  The wicked servant who received so richly of God’s grace went out and saw one who owed him pennies.  And when his fellow servant cried out using the exact words he himself had used earlier with the Gracious King, the wicked, merciless servant had his fellow debtor thrown in jail.  When the all-forgiving King heard what evil the newly forgiven servant committed over a few pennies, the King captured him and delivered him to the jailers for judgment.

The point is this:  Freely forgiven, God commands you to forgive.  Forgiveness is not an optional exercise.  How terrible we are at this in an age where it’s so easy to give or take offense and then simply unfriend the other.  Sometimes our squabbles are light and small things like a brother or sister pushing another or playing with your favorite toy; as we get older the wounds become more painful and lasting.  Cruel cutting remarks behind our backs; how can you forgive that nasty person you work with?  Our church and every church has seen the terrible tragedy of members who hold grudges, hate and walk away, or stay and make life in Christ’s body miserable, never missing an opportunity to stab away with their sharpened blades.  Within families we’ve seen siblings go to war over an estate.  Who gets what and how to make sure I get my fair share, even if it means a fractured family.  And sometimes we use lawyers and judges to give the appearance of legality to our hate and greed. 

It’s a sick situation when believers pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us”, even as husbands and wives count up demerits against one another, never forgiving and never forgetting.  Students make cowardly attacks against each other on social media.  This political season certainly has many of us more interested in victory than in loving our neighbor. 

Sometimes our wrongs or the wrongs of others are bad on a life-impacting scale. Maybe you’ve sat with a Vet scarred by the awful memories of war… A spouse or child dealing with a lifetime of aching pain after being deserted by their beloved.  The abuse of a child that shatters their trust.  How do we forgive?  Does it matters?  Jesus said, “If you do not forgive the one who sins against you, neither shall you be forgiven.”     

The first thing we recognize in the parable is where it all begins: It doesn’t start in the generous heart of the indebted servant.  It starts with a gracious God.  When God deals with you, God doesn’t set terms for repayment, figuring out a way you can nibble away at your debt till you can be done with it.  Your Heavenly King forgives freely and completely for Jesus’ sake, not because you deserved it.  God doesn’t need you to prime the pump.  He forgives you because Jesus already paid the price.  Believe that.  Look at Christ’s love for you and stop trying to make it about what you’ve got going.  The problem with the wicked servant wasn’t that the king’s forgiveness wasn’t real. But his heart remained hard – unchanged by the King’s mercy.

Repenting to those we’ve wronged and giving and receiving of forgiveness isn’t always the sweet, garden variety stuff.  Sometimes the cuts are deep.  When other boys and girls at school are making fun of you, or spread terrible lies, do you forgive because Jesus forgives you?  What cruel comment by a fellow church member do you still hold on to years later?  What meanness still causes your chest to tighten and anger to rise when you pass someone in the school hallway or at your workplace?  Who do you avoid at the family reunion?

We need to distinguish between forgiving another – choosing to forego retribution or retaliation, and the emotions inside.  The sinful nature may struggle for a long time wanting to flood our thoughts with the hurt and anger, and eyes fixed on the cross, we might daily have to choose anew to give it to Jesus.  Forgiveness toward another person is a Spirit-led choice that flows from God’s love received.  “I choose to forgive you, even though I’m hurt.” 

The emotions may follow along quickly, or they may have to be dragged ‘kicking and screaming.”  In some situations, the distress, the hurt and anger a Christian feels because of an experience last long after he or she thought it was forgiven and forgotten.  Sometimes even after deciding to release a debt and forgive another, we feel eruptions of hurt or frustration or anger.  You may have to make the decision anew each time you look across the breakfast table in the morning, or each time you walk into church or your coworker walks in the office.  Inside you might need to say to yourself, I decide to forgive you, “God help me for Jesus’ sake!” 

If you refuse to forgive, mostly it hurts you.  It changes your heart and puts a never-healing wound where God wants to put peace.  Don’t ruin your earthly life, and don’t let demonic hatred destroy your eternal life and harden your heart.  Pray daily, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” God’s grace in Jesus forgives you 70x7.  Within God’s Church you have a Bridegroom who never stops loving and restoring and forgiving you His Bride.  And Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely you are to give.”  

            Sadly, I’ve seen too many say, “Pastor, I know Jesus loves me and forgives me, but I’ll never forgive that church member or family member.”  So be it. Their damnation is deserved. 

            But for you who daily remind yourselves of Jesus’ love and daily pray God help you to forgive, don’t measure success by how well you’ve done away with this or that sin.  Satan wants you bent inwardly, naval-gazing, judging the reality of your own forgiveness by your ability to forgive, and reminding you when you just can’t seem to forget.  Better always that you look to the cross. God’s verdict is true and final.  You are loved.  It’s written there in blood on those terrible timbers.  You are forgiven.  You are set free.  Your debt has been released.  Pray God’s strength to let that flow through you to your neighbor, even to the enemy or the one who persecutes you. I like that from our Epistle lesson: “Before your own master you stand or fall, and you will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make you stand.” Jesus stood in your place.  Amen.

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

Sept. 6, 2020 "Toward A more perfect union"

“Toward A more perfect union: Election 2020” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

14th Sunday after Pentecost Sept. 6, 2020

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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 Romans 13:1-10 previously read.

            As I do, many of you remember being taught in school about the blessings of being an American citizen.  There was no derisive, hatred of self then over who was privileged, white or black, male or female.  To be sure, we were subject to the same covetous thoughts and the petty desire to lift ourselves up by tearing others down, but nobody thought it was a good idea to work it into our school curriculum.  In our Lutheran school, and, no doubt, most schools public or private, we were taught that we were all privileged beyond any people on earth, privileged because we lived in an imperfect place, for sure, but a place desired by every refugee in the world.

            I can’t speak to how American history is taught now.  Galesburg Christian School certainly teaches our boys that the United States is blessed of God and was founded with the “tools” to allow her to correct course and grow from a less into a “more perfect union.” As we enter this sometimes riveting, often nauseating Fall election season, we examine our Epistle this morning to talk about what are your duties as citizens of the United States.

            God has ordered the Fallen world in such a way that He rules over you through three different orders.  The highest most important institution through which God rules His people is the Church, the Kingdom of Grace, where God rules by means of His Word only those who are saved through faith in Jesus.  If you’re part of that Kingdom of Grace through faith in Jesus, your “citizenship is in heaven.”  If you’re not reborn through Spirit-given faith, you are ruled by the devil and going to hell.  There are no free agents.

In the Church, God rules by calling pastors to preach, distribute the Lord’s Supper and baptize into Jesus; and, in the Church of Christ which Paul calls our mother, God the Father bears sons and daughters to faith as they are born again from the womb of the Church  the Baptismal font by the water and the Holy Spirit. 

God rules us in His Church for blessing and salvation.  The Large Catechism says, “God has appointed a community on earth, through which He speaks and does all His work… Outside this community [the Church] where there is no Gospel, there is also no forgiveness, no holiness [and no salvation].”  Luther didn’t mean a building or denomination, but God gives His gifts in a community of faith, as He gathers His Church around the Gospel and Sacraments. 

That stands as a good warning: if you think you can be a Lone Ranger Christian and cease being fed through the Word and Sacraments.  Such a one is no child of God, but a despiser of Jesus’ bloody agonies and death.  To the one who treats the blood of Jesus as useless and unimportant, “O wicked one, you shall surely die.  Turn from your ways and live.”  In the spiritual realm, the Church is the most significant way God rules and blesses our lives.  Fed and forgiven in God’s Church we are taught to live in love as citizens and strengthened by the Spirit to put love into action. 

            In this world, God rules over you first through the family.  It is the most significant way God blesses your earthly lives.  He gives husbands to be the loving heads of their homes, willing to sacrifice as Jesus did, for the life of his bride and family.  Wives are called to honor their husbands and be subject to them as partners in God’s grace and out of reverence for Christ.  Husbands and wives, God calls to be open to receiving the gift of children, if it be His will.  Be fruitful and multiply.  And within the order of the family, God provides daily bread, discipline, education and a work ethic.  Is there any doubt the decay of our society mirrors the decay of the American home?

            Jesus defined marriage this way, “From the beginning God made them male and female… so a man will leave father and mother and be united to his wife.”  If Jesus says, it’s male and female, end of questions for me, because I know He knows what’s best.  But not just male and female until we get sick of each other.  Jesus said, “What God hath joined together, let no one tear asunder.” 

Broken homes can lead to broken lives for the spouses who split and especially hurtful to their children.  Children from broken homes are arrested and incarcerated more often, struggle with addiction or dependence or suicidal thoughts and struggle more often with their sexual identity and expressing it in healthy ways.  Other lines of demonic attack against the family are the rejection of children.  He attacks family peace and unity by teaching children they don’t owe respect and honor to parents.  He attacks family through the ever-present pornography that places a hideous image between husband and wife.  God’s pattern and way works better, and you’re not a hater to get that. 

            I think our failures within our families are the most painful of all, but Christian families are places of grace and forgiveness, where Jesus gives Himself.  You aren’t a perfect mom or dad, but you have a perfect Father who will never leave you. You aren’t a perfect husband or wife, but as members of God’s Church you have a perfect Bridegroom Christ, who purchased you by His blood.  You aren’t a perfect son or daughter, but Jesus God’s own Son was perfectly obedient to the Father for your sake.

            The third order or institution through which God rules over us and provides for our blessing is earthly government.  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  The devil hates good government, because Satan wants murder and chaos and rioting and distrust and misery and hatred, so the church’s work is hindered. 

            So, what would make St. Paul say, “Let everyone be subject to the authorities” when it was Emperor Nero’s earthly government that beheaded Paul with an axe. Certainly, Paul understood that those in government could sin against their vocations, and act wrongly, just as parents and children and spouses can sin against theirs.  Yet Paul commanded, “I urge prayers for kings and all in authority that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  When we pray for presidents and governors and cops, we mean that prayer in every way, but there’s a way it’s selfish too.  As Paul says, “I urge prayers so that we may lead godly, dignified lives.”

            This Christian duty as earthly citizens is for the good of all.  2 Chronicles 7 says, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  My people means you.  Repent and pray and lift our land to God.

            For us voting is a duty of love for our neighbor, as well as a privilege earned by patriot blood.  Many of the issues that divide republican and democrat, are arguments over the best way to accomplish the same end.  We want all to be happy and healthy and secure.  You and I may disagree whether raising taxes or lowering taxes is the way to accomplish that, and that’s OK – except of course, if the sacrifices you are voting for are always someone else’s sacrifices.  That’s just selfish and coveting and trying to use government to hurt others.  We always have to be aware of sinful motivations.  But that said, many issues can be viewed differently by different folks. 

I would suggest two issues are indeed moral issues about which God has spoken: Marriage, Jesus said it’s one man and one woman for life.  End of story.  The other is that life is God’s gift from conception to natural death.  You are not God.  “Thou shalt not kill.”  Sadly, sometimes there may not be a pro-family, pro-life alternative that fits our faith.  I’d just say: Your vote doesn’t belong to a union boss or interest group.  Don’t support with your voice or your vote what God rejects, and don’t reject what God supports.  And where the lines are fuzzy, pray God raise up thoughtful leaders who love our land and can lead us forward. 

            Paul writes: “The government is God’s servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for He does not bear the sword in vain.”  Notice, God gives lawful government the power of the sword.  So, don’t break the Law.  Our soldiers didn’t confront Hitler with cupcakes, but weapons.  Our police defend and protect with weapons we pray they will never have to use. 

            Because they represent God as His instituted authority, we pray God give our political leaders and military and law enforcement officers safety and good judgment.  “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad,” our text says.  But it’s also true that just as spouses and parents and children can sin in and against their God-given responsibilities, so can cops or elected leaders.  We trust by experience and observation that cops who behave badly are the exception.  But because they also represent us, we join the many good, faithful law enforcement officers in demanding accountability.  We can’t ignore injustice, but we must work within the Law and not rush to judgment.

            “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”  And so good citizens join our voices in demanding a color-blind application of the Law. God loves all, and so should we. It’s our duty to God and the neighbor. Satan wins in a race war when white and black are pitted against each other.  Every life is precious.  Every life matters.  “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.”  God wants all to be saved in Jesus. 

            Where we see injustice, we speak for what’s right.  We vote for what’s right and good.  We pray that God’s good prescriptions for the best shape of human life be realized in our families and nation, and that God would put down every effort of Satan to divide us and sow the seeds of strife.  We can’t ally ourselves with organizations whose stated purpose is to destroy the nuclear family.  That creates a worse problem than it solves.  Nor can we fail to stand and speak for those who desire a healing of our nation’s wounds and work for the goal equal justice and a more perfect union.

            We all know how hard it is, so we pray God’s will be done.  The Psalmist wrote, “Do not put your trust in princes or mortal men who cannot save.”  This is our nation, and God calls us to work for her good.  But this is God’s world and no president or judge controls the future. Pray, if you love your nation and your neighbor and you know God promises to hear and help.  Forces hostile to our Constitution would happily cancel the voice of God’s people.  This is no time for laziness, or cowardice or blissful ignorance. 

Cancel culture isn’t new.  The Apostles were forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus Christ – the “only name”, Peter said, “given among men by which we must be saved.”  His answer must be ours as we speak for Christ, vote our faith and live our faith.  Until Christ comes again, we will be subject to all rightful authority where we are able, and when we can’t, “We must obey God rather than men.”  May God grant us the wisdom always to see what is right and the courage to do it.  God bless our native land, firm may she ever stand; until the day He calls us home.  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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