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August 30, 2020 "The Prefect Trade"

“The Perfect Trade” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

13th Sunday after Pentecost August 30, 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 16:21-28, which concludes: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what He has done.”   This is our text. 

If you’re in to it, you probably noticed that this weekend marks the Major League Baseball trade deadline.  The time teams look to improve for the stretch run or build for future and unload salaries.  There have been some blockbuster trades in baseball history.  Babe Ruth was swapped to the Yankees for cash and the Red Sox went 0 for the 20th century.  Lou Brock became a Hall of Famer after Ernie Broglio’s bum arm was sent to Wrigley.  Ryne Sandberg came to the Cubbies as a throw in to get Ivan DeJesus.  Atlanta got John Smoltz for a burned out Doyle Alexander. Boston got ace Pedro Martinez for a very average Montreal Carl Pavano.  Cubbie Ryan Sandberg excepted, most of these future Hall of Famers brought their teams championships and glory.  For the team on the downside, they brought years of indigestion and heartache.  Baseball trades are fun if you’re on the winning side. 

In baseball sometimes there are no trades to be made, so it is with our text: “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?”  The implied answer is there is nothing you can give in exchange – no trade you can make - for your soul.  There is no profit in gaining even the whole world at the expense of your eternal life. 

The Christian life has two bookends – two essential comings of Jesus that should always be foremost in our minds and thoughts, guiding us in how we live and how we die.  Yet, I fear for myself, and you may find you relate, that it’s easy to remember Jesus’ first coming, His life, death and resurrection – but hard to remember and hold before mind and heart this one certain truth – Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead…  We cherish our American citizenship but forget Philippians 3 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

            Karl Marx thought this was the great weakness of Christianity – that it acted like a drug to focus people on eternity and not act for good in the here and now.  I think it’s just the opposite: that a Christian and a church focused on both Christ’s first and Second Coming will accomplish great things as we serve God by serving our neighbor. 

Truthfully, our greatest failure is that we forget our heavenly citizenship – we forget Christ’s Second Coming.  We get so engrossed and preoccupied with this world stuff and everyday responsibilities that we give little thought to exerting ourselves on behalf of Christ and building His Kingdom.  There is good evidence for that in a poll by Christian pollster George Barna showing that self-professed Christians believe strongly in heaven, greatly fewer believe in hell.

            Life’s responsibilities, work, school, family tear us a million different directions to the effect that we become insular and withdrawn, selfishly hording what little time we’re offered.  Mistaking wants for needs, our priorities shuffle God and neighbor well down the list.  Our families become a rat-race, and we lose eternal perspective.  But true priorities can only be set in our lives and homes when we consider both Jesus’ first coming and His assured return. “Be prepared.  He is coming soon.” 

             “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”  What does it mean to forfeit one’s soul?  Simply put, it is to squander the eternal inheritance Christ won for you by His death and resurrection for the sake of passing, earthly pleasures.  To forfeit one’s soul is to live as if something you’re doing in this world can one day be exchanged for future joy in heaven.

            Hell is not a pleasant topic.  That’s why even too many churches forget to talk about it and so many so-called Christians give it no thought.  But the Bible tells us a lot about Judgment Day.  Jesus described heaven in terms of a great celebration God the Father throws for Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church – and hell is for those who aren’t ready when the Bridegroom comes.  The door of Paradise is shut because they’re thinking about their own things.  Jesus said those who go to hell spend eternity in weeping and gnashing of teeth.  In Mark 9 He spoke of hell in terms of a maggot-covered carcass: “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

            Luke 16 portrays hell as an agonizing fire.  In those verses the truly frightening thing about hell isn’t simply the torment and suffering, bad as it is to imagine worm covered flesh. Many people endure excruciating agony, yet such pain can be relieved.  Medicine, or even unconsciousness, can provide a relief from physical suffering.  In Luke 16, the bad thing about hell is it never ends, and there is no lapse into unconsciousness.  It’s the never-ending, conscious torment of awful agony.  No medication brings relief and there’s no hope of an end in sight for those who go to hell.  The Rich Man begged to have Lazarus touch his burning tongue with a drop of water.  It’s this horrible reality of Judgment waiting for those who live to “gain the whole world” that causes God in His Word to sound the warning so strongly and often that there’s nothing you can give in exchange for your soul – no trade you can make.

            You could pout about the injustice of it all, but Scripture says it’s what you’ve earned.  It’s what our misplaced priorities and unanchored lives deserve. Much more pleasant to imagine hell for the likes of Marx or Hitler or Stalin or notorious criminals, yet God’s Law says you and I pile our offenses up to heaven.  What can a man give in exchange for His soul?  That’s the answer the world would like to know.  What trade can we make?  Then we can go our same way, knowing how to store up our treasures so we can be ready when it’s time to “pay the piper.”  The answer in our text is a clear emphatic – nothing.  You have nothing of eternal value to exchange, no resources to meet your debt.

            Before you walk out in despair – I have some good news for you!  While your resources are too puny to exchange for your soul’s salvation, God the Father sent His Son into the world for exactly that reason.  Jesus is God in human flesh.  Only becoming one with you as a true man was Jesus able to carry your failures, sins and poor priorities. 

            At the cross, Jesus made the only exchange for your eternal souls, exchanging His life, even suffering God the Father’s righteous judgment so that you and I wouldn’t have to.  In His agonizing cry from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?” God gives us a glimpse of the depths of His love… so deep that He willingly laid our sins on Jesus… so deep that Jesus could say, “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.”  Isaiah described this great exchange this way: “We considered Jesus stricken by God, smitten and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed.”

            What can a man give in exchange for His soul? Nothing.  But Christ, the man who is true God, born of the Virgin Mary, the God-man who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, gave everything for you and for your soul.  And what He gave wasn’t simply enough, it was so super-abundantly enough that His death and resurrection remains the redemptive ransom by which you live, not in holy terror of your eternal future, but watchfully and expectantly. “Because He lives, you will live also,” John wrote. 

Through Spirit-given faith, Jesus’ reward has become your reward.  His Sonship has made you sons and daughters. St. John wrote, “To those who believe on His Name He gives the right to be called children of God.”  His riches have become your own.  At the cross, He made the exchange which erases every debt.  His blood quenches the flames that threaten to burn you to the ground. Through faith, He clothed you in His own holiness, covering your sinful filth, and preparing a perfect place for you. In the very body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, He offers the fire-quenching blood of salvation and the “Bread from Heaven which a man may eat and never die.”

            That’s a good trade.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection enable you to live confidently, joyfully receiving His cross-won victory in His Word and the Lord’s Supper, joyfully clinging in your hearts to His victory, even as you serve Him in the joyous certainty that His work is enough.  His trade is perfect.  His exchange gives you hope for this life and the next when He raises these lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. 

Now we’re in the stretch run toward the crown.  Now we have work to do, lives of purpose.  We live not for ourselves but for Him who redeemed us by His blood. Now your today has meaning beyond yourself, but God sets you on a path to living His love toward your neighbor, and all to God’s glory.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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

August 23, 2020 "Who do YOU say Jesus is?"

“Who do YOU say Jesus is?” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

12th Sunday after Pentecost August 23, 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 16:13-20 previously read.

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  That’s an easy question.  It requires no commitment.  Some say John the Baptist.  Others say Elijah.  Still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  But Jesus’ follow up to the Twelve is more personal, “But, you, who do you say that I am?”  On the answer to that question hangs life and death, eternal joy in heaven or endless agony in hell.  Who do you say Jesus is?  Jesus said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven.  Whoever disowns Me before men, him will I disown before My Father in heaven.” 

Peter made the good confession not revealed to him by men – not the product of human intellect or reckoning, rather it was a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit - revealed by God the Father in heaven.  Faith is never from us, but always comes as a gift of the Spirit. In John 6, Jesus said, “No one comes to Me unless the Father draws Him.” Our Epistle reminds us, God “transforms us by the renewing of our minds.

Contrary to many a television preacher, Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”  So, don’t go around patting yourself on the back.  That you love Christ your Savior isn’t because you connected the dots; it’s God’s grace alone. 

That’s what we learned from the Small Catechism, the 3rd Article: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

            Not Peter himself but St. Peter’s answer became the faith that Jesus sent the 12 to preach, the Rock upon which Christ builds His Church.  Ephesians 2 says, “[The Church is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the Chief Cornerstone.”  The Word that God sent the Apostles to preach about Jesus is the Rock-solid, God-guaranteed foundation for God’s Church, because it points us – not to Peter - but to Jesus our crucified and Risen Redeemer.  1 Corinthians 3 says:  “There is no other foundation than that which has already been laid, even Jesus Christ.”  That’s why our Church exists, why it teaches her children and insists they learn; it’s why she supports missionaries, preschools, elementary and high schools, universities and seminaries – because it’s important to build on the Rock of Christ. 

If you never use your time or your talents or the gifts God gives you for His Kingdom work… that’s your answer to the question: What do you say about Jesus? When we look at our church budget or you look at your family budget and how you use your time, whether to serve God or amuse yourself, “Are we building our lives on Christ the Solid Rock?”  If you were asked to reflect on the amount of time you spend in God’s Word and doing your prayers and devotions, how much time you spend praying with your children as opposed to taking them to practices or games; what answer does your life give to the question: “What do you say about Jesus?”  Do your choices confess His importance and priority in your life? Or is He an afterthought… an add-on?

            The question put to the 12 in our text is the question put to you each day of your life:  “Who do you say that I am?”  Our students, hopefully sometime this year, in school hallways or on busses or at parties are by your words and actions confessing something about Jesus – does your confession say that you believe He’s the most important thing – the Son of the Living God.  Our failures to stand for Christ, speak volumes… those times when we avoid standing for God’s unchanging truth so as not to offend family or friends, and so offending against God’s Word.  But refusal to speak or act on your faith is also an act of confession – just not the right way!

We miss opportunities when we don’t view our lives in the context of Christian confession.  You are here for a God-appointed purpose to “Let your light so shine before men that they see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  God uses your hands and feet to serve others.  God would teach His little ones about Christ, speaking through your lips, using you to invite your neighbors or friends who have fallen away from Christ.  Even simple acts of kindness, offering your bodies as living sacrifices “in view of God’s mercy” are confessing moments.  Your dollars and offerings and volunteer hours support our ministry here at Mt Calvary, and through our Synod your gifts confess Christ around the world. 

We confess Christ our Savior, firstly, by being people of His Word, loving true doctrine and rejecting the moral drift all around us.  Confessors don’t look for parts of God’s Word to downplay or compromise, but heed Jesus’ call “Obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  Secondly, we confess Christ by living in Christ through faith, and in our neighbor through love.  Romans 12 says, “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” 

            Peter did great in today’s verses, but within a few verses he went from his shining confession to trying to talk Jesus out of the cross… to which Jesus answered, “Get behind me Satan!”  Ouch!  I don’t know about you, but that’s about the way it is with me too.  It’s pretty easy to get it right when I’m with Jesus on Sunday morning, but I don’t do so well when my confession is demanded from the world as I leave this place. We use God-given time, God-given talents and God-given treasures, not to confess Christ, but to amuse ourselves…  When you and I leave church, we really are entering the mission field our lives become an ongoing confession of what we believe, whom we love, what’s most important.  And so many times my life confession is a disastrous failure.  We waste our chances to speak and act, or we act the wrong way.  When that’s the case, as it is too often, there’s only one answer: Repent.  And if you are led to that repentance, that too is not revealed by flesh and blood, but by your Father in heaven.           

But here’s the Good News… There’s One who always made and makes that good confession – there’s One Who in every moment lived a sinless and spotless life… One who, when on trial for you, and when High Priest Caiphas put Jesus under oath, He made the perfect confession… I am the Christ.  Before Pontius Pilate again Jesus made that good confession for you and me.  He could have saved His life and avoided the cross.  By His redeeming death, the sinless Savior confessed your sins to be His own and swallowed up the judgment you and I deserved.  In the darkness of the cross, Christ made the greatest confession with His dying breath, “It is finished.”  Your debt is stamped – Paid in Full. 

            In the long litany of our failures, you and I have a Savior Who confessed without fail or fault; a Savior Who atoned for your sins and mine; a Savior Who loved you more than all the treasures of heaven:  “Who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”  This is the Divine-human Savior in Whom we put our trust.  He is the One who promises:  “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  He is the living “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Only God knows how you and I will be called to answer the question put before us by the world:  “Who do you say Jesus is?”  Hopefully, our lives will be blessedly uneventful, exciting, but filled with more or less ordinary opportunities to confess Jesus by talking to our grandkids, loving and serving our spouses, or inviting our neighbors to church, by lives of prayer and being in God’s Word.  It may be that a much heavier cross lies in your future, a debilitating disease or something worse.  No one knows what the future holds, but we know the One who holds our future.  Your Savior carried His cross before you.  He confessed His love for you with His very life. This was revealed to Peter and to you by your Heavenly Father. 

In you God has undertaken to build His Church, those redeemed in the blood of Jesus.  The gates of hell are no match for Jesus.  Built on Christ the Rock of Ages you can be sure the gates of hell can’t harm you either.  “Neither death, nor life, angels nor demons, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  Amen. 

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

            

August 16, 2020 "Hold Fast to What You Have"

“Hold Fast to What You Have” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

11th Sunday after Pentecost August 16, 2020

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            Jana, Joshua and Daniel, dear family members and friends… Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            For this Confirmation Sunday, hear the words of our Lord Jesus to the Church at Philadelphia, and to you dear young people:  “I am coming soon.  Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”  This is our text.

            Monday afternoon a line of severe thunderstorms battered an 800 mile swath from Nebraska to Indiana.  It unleashed a severe blast of straight-line winds called a derecho (dare-ay-show).  A derecho has been described as a fearsome inland hurricane. Winds in Galesburg reached over 85 mph and in Cedar Rapids clocked in at 115 mph.  Early estimates were that over 40% of the corn in Iowa was knocked down, with silos crumpled and trees uprooted over an 800 mile stretch, killing two and leaving millions without power.

            When the winds started to roar, I walked out on the front porch to watch our western tree line, and the large tree by our church drive.  The powerful wind pushed so hard, those mighty trees seemed nearly to lay over and touch the ground under its force.  A few large limbs, that were hanging before the storm, flew 50 yards or so before crashing down, but when the brief gust was past the trees stood back up straight and tall.

            It was a remarkable sight.  I could never have imagined most of those trees would have the strength to endure that beating, but their roots are deep and wide.  Only the damaged branches and the ones at the edges surrendered to the fearsome gust.

            Jana, Joshua and Daniel, your roots have been planted deeply.  1 Corinthians 12 says, “You were baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ… and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” That you have stood these years is a testament to the power of the God who “makes you to stand firm in one faith.”  It’s also a testament to the parents who helped plant those seeds of the Gospel, the praying grandparents and godparents, some of whom are here today, the Sunday school teachers and Bible school teachers who cared enough to give their time to building God’s Kingdom, and the prayers of God’s Church from the day you were made to wear the garment of Christ’s righteousness in the waters of God’s Baptismal grace.

            Confirmation Day is the end of nothing.  It’s the day that you confess before God and God’s people that the ground of faith into which you were planted is the faith you have grown to know. And not simply that you know it, or at least you did way back when we did questioning, but that you believe it and confess the church’s faith to be your faith and that you desire to live out that confession until the end of your days. 

            This work of making you children of God was perfect and complete in the moment, Galatians 3 says, “You who where baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Yet, that perfect, complete gift of God once begun in you, God carries on to completion. His Holy Spirit, once given, daily stirs the waters of His love as He brings you to maturity. 

We who love you pray with Ephesians 3, “I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

            We pray you be deeply rooted because we know you will face stormy days. 

When you live under your parents’ shelter, standing strong doesn’t seem like such a tall order.  But don’t ignore the storm warnings.  There are strong cultural winds blowing that sweep too many of our young people away.  Many have stood in the same place you are today, vowing before God to suffer all even death rather than fall away, but in short years, their carelessness for tending their roots, allowed the winds to sweep them away.  Joshua, Daniel, Jana, for Jesus’ sake, please don’t let that be you.

            God is the One who roots you and establishes you.  Your salvation is by God’s grace alone, a gift given in God’s watery Word, nourished by Holy Scripture, and fed with the body and blood of Jesus at His altar.  The biggest enemy in this project, what will wage war to keep your roots from sinking deep and strong, is not the devil, oh, he’ll work his worst alright.  But he can’t snatch you from your Savior’s hand. Your biggest enemy is within you. Jesus warned, “Out of the heart come all evil thoughts.”  St. Paul warns, “In you, that is in your sinful flesh, there is no good thing.” Two natures beat within your chest; the one is cursed, the other is blessed; The one you love, the other you hate, but the one you feed will dominate.

            Too many Christians remain frozen in infancy, their roots stunted and weak, because too many of us are too pleased with ourselves.  When you don’t live in holy fear of God, you can easily slip into believing you’re strong enough on your own.  Your sinful flesh will tempt you to think you don’t need to feed on the flesh and blood of Jesus every week, and soon every week becomes almost never. When that’s the case, remember you aren’t God, and He says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  It is surely important.

            Immature and overconfident Christians can think it OK to surround themselves with anti-Christian influences, with friends who don’t know Christ or care about living out their faith.  Can think it’s OK to listen to godless teachers or lying professors who saw away at your roots, tempting you with the devil’s lie that you are an evolutionary accident with no Divine Creator or God-given purpose and goal.

            You wouldn’t willingly spend time in a Covid ward, but there is a much more eternally terminal plague.  Don’t fill your minds with internet garbage, and never even one time date, to say nothing of marry, someone who doesn’t share the faith you confess this day to be your own.  Godless influences can sever your roots.  Psalm 1 teaches you God’s wisdom: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But the blessed one has delight in the Law of the Lord, and on His Law he meditates day and night.

            You have been given God’s strong roots, but they’re young and tender. Only as you let God stretch and strengthen them and sink them deeply into His strong Word can you stand up to life’s winds.

When we first heard about Covid, we sat around our family table, and I’ve shared the same things with your class, that today the world has changed, and it will be something you never forget.  Only God knows what He has in store.  Perhaps the last moments of this world are winding down.  Jesus is coming soon.  But if not now, and God is using this virus to call a world back to Himself, back to repentance and trust in Christ, and back to a renewal of His Church…  If that be so, when the wind of Covid has past, there’ll be a need to rebuild.  Some will be lost through separation from God’s gifts, but for the tree of God’s Church to stand tall and strong again, she will need sons and daughters like you, Jana, Daniel and Joshua.

Sons and daughters who will ask, not, how can my church amuse or entertain or serve me, but how can you be God’s men and woman, serving God’s Kingdom, praying and giving of your talents and treasure.  You have been discipled for these dark days to be God’s children in your school hallways, in your future families with your own spouse and children, to be leaders and Sunday School teachers or full time church workers in God’s Church, to be a voice of God’s redeeming light in a world of darkness. 

I don’t know how many days God has given for you, but I know each day He gives you is not just to mark time, but to make a difference, to be courageous and unshakable, to resist the lies and foolish talk of the evil one and to grow in the grace and knowledge of God.  Therefore, let your hearts be stored with the precious truths of God’s Word, that, strong in faith, you may make a worthwhile job of your lives; that your lives have their significance, strength, and achievements according to the plan of God; that when your time is up and your life has been lived, God will not sadly shake His head and sigh, “What a waste of time that was.”  In a few moments, you will vow before the Almighty God that such is your desire, by the grace of God.

The Almighty God doesn’t stand at a distance, taking it all in, to see how you do. He took human flesh in the Virgin’s womb and became your true Brother, sharing your flesh and blood in every way, except without sin.  He walked this life path before you.  Because He is your God in the flesh Brother, He is able to sympathize with your weakness, and He who set the foundations of this world in place invites you to call upon Him as dear children ask their dear fathers.  On the tree of the cross, Christ absorbed the storms of hell, and they could not overcome Him.  Still today, He stretches out His strong arms to love you, forgive your failures, nourish your tender roots and heal you from storm damage you have endured, and each storm yet to come.

Grow deeply and hold tightly to these truths.  Jesus sustains all things with the word of His mouth, and He has you in a grip of God’s grace that can never be broken.  He promises and we make this our prayer for each day of your life, “I am coming soon.  Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”  Amen.

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

 

August 9, 2020 "A Steady Captain"

“A Steady Captain” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost August 9, 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 Matthew chapter 14: 

            During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake they were terrified.  “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”  “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  “Come,” He said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.  “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?”  So far the text.

In the verses before our text this morning, Jesus fed a huge crowd of over 5000 by miraculously turning five loaves of bread and two fish into a bountiful buffet.  After Jesus served the multitude, he made the disciples get into the boat, sent the crowd away, and went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.  That’s a good reminder that God commands you to pray also. Don’t deprive yourself when the King of Heaven invites you to call upon Him.  Pray, and learn the truth that the One who prayed perfectly while here on earth, loves to hear and answer your needs. 

When He finished praying, about 4 in the morning with the disciples 3 or 4 miles out on the stormy Sea, Jesus saw and walked to them through the waters.  As they fought for their lives against the raging winds, the disciples looked up to see what they thought was a ghost coming toward them, and they cried out in fear.  Through the darkness Jesus called out, “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

Few miracles of Christ so vividly illustrate for us the truth of Jesus’ Incarnation – that He is true God and true Man, walking toward them through the stormy sea.  It puts me in mind of another miracle God does for you and me His disciples, and that’s the miracle of the Lord’s Supper.  The connection between the two, as I see it, is, too many uninstructed or Biblically-ignorant Christians react to the Lord’s Supper the way the Disciples reacted to Jesus’ on the water: It’s a ghost!  Not really, “It’s a ghost!” But they adopt the view that Jesus’ presence in the Supper is spiritual – not bodily.  In their view, the bread is bread and the wine, wine, and nothing more.  For them, what matters is what you are thinking in your head.  But it’s just the opposite.  What matters is always what God is doing – not what you’ve got going on!  

I’d suggest a better, more faithful approach for Christians; indeed, the approach the true Church has taken now for 2000 years is to remember Jesus is God and man, and because that’s so, He can do with His real human body exactly what He says.  My body can’t walk on water, but Jesus’ real human body could, because it was joined to a Divine nature in one person.   

So, what goes into your lips when you come to the Lord’s Supper? Evangelical Christians answer: It’s a ghost, a spiritual presence.  Jesus’ body isn’t there.  The better path is to let Jesus tell you what’s there and then confess it against all the lies of the devil.  What goes into your lips at the Altar of Christ?  Jesus said, “This is My Body.  My blood for your sins.”  If you can’t understand why that should be an important gift that your Brother who shared your flesh gives Himself to you, just take Him at His Word.  This is no empty bread… it’s the true presence of the Living Christ.  Jesus promised, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in youWhoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”  A word from Jesus opened the disciples’ eyes in our text.  When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, listen to Jesus’ Word. 

Another thought about the disciples’ fight for their lives in the storm…  The Greek text literally says that Jesus forced the disciples into the boat for their all-night, near-death journey.  Why would He do that?  He certainly knows the weather better than WQAD.  It was perilous.  It was frightening.  Yet, it served Jesus’ purpose, teaching the 12 that Jesus was the true Son of God and had them in His hands. 

You may have asked the same about your own life.  God, why are life’s seas so stormy?  Even Christians face the headwinds of depression, broken families, lost loved ones, failing health, and lingering loneliness.  Christian Parents anguish over children who walk away from Christ and damn themselves.  All of us look back with pain and regret over bad decisions – words we wish we could take back or hurtful actions.  You may feel like this nasty Christ-less culture is like a stiff wind hard for us parents to navigate.  Young people, you may be grieving starting classes online, or worry whether you’ll find friends and safety in your schools.   

The good news is Christ helped the disciples as they struggled against the storm, and He loves you just the same.  Our God and Father sent His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit to step out of the fog of life and reach His loving hand into your world of darkness. You are loved and forgiven, cherished by the God who joined Himself to your journey, and not one thing you face today, or this school year, is bigger than your God’s love for you… that’s the Word Jesus speaks into your stormy life.  He is your peace, calming the waves with resurrection victory.  Christ the Lord reached out to you stretching out His arms on Calvary’s cross.  Trusting in Christ, God’s promise in Isaiah 43 is true: “Fear not, for I have redeemed youI have called you by name, you are Mine.When you pass through life’s waters, I will be with you.  When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you… for I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  

There’s a lot about life that’s distressing, a lot of waves from friends to family to school to work that seem overwhelming.  But God met your greatest need, giving you eternal shelter from the storm, purchasing you to be His daughters and sons through Jesus’ holy, precious blood and innocent, sufferings and death.  Trusting in Jesus, God carries you through His Baptismal waters into the life-raft of His full and free forgiveness.  Your salvation is safe and sure for eternity when Christ is with you and carries you through faith to your eternal destination.  

With only a word Jesus called Peter out of the boat to come, walking on the waters. I always thought that was a remarkable moment of faith on Peter’s part, but too short a moment it turned out. Taking His eyes off the Savior, Peter plunged to certain death, until the Savior’s mighty arm lifted Peter from the abyss. 

In your lives, God doesn’t call you to stay in the boat.  Your Savior calls you out into a stormy world.  God calls you to step out in faith to serve Him in all the places He puts you – to focus on Christ and walk the walk as a child of God.

You bear witness to the hope within you every place that you work or go to school, every family member or friend, wherever God puts you becomes an opportunity for the Good News of Jesus to be shown forth in your life.  How desperately your Church needs you to step out in faith.  As Sunday School re-starts, we need teachers, and we need students.  God can use you to invite a co-worker to church or welcome a visitor.  It might be stepping out of the boat, out of your comfort zone to share Christ with your neighbor or share the importance of Jesus with your family or friends.  It is surely also your giving to support those in need and the work of God’s Kingdom here at Mt. Calvary.   

            Your faith is a gift from God, a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s personal in that He created faith in your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, but it’s not private, not meant to be a secret.  Faith is living and active.  If you are alive today, as it appears you are, you are alive to be loved by Him and to give freely as you have freely received.           

            Our text says, “When Peter saw the waves, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Focusing on the waves instead of Christ is a perennial danger.  Drawn from focusing on Christ, you will surely sink into the dark depths of doubt and despair.  Like Peter, we pray: “Lord, save us!” 

            As it was that day on the Sea of Galilee, when you cry out to God, the hand of your Savior stretches out in love, He did later stretch out His hands at Calvary to lift you from the sea of sin and death.  This is the course God has charted for you from Hebrews 12, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  This glorious God who reigns at the right hand of the Father stretches out His love to give you Himself, and not a ghost of Himself but all of Him who shared your flesh and blood in every way except without sin. 

            These are certainly stormy days in our world, fears and challenges real and over-hyped, may cause you to look to an expert class who claim the answers if you’ll only follow their path.  There’s a better way.  Rest in the strong arms of the One who strode atop the waters.  He set the very foundations of the world.  Nothing you face today will be bigger than He. Amen. 

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

 

July 26, 2020 "Here's how the game ends!"

“Here’s how the game ends!” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

8th Sunday after Pentecost July 26, 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 Romans 8:28-39.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.  This is our text.

            Finally, this week the baseball season is with us again.  And even with empty stands and fake crowd noise, there’s something about the great American game.  The voice of Jack Buck became the soundtrack of summer when I was growing up as we listened to the Cardinals’ radio broadcast working outside or playing in the front yard.  The radio is still my preferred way of enjoying a game. 

As a Cardinal fan, of course, you get used to playing meaningful games late into the year, and radio makes me less anxious, because I can always do something else.  Watching games on TV, especially playoff and World Series games, I get mad with each walk or weep over each error or strikeout.  The panic attack makes it less fun. 

There is another way of watching ball games I’ve found peaceful, and that is waiting till after the game has been played, and then, when I know my team has won, I can go back and watch the whole thing – even the nail-biting, high-pressure moments with the calm and satisfaction that in the end, things will turn out the right way.  That I won’t have wasted 3 hours to finish heartbroken.  For you hardcore fans, that might seem pretty lame, but I prefer the comfort and certainty to the potential letdown.

Today, I want to talk about an important Christian doctrine that usually gets mentioned in passing, the doctrine or teaching of Predestination, or God’s Election of Grace.  The last few weeks we’ve been listening to parables in our Gospel lesson, about a Sower God who spreads His seed far and wide, a parable about an enemy who sowed weeds after God the Sower planted good seed, and today we hear a parable about a Fisher God who drops His net and catches the bad with the good and sorts them in the judgment.

Predestination or Election of Grace is the Scriptural teaching that God chose His believers in Christ before the foundations of the world and appointed the means by which they would hear the Gospel call and be converted to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit to believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for all sins and every sinner.  And our text says, “Those whom God predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” That is to say in God’s Election of Grace Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, leaving nothing undone, nothing to chance from the sowing of the seed of the Word until the Day we are gathered in God’s final harvest.  In today’s Gospel, He drops the net and at the end of days gathers it home.  

Among the things God’s Word teaches with unmistakable certainty: It’s certain God wants all people to be saved… after all, the Sower sowed seed everywhere. The fisher dropped the net and caught good and bad.  2 Peter 3 says, “God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance.”  God’s grace is for all.  2 Corinthians 5 says, “Christ died for all.”  John 3 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.”

Not only does God want everyone saved, it’s also true, everyone who is saved is saved by God’s grace alone… 100% God’s work and gift.  Acts 13 says, “All who were appointed to eternal life believed.” Ephesians 2 says, “It’s by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works.”  Our OT lesson from Deuteronomy 7 says, “God chose you to be a people for His treasured possession, not because you were more in number… but because the Lord loves you.”

God knows everything in advance, the good and bad, but that’s not predestination. Everything about you down to the hairs of your head are known in the heart of God.  The Psalmist said that our God who saw your unformed body knows every day marked out for you.  God isn’t the source of evil or suffering, but the Bible teaches that our All-Knowing God has set the boundaries beyond which no evil can pass, no Covid disease or physical malady.  Romans 8 says this world is in the pains of childbirth waiting for judgment day, but even the worst sufferings “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those called according to His purpose.”  No virus or earthly evil is bigger than God, so that’s where you should put your fear, love and trust – in Him above all things.

We humans hear that God wants all to be saved, and all who are saved are saved by grace alone… and we start making our mental calculations.  Why some and not others?  It has been called the crux theologorum or the cross of theology.  Why some are saved and not others is only a problem, because we humans have a hard time letting God give the answer, and then waiting for Him to reveal His wisdom when we get to heaven. 

Some Bible teachers would argue against Deut.7… “Well, if God chose Israel, there must have been some reason in them.”  But Moses holds out the stop sign: “It’s not because you were more in number… but because the Lord loves you.”  Some will say, surely God foresaw something in that person, some lesser guilt or higher virtue, or even that God saw one day you’d believe.  But God tells us our Election to salvation or Predestination happened in Christ “before the creation of the world.”  God did not look for and find the good in you, but by His predestinating power He called to faith, justified and will one day glorify His Elect, His chosen ones.

Sadly, other theologians, like John Calvin, actually taught against the whole weight of Holy Scripture that God predestined some to salvation, and others He predestined from eternity to be damned.  In Calvin’s opinion, Jesus didn’t actually die for the world, but only believers.  But the Bible says “That’s not so!”  It’s not God’s will that some will go to hell.  He could have sown the seed in only a few places, but God sent the Gospel to be preached to all nations.  Jesus said, “How I longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” 

Someone going to hell isn’t God’s fault.  Ezekiel says, “[The Lord] takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they turn from their ways and live.”  Scripture’s answer is uncomplicated if you choose to take God at His Word instead of relying on human reason.  That’s where most get tripped up.  If we are saved, it is “to God be the glory great things He has done.” If we’re lost, it’s our own fault. That’s the Bible’s teaching.  In Ephesians 1, Paul says, “God made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Christ.”  If it seems mysterious now, don’t let it trouble you, just believe what God says.  

In eternity, you’ll no longer “know in part and see in part, but know fully” 1 Corinthians 13 says.  So how do you know if you’re predestined?  Well, the last place you should look is into the hidden heart of God. God is too big to be put under your microscope.  You also shouldn’t look into God’s Law, because when you look there, you’ll notice that there’s not one thing that makes you better or more deserving or more worthy than anyone else.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and hell is what you’ve all earned.  Still less should you go looking into your happy experiences or your wonderful willpower and resolve or some mountaintop religious moment, as though you’re ok because you know you were saved at some point in time.

The Bible only teaches Predestination in one direction, unto salvation.  We teach it because it’s Biblical, and it’s a doctrine of perfect hope and comfort.  But you must use it rightly.  Used wrongly someone might fall into despair, unsure of whether or not they are God’s Elect Child.  Used wrongly someone might think: what’s it matter what I do or think; if I’m Elect it’ll go however it goes, even if I live like a loser. 

The right way to think about it is this: you don’t have to sit through the anxious moments of life’s game, fearful or depressed, living in terror of the outcome. I like knowing the final score before I waste three hours watching a ballgame. 

With your Predestination to salvation, you don’t have to pry into God’s hidden mind. God tells you “You are more than conquerors through Christ who loved you.”  Neither angels nor demons can change that, “Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.”  If you can hear God’s invitation this morning, do not doubt that God will never lie or mislead you.  In your Baptism, God poured a promise over your head that had nothing to do with your goodness or deserving.  When you come to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus Christ Himself says, “This My Body and Blood are given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  God doesn’t lie.  He never has. He never will.  The God who calls you to faith in Christ is the same God who justifies you through faith, and that very same God who became the firstborn from the dead will glorify you when He bodily raises you on the Last Day. From beginning to end, your salvation is securely written in Jesus, the Book of Life.

So don’t worry and don’t live in fear.  You know the final score.  Jesus wins. The devil has lost.  “Because He lives, you will live also.”  Life has anxious moments.  Maybe for you that’s Covid 19 or starting school online or whatever it is, each day has enough troubles of its own.  But God has you in His hand.  Nothing you face today is bigger than God or beyond His ability to work “all things for good.”  The God who predestines you in Christ has your earthly life and your eternal future in His control.  The game is over and in Jesus you are the winner, so even if you can’t always enjoy the game of life, or even if it brings trials and heartaches, “Have no fear, little flock, your Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom.”  Amen.

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

July 12, 2020 "The Sower Went out to Sow"

“The Sower Went out to Sow” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 12, 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 13:1-9, 18-23 previously read.

            Modern farming would be unrecognizable to someone a century ago.  The basics don’t change: plant good seed; pray for rain.  But technology has made things so efficient, with GPS-guided tractors planting the right amount of seed in exactly the best places.  The profit margin is so narrow, nothing can go to waste. 

In our text, Jesus talks about a different kind of farmer or sower.  Jesus was the One who planted the seed.  He invited sinners to be saved through faith. And, today God the Holy Spirit still sows the seed of salvation through the preaching of the Gospel.  God sows the seeds of His love as the Church carries out the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples, baptizing… and teaching…”  But knowing how valuable the seed is – how precious is Christ’s blood-bought redemption – we cringe to imagine the seed being thrown haphazardly hither and yon.  You wouldn’t plant your garden this way – to say nothing of a farmer planting a large field. 

But that’s God the Sower with His saturation sowing.  The Sower covers all the soil, good and bad, even rocky paths. God doesn’t need GPS.  God could direct His Word of Life to exactly and only those who would bear fruit.  He knows the seed that will be eaten by birds and choked by thorns… the ground that will remain useless and damned.  God wants to be heard, even by those who reject Him and die in unbelief.  God’s grace is for all, and, thankfully all means you and me, too.  Ezekiel 33 says, “As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they turn from their ways and live.”  2 Corinthians 5 says, “Christ died for all.”

From Matthew 13 we read: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up.”  It’s surprising how much damage birds can do to a farmer’s field.  If you’ve ever seen a field covered with snow geese, you get the idea.  The birds flock for an easy meal where the tractors are planting the seed. 

The devil is like that flock of geese trying to snatch up the newly planted seed. The devil swoops in to do his worst precisely in God’s Church where God’s Word is being sown – where God’s children are learning about Christ the Savior.  He’s busier in this place than anywhere else, busier in the Christian home than anywhere else, trying to keep the Gospel of Christ from taking root in our hearts.  The devil loses when the most important priority in His Church and the Christian home is Christ. 

The devil hates it when you sit down to read God’s Word.  He doesn’t mind you hearing a sermon, but he wants you worried about how long it is.  The devil loses when individuals and families worship together in church and in home, when pastors and parents preach Jesus the Savior.  2 Timothy 3 says, “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise to salvation.”  The devil wants to devour God’s seed. 

God’s Word tells us these are the last days.  One characteristic of the Last Days is that people will be distracted, always allowing temporary desires to eclipse eternal priorities.  What an unimaginable blessing would result were we to recommit ourselves daily to “reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting the Word of God.”   

Pray for God to give Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church opportunity and faithfulness to sow the seed courageously… that God would raise up servant hearts to teach and volunteer in church or Sunday school or preschool.  Pray for Pastor Meeker and Deaconess Lorna and for our LCMS congregations around the country.  Pray God call men into His ministry and that the Word take root. And pray for courage to speak when the opportunity comes with family or friends.   

Dear people of God, be fearless and uncompromising as you stand for God’s truth. There is no compromise with the devil or falsehood.  Good sowers resist dumbing down God’s Word or softening the rough edges.  God’s seed is the whole counsel of God.  Church isn’t about creating a feeling, and we can’t give the impression that the holiness of Almighty God, before whom Moses removed his sandals and bowed his head, can be easily blended with our culture.  Rather, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”  To lose the fear of God is finally also to lose the joy in His mercy that sows seeds so generously.     

            Next, Jesus describes those who hear the Word, receive it with joy, yet having no roots, they fall away in time of persecution.  Cancel culture isn’t a new thing.  Biblical integrity has always had a cost.  2 Timothy 2 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted.”  Acts 14:22 says, “Through many tribulations we enter the Kingdom of heaven.”  Those not deeply rooted in God’s Word wilt and wither under sadness and suffering.  It’s hard to stand with God when your classmates and even family members have left the faith.  Some of life’s hardships are self-inflicted – the results of our sinful choices or poor decisions, some hardships are outside of our control.  But always remember, nothing is outside His control.  In faith, cling to Jesus’ promise, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peaceIn this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.”

The third seed in our parable sprouts but never grows to maturity and fails to bear fruit to eternal life.  It’s an unspeakable tragedy when those in whom God the Holy Spirit has planted the Word of Life refuse to allow that Word to grow and flourish, starving their faith. Confirmation instruction was never intended to be an end or goal for its own sake.  It gives the elementary tools for a life of growing in God’s Word. It’s the ABC’s that are foundational for what follows.  God calls us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the heavenly seed of His Word all our lives.  Psalm 119 says, “I have stored up Your Word in my heart… Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Child-like faith is the saving faith that rest in Jesus’ work alone.  Childish faith is a flabby hodgepodge of half-truths and personal opinions that blows with the winds.   

Jesus’ parable is a mighty reminder for those who think God’s Word unimportant In Luke 11 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” 

The seed that produces 30,60 and 100 fold stands for those who hear and receive the promise of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ, believing God’s Word of truth.  But why the difference?  Are some just better than others, better ground for God’s seed to take root? Jesus again explained to the disciples: “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.”  There’s one reason some go to hell – they reject the Word of life.  Likewise, there’s one reason some are saved, “To you it has been given.”  Salvation has been given.  It’s a gift of God’s grace, and only God’s undeserved love, that His Word brings us to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  God wants everyone to be saved through faith in Jesus. The Sower sows His Word to every corner of the earth.   

Brothers and sisters in Jesus, God promises in our Old Testament lesson His Word never returns void, but accomplishes His purpose.  God’s Word is being sown this morning, a Word of warning and call to repentance, but also a Word of life and grace.  Not only is Jesus the Sower who sows the Word, but John 1 says, He is the “Word who became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.”   He took human flesh with you and your salvation in His heart, so you could live eternally with Him in heaven.  There’s not one thing Jesus left undone in His saving mission.  God’s Words are always and only true, and Jesus planted His seed Word into your life when you were baptized.  At His altar, He waters and nourishes His seed, “This is My body and blood for you for the forgiveness of sins.” 

Our promises are pretty flimsy, but not when God plants the seed of His Word! Cling to the Baptismal water and Word the Holy Spirit used to give you His life.  Here in God’s watery Word is something outside of you – something firm you can hold on to.  Don’t let the devil snatch it away as he tries to force you back on your feelings and your results.  Cling to the seed promise that “You were buried with Christ through Baptism into death and raised with Him to new life.”  His Word is never false.  He never lies or misleads.  Don’t retreat from God’s strong sure promises, sifting the soil of your heart for evidence.  Take God at His Word:  “Whoever comes to Me,” Jesus said, “I will never cast out.” 

Don’t waste your time taking personal soil samples each day.  Honesty, will compel you to admit, it’s pretty lousy ground.  Rather, focus on the gracious God who recklessly and widely sows His love in Christ, and focus on the Word “which accomplishes His purpose.”  What He’s said before is still true:  You are loved; You are precious to Him; and “no one can snatch you from God’s hands.” Amen.

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

July 5, 2020 "Is Your Church Too Old for You?”

“Is Your Church Too Old for You?” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost July 5, 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 Matthew 11:25-30.

Memory is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  Monuments and statues and ceremonies link us to our past, reminding us of good things to treasure or bad things to change.  And families, countries and churches have some of both, the good and the bad.  Carrying forward our past can make us appreciative of sacrifices, as we are on the 4th of July.  It can also remind us where we need God’s grace and strength to grow in a good way. A sign of immaturity is an unwillingness to receive and pass on what’s worthy of passing on.  In that respect, it’s sad to see churches separated by age.  The wisdom of the Church’s past is surely a better guide than the lightning changes of our culture.  Everyone loses.  The young become discipled by churches that mirror the culture.  We elderly worry there’ll be no one to help; which is the worst of sins for us who have a victorious Savior. 

I always encourage my confirmands to view their task – not as getting out from under mom and dad’s thumb so they can worship with their buddies, or not at all, but to serve their elderly and be active leaders and workers and worshipers in our church, continuing to build the bridges that connect us in an unbroken link .  Loving, prayer-filled hearts cause many older members to serve their young and support a school and Sunday school and youth gatherings, but mature children grow to see it works both ways and there’s something you can do; rather, than taking until it’s time to bolt for the door.  The Church is God’s hospital, not for the young or the old, but for sinners. 

Jesus makes an invitation in our text, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.”  And not only does Jesus invite children, He specifically reveals the invitation to infants in our Greek text.

But that seems to make Jesus guilty of age discrimination!  Does God really like children better?  Ezekiel 33 says, “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they turn from their ways and live.”  1 Timothy 2 says, “God wants all people to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.”  So what’s the deal?  Why would God hide the Gospel from the wise and learned?

There are always those who think the answer is because children are so sweet and cute and innocent.  If kids were sweet and cute and innocent, adults wouldn’t always make them sit at the kids’ table at family reunions.  No, Psalm 51 tells us children aren’t innocent at all – like us, they’ve been sinful from the moment of conception in their mother’s womb.  Young or old, Romans 3 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” 

            In the verses just before our text, Jesus pronounced God’s judgment on three towns in which He did many miracles, but the people still refused to repent.  He said, “On the Day of Judgment it would be more bearable for Sodom” than those towns that rejected Christ the Savior.  If you think God was unusually harsh in His judgment on Sodom in the Old Testament, Jesus says, “Oh no, Judgment Day will be far worse for you if you don’t repent and believe on Me.”  And that’s still the case.  If you think yourself wise and sophisticated but are too proud to turn to Christ in repentance, Hebrews says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 

            So grow up in Christ by becoming child-like; that is to say, a little child lives from being given to.  If a child isn’t receiving and being fed and clothed and nourished they’ll die.  Little children are absolutely helpless, and so are you.  You either acknowledge that truth or you don’t.  

Jesus warned, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  If the way of a little child is to be wholly at the mercy of mom and dad- totally dependent - the “wise and learned” don’t think they need anything.  They may have great intelligence, but no Godly wisdom.  

The so-called wise and learned ones laugh at Paul’s epistle reading, “How dare you say that in me there’s no good thing!  Surely, you overstate the case!  There are many fine things about me.”  We sinners wiggle and squirm and hate to admit the truth.  We even try to change the definitions to avoid the Law’s accusation:  “In you there is no good thing… Oh, yes, that means you.”  But for all the squirming excuses – shifting the blame, rationalizing our own sin so we can look down in contempt on others.  We get it wrong when we “wise and learned” folks start to believe we’re in control, not dependent like those babies!   

Our prideful sinful flesh has a million ways to avoid saying with Paul: “In my flesh there’s no good thing.  What a wretched man I am!”  The problem with pastors or churches or cheerleaders who are always telling you, “Yes, you can…” is as James puts it: “If you stumble in just one point of God’s Law you break it all.”  Plus, it keeps you from finding peace in the Savior who did it for you.  Better to become the helpless child. 

            A little baby sits in his or her filth and waste and cries, a mournful awful cry – an agonizing cry, but she’s helpless to make it better.  The little child needs grace – a free gift.  That baby can’t relieve the discomfort of her diaper or soothe a burning rash.  She can’t earn a living, shop for food or clothes, cook and clean.  Babies live from grace.  That’s how you and I should be, like that baby who lives from grace. 

The strange and wonderful paradox of the Christian faith is that it’s just in this Spirit-given recognition of infant-like dependence we receive the grace – the undeserved love that God our Heavenly Father wanted to give all along. Whether you hold your baptized baby in your hand or you’ve seen 100 years on this earth, Christ Jesus took up living, breathing flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  He became a tiny embryo until He drew His last labored breaths in this world on the cross, because God loves you and wants you to share His heavenly home.  His grace is the soothing balm of forgiveness for us His beloved babies.  His Baptism your water of life.  

The amazing thing about grace is you can be a genius saved by grace through faith like Isaac Newton or Martin Luther or you may have more ordinary gifts like the rest of us.  You may not be able to point to a long list of accomplishments and the world might regard you as from pretty humble stock, but you’re in a good place if you can say with St. Paul, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  From the least to the greatest, richest to poorest, oldest to youngest, we have one and the same Savior who laid aside His glory to die your death and give you a new eternal life and hope – an “inheritance” 1 Peter1 says “that can never perish spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Christ the first and the greatest became last and least so that we who are last might be first, we who are humbled in repentance over our sins are exalted by Christ’s victory for us.  Trusting in Jesus, you are fully and freely forgiven in the blood of your crucified and risen Savior.

So, dear Babes in the arms of Jesus, God has much work to accomplish through you – young or old – as you children serve and honor your parents and grandparents out of reverence for Christ, and vice versa.  But don’t aim your good works up into heaven, as though you think God needs them, rather leave them down here as you serve one another in love.  And when you’ve spent yourself in labor for God’s Kingdom, “Come to the Savior who gives you eternal peace and rest from all your heavy burdens.”  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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