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June 28, 2020 "It's Not about Happy, but Saved"

“It’s Not about Happy, but Saved” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost June 28, 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 10:34-42.

            As the congregation filed out of church one steamy summer Sunday morning, the pastor greeted the members at the church door.  When little Johnny filed through, he reached into his badly sagging pant pockets and began to snatch out handful after handful of pennies into the pastor’s cupped hands.  “Hold it, Johnny, why didn’t your gift go in the offering plate?”  Johnny answered, “I know you need it, pastor, and I wanted to help.  After last week’s service, my pa said you were the poorest pastor we’ve ever had.”  

            For three weeks, we’ve read Matthew 10 and Jesus’ warning to the disciples that they would be hated and rejected for preaching God’s Word. 

On some level, these words apply to every Christian in that the places you live and work and play are places God calls you to stand up for Christ.  But they are especially relevant to pastors and missionaries, those called by God to preach as were the Apostles in Matthew 10. 

A pastor is a shepherd – that’s what pastor means.  The call is to shepherd.  True pastors genuinely believe God’s Word and care about dying souls, and want to bring the only saving truth of Christ to people – at the same time not compromising God’s truth.  True sheep or believers love God’s Law, because sheep know the Shepherd gives good gifts.   But God’s unvarnished truth often hurts our pride and makes us squirm.  Sometimes prideful people get mad at those who deliver God’s Word, looking for a more ear-pleasing shepherd.  So pastors and congregations are tempted to invert Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep.  We worry how to keep happy the 99 righteous persons who feel no need for repentance; rather than risking speaking the truth and ending up with one repentant sinner… but you know Jesus said, “There’s more rejoicing in heaven over one who repents than 99 who feel no need.” How many church leaders really believe that?  I dare say it’s tempting to aim for the 99 – a big happy church – all smiles – a nice church – where no one leaves offended – and hopefully dropping a lot of money in the plate.  But God searches for the one – and that through preaching a Law word, a convicting word, a word of repentance. 

Our church and every church today carries out her ministry in a climate of either honoring God’s Word and risking offense to the flock, or ignoring and downplaying God’s Word to keep people in church that aren’t converted Christians. Does a church dare speak convicting truths or is it content to just entertain her members, hopping music, nice self-help kind of inspirational message?  This isn’t a new issue for God’s Church – it’s older than Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading.  Now think of it from a family perspective. 

What Christian parent wants to have kids mad?  But, dad, Billy’s parents let him do it?  Why can’t I?  It’s tiresome getting static for doing what’s right.  For telling a coach – sorry, but you’re wrong to schedule games on Sunday morning… but that’s tough, life is tiresome sometimes.  Jesus seems bent on the disciples and you and I understanding that being nice and keeping people happy aren’t the goal.

            You have to come to grips with two things: Firstly, you are called to love God with all your heart, first, last and forever.  No matter how the world changes and society disintegrates in perversity, and churches crumble and cow-tow to political correctness, God doesn’t give you the option of bargaining away the parts of His Word you’ll compromise in order to keep people in the church who don’t believe in God’s Word.  Jesus said, “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  If you are afraid to be called a hater by the woke mafia, Jesus said, “Do not fear the one who can destroy the body, but the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” 

            Secondly, realize preaching is useless without Law and Gospel, perhaps amusing, entertaining or even educational, but finally useless.  God’s Law is not a topic to be avoided because it may offend you.  It’s actually God’s loving good will for the world.  If you want the best life for yourself and for your kids, dare and care enough to talk about God’s 10 Commandments.  If you want a good marriage, God’s Word talks about what that family looks like, and it doesn’t start with the obligatory shack up or in the bar… it doesn’t need a big bank account built up.  It starts with a mutual dedication to Jesus. 

Don’t ever believe you’re doing someone – your child or anyone else – any favors by shielding them from the clear Word of God that calls to repentance. Yes, there’s the risk that family are offended and peace is lost, but without that repentance salvation is lost. In a nutshell, what I’m saying is: true love will draw lines of right and wrong…  true love will share God’s wisdom, even if every idiotic TV sitcom portrays the glory of a hedonistic life.  God’s way is better!  God knows the best shape of your life better than your classmates and Hollywood liars. And yes, God’s Law, kills, but it must kill so the Gospel can give us life and forgiveness.  Nobody cares about our great Savior until they know how great their sins. 

            In that sense, Paul tells us God’s Law is good. It’s good, as in, your life will be better for following it… and it’s good in that it makes me see my failures and paves the way for the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus.  Repentance is a gift of God… the Holy Spirit works it by driving me to my knees… I can’t be saved so long as I’m the proud, self-sufficient Pharisee standing, “Thank God I’m not like other men.”  Remember, it was the broken tax collector who could only beat his chest and cry out to God who went home justified from the temple.  The Epistle says God’s Law “produced death in me in order that sin might be shown to be sin.”  See, God’s Law shows me I’m an utter failure, but that’s good when the Gospel points me to Jesus my Savior who never failed for me.   

            And when you realize how far you’ve wandered from God’s flock.  You still haven’t wandered so far that God’s Good Shepherd doesn’t kneel down and lovingly lift you to His shoulders and carry you home.  That’s repentance; Jesus found you and His Spirit shows you God’s love for the lost – and in that repentance there is rejoicing in heaven. You don’t keep God’s Law, but Jesus allowed Himself to be despised and rejected and forsaken.  He walked into the hatred and hostility of your world and finally gave up His life at the cross so all your sins and mine could be wiped away in His cleansing blood.

            You have been restored.  You are God’s child – a sheep carried home by Christ your Savior. If you can hear my voice, you can know that Jesus loves you and left heaven to make your home.  When you wander, the Shepherd reaches out His staff of the Law to yank you back… sometimes that hurts, but it’s a good thing. Sometimes God disciplines you through hardship and life begins to crush the wind from your lungs and you cry out through clenched teeth and bitter tears.  If suffering in this life is how God draws you nearer to Him, what He ordains is always good.  Still your shepherd prepares a table of grace for you when He feeds you with Himself – with His own life-giving, death-defeating flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is bringing His cross-won forgiveness to your tongue – you are the one He died for; you are the one He lives to carry home.  Your Shepherd always sends His Spirit – a Law Word to show your sins – and a Gospel Word to show Jesus your Savior.

            Both words from God – Law and Gospel – are gifts to you. Children can’t be raised to responsible adulthood by only being patted on the head; sometimes a loving parent will discipline.  Hebrews says, “God disciplines those whom He loves as a loving Father disciplines His children.”  Whether a church or a family, true love is tough love. 

            It’s unpleasant to think of it, but your pastor’s job isn’t to bring peace and joy and acceptance – it’s to be faithful. It’s not to be creative or clever and figure out ways to do evangelical Christianity with Lutheran style.  It’s to say what’s true.  When I’m faithful to God as a pastor, or we as parents, as citizens people, as friends, God can produce the fruit.  But when you’re afraid that God’s Word is old-fashioned – no seed will get planted.  “My Word that goes out from My mouth will not return void, but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it,” God promises.

            That part is a struggle… we all want a better strategy for witnessing to kids or church or neighbors, but “faith comes through hearing the Word of God.”  You can only plant the seed of God’s Word and some will make a harvest – and you can’t make it happen… and some will reject – and you can’t stop that from happening.

            But God is faithful… His good and perfect will for your life is evident to all in Jesus’ bloody death.  You are loved.  Your family is loved.  Your God knows how best to save sinful wanderers.  May God grant us faithfulness and courage in these Last Days and lead us to pray from the heart our Collect: “By the working of Your Holy Spirit, grant that we may gladly hear Your Word proclaimed among us and follow its directing” and “Dear Father, let Your Kingdom come.”  Amen.

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

             

June 21, 2020 "Set Free in Christ"

“Set Free in Christ” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Third Sunday after Pentecost June 21, 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 6:12-23 (read a portion). For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  So far the text.

            Uncle Tom’s Cabin tells the story of Tom, a kind, hard-working Christian husband and father enslaved in the American South. Tom was loved by his master and put in charge of the whole plantation.  He was a spiritual mentor to fellow slaves and the embodiment of a Christian father and leader.  Financial hardship caused Tom’s master to sell Tom to a slave trader.

            The reader is horrified as Tom is torn away from his family and sold to a man far away in New Orleans.  His character and trustworthiness and kindness soon caused Tom to become the right hand man.  The master loved Tom and after a tragedy in the family, the master decided to give him his freedom.  But just before Tom was to be freed, his master was robbed and killed on the street. With no legal statement freeing Tom, the master’s wife refused to let Tom go.  She sent Tom to the slave auction where he’s bought by one of the most hated characters in the history of American literature, the monster Simon Legree. 

            Legree didn’t care for his slaves, worked them to death and bought new ones.  When Tom tried to help some of the weaker slaves, the new boss made it his devilish aim to break Tom’s spirit.  Like Satan lashing out against Christ, the monstrous man detests his goodness, savagely beating noble Tom to death at the end of a whip.  That book horrified the north and helped people to see the terrible cruelty of slavery. 

St. Paul describes another slavery that leads to death in our text:  “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?  Those things result in death!” 

A lot of young folks think they’re finally free when mom and dad aren’t forcing them to go to church anymore or think freedom is nobody judging their choices or behaviors.  Some think freedom is being free from financial worries, or freedom to choose what they want to do when they want to do it.   But Paul says we are all slaves to sin, death and the devil until God liberates us. 

Is the young boy who will do anything to fit in and be accepted by their peers, or the girl whose whole worth comes down to whether people like the way their body looks – are they really free?  Is the teen alone in the lust of online pornography or afraid if they don’t engage in sexual activity they won’t be popular?  Is that free?  Is the one scared to speak up for God’s Word or let anyone know he’s not down with the latest politically correct line of thinking really free?  Is the one daily checking their investments, whose hearts rise and sink with the financial numbers really free?  Is a parent really free if they lack the Godly courage to say no to their children or raise them to know right from wrong? 

Luther wrote:  “Freedom that seeks its own end is no freedom at all but the devil’s tyranny.”  That means to live for yourself is really the devil’s slavery.  He’s your master. 

Your sinful flesh lies to you.  It’s a cruel despot promising freedom and happiness every time you satisfy your urges. But sin is a lying, brutalizing master, a Simon Legree, that if given free reign in your life will whip you bloody and leave you for dead.  What’s important to you?  When you are a slave, the Old Adam makes life about money and power and popularity and entertainment and having all the cool stuff – cars, boats, work, kids, whatever we want - all the while the devil uses our lusts and greed and selfishness and desires to draw us deeper into slavery – deeper into the trap of “Me-ism” – the view of life that cares only about me.  That self-love I can even convince myself is me being a fun, caring parent, when in fact it’s often a symptom of self-love to spoil a kid rotten, self love that breaks out in laziness and carelessness about how my kids turn out.  And we’re often guilty as charged because it’s easier and doesn’t involve battling for what’s right.

Jesus lived and died to break the power of our slavery to sin and death’s power over God’s people.  I get that there are a lot of lenses through which to view the American Civil War, but it has sometimes been called a holy war, a war to remove our original sin of slavery. 

As obnoxious as the brutality of slavery was, it’s nothing compared to the unspeakable horror of enslavement to sin.  The slaves held in the American South couldn’t approach the bloody, waste and carnage of souls led to eternal death by the devil, the world and the sinful flesh. These tyrants call good evil and evil good.  The devil leads the damned into slavery by convincing them they are evolutionary accidents, the product of time, matter and chance.  The devil enslaves and damns those who believe science has emptied the world of God, and that there is no judge before whom all will one day give account of their lives.  Many lead useless, aimless, purposeless lives, convinced they have no Creator God, no higher purpose to be saved through His Son and live to His glory. No ultimate meaning beyond making sure the moments of pleasure outnumber the moments of pain.  But that is its own tyranny… it’s own aching pain that drugs or dollars can’t soothe.   

While it may not be historically realistic only to speak of the anti-slavery motives of the Union, no doubt many acted for money or property.  It’s beyond debate that Christ waged war against our cruel slave masters – sin, death, and the devil – with pure motives.  Christ our Savior was born into human flesh and became “like us in every way, except without sin.”  Into our tyrannical, hate-filled world, God became man to embody love and sacrifice and selflessness.  Instead of being enslaved by sin, Christ was obedient in every sense to the holy will and Law of the Father.  2 Corinthians 8 reminds us, “Christ Jesus, though He was rich, yet for your sakes, He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”  The God of Heaven made our liberation and freedom from sin, death and the devil His work. Christ Jesus “emptied Himself of His power and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

The torment and torture of our sinful flesh could only lead us to death, yet Christ allowed Himself to be whipped and bled and stricken, as Isaiah wrote, “so that by His wounds we might be healed.”  Condemned to the dungeon of death, Christ’s resurrection breaks sin’s enslaving hold on God’s people.  Joined to Jesus’ resurrection victory through Holy Baptism we now walk in true freedom. 

Paul wrote:  “For freedom Christ has set you free, so do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin, but if the Son sets you free, you will be free, indeed.”  What does it mean that you are free in Christ?  You are free from fear to trust in the victory Christ has won for you.  You are free from condemnation, because God the Father condemned your sins in Christ. Paul wrote, “There is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ.”  You are free from tyranny, because “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God.  You are not your own.  You were bought at a price.”  Our text says, we were purchased in Christ to be slaves of righteousness – declared righteous – innocent – no sins are left to condemn you through faith in Christ.

When Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, millions of slaves living in the Confederacy were set free.  But there was a downside.  That act of justice and compassion for the slave hardened the Southern resolve.  The Confederacy fought long after the war could no longer be won.

Here’s how it is with you.  You are free. Through faith, God has declared you so in Christ.  Yet, God calls you to be awake, alert and watchful to the devil’s plans.  Just as the Emancipation Proclamation hardened Confederate resolve, God’s victory in Christ given to you through faith gives you a desperate, defeated enemy, the devil.  As you live in the last days of this dark world, the devil will do his worst to snatch you back into the slavery of sin.  He’ll try to suck you into cyberworld with all its nastiness, or make you slaves to your little peer group of classmates.  He’ll try to make you a coward, unwilling to stand up and be God’s man or woman, taking your stand for Christ.  Those paths lead to death.  Heed the words of Galatians 5: “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

When Christ cried out, “It is finished” from the cross, He signed the treaty that brings you peace in His precious blood.  There God declared pardon and forgiveness, emancipating all of God’s children through faith from the crippling clutches of sin.  God trumpeted his great verdict of emancipation in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul wrote: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Amen.

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

 

 

June 14, 2020 "Spread the News: The War is Over"

“Spread the News: The War is Over” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Second Sunday after Pentecost June 14, 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 St. Matthew the 9th chapter: (Matt.9:35-10:8)

            When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples:  “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”  So far the text.

            During the War of 1812, an ill-prepared and poorly equipped fledgling United States re-fought the British for their right to exist as a free republic.  The last battle of that war in January of 1815 in New Orleans was a resounding American victory that launched Andrew Jackson to prominence as a future President of the United States.  The only sour note was its timing.  Weeks before the Battle of New Orleans, the Treaty of Ghent had ended the war.  But nobody knew.  In those days news of the ceasefire crossed the Atlantic by boat, and many were killed and wounded fighting for nothing.   

            Rapid, clear and accurate communication is essential in wartime.  Our modern military has the finest communications capabilities known to man.  Huge sums are spent so that when called upon our men and women can communicate and spread messages that may save lives and win wars.

            As Jesus goes from town to town preaching the Gospel in synagogues and streets, we see His merciful and loving heart.  These are the people for whom He would die, and yet they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” Their problem isn’t that they didn’t have shepherds, rather their shepherds weren’t true shepherds.  In the verse just before our text, the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus and accused Him of doing His miracles by Satan’s power. Those false shepherds turned the people away from Christ “the Good Shepherd, who came to seek and to save the lost.”

            Our text says Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom. John the Forerunner of Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  With those very words, Jesus began His Ministry.  And now Jesus sent out His 12 with the same word on their lips, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Over and over, the message never changes, the Gospel of God’s Kingdom. The watchword  for our age is change.  The Church must change or lose her young, must adapt, must look and sound like the surrounding culture, or it won’t survive.  By the tyranny of the new, we’re lured into surrendering the treasures of the past rather than bringing old truths to bear for a new generation.  But is it worth it to march in step with a culture out of step with God? 

Christian apologist Os Guiness warned a church obsessed with change.  In our rapidly-changing world, he said, “The church that marries herself to the culture will always be a widow.”  Better to invite an ever-changing culture to find her rest in a God who never changes, “the same yesterday, today and forever.” With tools and truths, tried and true, we can only offer a living and faithful word, hoping some will step off the cultural treadmill and find her rest in the Gospel of God’s Kingdom. 

            This is the message that alone can calm our churning nation.  No political movement of grievances and guilt offers the promise of unity, but not unity of political goals, rather unity as sinners humbled before God’s throne. 

Jesus sent His 12 to proclaim this changeless truth.  In Jesus the war is over.  The treaty that brings eternal peace was inscribed with His blood.  In Jesus “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female – and we could add black or white – through Spirit-given faith “you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Jesus sent the 12 – and also you – because He wants the message heard.  The war is over.  In Christ, you have been reconciled to God by His blood.  The devil’s kingdom has been overthrown by the heaven-sent Prince of Peace.  This is God’s treaty we are given to proclaim to the world.  Many in every place lack Bible-believing pastors with the guts to speak as the prophets of old, “Thus saith the Lord.”  Within our own families and neighborhoods, we each know family or friends, who have wandered from the Shepherd’s fold.

            That’s why as a congregation we support Pastor Meeker and Deaconess Lorna.  It’s why we send money to district and synod to preach the Gospel of God’s Kingdom in places you and I will never go.  It’s why we partner to train pastors and teachers at our colleges and seminaries. It’s why the Ladies Aid collects their mites to support the work of Christ’s mission, and why our wonderful teachers dedicate time for our children in our Preschool and Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.  These aren’t just the nice services one expects a church to do for good PR.  We’re sounding the trumpet, “Jesus lives, the victory’s won.” 

The harvest is plentiful.”  There should be an urgency on our part, especially with our family and people we care about.  Our mission dollars should never be a pittance of what’s left.  They are our solemn privilege to share in the mission of Christ “to bring Christ to the nations and the nations to the Church.”[1]  Jesus said, “The Son of Man will come at a day or hour you do not expect Him.”  During these days before Christ returns, dedicate yourselves to God’s service with your money, your time, and your talents. 

Our text says:  “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into His harvest field.”  Notice two things in those words.  Christ wants you to pray for pastors, teachers and missionaries, to go out “harvesting” souls for salvation by preaching the Gospel.  In the warfare of this world, your prayers are powerful weapons directed against the Devil’s defeated kingdom.  Pray for young men to train to be pastors, men and women to train to teach, for young moms and dads to be godly leaders in their homes.  “Pray without ceasing,” Paul wrote.  Outside of the Lord’s Prayer, this is the only petition Jesus specifically directs His Church to pray.  “Ask the Lord to send out workers into His harvest.”  God’s Church is a praying Church, she lives from bended knee. 

Pray that God’s Word be spoken faithfully and fearlessly, that it not be buried or forgotten crusading for political kingdoms and movements.  Faithfully speak the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus’ Name, and sound God’s call to repentance.  And having spoken God’s Word don’t worry that you can’t change someone else, it isn’t a pastor or a parent’s brilliance that converts to faith.  God promises that His “Word which proceeds from His mouth will not return void, but will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it.”  His Word will bear its fruit on God’s timetable.

Did you notice whose harvest field is it?  It belongs to God.  God doesn’t call you to produce the results.  In 1 Corinthians Paul writes, “I planted the seed [of God’s Word].  Apollos watered, but God made it grow.”  Our mission for Christ is really Christ’s mission through us.  You and I have no power, but God’s Word is “sharper than any double-edged sword.”  “Though heaven and earth pass away, His Word will never pass away.”  Jesus promised, “The gates of Hell will never prevail against God’s Church.”  Romans 1 says, “The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.”

I want to draw your attention to a wonderful little word in our text, the Greek word splanknizomai.  Jesus “had compassion on the crowds.”  That word speaks of God’s love, and it literally means a “gut-wrenching longing.”  That’s the word used in Luke 15 when the son goes away and wastes his dad’s inheritance, but the dad sees him from afar, and overwhelmed by this “gut-wrenching” love runs to the son and hugs him. 

That’s the love your Triune God has for you.  Jesus looks out at the people and His love for them and for you and me is a gut-twisting longing.  Christ didn’t go to the cross, because He thought the resurrection was a neat trick. He went, because we were lost and “God demonstrated His love for us in this that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”  Jesus lived a perfect life for you and died for your sins and mine, so that His forgiving love would win for us heaven’s perfect peace. Christ’s love isn’t empty emotion, but the ultimate sacrifice.  He chose to die to reconcile you to your Father in heaven through Spirit-given faith. He chose to die so you wouldn’t have to, and the whole world could live, not under the threat of eternal death, but the promise of death’s defeat and forgiveness for all our faults.

God’s mission through you and me is as old as the Chosen People He gathered at Mt. Sinai in our Old Testament lesson.  For them and for you, this is so: “You are My treasured possession among all peoples.  All the earth is mine, and you shall be for me a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Amen.

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


 


[1] Lutheran Hour Ministries theme.

June 7, 2002 "How Great Thou Art!"

“How Great Thou Art!” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

The Holy Trinity June 7, 2020

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

            Our sermon text is from Romans 11:33-36…  Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?  Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever and ever.

            When you went through your confirmation class however long ago, your pastor probably said something like, “We confess the Holy Trinity – that God is one true God, and yet three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  That pastor may have even held up St. Patrick’s shamrock to explain what God says about Himself in the Bible.  After he got done explaining God to you, he probably said something like, “Don’t feel too badly if you don’t truly understand this mystery.  Mere mortals can’t put God under our microscope.  We just believe what He tells us.” 

It’s a rather remarkable thing the most brilliant philosophers and theologians, and pastors of every stripe, life-long Christians who worship every Sunday of their lives, must still confess – God is too big for us to wrap our minds around.  Our minds are too puny to really understand.  We know God by echoing what He says about Himself in the Bible.  We confess only what God tells us.  Even the brilliant Apostle Paul, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said: “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor.”  Isaiah wrote: “As the heavens are above the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

            It humbles us to ponder the awesomeness of our Triune God. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, got it. They knew God perfectly.  1 Corinthians 13 says that in heaven, “We’ll know fully.”  There’s no clearer picture of how despicably and devastatingly far from God we’ve fallen than the fact we don’t “get” God – and worse, most people could care less to really know God.  Instead, most of our days, we go about replacing God with stuff – false gods that cannot save.  But the problem with creating your own “god” is it begins to look a lot like you, and that kind of “god” can’t save you from the terrible torments of hell.

            When my brother and I were kids, we’d go fishing down at our pond.  Early in the morning while it was still cool outside, we’d go out in the garden and catch grasshoppers.  First thing in the morning, grasshoppers move in slow motion.  If it’s cool enough you can walk up and grab them before they hop away. One of us would hold the jar, the other would fill it.  I doubt grasshoppers have much brainpower, but if you’ve ever held a grasshopper, it’s kicking reveals that it understands two things: 1) Something big has got him; and 2) the fear of being crushed.

            You and I are about as puny compared to God as a grasshopper caught in the hands.  You can’t grasp God – His “ways are beyond our tracing out!”  Without God revealing Himself, you little grasshoppers are stuck with two things you know for sure.  Firstly, we look at the world around us and say, “God must be big and mighty to create such an awesome world.”  Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”  God’s world leaves us little grasshoppers feeling awfully small and helpless at the mercy of a power beyond our control.  The other thing we puny grasshoppers can know about God by nature is: We’re in big trouble!   

            There are no atheists in the foxholes.  Even those who have no use for God cry out to Him when life’s vise closes around them.  Fear before God’s might and awareness of our accountability to God are written on our hearts – you can call it the conscience if you please.  Even after the Fall into sin, your conscience bears silent witness that you’ll answer for your sins.  There is a Law from the eternal Lawgiver, and we know that God could, in any moment, crush us lawbreakers in His hands. 

            Not to be ridiculous, but for that grasshopper in my hands really to know me and understand me, somehow, I’d have to become like it.  If only I could become a grasshopper, then I could express in grasshopper terms who I am. Your guess is as good as mine what that might sound like. 

            For us puny grasshoppers who know the fear of our guilt before an Almighty God, God became one with you.  God became man in the person of Jesus so that you could know His true heart toward you – His true will for your salvation.  Jesus is heaven’s perfect answer to what God is like and who God is for you.  While you can see and understand from nature God’s holiness and justice as the Divine Lawgiver… While by nature you can faintly understand God’s immense Creator power, Jesus conception in the womb of Mary, His perfectly sinless life under the Law, His saving sacrifice on Calvary’s cross and His resurrection from the dead are how God shows you His heart.  The Son of God became your Brother in human flesh so you could rest in His hands without fear and endless kicking against His judgment.  God chose not to leave you in ignorance and death.  John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.”  Romans 5 says, “God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” 

            Trinity Sunday is a day we rejoice that God hasn’t left us in the dark palms of His mighty hands, alone with the fearful expectation of doom.  Jesus is how God shows us that He is not only perfect justice, but merciful, gracious and loving.  Today and always you know God’s true heart in a bloody brow bowed in death.  If you would know God truly, look at the sinless Baby in the arms of His Virgin mother.  If you would know God perfectly, look at His thorn-pierced head, as His love caused Him to lay down His life in your place.  If you would know God’s heart, see His love in those nail-pierced hands that even now reach out to you and me to embrace us in God’s perfect love – that even now invite us to fall into His loving hands bringing every care and concern to God in prayer.

            There’s only one God who is – our gracious Triune God. You might struggle to truly understand the doctrine of God we confess, but you know Him as He wants to be known in the Son He sent to save you.  You know Him by the Holy Spirit who teaches about Himself through His Word.  You know Him in the waters He uses to wash away your sins and clothe you in Jesus our Savior.  You know Him as He feeds you at His altar with Christ’s very body and blood. And if you know Him in that way, one day you will know Him face to face in His heavenly home .  Amen.

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

May 31, 2020 "The Spirit Wires You In"

“The Spirit Wires You In” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

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

            40 days after His Easter resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, telling His 11 disciples, “It’s better for you that I ascend to the right hand of the Father.”  Pentecost was God’s answer to the question: How can it be better that Jesus leaves us?  Pentecost shows Jesus ascended to be present always, and to pour out His Holy Spirit in amazing ways in the lives of His Church.  Pentecost proves it’s better for Jesus to send His Holy Spirit as 3000 believers were baptized and added to God’s Church.  Pentecost celebrates the gift of God the Holy Spirit without whom no one would care about Christmas or Easter.  Pentecost is the day God the Holy Spirit is poured out to give us faith to love and trust in Him above all things.  Without God the Holy Spirit pointing us to the Heavenly Father who loved us enough to send His Son to die and rise from the dead, it would all be for naught. 

Now, if it’s true that Pentecost is so important then you should all be able to answer the question: What’s the Holy Spirit’s job?  What’s the Holy Spirit do?  One answer that ought to be easy to remember is: The Holy Spirit’s job is to make you holy! The Bible uses an even fancier word that means the same thing: The Holy Spirit sanctifies you or makes you holy in two ways.  First, The Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart by which your sins are forgiven – you are declared righteous or justified.  Secondly, the Holy Spirit makes you holy by sanctifying your life in service to God. 

You didn’t choose God.  Despite all the uninformed Bible talk out in the religious air: you didn’t decide for Jesus or invite Christ into your heart or make Him your Lord and Savior.  “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works,” Paul wrote.  “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” 1 Corinthians 12 teaches.  Contrary to many a television preacher, Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit.”  It feeds our sinful vanity to think ourselves smart enough to pick God like one picks through the meat at a butcher shop… but it’s just the other way… God chooses, calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s thing! 

Think of it like an electrician.  I can’t flip a switch at my house to wire myself into Ameren, someone’s got to connect me before the power flows into my dead home.  And you can’t flip the switch of faith.  You can’t decide for Jesus.  Ephesians says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.”  A dead home doesn’t choose to be wired in.  God wired you into Christ in Baptism’s watery Word. Your faith is God the Holy Spirit’s work.  Faith is always a gift of the Spirit.  James 1 says, “God chose to give us birth through the Word of Truth that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.” 

The Bible tells how the Holy Spirit “wired you in” to Jesus.  John 3 says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God, unless he is born again of water and the Spirit.”  “Water and the Spirit” is Baptism.  The Holy Spirit joined you to God’s forgiving love by creating faith in your heart through the waters of Baptism.  The second way God the Holy Spirit “wires you in” is through God’s Word – of which the Holy Spirit Himself is the true Author. This is also why it’s so important that God’s children don’t cut their connection to the Word of God after Confirmation… It’s simply a tragedy that so few people care to sit together in the study of God’s Word… or regard it as important only for their children. 

It is simply a lie and my wife would know it to be so, if I told her I loved her but never came home to her, or spent my time talking to other women.  Just so, if you have no use for studying and reading God’s Word in your life, dear friend, you may ask if you truly love your Savior. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice.”  If you long ago stopped hearing the voice of your Savior and are more concerned that church be short than that you’ve heard the Word, repent before it’s too late.  Don’t shrug it off or rationalize how busy you are.  Repent or die eternally in hell’s fiery flame.  This is the moment, the morning, to set your house in order and ask God’s Spirit to let God’s Kingdom come through our hearing and growing in God’s Word.  And if that’s truly your prayer, God forgive us, help us to love you by loving your Word… we praise God this day, that this, too, is the Holy Spirit’s doing and work in us. 

In John 7:37-39, Jesus promised the gift of “living water flowing within us.”  Living water is refreshed and moving, as opposed to a mud puddle… water that’s fed and replenished – not like a stagnant swamp – the old is constantly flushed out and the new, healthy water takes its place.  That’s a cool image for the work of the Holy Spirit!  By constantly driving you to repentance and washing away the stagnant, swamp-like filth of our sinful lives, God the Holy Spirit continually brings Jesus, flooding the old away and re-filling you with the pure grace that flows from Jesus’ death and resurrection for you.   

But that’s not all… Ephesians 2 says, “You were created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which God prepared in advance for you to do.”  God’s got a plan for you to serve Him and to do His will and work in the world.  Right where you are God wants to use you as His hands and feet and lips to serve Him. If you are useless and ineffectual in God’s Kingdom and all you do is serve yourself, repent.  If your priorities don’t include God’s Word for yourself or your family or being a disciple, don’t die.  Repent.  Your life isn’t some accident, the Holy Spirit puts you in the circumstances with people and places to witness to God’s love in Christ.  You aren’t saved to be a bump on a log, but to “live under Christ in His kingdom, serve Him in everlasting righteousness and blessedness.” 

If you have gifts, God gave them for His purposes in your life.  If you are selfish with God’s gifts, you invite Him to take it all away. Your time, talents, and dollars are for you but also for your family, but also for the work of His Church and the spread of the Gospel.  God doesn’t want you to become a miasmatic swamp wafting up the odors of a dead faith. He doesn’t want you to worship yourself and the “almighty dollar.”  The Holy Spirit has gifted you for service in God’s Kingdom, to let the free-flowing waters of God’s grace flow through you as you use your gifts for the sake of God’s Church. 

2 Corinthians says, “Now it is God who makes us stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  Thank God for the Holy Spirit.  He brings you to faith.  He strengthens your faith.  He keeps you in the faith.  And He makes your faith bear fruit in lives of love and service to God and to your neighbor. 

God the Holy Spirit has claimed and called you into His family, wiring you in to the healing grace of God that flows from Jesus cross and empty tomb.  The Holy Spirit isn’t a free agent… out for His own glory. The true Holy Spirit always points us to our sins and then splashes us with the Gospel of God’s redeeming love in Jesus.  You are His child, declared righteous by grace, not by your works, but His grace alone. You are baptized by the Spirit to make a difference in this desert wilderness; to give your family a steadying anchor in life’s stormy seas; to support your church and invite your friends and family; to serve your neighbors.  As you serve God, let it all be joined with fervent prayer to God the Father in Jesus Christ.  Ephesians says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” 

Dr. Luther wrote one of the most beautiful confessions of the great saving work of the Holy Spirit.  Learn these beautiful words and let’s confess them together.  Turn to page 323 in the front of your hymnals as we confess together the work of the Holy Spirit.

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.  In the same way, He calls gathers enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.  In this Christian Church, He daily and richly forgives the sins of me and all believers and on the last day He will raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true.” Amen.

 

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

 

May 24, 2020 "Crown Him with many Crowns"

“Crown Him with many Crowns” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Seventh Sunday of Easter May 24, 2020

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

The sermon text is from Luke 24:44-53.  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.

            Leadership transitions are kind of a mixed bag, sometimes they work; sometimes not.  After Lincoln’s death, his replacement Pres. Andrew Johnson was impeached.  Probably some were optimistic when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer replaced Col. Sam Sturgis at the head of the 7th Cavalry, but that was historically bad.  After McKinley’s assassination, President Theodore Roosevelt did well enough to get his face carved into a mountain in South Dakota.  Fred and Tom can tell you about 2 Hall of Fame ballplayers that replaced Hall of Fame ballplayers named Dimaggio and Williams. 

            After Dr. Martin Luther’s death in 1546, the Church of the Reformation went through 30 years of turmoil.  A tough transition, where Luther had stood without compromise on God’s Word, his great partner Philipp Melanchthon, went wobbly under the pressures of leadership, to the point where it took till 1580 and the publication of the Confessions of the Lutheran Church in the Book of Concord to restore harmony in the Church.    

This past Thursday marked Ascension Day, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection, the day we remember Jesus leading the disciples to the Mount of Olives.  Jesus said, “You will be My witnesses,” and after commissioning His Church to preach the Gospel, they watched Him rise into the clouds and disappear from their sight.  Now, that’s a transition that must have been scary.  After all, Jesus told them, they would be mistreated, arrested and put to death, as He had been.  And, yet, Luke tells us they went joyfully back to Jerusalem, praising God.

            It’s always scary, of course, when a great leader is gone, but Luke says they were joyful.  They must have understood, at least in some way that would become clear after Pentecost, what Jesus meant, “It is better for you that I go, that I may send you My Holy Spirit.”  Jesus ascension into heaven doesn’t mean He’s now imprisoned at “the right hand of God.”  They couldn’t see Him, but Jesus promised, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  He even gives us the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at which we receive with our lips the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. You can’t get much closer than that. So while they couldn’t audibly hear His Words, Jesus promised His Holy Spirit to open up for them the Holy Scriptures so that they could understand everything in the Old Testament is really about Christ and God’s plan of salvation.  Jesus gave the Spirit to lead them into God’s truth.

But Ascension Day was also Coronation Day, the Day Jesus was enthroned as King of Heaven.  Now, you know that as true God Jesus is always the King, but when He took human flesh Philippians 2 says, “He emptied Himself of His power and became obedient unto death.”  For 33 years the King of Kings lived in human flesh as a Servant Savior.  He occasionally let a glimpse of His Godly power shine through, like in the miracles, walking on water, and Transfiguration, but He didn’t always exert that glory because He came to die for you and me.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He was crowned as King, not just according to His Divine nature, but incarnate or in the flesh.  He received that power as true God according to the nature that makes Him one with you and your true brother.  “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me,” Jesus said, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.”  You see that power was always His as God, but after the resurrection it’s given to Him according to His assumed human nature.  As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our epistle says, “Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” 

A lot of people don’t get what it means that Jesus sits at God’s right hand. You shouldn’t think of Jesus on a nice chair up in heaven, sitting at God’s right hand.  It’s not that you now have to make an appointment and wait in line for your turn to see Him.  God’s right hand is a way of saying, Jesus is the right-hand man!  He’s in charge.  It’s not a location to find Jesus at all.  It means what our Ephesians 1 text says, “God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church.”  As God in the flesh, no place can contain Jesus.  Ephesians 4:10 says He ascended, “In order to fill the whole universe.” 

He didn’t ascend to get away but to be near you, promising, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” You don’t have to wait in line, your loving Savior stands by your side in all life’s troubles.  “Where two or three gather in His name, there He is.” Your prayers aren’t wasted words, but He delights in your needs and promises to hear and help.  “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.” 

Ascension Day is this… God’s right-hand man rules all things for the sake of His Church.  The very same Savior who loved you enough to die on the cross and rise from the dead for your sins promises to “work all things for the good of [His Church,] those who love Him.”  Jesus didn’t discard that human nature, the flesh and blood which made Him your Brother, one with you in every way, except without sin.  Jesus said, “My flesh is real food; My blood is real drink… whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood will have eternal life and I will raise Him up on the Last Day.”  

If what we’ve said is true; Ascension Day means Jesus is with you right now, and everywhere you go, even sitting alone in your home, your Savior is by your side.  Now, there are two ways to consider Jesus’ omnipresence or being present everywhere: Law and the Gospel, or as our Gospel says, repentance and forgiveness. 

Since Jesus rules all things for the sake of His Church… Since He’s with you always, when you surf sicko websites on your phone, your Savior is there, when you give in to drunkenness and despair or lash out at your spouse or children, your words fall upon your Savior who is God of heaven and Protector of the widow and orphan.  When you cut and abuse with your words, just so surely do your cruel curses fall on your crucified Christ.  It an inexcusable offense against the God of Heaven to destroy with your lips and in the next moment call upon His name; or view a service of God’s Church and in the next moment black out your eyes in the darkness of sin.  He’s with you.  Don’t think your hiding it from God.  Repent and turn to Christ who didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners. 

The forgiveness part or Gospel part goes like this.  Jesus ascended into heaven to be with you always – and I mean you always.  He didn’t wait for you to get your act together.  He took your miserable mess of a life and died for it and buried it. Jesus is with you, and though you fail a million times, He is faithful, pledging Himself in love for you by His Divine blood.  Jesus carries your needs and concerns, to His Father’s throne.  Jesus defeated the devil.  Your sins are not bigger than your Savior and cannot separate you from His love.  Every demonic accusation against you could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in God’ s courtroom, yet Jesus served your sentence and declares you justified in His blood.

Romans 8 says, “Who will bring any charge against the one whom God has chosen? Christ Jesus who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  Because of Ascension Day, God’s answer is nobody!  Only stubborn unbelief and refusal to be loved with His perfect love and live under Him in His Kingdom.  The devil cannot snatch you from God’s hands.

Transitions are largely successful or unsuccessful based on the quality of the folks involved.  Till the end of time and Christ’s return, now and forever Jesus rules all things for the sake of His Church.  At God’s right hand, the gates of hell will not prevail against God’s Church; His Word will never pass away.  Jesus ascended into heaven to give you His Holy Spirit.  By His Holy Spirit, He leads you into all truth – and never-ending life.   Amen. Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia!  Amen.

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

                        

May 17, 2020 "A Helper to be with you forever"

“A Helper to be with you forever” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

Sixth Sunday of Easter May 17, 2020

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

            Our theme for today is “A Helper to be with you forever” from the Gospel lesson John 14:15-21 previously read.

God gets all the glory for your salvation, not most of it, or the largest part of it, but all of it. If you are lost, of course, that’s on you.  But if you are to be saved, it’s not because you figured it out, wisely connecting the dots. It’s because God chose you and created faith in your heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:  “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.”   

            That’s not a minor point, because too many imagine faith is their work to begin and their responsibility to complete, rather than being a gift of God and work of the Holy Spirit.  But claiming credit for any part of my salvation, even my faith in Jesus, robs Christ of His glory as the One Who did 100% of the work to make me a child of God.  That’s why our catechism teaches:  “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.” 

            Gifts may be received and gifts may be rejected, but the glory always belongs to the Giver.  That’s the heart of Scripture and of Luther’s Reformation: We are “justified by grace through faith apart from the works of the Law.”                

But never forget God not only saved you from sin, death, and the devil, but He saved you for something.  Jesus tells us today:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” God saved us for Jesus’ sake, without any merit or worthiness in you and me, but God also calls us (to quote the catechism again) “to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”

            In our Gospel, Jesus says, “You are in Me and I in you.”  You were put into Christ in Holy Baptism.  There in God’s water and Word we were made to share in the life of our Triune God, and in the Lord’s Supper Christ is being put into you and me. When the Good News of salvation in Jesus is preached and we receive the holy body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, Christ is put into us, we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re forgiven and cleansed, strengthened in faith.  Faith isn’t really a muscle we build up.  It’s a gift, nurtured and strengthened and fed by Jesus’ death-conquering, life-giving flesh and blood.  Again, our Gospel says, “The Holy Spirit lives with you and is in you.”  Paul wrote: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God, you are not your own, you were bought at a priceTherefore, glorify God with your bodies.”

            I like to think of it like a classic car collector.  If you found an old, rusted out classic car in someone’s pasture.  You might buy and take it home.  Maybe it was a car you loved as a kid, and you want it.  If to no one else it means anything, it does to you. But when you get it home, you don’t just let it sit up on blocks, you start fixing the upholstery and filling dents and patching rust until you have it the way you want it.  But then if you really love the car, you get it out and drive it and enjoy it and show it off. 

            Well, God the Father purchased you “not with gold or silver but with the holy, precious blood” of Christ.  You are “new creations” in Christ “to do the works God Himself prepared in advance for you to do.”  He didn’t buy you to sit in a garage.  You might have started out a rusty old mess, but God fills you with His Spirit and sends you out into the world.  You aren’t called to Christ to hide behind church walls but to carry your faith into the world as God’s own hands and feet and lips serving and loving your neighbor. And if you don’t know how that should look.  Look at the 10 Commandments.  “If you love Me, keep My commandments!”  It’s really not that mysterious.  God’s commandments direct you to love God with all your heart; and to love your neighbor as yourselves.  Honor those in authority.  Do good to those in need.  40 million of our fellow citizens are without work.  There are so many opportunities through the Red Cross, the Rescue Mission, and please communicate those needs to me or your elder.  And by all means, pray for our emergency, medical and civic leaders. 

            Christian life flows in 2 directions.  We live in Christ passively through faith – simply receiving God’s free forgiveness and grace.  But in this world, be active.  Don’t avoid, but search for ways to serve, and “do all things through Christ who gives you strength.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll obey what I command.” 

Now, of course, no classic car owner restores the car and fills the tank with kerosene.  High performance needs good fuel.  Our Christian life is powered with God’s pure, heavenly food, which is Christ Himself, and forgiveness in Him.  That’s why, even your sanctified lives aren’t your work, but “God who works in us both to will and to do.”  Faith is tireless and active because it’s the presence of the Living God at work.  Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

            Your life isn’t a collection of wasted moments. You are significant and your life connects in ways no one else’s does.  Ephesians 2 says, “You are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which God prepared in advance for you to do.”  Your parents are yours to love and honor and respect.  Your children, yours to lead to Jesus.  Your spouse yours, to teach you not to be selfish but empty yourself for another.  Your lips aren’t to gossip and tear down, but to encourage and build up.  Your eyes aren’t for sinking into the cesspool of sexual sin, but to see God’s beauty in the world and see opportunities to serve God in your neighbor. 

            The Christian life is like a piece of iron placed in fire.  When the blacksmith fires those bellows, the fire burns until the super-heated, the iron glows fiery red and burns with the consuming power of fire.  The iron hasn’t changed but the power of the fire radiates through it. 

When the Triune God lives in you, you don’t become God.  God’s radiant love glows and burns in you and through you.  Each person you see, including the one sitting next to you right now, is a person God wants to warm with the fire of His love. You are His “lights of the world,” emptying yourselves in service to God by serving your neighbor, consecrating your homes to Christ, speaking up for justice and your neighbor’s need.  Within your church, your family, your work, or circle of friends, what can we be for Christ?  What can you do for His Kingdom?  Resolve today that by God’s grace, you will take up this sacred task.  Because you love Jesus, do what He commands with joy to His glory. 

Remember, in this world we’re both forgiven saints and struggling sinners at the same time.  These days of pandemic trial remind us that life from beginning to end is continual repentance and returning to the cross of Christ.  Too often our words have betrayed rather than confessed; our actions been selfish rather than serving others.  Name those ugly sins, those known and those forgotten, and leave them at the cross.  Humbly return to God’s heavenly food - the precious Gospel of salvation in Jesus to be forgiven and strengthened, declared righteous because by the Spirit’s power God sees us clothed in the holiness of our Risen Savior. 

Jesus didn’t die to save perfect people.  He declared sinners perfectly forgiven in His blood.  And filled with the Holy Spirit Helper – the Spirit of Truth – He carries us freely forgiven into the world to freely forgive and forever serve.  And the glory is forever His.  For us sinner-saints, the promise of our Savior in this Gospel is precious:  “Because I live, you will live also.”  Christ has risen!  He has risen, indeed.  Alleluia!

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

 

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