Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent 4

Luke 1:39-56 - Advent IV - December 18, 2011
Mary’s Song Is the Church’s Hymn

On the occasion of the Baptism of Anne Elizabeth Preus

(From a sermon by David R. Preus)
Beholding the marvels of God by witnessing the birth of a child is about the most magnificent thing in the world.  And the advent of this little girl right here is beyond doubt for me the highlight of this winter season.  I can count on one hand the number of times that I have been even close to this happy.  Mary was pregnant too.  Great joy and happiness awaited her.  But she did not wait to rejoice.  She didn’t wait till Christmas.  It is Advent right now.  People call it the Christmas season.  And for everyone, it’s a time of cheer and joy in the midst of and despite short days and long cold nights.  People find all sorts of ways to fill this time of year with reasons to rejoice.  Whether it be babies, or the excitement of Christmas shopping, or time with family, there is an air of festivity in this Christmas season.  But seldom do we find in the predominant mood around us, the true joy of Christmas.  Seldom do people truly rejoice.  

Most people have never learned how to rejoice.  And this is because most people have never learned to sing the song that Mary teaches us in our Gospel lesson this morning.  It is called the Magnificat.  In this song, Mary teaches the Church how to rejoice in God.  But her joy was not simply that a life was being brought into the world like Monica here.  No, it was the joy that through her Child, life would be restored to sinners.  In the Magnificat, Mary teaches us how to rejoice in Christmas by providing three lessons on what it means to rejoice.  First, rejoicing means recognizing God as our Savior from sin.  Second, rejoicing means finding joy in God’s regard for us.  And third, rejoicing means recounting the works of God through faith in His promises.  Let’s consider each of these lessons, and so discover how humble sinners find perfect and lasting joy in the forgiveness of sins through the promised Christ Child.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Prophet

Psalm 85 - Advent 3 Midweek - December 14, 2011
Christ Comes as our Prophet

For our midweek Advent services we have been considering a three-part theme by taking a look at what is often called the three-fold office of Christ, known as Prophet, Priest, and King.  We have considered how Christ comes as our King by ruling our hearts and consciences through the forgiveness of sins.   We have considered how Christ comes as our Priest by shedding His own blood and by continually serving us with the benefit of His perfect atoning sacrifice.  Now, this week we consider what it means for Christ to come as our prophet. 

A Prophet speaks for God.  That’s what it means to be a Prophet.  When people hear “prophet” they usually suppose that his main job is to tell the future.  Now, it’s true that throughout the Old Testament, prophets would foretell what was going to happen.  After all, the promises of the Gospel in the Old Testament were all promises concerning Christ who had yet to come until many years later.  Prophets certainly did prophesy concerning the future.  But the future events that these prophets were able to foresee were not simply foggy glimpses into the distant years ahead.  No, they were decrees of God spoken clearly to them.  Isaiah prophesied those words that we just heard about what would take place in the future, and grounded them upon that which God had already said.  He writes: “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” 

The Old Testament prophets were not merely gifted fortune-tellers.  No, they were much more.  They heard the word of God, and in some cases they saw real visions given to them from God.  And that which they saw and heard they spoke.  They were God’s own mouthpieces through whom He communicated His will toward all mankind. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3

Matthew 11:2-11 - Advent 3 - December 11, 2011
Blessed is He who is not Offended by the Gospel

In the Old Testament, God sent prophets to His chosen nation Israel in order to preach the law against sin and to preach of the Christ who would come and take their sin away.  In the New Testament, Jesus sent out His Apostles commanding them to make disciples of all nations by preaching the law against sin, and by preaching the gospel that He Himself has taken all sin away on the cross.  There are no more prophets; John the Baptist was the last one.  But when Jesus sent out His Apostles, He instituted what we call the Office of the Ministry in order that we might believe in Him today.  A prophet’s job was to speak the word that God gave him to speak.  The pastor’s job today is much the same: to preach the word of God and to administer the sacraments. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Priest

Psalm 50:1-15 - Advent 2 Midweek - December 7, 2011
Christ Comes as Our Priest
For our midweek Advent services we are considering a three-part theme by taking a look at what is often called the three-fold office of Christ, known as Prophet, Priest, and King.  Last week, we started with King, and we considered how Christ comes to us, not with earthly might, but rules our hearts and consciences through the forgiveness of sins.   Now, this week we consider what it means for Christ to come as our priest. 

But what is a priest?  God instituted the office of priest in the Old Testament so that they would offer sacrifices to God on behalf of God’s people.  That’s what a priest did.  God gave a very detailed description of the priesthood when He gave specific instructions to Moses.  But long before He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, God had required that sacrifices be made.  In order to understand what it means for Christ to come as our priest, we need to understand the nature of a sacrifice and why God required them.  So let’s start at the beginning. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2

Luke 21:25-36 - Advent 2 - December 4, 2011
My Words Will Not Pass Away

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).  Amen.  These familiar words from Job exhibit what it means to have unwavering faith in God in the face of loss.  God gives us good things.  When good things happen, we rejoice and thank Him.  But God also allows bad things to happen by permission of His fatherly care.  Everything, from war abroad to sickness at home, affects our lives in a negative way.  But when they do, we do not despair or become cast down as though God had abandoned us, because these are not signs of our destruction.  These are signs that our redemption is near.  So instead, we lift up our heads and focus our gaze on Christ whose return is imminent. That’s what He promised.   Job didn’t trust in the material things that God gave him; that’s why he didn’t despair when God took them away.  We don’t trust in the temporal blessings that God gives us either.  Instead, we hold fast to His word which will never pass away. 

The Bible was written to teach us.  St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  The reason Scripture is able to bestow such great benefits is because it is the word of God Himself.  By holding onto what the Bible teaches us, we are able to persevere through all trials, because the word of God promises us much more in heaven than what we can possibly lose here on earth.  This is the certain hope that we have in Christ.  And by it, we are comforted. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent King

Psalm 24 - Advent 1 Midweek - November 30, 2011
  Christ Comes as our King

For our midweek Advent services this year, we’ll consider a three-part theme by taking a look at what is often called the three-fold office of Christ, known as Prophet, Priest, and King.  The Old Testament is filled with prophets, and priests, and kings.  Sometimes these offices would even overlap.  Moses, for instance was a prophet and a priest.  David was a king and a prophet.  God appointed various men to these positions throughout Israel’s history, and He did so always for a specific purpose: to point them to Christ who was to come as their Redeemer.  When we talk about how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, we usually think about all the explicit promises that were made about Him.  But Jesus also fulfilled the very offices that God instituted and filled for the life of His Old Testament Church.  The offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, were once so necessary for the existence of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament.  Well, they still are for us in the New Testament. But today we find them all revealed in Christ alone. 

In the next couple weeks we will consider how Christ comes to us as our Priest and as our Prophet.  But today we consider what Psalm 24 teaches us about how Christ comes as our King. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 1

Matthew 21:1-9 - Advent 1 - November 27, 2011
  Blessed is He that Cometh in the Name of the Lord

Today is the first Sunday of the Church Year and the beginning of the Season of Advent.  During Advent, we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.  We do this first of all by remembering why He was born in the first place: to die on the cross and take away the sin of the world.  It’s fitting, then, that we begin the Church Year with this account from St. Matthew’s Gospel that we just heard, because it records Jesus’ final entrance into Jerusalem right before His long awaited crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  We begin the Church Year with the same Gospel, which is appointed for Palm Sunday as well.  We do this because the entire Year, indeed, our entire lives revolve around that singular event that took place on Mt. Calvary 2000 years ago.  The reason we make the cross the focus of our Church year is because it is the focus of Scripture.  

The Old Testament is full of prophesies concerning Christ’s death on the cross.  In Genesis 3, we have the very first promise of the Gospel, when God says to the serpent, “[The Seed of the woman] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”  This means that the incarnate Son of God would save mankind from the tyranny of the devil, but in the process, He would give His own life.  Isaiah describes the events of Jesus’ crucifixion with striking accuracy: He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities…”  Psalm 22 likewise, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? … they pierced My hands and My feet …” And still there are many more places in the Old Testament that speak clearly of how the promised Savior and King of Israel would sacrifice His own life in order to save sinners from hell. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Sunday

John 8:31-36 - Reformation - October 30, 2011 
  God's Word Sets Sinners Free

On the Eve of All Saints’ Day (Halloween) in the year 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  These theses were intended to serve as an outline for debate concerning the selling of indulgences for the remission of sins.  The sale of indulgences was a fundraiser in Germany designed by the papacy to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  “When the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”  This absurd claim was the catch-phrase that was used in selling these worthless promises.  People longed for freedom from the bonds of hell.  And they were willing to pay to free their loved-ones from the imaginary prison of Purgatory.  And so these poor sinners clung in desperation, not to the words of Jesus, but to the words of the Pope in Rome.  It was a shameless racket.  But it was a successful one, because these poor souls didn’t know any better.  They didn’t know the truth, and so they remained enslaved to lies. 

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Martin Luther sought the truth in the word of God.  And so according to this clear and certain promise of Jesus, not only did he discover the liberating light of the Gospel for himself, but through him, God brought it back to the Church that had lived in darkness for so long.  St. Paul’s admonition to Timothy and to all pastors has rung true now for countless generations, and we have seen it: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).  Luther not only saved himself, but now nearly 500 years later, thanks to his faithful service to the Church we continue to hear the Gospel that saves us too. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trinity 18

Matthew 22:34-46 - Trinity 18- October 23, 2011 
  Christ's Love for Us Fulfills the Law

It seems like each generation laments that the next generation is the worst one yet.  While it is true that there is an increasing disregard in our country for any distinction between right and wrong, those old words of wisdom still hold true: “There is nothing new under the sun.”  It’s not that things keep getting worse with each succeeding generation; it’s just that there is more and more and more of the same – sin.  Sin begets sin, and so it goes.  The decaying moral character of the culture around us is nothing new in the history of the world.  It’s what has always happened when the Gospel is rejected.  When folks reject the doctrine of the Church which is taught to us in Scripture, it soon follows that decent morality is rejected as well.  When Christian teaching goes, so does Christian living.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Trinity 17

Luke 14:1-11- Trinity 17- October 16, 2011 
  God Resists the Proud, but
Gives Grace to the Humble

The Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”  What does this mean?  “We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” 
The 10 Commandments were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai about 3,500 years ago and were intended specifically for the children of Israel.  God gave many other commandments through Moses as well.  Most of them, like those commandments about how to dress and what to eat and so forth never applied to anyone outside of Israel.  This was the ceremonial law, and it was peculiar only to God’s chosen nation.  However, such commandments that prohibit murder, adultery, and stealing obviously did extend to all nations.  This is the moral law, written in the hearts of all men.  This is what we call a conscience.  The law carved in stone on Sinai only reiterated what was already written in all of our hearts. 

Moses was a prophet.  The Law that God gave to him (both the 10 Commandments and all the other ceremonies and regulations) was intended to prepare the children of Israel and teach them about the specific things that their God would someday do to save sinners while living as a man here on earth. 

And then Christ came and lived as a man here on earth.  He fulfilled the law – He fulfilled the ceremonies that pointed to Him, and He filled the moral law that only He could obey.  By doing so, Jesus redeemed Israel from all her woes, and became a Light to lighten the Gentiles.  In Christ there is now no distinction between Jew and Gentile, because Christ is the end of the law – the whole law – for all who believe. God’s people are identified not by where and how they worship, but by whom they worship. We worship Jesus. We worship the Father in Spirit and truth. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trinity 16

Luke 7:11-17- Trinity 16- October 9, 2011 
  God's Word Has Power to Give Life

Our Gospel lesson begins this morning with a marvelous clash of moods.  There are two groups.  One crowd is following Jesus who heals the sick and makes the lame to walk.  The other is following a dead body in procession to bury it in the ground.  The one group exhibits excitement and wonder and hope. The other exhibits the sadness and despair that accompany the cold reality of death.  All of us here have experienced both of these moods.  We have all found ourselves at various times in one or the other of these two groups. 

Death comes and loved ones go.  We miss them.  We gather together in church in order to celebrate the eternal life and hope that God had given to those we lose, and we commend our grief to God.  We hear the Gospel preached.  We hear words of comfort.  We learn to grieve as those who have hope in Christ.  It is not as though we doubt any of this.  But the bitter reality remains.  No words can change the fact that the body of the one we love must be laid in the earth from whence it came. 

Death is real.  No one denies this.  The pious Christian, as much as the unregenerate heathen, acknowledges this with bitter resignation.  What people do deny is the cause of death.  Theories abound that attempt to exonerate man from any real guilt and due punishment as though death were just a part of life.  But we turn to God’s word to learn the truth.  “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;” God said to our first parents, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  This was no idle threat.  GOD’S WORD HAS POWER.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Trinity 15

Matthew 6:24-34- Trinity 15- October 2, 2011 
  The Service of God vs.
the Servitude of Mammon

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”  This is the 1st Commandment and it sets the foundation for all the rest.  But what exactly does it mean to have a god?  What is a god?  Here is the answer that Martin Luther gives in the Large Catechism: 

A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.  If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.  So far Luther. 
Martin Luther defines what a god is by describing what faith does – by describing what takes place in the heart.  He learned this helpful insight from Jesus.  “Where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “there your heart will be also.”  Faith, whether it be faith in God or faith in something else, always proceeds from the heart.  It is with the heart that we worship, it is with the heart that we seek, and it is with the heart that we serve that which we desire most.  What do we desire most?  That is by definition our god.  What we most desire becomes our master.  Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trinity 14

Luke 17:11-19- Trinity 14- September 25, 2011 
  Worship: God's Gift to His Church

Is worship our gift to God?  When we gather together here at Trinity Lutheran Church, are we somehow reciprocating some favor to God – like He gives us something, and we give Him something in return?   Of course not!   We are saved by grace alone through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  That means that what we do as Christians – whether here in church or anywhere else – whether serving our neighbor or singing a hymn or teaching our children the Catechism – it is never a compensation for what God gives us.  Rather it is a faithful response to what we receive.  We are not able to give to God anything worthy to be compared to the salvation we have in Christ.  And God neither asks for nor needs any such reimbursement.  He simply bids us to believe His promise that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.  For such mercy, we worship our God. 

The word worship is an old word that comes from worth and ship – like friendship or fellowship.  Worth-ship, or worship, is when we ascribe worth or value to someone.  God commands us to worship Him.  In fact, it is the very first commandment that says that we should have no other gods before Him.  This means we should worship Him alone and none other.  When God requires us to worship Him, He is simply requiring us to have faith.  In this sense worship is not our gift to God at all.  No. WORSHIP IS GOD’S GIFT TO US. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trinity 13

 Luke 10:23-37- Trinity 13- September 18, 2011
Blessed Are the Eyes that See
the law Fulfilled in Christ

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is probably the best known parable that Jesus ever told.  But I would first like to re-read that portion of this morning’s Gospel lesson that we do not ordinarily associate in our minds with it:  “Then turning to the disciples [Jesus] said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’”  So begins the text which we now consider. 

What exactly was it that they saw?  Well, obviously they saw Jesus.  They saw the eternal Son of God who had taken on flesh and blood and who performed countless miracles and acts of mercy before their eyes.  And they heard Him too.  Jesus taught them by opening up Scripture to them.  In the things that they had the privilege of witnessing Jesus do and say, the disciples learned about the kingdom of heaven, and of the Father’s love for all sinners.  They were taught that the purpose and fulfillment of God’s countless promises in the Old Testament were found in Jesus Christ who had come to earth to bear the sin of the world. 

Certainly this is what so many prophets and kings longed to see and hear.  But they couldn’t.  They weren’t born yet.  Just as Moses only got a glimpse of the Promised Land, but was not permitted to enter it, just as King David received instructions on how to build the Temple, but was not permitted to construct it, so also all the prophets and kings had to wait until long after they had died to see the day when God became man.  St. Paul says in Galatians 4 that it was not until the fullness of time had come, that God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman.  The fullness of time… It was a specific point in history that God chose for Jesus to earn our salvation from sin, death and the devil.   It was this specific point in history that the disciples were privileged to witness.  No doubt many of you have considered how awesome it would have been to be able to walk and talk with Jesus.  And it was!  Blessed are the eyes that saw what they saw and the ears that heard what they heard. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pentecost 14

Matthew 15:21-28- Pentecost 14- September 11, 2011 
  Great Faith Holds onto Jesus Words

Jesus met a Gentile woman while traveling with His disciples in non-Jewish land.  Well, at least it was inhabited by non-Jews.  It was actually part of the land of Canaan that God had long ago promised to Abraham – to give to him and to his children as an inheritance forever (Gen. 12ff.).  Now, if the children of Israel had simply done what God had told them to do, there would not have been any Gentiles left in this land by the time Jesus walked through it.  They would have been completely driven out.  That’s what God commanded them to do.  But rather than faithfully establishing the true worship of God in all the land, instead the children of Israel disobeyed God, and inter-married with the Canaanites, and even worshipped their false gods.  Most of the Old Testament was written to respond in one way or another to this particular disobedience on the part of God’s chosen people.  Therefore, even up to the days of Jesus, the very presence of someone living in the land of Canaan who was not Jewish served as a constant reminder not only that their fathers had greatly sinned against God, but also that God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants had yet to be fully realized.  Many expectations of the long-awaited Messiah that God promised revolved around re-possessing and ruling this land, and purging it of all Gentile contamination.  

God chose Abraham by grace alone.  He could have chosen someone else.  He could have chosen among the Europeans or the Asians or Africans.  But He didn’t.  He chose Abraham, and He called him out of the land of Ur, by grace alone. 

There was nothing about Abraham that made him more worthy to be chosen than any other individual person or nation in the world.  He wasn’t more likable or electable than anyone else.  God elected Abraham, and, through the promise He made to him, worked faith in his heart, solely by grace.  And so it is with us.  We are saved by grace alone.  There is nothing about you that makes God like you more than the unbeliever.  The fact that you believe the Gospel does not indicate that there is something more worth saving and redeeming and dying for in you that is somehow lacking in others.  No.  It indicates that in His abundant mercy, God took pity on you, a sinner. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pentecost 12

Matthew 14:22-33- Pentecost 12- September 4, 2011 
  The Presence, the Power, and the Promise of God

 This morning, our Gospel reading picks up where last week’s Gospel reading left off, and begins with Jesus saying goodbye.  After He had miraculously fed over 5000 people, it was finally time for everyone to go his own way.  He sent His disciples across the Sea of Galilee in a boat, and He sent the well-satisfied crowds to their own homes.   Jesus said goodbye.  We do the same thing when we go our own ways after having spent time together.  We say goodbye.  And with our goodbyes, we send off those whom we love with a certain part of ourselves along with them, even if it’s nothing more than the fond memory of when we were together.  To say goodbye for us is to say, in a certain sense, I will still be with you. 

It is interesting to look at how goodbye is spoken in other languages that have been influenced by Christianity over the centuries.  In French, for example, they say Adieu.  In Spanish, they say Adios.  In German they say Tschüss.  In English we say Goodbye.  All of these words mean, and derive from, the same thing: God be with you.  What an appropriate blessing to give someone when you have to go your separate ways.  God be with you.  This is even better than saying to someone, I will be with you,” because God is much stronger than we are.  God can protect.  God can guide.  His abiding presence is much more than just a fond memory.  It is good for God to be with us, because with God’s presence, there is also God’s almighty power.  Let us consider this, because in order for us to truly benefit from the presence and power of God, WE also NEED TO know THE PROMISE OF GOD in Christ.   

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pentecost 11

Matthew 14:13-21- Pentecost 11- August 28, 2011 
  The Love of God is Always Found in Christ

Frequently in the four Gospels, we hear of Jesus withdrawing someplace by Himself alone.  He did this often in order to pray, or to instruct His disciples, or sometimes even just to rest.  The Gospel reading for this morning begins by saying, “When Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by Himself.”  What Jesus had just heard is explained right before our text begins.  Jesus had just heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod.  Herod had married his own brother’s wife, which was a sin. Leviticus 20:21 reads: If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing.”  John was a prophet.  So he told Herod what no one else wanted to tell him.  And he suffered for doing the right thing.  John probably knew that his rebuke would likely do no good.  He probably knew furthermore that it would bring him into great danger to confront such a powerful and crooked man.  But he did it anyway.  

He took this great risk because he was convinced of three things.  First, of course, John was convinced that Herod was a sinner who needed to be called out on his sin.  Second, John was convinced that Jesus was his Savior.  He knew that the message of all the prophets before him, and the subject of his own preaching, was fulfilled in the object of his own faith.  He pointed to Jesus with his own finger calling Him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  That’s what faith does it points to Jesus and says behold the Lamb of God who takes my sin away too.  And whatever doubts John might have had while he was languishing in prison were answered by Jesus Himself through messengers, saying, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  And this brings us to the third thing that John the Baptist was convinced of: that nothing, not even death, could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus his Lord.  THE LOVE OF GOD IS ALWAYS FOUND IN CHRIST.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pentecost 10

Matthew 13:44-52 - Pentecost 10 - August 21, 2011 
  We Value What God Calls Valuable
Have you ever expressed a deeply held conviction to someone only to hear that person say in response, “I value your opinion,” and then immediately proceed to disagree with what you just said?  It’s really kind of silly, isn’t it?  If this person valued your opinion, he must not have valued it very highly.  Oh it’s worth something, I suppose; it’s just not worth agreeing with.  Such reassurance that someone values what you have to say is essentially meaningless if that person will not also admit that what you have said is true.  We value what is true.  For example, I value my wife telling me that she loves me.  I love to hear it.  I regard such assurance of my wife’s love as precious and valuable, not because I believe that perhaps she doesn’t really love me.  No, it’s precisely the opposite; it’s because I believe she does.  It’s the same for all of you have someone that you care about.  We value what is good and true.  We don’t value what is insincere or false.  

But in this world where the concept of truth and goodness is as subjective and temporary as teenage clothing styles, people like to talk about what they value instead of speaking clearly about what is true and false, or about what is right and wrong.  Everyone, we are told, is entitled to, his or her own values.  And what you value might be a little less valuable to someone else.  It is all subjective.  We have American values, Iowa values, rural, urban, and suburban values, Christian values, Islamic values, conservative, liberal and secular values, and the list goes on.  Somehow all of these “values” are supposed to coexist side by side without any contradiction.  But the moment you claim to have the truth is the moment that you are accused of imposing your values on others.  Value is regarded as solely in the eye of the beholder.  Rarely is something regarded as in and of itself worth believing.  It’s all subjective.  

We see an example of this today in discussions regarding the value of human life.  The fifth commandment plainly tells us not to murder.  There is an intrinsic value to human life that God requires of us to recognize and respect and defend.  All human life is valuable.  This includes the helpless little baby inside his mother’s womb just as much as one who is newly born.  It includes the elderly woman who requires constant assistance to stay alive just as much as a healthy young man full of promise.  It does not matter if someone’s life does not appear very useful or full of potential.  The value of human life does not depend on our evaluation.  It depends on God’s evaluation.  He is the Lord and giver of life.  Our duty, therefore, to help, and defend our neighbor does not stem from how we feel about our neighbor.  It is a duty given to us by God who made each one of us.  God endows mankind with dignity not because of some virtue that can be found in man, but by virtue of the fact that God created man in His own image.  When God calls something precious, that settles it.  WE VALUE WHAT GOD CALLS VALUABLE.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pentecost 9

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43- Pentecost 9 - August 14, 2011 
  God's Word Is Fruitful

The 13th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew contains a section of Jesus’ words known as the “Kingdom of Heaven Parables.”  Last week we heard Jesus compare good seeds to the kingdom of heaven.  This week, He compares these same good seeds to the sons of the kingdom of heaven.  You can see the connection.  Last week, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to the word of the Gospel.  This week, He compares the sons of the kingdom of heaven to Christians who hear and believe the Gospel.  We see here the relationship between the word of God and Christians.  The one produces the other.  The other depends on the one.  GOD’S WORD IS FRUITFUL in that it creates Christian faith.  

Christians rely on the Gospel.  Just as the word of God comes from God, so also Christians come from God.  St. Peter tells us that we have “been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”  This is why we hold the word of God sacred.  This why we gladly hear and learn it – because we become children of God through it.  Our faith is the fruit of the Gospel.  St. James writes, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”  GOD’S WORD IS FRUITFUL in that it creates faithful Christians.  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pentecost 8

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 - Pentecost 8 - August 7, 2011 
 Christians Listen to the Word of God

Why do you go to church?  Perhaps you have been asked this question before.  Maybe you have even asked yourself this question.  It’s a good question to learn how to answer.  Do you go to church because you are a Christian?  Or do you go to church in order to be a Christian?  The answer is, of course, yes.  It is both.  

We go to church, first, in order to be Christians – in order to hear the word of God that teaches us both our need for God’s mercy as well as how God has had mercy on us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  God’s gracious word of pardon and peace creates Christian faith in our hearts to trust in God and to rely upon everything that He tells us.  We go to church in order to become Christians, because the Gospel makes us Christians.  

We also go to church because we are Christians.  As adopted children of God through Holy Baptism, we love to hear every word that proceeds from the mouth of Him who saved us.  Upon His words our souls find nourishment and eternal life.  And we know that part from His word, our faith will starve and die.  We go to churches where we hear the word of God preached in its truth and purity and receive the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution; and we mark and avoid churches that do not.  We do this because we are Christians.  That’s what we do.  CHRISTIANS LISTEN TO THE WORD OF GOD.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pentecost 7

Matthew 11:25-30 - Pentecost 7 - July 31, 2011 
God Elects Us in Christ's Suffering

What is God’s plan for my life?  What does the Maker of heaven and earth want for me – today, tomorrow, forever?  What does God have in store for you, your children, for all of us beyond this short life of ours on earth?  Many people exert a lot of energy and spend lifetimes trying to figure out the answer to such questions.  And we can hardly blame them?  These are really deep questions.  It’s not easy to just stumble upon the right answer (though many believe they have).  But who is to say when you think you’ve figured it out, that you haven’t just been deluded and deceived – especially considering that greater and wiser men than we have spent their entire lives seeking such understanding without any success?  Who’s to say that what we have figured out, on one hand, and what God has chosen, on the other hand, are not totally different?  It’s a hard question, and it’s even harder to answer it.  And so people often give up and pretend like it isn’t even an all that important question anyway.  But it is.  Our life depends on it.  And we here at Trinity Lutheran Church know the answer to it.  We learn of God’s will for our eternal welfare when we learn what His will for each one of us is right here today: GOD’S GOOD WILL IS FOR CHRIST TO BEAR OUR BURDENS.  

“Jesus said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.’”   God the Father hides from some that which He reveals to others.  Wow!  This presents one of the most difficult teachings of Holy Scripture: God’s eternal election, or what is called the doctrine of predestination.  But what exactly does God hide?  And what exactly does He reveal?  How do we find out what God’s eternal choice is for us, and whether He is holding something back by hiding something from us?  Since these questions are so pressing and fundamental to a true knowledge of our God, many theologians have attempted in different ways to provide definitive answers.  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pentecost 6

Matthew 10:34-42 - Pentecost 6 - July 24, 2011
The Divisiveness of the Gospel

It is fitting for me as your pastor to speak such words to you.  Grace, mercy and peace.  With these and similar words the apostles frequently addressed the letters they wrote to various people and congregations.  And God has sent me to this congregation through your call to be your pastor.  My job as your pastor is to preach to you the exact same grace, mercy and peace that Jesus once sent His disciples to preach.  Jesus said to them, and so also to me and to everyone who speaks the word of God to another, “He who receives you, receives Me.”   

We need to hear what Jesus has to say; that’s how we receive Him; that’s how we receive what He has to give.  And so that is what Christians do.  We gather together regularly, as often as we can, to hear Jesus – to receive from Him the peace that He has established between God and sinners.  This peace consists of the knowledge that all our sins have been taken away and paid for by His atoning death on the cross.  This peace is grounded in the certainty that God our Father no longer sees or considers any of our sins – but for Jesus’ sake, He sees only the righteous obedience of His Son our Savior.  We are reconciled to God.  God is reconciled to man.  This, and this alone, is true peace – because this peace was purchased by the blood of Christ, and it means that God our Maker will never again be angry with us, but has in store for us only the most indescribable kindness and mercy.  Just as God once sent angels to fill the night sky in order to preach to just a few lowly shepherds in a field, so for the same reason has God sent me to echo for you that angelic sermon that forever binds God’s greatest glory with the peace on earth that Jesus was sent to bring: “Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  The Father sent the Son to bring peace on earth.  Have no doubt about that.  And GOD’S PEACE GIVES US LIFE.