Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 19:1–20 | 2 Cor. 8:1–9, 13–15 | Mark 5:21–43

Text: Exodus 19:1-20

How do we get to know one another?  Through a common bond at church or school?  That foundation of friendship, or in the case of our spouse of romance and affection, sets the stage for what we know about the other person.

What’s the basis on which we know the Lord?  For Israel it was the covenant.  Each time He introduces the covenant to His people, He starts with what He has done: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”  The way the sons of Israel came to know the Lord was through His saving work.

  • We, like them, come to know Him through His saving work.
    • What’s the first way you came to know Him? Baptism as a child? Becoming acquainted as an adult in need of forgiveness?  Daily reminded of your dependence on His grace?
  • This sets the tone for His conversation with us:
    • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
    • Just like the people of Israel, we have been called to belong to God, and we come to know Him through His mercy to a scattered human race, lost in darkness.  But in Christ, we have a new identity: Child of God and child of light.
  • Even though we know His saving work more clearly, we still struggle to apply it day to day.
    • The Israelites were quick to say, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”  But did they really know to what they were committing?
    • In our confirmation vows, we pledge—with the Lord’s help—to remain faithful unto death and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall way from the Lord.  What trials we face that we couldn’t fathom ahead of time.
  • What can be done? 
    • The same thing which the Apostles did: “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)
    • When things get hard, should we give up and think we made a mistake by pledging our lives to God?  Or is that the very time in which the Lord wants us to give up on ourselves, our strength, our ways, our plans.  Rather, we ought to commit our lives to the God who made heaven and earth, and who graciously cares for us all.
  • He instructed the Israelites to consecrate or set themselves apart.
    • At that time, it meant to wash their garments, not touch the mountain, and to not go near a woman.
    • For us, we have a better washing, the waters of Baptism to which God called us again today: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God.” (1 Peter 3:21-22)
    • While the Israelites were warned from touching the mountain, through the blood which Jesus offered, we are actually invited near to Him:
      • 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest… 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24)
      • That’s because the mountain to which we are called is not Sinai, but Calvary where the blood of Jesus was poured out for the sins of all.
  • The Israelites were to prepare themselves by not having intimate relations, and our bodily preparations—while not required—also prepare us to turn our full attention to what He is saying.  The Small Catechism urges us, “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”
    • Fasting from food may be helpful, but we ought to set aside whatever would detract our hearing of God’s Word.  Sometimes there’s some vocational conflict, like a parent who has to redirect their children in the pew, or a job that occasionally keeps you away from worship but otherwise provides for your family.
    • Bodily preparation is common sense things, which we apply to other areas of our life.  We get sleep before tests or long trips; we put down the phone while we drive.  How much more attention the Divine Service deserves, because this is the very place where heaven touches earth!

In Jesus Christ, we have come to a greater mountain, not one covered in thunder and smoke, but one where the once-for-all sacrifice for sins was made.  That took our sins away and the fear we have that God will condemn us.  Even though we do not see the consuming fire of God, may the Holy Spirit keep us in reverent fear and faithful devotion to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 | 2 Corinthians 6:1–13 | Mark 4:35–41

Text: Exodus 17:1-7

One of the perpetual pains of the Christian is that we must move on from the place where the Lord feeds us.  But it must happen because the place is temporary, and even the green grass (Mark 6:39) upon which the Lord fed the 5,000 withers and fades away.  The journey of this life must move on, and we must be dismissed from the Lord’s Table to go back into the world with all of its troubles.

So also, the Israelites moved on from the place where the manna was first given (although it went with them each day and met their need in the wilderness).  As much as we may look for permanent change, a lasting glimpse of the perfect, it also isn’t found among us.  You would think the people who saw manna and ate the quail which God provided on demand would have settled the matter: The Lord is God, His desire is for our good—to save and not to kill.

But as the people went out tribe by tribe from Sin, they came to a dry place called Rephidim.  But, the very name Rephidim is a reminder of the Lord who spreads His protection over His people, who supports and gives them aid.[1]  Willfully ignorant of what the Lord has already done for them so far, they attack Moses, demanding water, even accusing him of being the one who brought them out of Egypt to kill them.  They choose to attack the Lord’s servant in a way that makes Moses sound like a heartless monster: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”  Moses, you monster! Think of pain you’re causing mothers and shepherds!

This is what’s called an ad hominem attack—an attack against the man—and it’s unfortunately more common in the Church than we’d like to admit.  Before the rabble, Moses looks like a heartless jerk because of how one small part of the story is cast.  But the grumbling is actually just a mask for something else, and Moses puts his finger on it: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”  Surely there is no human prophet, apostle, or pastor who is without fault, but the attacks against the man in the office are more often than not a symptom of a faltering faith.

Many times, people have griped to me about some fault they saw in a previous pastor.  But behind the would-be flattery (He didn’t do it my way, but I’m sure you see things my way), is a challenge not to who is in the office, but a disagreement with God and putting Him to the test.

What does it mean to put God to the test?  Well, first it’s good to mention that tests aren’t always bad.  The Lord often puts us to the test, as I mentioned last week.  He tests what’s in our hearts by the trials He sends.  And faith which trusts in God’s promises and steps out in faith and a desire to please Him puts God’s faithfulness to the proof.  But putting the Lord to the test is when our sinful hearts hold onto the idea that we know better than the Lord in how He has arranged things.  In the Israelite’s case, it’s the Lord who’s made a mistake by bringing them into the wilderness, rather than teleport them straight from Egypt to Canaan’s shores.  How dare He cause us to hunger and thirst!  It’s the same attitude that says, how come God has arranged things this way in the Church and my life?  Why’s it so important to belong to a congregation when I might not like everyone in it?  I’ve worked so hard to live a good life, Lord, why do you keep making things so hard on me?  Why have you brought your faithful people into this time where seemingly nobody cares about your Word and they instead celebrate pride in something which you abhor (June is “LGBT Pride Month in the world)?

But putting the Lord to the test, versus trusting what He says is found in the outcome.  The heart that wants to put Him to the test is already in unbelief (toying with it, or perhaps even well on their way to being gone).  But how great the danger is!  Should we find ourselves in this unbelief, we’re on the precipice over the fires of hell!  And even though we may be unaware of this, the Lord knows full well and is crying for us to turn, lest we die.  Listen to His plea, while we will hear His voice, in Psalm 95:

      Today, if you hear his voice,

          do not harden your hearts, as at


as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

          when your fathers put me to the


and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

     10     For forty years I loathed that


and said, “They are a people who go astray

in their heart,

and they have not known my ways.”

     11     Therefore I swore in my wrath,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

It’s the hard heart which brings so much trouble and spiritual death.  Once the heart is hard, the Word of God, whether it’s in the pages of Scripture or preached by His messenger, the hard heart refuses to hear.  And it comes in a number of forms (let these be a warning to us!): avoiding the one who preaches (plugging our ears to what the Lord would say); choosing a different, adulterated Gospel that tells us that God is okay with us; joining the multitude of other jilted former Christians who can share stories of how they “used to go to church” but moved on.

Despite our unbelief, the Lord’s purpose remains unchanged: To turn us from unbelief to faith.  His Holy Spirit, at work in the Word, is able to save us from this abysmal end.  Today is the day He preaches to you, and if you hear His voice, thanks be to God because His saving work is being accomplished in you!  That day, He did give the people water at Massah and Meribah, but the Lord God refused to help them along in unbelief.  That would be tantamount to handing them the rope with which to hang themselves.

Instead, He sends His Spirit-filled Word to save us from our unbelief.  This is why He gives us His Holy Spirit: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me…I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” (John 15:26—16:1)

The Apostle to the Hebrews explains,

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

                        “Today, if you hear his voice,

                        do not harden your hearts.”

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:6-16)

We can be eternally grateful that God give us over to our times of weakness and unbelief; but with a dedication greater than any on earth, He is always calling to us and calling to all who would hear His voice.

Let us pray:

O God, You justify the ungodly and desire not the death of the sinner. Graciously assist us by Your heavenly aid and evermore shield us with Your protection, that no temptation may separate us from Your love in Christ Jesus, our Lord. O God, protect the tempted, the distressed, and the erring, and gently guide them. By Your great goodness bring them into the way of peace and truth. Graciously regard all who are in trouble, danger, temptation, or bondage to sin, and those to whom death draws near. In Your mercy draw them to Yourself; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

[1] Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Funeral Sermon for Lenora P. Hanna (Schmidt)

Funeral of Lenora Pauline Hanna – June 17, 2021

Text: Psalm 139:7-18, 23-24

“In the Uncertainty of This Life, God is the Solid Rock upon Whom We Stand.”

This is where Lenora was raised.  She was born May 31, 1956, but soon after born from above by God in the precious waters of Holy Baptism in this congregation (at the old church on 2nd street).  Wally and Jean raised her in the Christian faith, and nearly 14 years later, Lenora made her own confession of faith on May 17, 1970 before this altar.

When young people make this confession before the congregation and, by God’s grace, vow to remain faithful to God until death, none of us knows what the future years will bring.  This life is full of uncertainties: future plans changing drastically, grave illness for a beloved spouse, marriages broken by divorce or death, and life ending suddenly.  All this and more are the things which break our bodies and crush our spirits.  Some of them come on gradually, and others hit out of the blue.

When these tragedies come, we long for some kind of answer, some comfort in understanding why, so that we can have some glimpse of good coming out of the evil.  But more often than not, the answers don’t come, or they’re not satisfying.  That isn’t to say God isn’t able to bring good out of evil [Genesis 50:20], but in the moment, we don’t know how that can be.  Why, when things were going so well—when she loved her family, she loved her job, had plans for a big family birthday party, when she had joined her sister, Betty, in coming back to church regularly, and was even looking forward to retirement next September—was Lenora’s life cut short?  The only answers we can find leave us weeping.

But there is still certainty even in this hour.  It doesn’t come from the chance and changes of one’s life, in the choices one makes or potentially dodging hereditary disease.  That certainty is from the Lord God who says to His children: “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’” (Isaiah 43:1)  The Lord called her through His servant, Pastor Kratzke, as he said, “Lenora Pauline Schmidt, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  There in the baptismal waters, Almighty God gave her a treasure that outshines anything this world can imagine: union with His Son, Jesus Christ, in His death for all her sins and sharing in His victory over death!  God the Father adopted Lenora, and gave her the privilege to be called His beloved child.

Even though we don’t have answers for why Lenora’s life was ended so soon, God has given this sign to us: Lenora died on June 10th, the very day she was baptized in the Name of the Jesus 65 years earlier.  By this, I believe, the Lord is pointing us to where we can have certainty in these times: in His sure work that forgives sins, restores peace with God, and assures us of an open heaven and the resurrection to everlasting life.

In the midst of our days and because our sin darkens our understanding, we don’t always recognize and appreciate what a gift is delivered in Baptism.  It’s far more than a sterile, ancient rite of the Church.  It wasn’t appropriated from other religions just to have something unique to do.  Baptism is a gift which the Lord Jesus gave to the world after He died for the sins of all and broke the power of death and the devil.  Baptism is the good news, the Gospel of God, delivered through water, as the Apostle Paul tells us:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)

God chooses to become the Heavenly Father of His children, and in that He is no slouch!  Earlier this morning, we prayed together a portion of Psalm 139, which beautifully illustrates the God who claimed Lenora in Holy Baptism.  And before I read it, I also want you to know that this isn’t just about her.  This is true for every one who believes in God’s work.  Lenora saw to it that her children were each given this very same treasure: Kenneth on April 3, 1982; Joseph on April 22, 1984; and John on December 26, 1999.

 So, listen to how intimately acquainted God, who made Himself your Father, is deeply concerned with each of His children’s lives:

7Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”

12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

13For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

17How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

No matter how far one has strayed, how estranged one has been from God their Father, how you may have even despised your Creator and the Lord who redeemed you with His blood—as many days as you have on this earth, God never stops seeking you.  He has known you since before your parents even did, and He knows your inmost being, and your life from beginning to end.  So knowing this treasure which God the Father desires for each of you, stop neglecting it, resisting it, and going on in darkness.  On that road, the only thing that’s certain is death which leads to judgment and hell.  That would break your Father in heaven’s heart, Who has done so much that you might know everlasting life.

The All-powerful Creator of the universe is seeking you out to keep you through this life, passing through the Judgment Day, and into eternal life.  This is how He is able to call you back when you stray, strengthen you when you’re ready to fall, wipe away your tears, and raise you from your graves.  And the conscience who trusts in this Gospel can gladly say,

23Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

24And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 16:1-31 | 2 Corinthians 5:1–17 | Mark 4:26–34

Text: Exodus 16:1-31

Normally, the sermons follow the theme for the day set by the lectionary.  The lectionary is the schedule of Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings for a given day.  It’s a great tool which the Christian Church has used for centuries in conjunction with the shape of the Church year.  But I want the opportunity to teach the whole congregation the lessons which the group has been learning in Sunday Bible study. 

St. Paul teaches us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)  As we’ve been studying Exodus, it’s become clear that this has application for God’s people in every age—especially ours where Biblical literacy is even worse than English literacy.  What was recorded in the Old Testament isn’t to be forgotten, but rather viewed through the Cross.  St. Paul also explains, “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)  Sadly, many of you have fallen into the habit of minimizing Sunday to the Divine Service alone, and neglecting the lessons of Bible study.  If there is some way we can make it so more of the congregation is present at Bible study, I’m all ears.

But I also don’t want you to miss out on the lessons which our Lord and Savior gives us in these Scriptures.  So, over the next four weeks, we’re going to sit at the feet of Jesus, while He teaches us from how He led the sons of Israel in the wilderness.  Our first stop comes after the Lord has brought out His people from Egypt.  With a strong hand and a mighty arm, with the might of the Ten Plagues, the Lord judged Pharaoh and made distinction between the Egyptians and the sons of Israel.  After the Lord brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground, but drown the host of Pharaoh, they saw their former oppressors dead on the side of the Red Sea and they sang: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:21)

With that refrain two months fresh in their minds, they come to the Wilderness of Sin.[1]  The whole congregation begins complaining: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Yes, this is the same group who possibly still had dust from the bottom of the Red Sea on the bottom of their sandals. They are actually thinking that death in Egypt as slaves would be preferable to their current situation. 

How quickly our affections turn away from God!  It’s easy to praise Him while things are going in our favor.  But that isn’t faith (or at least it isn’t faith which is being exercised).  It’s easy to confess that He is our God when He is doing things we like.  But, in order to see what’s really in our hearts, God makes things get hard and painful. Is He still going to be your God, or just an afterthought when your health fails?  When your mixed marriage goes south, are you going to choose to serve Him or please your spouse?  You may have everything you could want right now, but what about when the money dries up?  It’s in these wilderness times when the Lord exposes either the strength—or more often the weakness—of our faith.

We might want to look down on the Israelites and call them foolish because we can look on the facing page of our Bible how God had delivered them.  But never underestimate the weakness, forgetfulness, and fickleness of their sinful flesh and yours.

But listen to how the Lord responds to their grumbling!  No doubt it’s with far more patience that some of us would:

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

Here in the wilderness, the Lord provides for the people in a visible and miraculous way.  He gives this miraculous bread from heaven.   He did this to teach us about His character is as our Father in heaven. Yet how often do we find ourselves doubting that?  We have so much knowledge of the resources we have at our disposal, that we get the idea we’re more in charge of our destiny.  As a testimony of this, we try to control procreation, engineer away scarcity, and trust that medical science can cheat death for us.

God allows this illusion to deceive us for a time, but then the reality hits again.  God hasn’t changed between then and now.  He still is ever the Creator of Life, the One who wisely provides for the needs of all, and Him who keeps our going out and our coming in forever more [Ps. 121]  What changes, like the Israelites, is our attitude toward His provision.  Now, we’re able to know far more about what He provides.  But what we do with that information is the problem: We worry.  We doubt He will provide enough.  We think the future depends on our calculations. 

14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

In order to humble us, God’s provision is a given in a way that we can only give Him glory.  The very name manna comes from their wondering what this bread was.  Try as we might 1make to be masters of our life (piously we call our fretting and hoarding “good stewardship”), God will show us that He is the one who provides what He will provide.  “Give us this day our daily bread” He teaches us to pray.  He puts it that way for a reason: so that every day, we would realize that everything in life is in His care.

The manna was a visual of this: They gathered what they needed each day, and when it came to the Sabbath rest, He provided for that as well.  And God continues truly to provide for all our needs.

Today, we’re no longer tested with not being able to get things on a Sabbath day, as nearly everything is available 7 days a week.  We are still tested, however, on two points, so that the Lord would know what is truly in our hearts:

First is the modern freedom of the Sabbath, that we are not forced to rest or socially pressured to go to church.  When we’re given the choice, the devil and our sinful flesh are right there with excuses.  It’s been a pretty good week.  I’ve got family coming in town and I don’t want to seem a bad host.  I’ve just got so much to get done, how can I stand to lose half the day?  And you can look around to see what that freedom has resulted in.  Our daily life is just so much more satisfying that we want more of it, and lose our appetite for the good portion which will not be taken away for eternity.

So the lesson from God providing double on the day before the Sabbath is that we too ought to plan our week around the rest He gives us on Sunday.  He says, “See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath” (v. 29) because it is actually His gift to provide us with more than the stuff we need to keep this temporal life rolling.  He is saying our lives are built on being children of God for eternity as well as today.

The other test of our hearts is what we do with the daily bread we receive from God, especially the money. There are so many expenses, so many ways to spend money from coffee stands to good deals online, that it seems to us there’s never enough money for everything.  Our deceitful hearts focus on how much money, but don’t notice the priorities we choose.  The Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, before they were ever commanded, freely chose to give a tenth of what they had to the Lord. For Israel, that translated into sacrifices, temple furnishings, and provision for the priests.  Today, the money which God’s people offer to Him carries on His work in this congregation and the Church at large.  When it comes to giving, St. Paul recalls the manna as assurance that God’s provision is more faithful than we can judge: 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)

And finally, together with all these lessons, the manna itself recalls the full provision of God which became manifest in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the dialog that happened after the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John 6:

31 tOur fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

In this way, it comes back around so that we see ourselves as those for whom God is providing in the wilderness.  We are just as needy…and prone to foolishness…as the Israelites.  But with the Holy Spirit’s help, He makes us mindful of how desolate this world is in comparison to the glories which are to be revealed to us in the age to come [Rom. 8:18].  He also makes us mindful of true hunger and its remedy. The Israelites had hungry stomachs, which the manna satisfied.  But underlying that is the spiritual hunger we feel.  And in that, we’re not all at the same place.  Some of us are acutely aware of our spiritual hunger and take heart in what the Lord says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6).  Others are more comfortable and feel as though they’re fairly strong.  And to all those called by the Gospel, He gives not just bread, but “The bread of heaven which gives life to the world…I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”  This is what He is doing for you when He feeds you at the altar.  “What is it?” Manna?  “Take eat; this is My Body, broken for you”  “Take drink; this is My Blood, shed for you.”  It is both miraculous and tangible, and in this holy food, He feeds you with what you need for the nourishment of your soul.

From this account of the Bread of Heaven, we learn how our Father in heaven rebukes our grumblings and our doubts, and yet in steadfast love provides for us.  Recognizing this, may we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving!  But still more He shows us the spiritual wilderness in which we find ourselves, and cares for our souls.  In response to His glorious grace, let us stand and sing the prayer, “Feed Thy Children, God Most Holy” on page 774.

Feed Thy children, God most holy;
Comfort sinners poor and lowly.
    O Thou Bread of Life from heaven,
    Bless the food Thou here hast given!
As these gifts the body nourish,
May our souls in graces flourish
    Till with saints in heav’nly splendor
    At Thy feast due thanks we render. (LSB 774)

Text: © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110004659

[1] This is a proper name. It’s just a coincidence that it matches the English word.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Genesis 3:8-15 | 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 | Mark 3:20-35

“The Sin Against The Holy Spirit”

Guest Pastor Bruce Ley

Text: Mark 3:20-35

20Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21But when His own people heard , they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” 23So He called them to and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25“And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26“And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. 27“No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

28“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29“but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”; 30because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” 33But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35“For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Grace, Mercy and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

St. Mark tells us: ‘The multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard , they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” ’ This thought of Jesus being “out of His mind” in the eyes of “His own people” surprises and saddens me. We don’t know specifically to whom “His own people” refers, but this very statement indicates it is someone who, by all rights, should have known better.

Now this idea of being “out of His mind” is just another way of saying that the people who have come “to lay hold of Him” are convinced of the need to protect Jesus from Himself. From my perspective this is one mighty fine example of how Jesus’ teaching on “The Sin Against the Holy Spirit” reveals the depths to which any person may fall under the right circumstances. Thus, it is good to heed St. Paul’s warning: “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Well, if the response of “His own people” surprises and saddens us, the response of “the scribes who came down from Jerusalem” shocks and stuns us! I mean, think for a minute about who it is that is saying of Jesus: “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” These are not ordinary people, these are scribes! These are the very scholars and authorities on the OT Scriptures. Many in fact were interpreters and powerful leaders in both parties of the Jews. Truly it is amazing, that the very ones who should know the OT best, say to the one who is the fulfillment of the OT: “[You have] Beelzebub,” and “By the ruler of the demons [You] casts out demons.” These doctors of the Law are literally slandering Jesus by accusing Him of devil-possession. What blasphemy!

What about your response to this God-Man, Jesus Christ? How do you view some of His tougher sayings? For instance, these words from St. Matthew: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; “and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Jesus concludes these tough words with this: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34-37). Maybe, before we’re too quick to judge the “scribes” in this world, or even “His own people,” we need to take a deep look into our own hearts!

Well, before we dig ourselves into a hole we would just as soon not be in, let’s return to our text and see how Jesus handles the “scribes” comment about Him having “Beelzebub” and “casting out demons by the ruler of the demons.”

Jesus, the master-teacher, shows us how best to handle someone’s illogical questions. Take up their line of reasoning and see where it leads. This Jesus does in a masterful way with these words: “How can Satan cast out Satan? “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. “And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. “And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.” Clearly, the illogical reasoning of the scribes is completely exposed as faulty and futile.

Now before going on to see Jesus completely destroy their logic, think about your household, your congregation, the NW district, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Can households, congregations, districts, or our synod hope to stand if it “is divided against itself?” Maybe you haven’t thought about, but the smaller the unit that “is divided against itself” the greater will be the division at the levels above it. And in a society with a 50% divorce rate — and it isn’t any better in the Church — it is not hard to imagine how difficult it is for congregations, districts and synod to walk together when families don’t walk together, but are in fact “divided against themselves.” Now what I am about to say may not be very popular today, but it is the man of the family whom God holds primarily accountable for harmony in both the family and the Church.

Moving on, we learn that Jesus is not yet done exposing the scribes deficient logic. He immediately adds these words: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.”

What does Jesus mean by these additional words about “a strong man” having to be bound before anyone can “plunder his house?” The thought here is one of complete victory — and it must be established before any plundering takes place. Now, Jesus’ warnings here is meaningless if Satan is not the personal being he is represented to be throughout the Scriptures from Genesis 3 onward. So, in spite of the worlds jokes about Satan, you need to know that he and his minions are very real, very personal, and very powerful beings with whom we dare not toy — lest we get very seriously burned.

Now the really good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus, in this verse, is plainly saying that the expulsion of demons — which the scribes admit He is doing — is proof of the fact that Satan has already been conquered! How can that be, you ask, when Jesus had not yet died on the cross and rose again at this point? It is a good question since the time of the crucifixion is still several months away. If what Jesus says is true, when did He conquer Satan? Well, as far as God was concerned it already took place in the Garden of Eden when He spoke these words in our OT lesson today: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heal” (Genesis 3:15).

My friends, that is the way God’s promises always are — regardless of how hopeless and impossible it may look to us. What God promises is already accomplished in His eyes, and therefore the result of the promise can already be realized before the fact! That’s good news in light of what Jesus says next: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter.” Now this is one beautiful promise! It matters not how serious your sin, whether it is a sin you commit by doing something or a sin you commit by not doing something. It matters not how grievous the slanderous things are that man says against God and what belongs to God — the promise of this verse is still there and it says two things to those who are repentant over their having committed those sins. First, the sins you commit are very grievous. Second, in spite of their grievous nature, those confessed sins — including “blasphemies” that have been uttered — are forgiven.

The question is, how does that stack up in the face of these words by Jesus? “He who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.”

Well first of all, remember to whom Jesus said these words. It was to the scribes who had charged Him with casting out demons by demons. That is why He adds these words in the next verse: ‘because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”.’ As a result of this, it must be concluded that “He who blasphemes — that is, speaks evil — against the Holy Spirit,” does so not against the person of the Holy Spirit, but against the work of the Holy Spirit. It means to reject the work that the Holy Spirit seeks to do in your life as God comes to you through His Word and in His Sacraments. Now because God’s promises of forgiveness, life, salvation, peace, hope, joy and the like are part and parcel with God’s Means of Grace it has to be that the cause of rejecting and not benefiting from those promises lies exclusively within each person. We are the problem!

Now Jesus in our text is not actually accusing the scribes of having already committed this unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit, … but He is sternly warning them. Great danger lies ahead for them if they continue down their present path — for in reality they had witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit casting out the demons and have said it was the devil who did it. Oh ever so close are these “scribes” to committing the unpardonable sin. Those who spurn and reject the work of the Holy Spirit are always in the gravest of danger — especially knowing how quickly life can end.

How about you, have you ever wondered if you have committed this unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit?” According to what Jesus says, there are only two possible results of any sins in our life. Sin is either forgiven — even though it is grievous — or it remains unforgiven because you refuse the work of the Holy Spirit who brings you God’s forgiveness. In the final analysis, the sin against the Holy Spirit amounts to the rejection of forgiveness itself — and that is why it is unforgivable. The truth is, he who has no faith by which the Spirit transfers Christ’s forgiveness to his account, stands unforgiven! Continuing to refuse the means by which God brings forgiveness, with all of its accompanying benefits, into your life means you are rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit. Should you reject that work up until the moment of death you will have committed that unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit.”

Now here is the point. Anyone who wonders whether they have committed this sin can rest assured they have not. For if you had you wouldn’t care, nor would you be concerned about whether you had or not. Those who are in danger of having done it, just don’t care. Even so, forgiveness is still possible right up to the deathbed so long as the man has not hardened his heart to the point that God would no longer permit him to believe — as happened to Egypt’s Pharaoh in Moses’ day. Bottom line: … receiving God’s Word and Sacraments in faith protects you from committing the unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit.” This is true because the “stronger one” — Jesus Christ — has conquered and bound Satan who now has no power over those who in faith regularly hear and feed on God’s Word.

Now there are some who may wonder why a Christian congregation would be concerned with “The Sin Against the Holy Spirit” if our very presence here is an indication that we haven’t committed it. The reason is simple — by studying it we get a glimpse of which path we are on at the moment. You see, even Jesus family was guilty of turning down a very dangerous path when Mark tells us “Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”

Jesus response to this news tells us the danger they faced. Even though they were blood relatives of Jesus they were not at this point accepting His teaching. Rather than embrace Him and His good news that the Kingdom of God has come and He is it, they sought Him. They balked at His revelation — so much so that they desired to take Him out of this place.

Jesus however sets the record and us straight as He asks: “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” He then answers His own question: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, My sister and mother.” Now there are dozens of verses in Scripture that deal with the “will of God,” so how do we know which ones apply?

Well obviously they all apply, but most deal with things totally beyond our control or influence, for they are things that the Triune God alone accomplishes. Several however give us a clue as to what Jesus might mean. John writes: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life” (John 6:40 NKJV). Paul in Romans gives us another good clue: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom 12:2 NKJV). Paul also writes to the church at Thessolonica: For this is the will of God, your sanctification: (1 Th 4:3a NKJV). Again, he writes: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Th 5:16-18 NKJV). Finally Peter tells us: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God” (1 Pet 2:15-16 NKJV).

Dear friends we all know God wills us to do much more than these, but even these cause us to squirm in our seats when we realize how far short we fall. Still, the promise of Jesus in our text is irrevocable: “all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they many utter.” With a promise like that in our ears we can truly take to heart Paul’s words in our Epistle today: “we do not lose heart, even through our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). May the “renewal of that inward man” continue to be a reality in your life as you go from this place to your vocation, confident that not only have you not committed the unforgivable “Sin Against the Holy Spirit,” but you are Christ’s brother, Christ’s sister — yeah Christ’s mother as you live out your baptismal faith at the cross of Christ — the one Who crushed Satan’s head once and for all that neither sin, nor hell, nor death, nor Satan has any power over you.

And now may the Triune God keep each of you steadfast and true to that baptismal faith in which He forever marked and chose you to be His own into eternity.

In the name of of the Father, and of the † Son and of the Holy Ghost. [Amen].

“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ [unto life everlasting].”