The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

Readings: Revelation 6:9–11 | Romans 6:1–5 | Mark 6:14–29
Text: Mark 6:14-29

“Martyrs for Marriage”

“Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.” ~ Psalm 71:4-5 ~

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

John was the forerunner to the Christ.  He was born six months before, and He went before the Lord. He was a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3, citing Isaiah 40:3)  And that he did for all Judea and Jerusalem, who came out to be baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  But the Mightier One came as John said, and has fulfilled all righteousness [Mark 1:4-8, Matt. 3:13-15], and indeed He is the righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption of all who believe [1 Cor. 1:30].

We are those who come after Christ. He tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” and “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 8:34; 10:29-30) But like John, we also sometimes must preach, one to another, God’s holy, unchangeable Law and then point repentant sinners to Christ.

John preached against so-called marriage which ran contrary to God’s Law.  No matter what gifts were exchanged, political favors given, or how much Herod and Herodias felt love or lust for each other, it was not really marriage, and John said as much.  Herod’s rank did not factor in.  He was a human being, and humans are subject to the Law given by their Creator.  This Law does not change depending on where you live, how much money you have, or what is socially acceptable, or even if you consider yourself a Christian.

Those who have the Word of God know what marriage is:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”…21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18, 21-25)

And like was shared during the Catechism lesson, anything apart from this institution is not God’s intent for marriage.  This holds true, even in the age of no-fault divorce, cohabitation, and pairings of all different kinds.

So, the people who have God’s Word believe that Word, and like John, we speak His truth to others.  And like John, we don’t give preferential treatment with whom we speak this truth, whether it’s to those in authority, or those in our family.  It may be to our children who put off marriage but not sleeping together, or to our parents who want to avoid the burdens of two becoming one financially and legally, or to our peers who want to divorce because they don’t feel fulfilled by their spouse anymore.

And also like John, the one who brings the Word of God may suffer personally for exposing that sin.  It might mean at the very least awkward silences at dinner, alienation, or ridicule.  For Christians in some positions it may mean losing your job, like Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran[1] or having your business boycotted, as Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A.  In recent years, it has also meant the presumably-legal attack on Christian businesses, such as Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips,[2] Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman,[3] and New Mexico photographer Elane Huguenin.[4] And this year, speaking this truth resulted in legal charges against the new Finnish Lutheran bishop Juhana Pohjola for a booklet he helped publish in 2004 which addressed legal and psychological effects of legalizing same-sex unions in Finland.[5]

With all that speaking the truth entails—even if it isn’t the shedding of your blood—Christians today are truly martyrs for marriage.  Martyrs are those who witness for God.  And those who are deluded in error want to silence the accusation which comes on our lips.  But it isn’t for any personal pride or battle for conservative values that we speak.  It is God’s love for wayward souls.  God loved Herod Antipas, and Herodias, and Salome her daughter enough to speak to them.[6]  God loves the homosexuals, the transexual, the spouses at odds with each other, the couples who move in together—enough to speak to them, and He is using His people to do that.  In all likelihood, they won’t be coming here to hear this sermon, so it is laid on you to share the warning of the Law, “It is not lawful, and I care about not just your happiness, but your eternal welfare, to tell you this is not good.”

19 And Herodias had a grudge against [John] and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.

And like Herod, the people we speak to will have a moment where they will have to respond to the truth of God’s Law and choose.  Herod’s time of choice came when his pretend wife and her daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist. We hope for nothing so extreme, but when the moment of truth comes, it is our prayer that they would repent of their evil ways and turn to Christ, the Savior of sinners. 

Even in John’s death, God’s will was done.  Perhaps as John had been preaching, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” he had hoped this would mean immediate, visible victory over those who oppose the coming Messiah.  But the Kingdom can still be resisted, and even if men and women reject its call to repent and believe, that doesn’t mean God’s Word has failed.   Sure, Herodias was pretty smug that she had gotten her way and gotten rid of that trouble-maker.  In the End, that is the Day of Judgement, God has the last word.

As we, the followers of Christ, are martyrs for marriage in our own time, it isn’t on us how people respond to the Word of God.  Instead, our responsibility is to proclaim and uphold the unchanging truth of marriage—to, as St. Paul says, “shine as lights in the world…in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” and in Hebrews it is written, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Phil. 3:15; Hebrews 13:4).

That brings its own challenges and pains, but amidst that, God’s blessing.  For husbands and wives, it means humbly living out what we heard in the Epistle lesson from last Sunday (Ephesians 5:22-33).  Wives are to submit to their own husbands, as the Church submits to Christ, her head.  Husbands are to love their wives sacrificially as Christ loves the Church, forgiving her flaws, and caring and nurturing them as they would their own bodies.  This is the will of God, even in difficult marriages, 10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10-11) and even if one spouse is not a believer, the life of the Christian is still a witness, as St. Peter says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” (1 Pet. 3:1-2)

The burdens Christians face in marriage today are nothing new, but we are sorely tempted by human remedies.  It’s hard to slog through day-to-day, year after year, with your spouse—their sins and your sins colliding.  That’s why affairs look so appealing because you can have the “benefits” supposedly without the trouble.  When we lose our patience, maybe divorce sounds appealing (kind of like suicide sounds like new hope to a depressed person).  The thing that breaks marriages is not the world, but a selfishness that takes root in our hearts, that elevates our felt needs over that of the one whom God has given us as spouse.  God sees through our hardness of heart and excuses.  Infidelity and desertion are grounds for divorce, but through sharing the abundant grace of Christ, forgiveness and restoration may be possible.  When there’s abuse, even a believer should seek safety and protect themselves and their children.  Separation is often necessary (even retraining orders), but the advice of St. Paul is compelling: 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him… 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor. 12-13, 15)  To God, the souls of both people are precious, even if sin has caused evil.

Widows and widowers, the Lord also shines through you as martyrs for marriage.  Bearing the daily loneliness because death has separated you from your spouse, you set your hope on your God, who raised Jesus from the dead.  St. Paul writes, “She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day,” and, “I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.” (1 Timothy 5:5, 14)

Likewise, those who are single support the body of Christ.  St. Paul even commends this estate for those who are able to keep it chastely: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am… 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.” (1 Cor. 7:8, 26)  You are spared the worldly troubles of marriage, but with the gift God has given you and the added time and material resources, serve Him and serve your married and widowed brothers and sisters.

All of this shows the burden and pain of taking up our cross as martyrs for Christ.  We don’t ask for these crosses to bear, but we will not take the world’s answers—defining marriage according to lusts, casting it off when it doesn’t suit our fancy, and chasing after the carnal appetite rather than using our bodies to serve the Lord who bought us with the price of His blood.  Following Jesus, these pains drive us to the cross where the Lord lifts up and restores our crushed spirit [Psalm 34:18-19].  He calls us to where the Father adopted us in the water of Baptism, to confess our sins and believe the word of Absolution He puts on our pastor’s lips, to eat and drink Jesus’ Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

It’s nothing new that people hide from God’s Law, but He has been seeking out sinners since the first disobedience.  He has sought and found you and me, and by His grace may we not fall into temptation, so that we can live godly lives in the presence of God and our neighbors.

In light of the fact that for health concerns, we are refraining from Holy Communion today, let us turn to the order of Individual Confession and Absolution on page 292 in the hymnal.

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





[5] and

[6] We learn of Herodias’ daughter’s name from the 4th century church historian Eusebius.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Isaiah 29:11–19 | Ephesians 5:22–33 | Mark 7:1–13

Text: Mark 7:1-13

In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were the religious guard for the nation of Israel.  After the time of the Exile, and coming out as champions for righteousness after the Maccabean revolt, they held the Scriptures in the highest regard.  However, they also took it upon themselves to “make a fence around the Law” by adding rules and regulations that would curb the possible disobedience of God’s people Israel.  These were recorded in the Mishnah.  They called it “oral Law” and conveniently left out the part that they were not actually given to Moses, and therefore did not have divine authority.

Let’s hear again how Jesus responded to this:

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

            “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

The problem wasn’t the traditions themselves.  After all, they encouraged piety and obedience to the Word of God.  The problems were: 1. They made obedience to these traditions binding, as in you would be guilty for not holding to these things; and 2. Some of them were actually in conflict with the Word of God, and they chose to obey the tradition!

This kind of use of binding tradition flourished in the Christian church before the Reformation.  Many such traditions had been handed down, such as the laity only receiving the Body of Christ when taking Communion; requiring celibacy for all priests and nuns; treating the Mass as something that could make peace with God or shorten a dead relative’s sentence in purgatory (another human tradition); or forcing people to go to private confession and list all their sins. (See a list in the Augsburg Confession Articles 22-28)

There are two helpful truths the Lord has for us in this account, which help keep the church on earth from error.  The first is that Christians are not bound to any practice which is not established by “Thus saith the Lord.”

What are the essentials?  I’ll let the Lord Himself tell us: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20); “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ’s] name to all nations” (Luke 24:47); “Truly, I say to you, whatever you [the Church] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18); “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34); “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28)  Preaching the Gospel of Jesus, Baptism and discipleship, Confession, Christian love, the Lord’s Body and Blood—these are foundational.  But how those are carried out has been applied in many different ways.  What’s central to all of it is that the Word of God has the first and last say. 

It’s good for us to be reminded about the right role for human tradition, especially since we are Christians who observe many handed-down traditions: the use of creeds, candles, chanting, hymnals and orders of service, a church calendar, and vestments—just to name some.  Are we wrong for using them?  Are others wrong who do not use them?  We’re quick to say, Of course not!  But then sometimes, we find ourselves looking down on our brothers, and think “if only they really had knowledge, their worship would look like ours.”

Some 50 years after the Reformation began, there were similar disagreements over which and how many of the old traditions to keep.  Our forefathers wrote about this in what’s called the Formula of Concord (something I’ll be using as a preaching series soon).  About human traditions, they wrote, “We believe, teach, and confess that no church should condemn another because it has fewer or more external ceremonies not commanded by God, as long as there is mutual agreement in doctrine and in all its articles as well as in the right use of the holy sacraments”  Yes, there are the essentials, which God clearly spells out in His Word.  But anything of human origin is not something to judge each other about.  We can have fruitful discussions about the benefits of traditions or how clearly they magnify the Word of God. But never should traditions take the place of the Word of God and Christ who unites us.

The second lesson is a reminder that it is never right to set aside the Word of God and replace it with human constructions.  Our problem (and I speak collectively as a human race) is that we tend to be fundamentalists.  I mean, tell me what the bare minimum is and that’s what I’ll shoot for.  Just memorize the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, but nevermind if you ever read the Bible for yourself.  And on that point I think we’ve fallen into error, even as the heirs of the Scripture-alone Reformation.  It’s much more appealing to just go to tradition because that’s what we’ve always done, and we don’t have to think really hard about it.  Confirmation, marriage, funerals, and church membership are all things that have been abused.  We’ve given these rites a life of their own, sometimes apart from or opposed to the Word of God.  Confirmation isn’t commanded by God, but woe to the pastor who doesn’t “graduate” the 13-year-olds of his congregation.  Marriage belongs more to the state than the church, but often the symbolism that was meant to magnify Christ becomes about the poor sinner who is the bride.  Funerals are rarely times to meditate on the preaching of the Law and the joy of Christ’s resurrection.  Instead they are occasions to eulogize the deceased and bask in sentimentality.  Church membership from the early church was about confessing what is taught at this church and received at this altar, but for as long as many of us can remember, many have treated it as membership in a social club with doctrine being a far second.

We need the wisdom of Jesus, and for His Word to set us straight again. From the Old Testament lesson:

You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest? In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.  (Isa. 29:16-19)

The Lord does an amazing thing…for the misguided Pharisees and for Christians of every age, and even us.  He came and did an amazing thing.  What people had wickedly turned upside down, He set right.  To people, deaf and lost in the gloom of their own religion creations, the words of God’s Book are revealed.  He opens the Scriptures, and in them Christ is revealed.

People crave rules to know if they’re on the right road.  But God craves people’s heart.  He doesn’t want our heart far from Him, because if it that’s the case, no matter how many motions we go through, they’re meaningless.  It’s this phony excuse for Christianity that troubles so many who just get fed up with religion.  But the Lord abounds in steadfast love: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Psalm 103:11) He is gracious to forgive our errors and guide the people of His Church to act faithfully.

When Christ’s Church clings to Him by faith, then the traditions are not empty or contrary.  They actually exalt Christ—they teach, give voice to our praise, convey the reverence and beauty of the Lord, and guide our children.  Tradition simply means to hand down, and this is the faith which we have received from our forefathers and we want to pass down to our children.  May the Lord help us to always hear Him, repent of our errors, and do all things to glorify Him in our lives, and within the community of His Church. Amen.

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Proverbs 9:1–10 & Joshua 24:1-2(a), 14-18 | Ephesians 5:6–21 | John 6:51–69

Text: Ephesians 5:6-21

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’”
~ John 6:68-69 ~

Yesterday at the men’s breakfast, we learned about the thread in American Christianity of revivalism, which says that the Christian life begins with your personal decision.  And if you listen to the Old Testament lesson and Gospel today with the glasses on of personal decision, that’s certainly what it sounds like Joshua and Peter are saying: “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) And, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:67-69)

But does one’s eternal destiny really hang on their own choice?  That’s a ton of pressure!  In fact, we need more than our flimsy decision as the foundation for our life today and for eternity.  But, it’s also clear in the verses right before that the things Joshua and Peter said were not just their own personal sentiment: “And [Jesus] said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”  God was at work in and through their pledge of faithfulness to Jesus over the alternatives.  God gave Joshua the conviction to say, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”…even if all the other people should choose to serve manmade gods.  God gave Peter the wisdom to believe, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”…even though such a large number of disciples were ditching Jesus.  Their examples are written down for our learning.  They had a conviction that there was only one God who could save, and only one God worthy of fear, love, and trust.

There’s something to that conviction and power to confess which is behind what St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them;

There is an opposite to one serving the Lord and these words of eternal life.  It is the world of idolatry and lies, darkness and death.  Without God helping us, it’s not just that a person becomes sort of neutral and unaffiliated.  They actually go the way of the enemies of God, in danger of falling under the wrath of God.  That is to say, if we are left to ourselves, a human being will always drift toward evil.

The empty words Paul warns us about are always there, appealing to that part of us that wants to rise above the place God has placed us.  “You will be like God” it promises, if only you would be free of those shackles of the God of the Bible [Ps. 2:3].  All you need is to unlock the person within, and just imagine what potential is inside you! 

Over the last century, the Church has been engaged in many spiritual battles.  Even while many of us have fond childhood memories of crowded Sunday Schools and packed worship services, there was serious contention between what the Church believes and what the world was trying to sell to Christians—the kind of “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” and an invitation to give up simple faith in God’s Word.  Take for instance, the battle over creation versus evolution.  God’s Word teaches that He made everything by His Word, while the evolution understands everything happening according to mutations and survival of the fittest.  But the Church persevered in battle, insisting that we are creations of God not descendants of apes.  Little by little, even non-Christian scientists have had to admit the faults of their theory. Now, the only reason it persists in schools is because they don’t have a God-free alternative. Even intelligent design suggests there might be a personal force out there.

Another major conflict has been the battle for the Bible itself against Higher Criticism, and that has dragged on for more than a century.  Higher critics are eager to find human fault in the Bible and reduce it to precepts of men and their prejudices. That way, they’re free to rise above those parts of which they disapprove. Yet, because of the conviction which God puts in His people, pastors and professors rose to the occasion and laypeople took up the mantle.  They persevered even when the majority of professors walked out of Concordia Seminary in 1974.  Those who held to the defense of God’s Word actively engaged against world-creep.

They studied and prayed, exhorted and did their best to convince, and their labors bore fruit.  Today, there is a wealth of scholarship and resources available about the evidence for a young earth and the geological processes caused by the Flood.  Today, biblical scholarship is remarkably gifted, with a treasure of in-depth study of biblical manuscripts and critical study of the texts as the Word of God.

The generation now living has its own battle, and it’s one which rears its head within the Church, and that is indifference and resignation.  That’s just your opinion.  Well, whatever works for you.  Listen again to verse 6: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of apathy.”  Apeitheia is translated as disobedience because it pictures someone who is unpersuaded and will not be convinced.   Something is true because it works for me, or I feel it in my heart, and forget the outside, objective truth of a matter. 

And isn’t that what we face today?  COVID has helped people become apathetic about the necessity of coming together to worship.  Couples are apathetic about the institution of marriage.  More Christians, especially youth are apathetic about the biblical view of sexuality as they are force-fed the LGBT agenda.  It seems little to matter what argument you can come up with, because they don’t care.  Their mind is made up already because they’ve decided what’s right for them.  This is also what God calls hardness of heart.

That’s a scary thing to consider, that baptized Christians could be found with hard hearts and suffer the fate of the ungodly!  Lord, have mercy upon us!  We have sinned against Him when we have let this dark world set our priorities and gone after what appeals to our sinful nature and the easy road that is.  We have also seen our family and friends embrace the lies and we’ve comforted ourselves by taking the tack, “Well, I guess that works for them.”

Christ your Lord was not impassive and apathetic.  For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross and rejection you have deserved.  When He saw you in darkness, He had compassion which moved Him to come down and take on flesh.  He persevered in the cause, so that you would have forgiveness, peace with God, and eternal life!  He has made you not a son of disobedience or of apathy, but a child of light.

This is why Paul warns us not to become partners with sons of apathy, with those who have hardened their heart to God’s Word, which He sent to save us.  We continually need the reminder of what we truly are and what is really important:

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.

Walking in the darkness without God doesn’t lead anywhere good.  Even if you were at one time darkness, now you are light in the Lord.  If at one time you followed your heart and followed the example of unbelievers around you, if you were wise in your own eyes and didn’t want anyone to tell you otherwise—you are now light in the Lord.  Separate your heart from the ways of those in darkness.  You cannot join with them in celebrating the evil they do.  By living as children of light, expose what is darkness in this world—no matter how socially accepted it is, no matter how you may be slandered because you refuse.

Rather, love all people the way that God does.  He doesn’t want even His enemies to stay lost in darkness and error, of apathy and judgment.  So, He shines the light of His Word to you, to them.  Through you, He calls out to them:

“Awake, O sleeper,

and arise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It was significantly less challenging to walk as a Christian in years gone by, when social norms and ethics agreed with the Christian worldview—things like modesty, speech, and standards for decency.  If Paul said the days were evil, we can see how true that is more and more each year.  And Christians living in 21st century America certainly need help knowing what the will of our Lord is.  It’s easy to find out the will of other people—watch a movie, turn on the TV, talk to non-Christian friends.  You will get their view, the things they value and what’s acceptable to them.  But for us, it takes purposeful study to know the will of the Lord.  It takes reading His Word regularly.  It’s nothing elaborate, and we are truly blessed with easy access to God’s holy Word.  Just start reading through the New Testament, the Gospels or the Epistles, or both.  Save Revelation for later, because it will likely cause more confusion than clarity.

There in the Scriptures, you will see what God has created and redeemed you for, and how He is at work to sanctify you as His own child.  Don’t delight in alcohol the way the world does. Rather, be filled with the Holy Spirit, who fills your mouth not with words that need recalling, but with true godly words.  Open your lips with Psalms instead of cursing, sing hymns and spiritual songs instead of whatever drivel pop singers do.  And be filled with thanksgiving instead of fear, anger, or posturing.  Those things are the way of the world and your sinful flesh, which has no patience to wait for God to answer. 

Give thanks to God continually, because He has brought you out of darkness and death to light and life through His Son.  Christians have faced this and worse before, and the Lord has brought them through.  He will preserve us, so let us seek His counsel and pray for His help:

Almighty and most merciful God, in this earthly life we endure sufferings and death before we enter into eternal glory. Grant us grace at all times to subject ourselves to Your holy will and to continue steadfast in the true faith to the end of our lives that we may know the peace and joy of the blessed hope of the resurrection of the dead and of the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Baptism of Inara Fae Means

Readings: 1 Kings 19:1-8 | Ephesians 4:17-5:2 | John 6:35–51

Text: Ephesians 4:17—5:2

Everyone has desires and needs, ideals for which they strive, a sense of how it should be.  But do we stop and think where that comes from?

While humanity was originally created the image and likeness of God, sin has come into the world and deformed what began as a good creation.  And this is what we experience in our lives.  We have an idea of good versus bad, but there’s also a sense that something is missing. 

          26 Then God said, “Let us

         make man in our image, after

         our likeness. And let them have

          dominion over the fish of the

          sea and over the birds of the

          heavens and over the livestock

          and over all the earth and over

          every creeping thing that

          creeps on the earth.”

         27 So God created man in his

         own image, in the image of God

         he created him; male and female

         he created them.

                  (Genesis 1:26-27)

But then sin entered the world, and something was fundamentally changed about humanity. In biblical terms, we lost the image of God. Now, as descendants of the first man and woman, we bear the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3).  You could think of it like copies from a corrupted original, or forming something out of polluted material.

What God created as good is broken.  Got breathed life into man, but now that life is stolen away by death (sometimes quite prematurely).  He meticulously created the body with all the parts working together, but now there’s deformities and disease.

What God created as good is also corrupted: religion, the spiritual life before God, is used as a means for men to aggrandize themselves, exercise social control, and make themselves seem pleasing before God.  Rulership is abused to control and deprive others rather than serve them.  Both of these we see in Ahab and Jezebel seeking to kill Elijah because he called out their false worship (1 Kings 19:1-3).

Our ability to detect good is also skewed. The sensors have lost their calibration.  They can’t accurately detect where the plumb line should be.  The human conscience, which was made to tell right from wrong, is able to excuse what is contrary to nature, like when we justify slaughtering innocent lives and call it women’s healthcare, or construct artificial distinctions between biological and identity.  With these broken senses, objective truth is rejected in favor of what “feels right” or “makes the most sense to us.”  And finally, our appetites are for things that do not satisfy like when we look for all good in another person only to have our hopes dashed, and when we find more delight in our favorite TV shows than in pouring over the very words of our Creator.  In the Lord’s words of John 6, we “work for food which perishes, [not for] the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives to us.” (John 6:27)

This is what sin has done to humanity, and if we were left to our own devices, we would never discover the root cause.  We know people have tried to put their finger on it (just to name a few): the real problem is that we have unfulfilled desires so we must purge ourselves of all desire (Buddhist), cure this or that disease so that people live longer; eliminate racism by eliminating privilege of all kinds.  While these scratch the surface of the problem, all people are able to see is fogged by warped minds, wills, and emotions.  Remember those broken sensors.

But there is good news. There is rescue.  Our Creator has not just handed us over to our own groping in the dark.  The One who made heaven and earth and us in it, has come to our aid.  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that He has done what humanity, what you and I, so desperately needed!  He came to reverse all that is wrong with us, and with the world.  But unlike our solutions that only treat the symptoms, He goes to the root cause.  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” (John 6:40)  And this He does by putting Himself in our place: He answered for our guilt, the evils we think, say, and do, with His own holy, innocent life.  God, who has been teaching atonement by a substitute from the get-go gives His Son as the truly innocent and all-sufficient substitute for the sins of all people.

God the Son takes death head-on by enduring it Himself.  He died so that He would save us from futile birth and his beautiful creation left in decay.  The Son rose because death had no claim on Him, and Jesus came the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29).  This is the hope of all hope which the Gospel gives to all who believe: “the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.” (Apostles’ Creed)

But contrary to popular belief, being a Christian isn’t about “dying and going to heaven.”  God delivers this good news in a concrete way to us each day as we both live under the curse of sin and death, and in the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life.  The hope begins here on earth, today in our lives. 

It began today for Inara, where God gave her the rescue which she never could have found for herself.  Her Creator wants for her to be saved from the futility of life apart from Him, of living with the sin she inherited, and the sins has committed since.  He does not want her to be left to bandaid, rationalizing human fixes for her sin.  This is what people do when they feel the disparity between what their God-given conscience says and see something bad they’ve done.  But God, in His love, does not want us to drown in our guilt or sugar-coat it or drown out the nagging voice.

In love for Inara—and, really, for every person—He gives a new birth in Baptism.  Jesus Himself explains, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5)  We all recognize our natural birthday, but in Baptism, building on that natural birth to our parents, God gives a birth which is full of eternal blessings.  God promises something incredible: “He saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6)  A washing with the power to recreate and renew, to be the start of God’s restoration of humanity and the world with us.

The best way to see the difference the Gospel makes is in comparing it to the absence of hope.  After describing the ignorance, futility, and callousness of men and women without God, the Apostle Paul instructs us not by experience or what is popular, or even what is most traditional.  He points us to Christ:

         20 But that is not the way you

         learned Christ!— 21 assuming

         that you have heard about him

         and were taught in him, as the

         truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off

         your old self, which belongs to

         your former manner of life and

         is corrupt through deceitful

         desires, 23 and to be renewed in

          the spirit of your minds, 24 and

          to put on the new self, created

          after the likeness of God in true

          righteousness and holiness.

God begins that work of a restored human race in His Christians.  No doubt, we still have many vestiges of first birth, but living in the new birth we have from God, we depart from the ways of corrupt humanity, and put on the new self, the renewed version of you who God is busy restoring and pressing toward the new creation.

This is what humanity is meant to look like!  We might be tempted to tune that out, because we’ve heard so many human ideas of what this ought to be, but they’ve either been false hopes or incomplete.  So listen to this, with an ear open to your Creator:

         25 Therefore, having put away

         falsehood, let each one of you

         speak the truth with his

         neighbor, for we are members

         one of another. 26 Be angry and

         do not sin; do not let the sun go

         down on your anger, 27 and give

         no opportunity to the devil.

         28 Let the thief no longer steal,

         but rather let him labor, doing

         honest work with his own hands,

         so that he may have something

         to share with anyone in need.

         29 Let no corrupting talk come

         out of your mouths, but only

         such as is good for building up,

         as fits the occasion, that it may

         give grace to those who hear.

         30 And do not grieve the Holy

         Spirit of God, by whom you were

         sealed for the day of


         31 Let all bitterness and wrath

         and anger and clamor and

         slander be put away from you,

         along with all malice. 32 Be kind

         to one another, tenderhearted,

         forgiving one another, as God in

         Christ forgave You.

Do you hear all those ways God is restoring you and me?  You are not an island, but a member of one another so treat others with love and nipping resentment in the bud before it has time to stink and fester inside you.  Rather than grabbing for whatever you can get your hands on, as a renewed human being and child of God, you see property as something as something which comes from God who gives good gifts for our use and for us to share in times of need.  Your tongue is for building up others, not a weapon to curse and destroy.  And you see other people the way God sees them and you—as lives worth the precious blood of Jesus.  Remember, He died even for His enemies.

This is what God works in His children, working through the new birth He has given to Inara, and to you in Baptism.  Now, we won’t see this fully realized until the Resurrection, but it’s in progress.  And of course God forces no one into this, but He actually does give us a new heart to want these things, to delight in being what He has created us to be, and to hate what sin has done to us and the world.  So, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Paul summarizes in today’s reading, saying: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  And our prayer is that this is what each of our lives would be: dying to the old way inherited from our natural birth, being forgiven for our failures, and living in the start of an eternal life before God, which is ours through Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 16:2–15 | Ephesians 4:1–16 | John 6:22–35

Text: Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16

God always provides.  This is something we acknowledge (most of the time) in our lives.  We prayed earlier in Psalm 145,

            15    The eyes of all look to you,

                        and you give them their

                        food in due season.

            16    You open your hand;

                        you satisfy the desire of

                        every living thing.

And these are fitting words before sitting down for a meal, acknowledging that what we have, even if we bought it at Safeway, Winco, Walmart, is truly from God’s gracious hand, just as our Lord says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matt. 6:31-32)

God always provides.  It isn’t just a platitude, even if sometimes it’s used as a flippant way to brush off concern about how.  This is a truth, and it is the antidote to anxiety about our needs in this world.  As the Psalm continues:

          18     The Lord is near to all who

                call on him,

                     to all who call on him in


          19   He fulfills the desire of

                those who fear him;

                     he also hears their cry

                     and saves them.

          20   The Lord preserves all

                who love him

When we feel like the Lord is distant from our circumstances, He is truly near.  If we worry that He will fall short on what we need, He fulfills our needs, hears their cry and saves them from all danger.  When we are ready to throw up our hands, it is the Lord who preserves His people who love Him.

So all this we believe about God providing for all His creatures, and protecting us against anxiety and fear.  And while this is an area we’re particularly vulnerable to worry, there is also another big blind spot for Christians.  St. Paul writes to the Church in Ephesians 4:

            I therefore, a prisoner for the

            Lord, urge you to walk in a

            manner worthy of the calling

            to which you have been called,

            with all humility and

            gentleness, with patience,

            bearing with one another in

            love, eager to maintain the

            unity of the Spirit in the bond

            of peace. There is one body

            and one Spirit—just as you

            were called to the one hope

            that belongs to your call—

            one Lord, one faith, one

            baptism, one God and Father

            of all, who is over all and

            through all and in all.

Even though he was bound in prison because of preaching that Jesus is the Christ, Paul’s own eyes had seen the mighty power of God at work in the Church.  He had heard the Spirit’s voice and witnessed His power to call through the Gospel of Jesus.  By the power of God, Paul had been thrown down on the road to Damascus and had his whole life’s work turned around (Acts 9).  The Churches had seen, that “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Gal. 1:23)  He was the instrument of bringing scores of Gentile unbelievers to know the One True God—from those visiting synagogues to even the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16).

Suffice to say, St. Paul knows something about the calling of God to belong to Him as beloved children, and the gathering of His children into one Church.  This is what befits those who are called by the Gospel: that we “walk in humility and meekness, with patience and bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (vv. 2-3)  This begins with realizing how gracious God is to call us into His Church, that there is no resume which made us rise above others.  Rather, there was a record of debt that stood against us, but God took this and nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:14). We walk in humility or meekness, because we are not looking to draw attention to us or brag about our accomplishments, realizing there is nothing for us to boast about except in Jesus Christ crucified for us.  And we are patient, trusting that all things happen as part of God’s eternal purpose.  Just as He numbers all the hairs of our head, not one soul will enter into judgment apart from His knowledge and desire to save them.

We recognize that one thing we all have in common is we are all sinners in need of mercy and each with our own weaknesses and needs.  So, we band together in mutual support, having compassion, praying for our brothers and sisters.  Together, we also rejoice in the other thing we all have in common: Our merciful God whose Holy Spirit has knit the Church together, and it’s a joy when we can share this common bond with other Christians, no matter by what path they came to this bond of peace.  Here is the truth that there are no denominations after this broken earth passes away, because “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  And even though there are edifying reasons to be called Evangelical Lutheran, this is what we confess together, when we believe in “one holy, Christian [catholic], and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed)

But this isn’t always what the Church looks like on earth, and that comes from the way we look at the Church.  The time it’s hardest to see this in the Church is when we doubt that the Church is truly God’s creation.  We think that it’s the work of our hands—our skillful manipulation, the pastor’s golden-mouthed sermons, having fun and engaging youth programs, what good stewards we are and how proud we are of holding no debt.  But what this leads to is the very opposite of what St. Paul describes.  Out of the church of our own hands comes a panoply of adulterations of Christ’s Church: We practice pride at what we have done or might do.  We are arrogant to think we can improve upon the Means of Grace God has appointed. We are impatient with the fruit of the preached Word, which leads us to think He’s failing in our time and place (or self-flagellation that we’re doing it wrong).  The church of our hands also finds more and more reasons to divide and ascertain who are “in” or “out” or who’s “doing church” the best.

Repent, all of us, for we have made an idol of God’s Church!  “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:13).   And in returning to our mighty and loving God, we see again that the Church and our place in it is 100% His work, even if it should be carried out by human hands:

          But grace was given to each

          one of us according to the

          measure of Christ’s gift.

          Therefore it says, “When he

          ascended on high he led a host

          of captives, and he gave gifts to


          (In saying, “He ascended,”

          what does it mean but that he

          had also descended into the

          lower regions, the earth? 10 He

          who descended is the one who

          also ascended far above all the

          heavens, that he might fill all

          things.) 11 And he gave the

          apostles, the prophets, the

          evangelists, the shepherds and

          teachers, 12 to equip the saints

          for the work of ministry, for

          building up the body of Christ,

God always provides for His Church from beginning to end.  And because this is God’s Church, we marvel at how He does this.  Just as we thank God for what He provides through government and grocery store, we also thank God for how He provides for His Church through human hands.  He ascended on high and gave gifts to men: the gifts which are needed for growing His Church: the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures (remember, these are the foundation, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone, Eph. 2:20).  He provides evangelists who preach this Word here and all over the world—some whose lives are devoted as missionaries (Paul, in addition to be an apostle was one), and others who share the faith in a number of ways in their daily interactions.  But the Lord isn’t done.  He also gives shepherd-teachers:[1] pastors who keep watch over people’s soul’s, study the Word, and teach all the saints (young and old).

Through these human workers, the Church is equipped, the work of ministry is accomplished, and the Body of Christ is built up.

          13 until we all attain to the

          unity of the faith and of the

          knowledge of the Son of God,

          to mature manhood, to the

          measure of the stature of the

          fullness of Christ, 14 so that we

          may no longer be children,

          tossed to and fro by the waves

          and carried about by every

          wind of doctrine, by human

          cunning, by craftiness in

          deceitful schemes. 15 Rather,

          speaking the truth in love, we

          are to grow up in every way

          into him who is the head, into

          Christ, 16 from whom the

          whole body, joined and held

          together by every joint with

          which it is equipped, when

          each part is working properly,

          makes the body grow so that it

          builds itself up in love.

Yes, it’s human hands which He uses, but it is the same Almighty Lord who is working in His Church.  When we read about the Acts of the Apostles, we shouldn’t wish for the glory days of years past, wringing our hands like old men who dream about what we used to be able to do.  With faith in the very same God, we believe that He is working in His Church in 2021 with the same powerful Word and Spirit as He did in generations before us.

In fact, we need to cling to this even more because we see the world gaining popularity and acceptance in its own wickedness.  With each passing generation, it takes more intentionality and perseverance to belong to this Christian Church.  If we look for the strength to do this in ourselves, there would be little to hope for.  One time several pastors were subjected to a presentation where the Lutheran church was compared to the Titanic sinking.  But this is not the fate of God’s Church, because even the gates of hell shall not prevail against God’s calling people to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Matt. 16:18).

But just as we have to work our jobs to have income, participate as citizens to have good government, and take care of our bodies to have good health, we also need to work in the Church.  In order for the Church to be strong, it is our duty to take hold of the treasures God gives us, to read His precious Word, be ready to share the reason for the hope with us, and support the shepherd-teachers in our midst.  So, this doesn’t exonerate us from work, but it does free us from worry.

So, to paraphrase the Lord Jesus, Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘How shall we be relevant?’ or ‘What can we do to make this old-fashioned religion last?’32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

In conclusion, let’s return to Psalm 145, and apply it to the Bread of Life, which our God gives to the world, and in which His Church delights:

            10    All your works shall give

                     thanks to You, O Lord,

                        and Your saints shall bless


            11    They shall speak of the glory

                     of Your kingdom

                        and tell of your power.

            12    to make known the children

                     of man your mighty deeds,

                        and the glorious splendor

                        of Your kingdom.

            13    Your kingdom is an

                     everlasting kingdom,

                        and your dominion endures

                        throughout all generations

            14    The Lord upholds all who are


                        and raises up all who are

                       bowed down.

            21    My mouth will speak the

                     praises of the Lord,

                        and let all flesh bless His

                       holy name forever and ever.


[1] See ESV footnote after “teachers”