Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Genesis 2:7-17 | Romans 6:19-23 | Mark 8:1-9

Text: Mark 8:1-6

What do you think about food?  You like it?  I do, too.  I’m sure we could share some enthusiastic stories about our favorite meals.

What would you do to get it?  When we’re children, it’s given to us.  But when we get older and move out of the nest, suddenly food means work.  Either you have to work more and afford the restaurant bill or the groceries and time to make food yourself.  On a rare occasion, you may be invited to something where they just feed you for being there.

A less comfortable question, How long could you go without it? and What would happen to you if you had to go without it?  These are unpleasant things to consider, and it’s this situation that the crowd in the Gospel finds themselves.  Jesus gathers a crowd around Himself, into a wilderness place, knowing full well that they have nothing to eat, not just for several hours but “now three days.” 

It’s in this privation that our Lord is unveiling just who He is and what kind of God and Savior He is.  Though their hungering and isolation, God is showing that


  1. God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we beseech our Father, “give us this day our daily bread,” which seems like a very mundane request.  Didn’t Jesus also teach, “your heavenly Father knows you need all these.” (Matt. 6:32)  Of course He knows it.  The Old Testament lesson (Genesis 2:7-17) brings us back to our origin and gives us insight about why we desire and need food: God made this world, and us in it.  He created us to be dependent on Him.

Do you know what is most successful at attracting people to an event? Food.  That’s because even in our sinful state, all people recognize that food is necessary and most of the time, eating is enjoyable.  But because of what happened in Genesis 3, we don’t recognize that this desire is the result of our created nature.  Yet all people, from the moment they are born, know the urge.

Lutherans, after the humor of Garrison Keillor, are teased for always having food close at hand.  Rightly understood, good food can be enjoyed with thanksgiving to God (as I hope we will do after service today).  But when that is taken away, what happens?  Our sinful nature lashes out in complaint, forgetting all ways God has supported us undeservedly these many years.

Similarly, because Martin Luther lived in a time of much beer, many followers of his theology also enjoy what some affectionately call “cold Lutheran beverages.”  But like the full belly resulting from fellowship meals, we are prone to gluttonously crave the enjoyment of the gift and despise the giver of that gift. 

  1. But we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

So, what is Jesus up to with this feeding miracle?  The answer to that is found in looking back through the last couple chapters before this in Mark, beginning with the Feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6.  In a string of encounters, each of them contribute to the understanding of just who Jesus is, so that we creatures don’t worship gifts apart from the Giver of them.

In the feeding of the 5,000, in a desolate place, Jesus provides food for a great crowd, thus showing Himself as the originator of divine Providence.  When Jesus walks on the water, He shows His disciples that He is the Creator Himself, come with human feet.  Across the lake in Gennesaret, the incarnate Creator visits man under the shadow of death and rolls back for a time the curse of death.

When He debates with the Pharisees He begins to take up the topic of the body, food, and worship of the one, true God.  Here, He shows them that worship does not happen through the food, but by a heart cleansed from the true defilement of hardness and sin. 

The reverse of hardness of heart is displayed in the Syrophoenician woman, an alien to Israel, but who acknowledges her unworthiness and faith in Jesus, whereby Jesus commands the unclean spirit and her daughter is freed of the devil’s tyranny.

That brings one to this text.  Again a crowd, again no food in a desolate place.  But, the Lord of creation is present, and it says He is moved with compassion for this mass of trembling sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  This same God of Providence, the Lord of all Creation, who “took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matt. 8:17, Isa. 53:4), who desires to rescue all mankind from sin, death, and the devil—has come to this crowd.   Even though sin may have blinded many of them to what was happening in their midst, we have been given the Holy Spirit to see and worship Jesus for who He is for us.

This portion of the Holy Gospel is catechesis meant to bring us back to the Garden.  There, Adam and his wife were provided for so richly that they truly had “not a care in the world.”  So, for us who are to be heirs of the world to come, whom God has “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our fathers” (1 Pet. 1:18), this is how He sanctifies and restores us to a right knowledge of us as creatures, He as our Creator.  Who is the one who is the giver of food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all we have?  And if we recognize Him for that—and that none of us deserve even one crumb because of our disobedience—then how much we ought to thank and praise Him for every earthly gift!

  1. Even more needed than the things for this body and life, are the things for our soul.

The lesson of the Feeding miracles is not merely that Jesus is a wonderworker or a divine vending machine.  It’s meant to awaken our faith that God cares for our souls through our bodies.  By faith, we understand that every piece of “daily bread” which He provides is a reason to worship and adore Him for His goodness and faithful care.  The list of things meant by daily bread in the Catechism—”food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors”—are an intentional exercise in seeing our God compassion for us in our bodily life.  By faith, we see ourselves as more than material, more than just sentient hunks of flesh.  We are creatures of God—and beloved creatures at that!

This little word, “compassion,” in the Gospel speaks to just what an intimate act the incarnation.  As I’ve mentioned before, it means to have your guts wrenched.  It’s a word which doesn’t appear anywhere in the Greek Old Testament,[1] because something monumental happened—“the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” (John 1:14)  The Creator took on our created nature.  He is intimately involved, intimately invested in our existence.  This cannot be said of any other creature in the universe! (This is how I respond to questions about intelligent life on other planets. If there is, they aren’t as important to God as mankind, nor is their redemption for them.)

And you can take this compassion to its fullest, even to the cross: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)  For these ungrateful, slow of heart, rebels, God gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  Not perish in the sense of starvation, but in the true worst fate: being cut off from God eternally.

Just as God’s mercy is enacted bodily in His Son, so our spiritual life is lived out in the body.  Your faith and your creaturely life are bound up together.  With your ears, you hear the Word of God and the Holy Spirit creates and renews faith.  With your mouth, you pray and sing and proclaim the saving work of God to others.  With your possessions and income, you support the ministry of the Gospel and show mercy to those in need.  And, contrary to the unbelieving flesh, we see that the whole foundation of our lives is not the created stuff we can measure and handle; it is in the Creator who declares to us, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)  Whenever we start believing this lie, our Father is gracious to correct us, even making us hunger if necessary, that we might repent and learn this truth once more.

So finally, I’d like to ask the questions I did at the beginning, but not about food.  I want to ask them about the Word of God:

What do you think about the Word of God?  Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps. 1:1)  God has given you a spirit to delight in God’s Word, to crave it, to be nourished by it as true satisfaction.

What would you do to get it?  If you knew of a place where the Word of God was being proclaimed, would you come out in droves as the crowd did to listen to Jesus?  How far would you drive in order to have this imperishable portion for yourself and your family? Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” (Isa. 55:2-3a)

And now, How long could you go without God’s Word?  Here, this calls for somber self-reflection.  If you have ever deprived yourself of God’s Word, you’re playing with a deadly kind of anorexia.  There is great danger in “learning to do without” when it comes to the Word of God.  Man does not live without every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  Yet away from the Word, your dull senses, the world, and the devil are overjoyed to tell you that you actually live by the things of this life.  But He who purchased and won you knows better, and regenerates you with this kind of appetite: As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1-2)

So now come, creatures of the living God, redeemed and forgiven by the precious blood of Christ, washed and renewed each day by the Holy Spirit, and taste and see that the Lord is good, and He is here for you both in body and soul.  In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

[1] 2 Macc. 6:8 uses the pagan sacrificial sense of the word: “Moreover there went out a decree to the neighbour cities of the heathen, by the suggestion of Ptolemee, against the Jews, that they should observe the same fashions, and be partakers of their sacrifices”

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Exodus 20:1–17 | Romans 6:1–11 | Matthew 5:17–26

Text: Matthew 5:20-26

For centuries, the first thing those learning the Christian faith encounter is the Ten Commandments. We may think they are elementary, and therefore easy to do. After all, they sound so simple:

  1. You shall have no other gods.
  2. You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.
  3. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not murder.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We would like the Commandments to be tame, manageable. As easy as following the civil laws, such as where to park and the proper way to conduct business. But as we will find out, God our Father gave them to us, knowing they are exactly what we need to hear.

The Gospel reading for today is part of what’s called the Sermon on the Mount. Most of us are familiar with the very beginning, the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven,” and so on. Then Jesus compares Christians to the light of the world and salt of the earth, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matt. 5:14) In the part read today, He begins to explain God’s Law and its relation to the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as if we were learning the faith all over again, He takes us to the Ten Commandments. If you thought the thunder and lightning of Mount Sinai were scary, listen to how the Lord explains the Fifth Commandment:

21“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:20–26)

“You shall not murder,” we heard Moses say, and we feel pretty good if we haven’t actually ended anyone’s life. This commandment however, might plague someone whose work might include ending another’s life, as with soldiers and peace officers.  Here it is extremely important for one’s conscience to remember the distinction between office and person. Being an agent of the state, it is part of the job description: “He is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:4)  A Christian, according to their duty in the police force or in the armed forces, can serve blamelessly in being the one who carries out God’s justice in this world.

This is also applies to what is called the Castle Doctrine, the right to defend one’s own home with deadly force. Without getting into legal nuance, as Christians we see this as the duty of the office of a head of household protecting the lives of spouse and children. The fifth commandment forbids vigilantism and private revenge, because outside of the office, the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (see Rom. 12:19-20, citing Deut. 32:35)

Here in Matthew 5, our Lord is applying the Commandment to how it impacts each of us every day. One commentator explains, “Jesus says that the commandment extends to…resentment and anger against someone. Such anger is itself a violation on man made in the image of God. God cannot accept our offering if we are angry with our brother (vv. 23–24)”[1]  So, while this Commandment does not apply to the full extent every day, it shows us what lies behind sinful murder: resentment and hatred, casting other people off without thought of their Creator.

This is how it is with all of the commandments: they do not just speak to outward actions, where we can put on a good show before others. Rather, the Law of God exposes the sinful motives. It shows us how, from our hearts, we have “lived as if God did not matter, and as if I mattered most.” (LSB 292, Individual Confession).

In a sense, the Law of God can be compared to juggling plates. You’re handed one, and that’s okay. Two is a little harder, three a little more difficult. Then, four, five, six, all the way to ten. You are going to drop and break them, because our sin is more than we can manage, and God wants us to recognize that.

Consider this incident at Mount Sinai where the Law was first given:

15Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. 16The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets…19And as soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the [golden] calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it.” (Exodus 32:15–20)

If the Commandments are so elementary, then it should be easy to keep them. You work hard to keep them diligently. So what’s the problem? It’s the reality of your sin. David says, “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2)  None of us has the ability to keep ourselves together and avoid breaking the commandments. They speak not just to our actions, but also the thoughts and intents of our heart. We are going to break the Law, and when it does—as often as it does—our confidence can’t be in our obedience to the Law.

The Law of God is also like charming a snake. You think you’ve got it under control and suddenly it lashes out and bites you.

Just like this:

4From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:4–6)

You know better than trying to master all Ten Commandments. Maybe you’d be content to conquer one or two that you really struggle with. You want to be more loving and patient toward people, and you’re doing well for a while. You’ve got a problem with internet porn, and you think you’re finally stronger than you used to be. You try really hard to be content with what God has given you, and for a while you have a time of clarity. You think you’ve gotten the upper hand on your weakness.

But then it happens again. The old worry takes over your heart and you make hasty plans without prayer. Your weak flesh is led away by the faintest reminder and those old evil fires are kindled again. A friend of yours makes a big ticket purchase and you curse God because it isn’t you who gets something new and shiny.

The Law cannot and will not be mastered by any of us sinners. It will always exercise its power over our members. Remember the experience of even St. Paul:

18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18–24)

When you run up against the holy Ten Commandments, your only hope is this: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25)  It is this glorious Gospel that Jesus brings you to after you have been broken by the Law.

As you stand amid the proverbial rubble of the stone tablets, hear the Word of the Lord from Colossians 2:

13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14)

The Lord has taken your sin away from you. He took it to the cross and died your justly-deserved sentence. You are forgiven and free.

To you in your pitiful, frustrating weakness, bitten by the snakes of sins you thought you could master, this is the Gospel of the Lord to you:

14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14–15)

Those bitten by the serpents in the wilderness were commanded to look up to the bronze serpent and live. Look up to Jesus hanging on the cross, naked and shameful, receiving the wrath you and I have deserved. Now look at your Baptism: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4)   Here, your God has clothed you with the holiness of His Son; weak, and yet giving you strength; defeated, giving you a share in His victory over sin and Satan and the grave.

Beloved of God, Christ says, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  He has done it all for you to give you the righteousness though which you may enter the Kingdom of heaven. This is how our Lord explains the Law in light of the Kingdom of heaven, so that “no human being may boast in the presence of God”[2] and as many as believe may rejoice in the gift of salvation which Jesus alone gained for us. As St. Paul writes in Philippians 3:9, this is what it means to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.”  Amen.

[1] Iain Campbell, “Opening Up Matthew”

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:29

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Confirmation of Landon Carter & Gwendolyn Zorko

Readings: Genesis 50:15–21 | Romans 8:18–23 | Luke 6:36–42

Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15

St. Peter’s first epistle to the Church is beautifully appropriate and informative for the Church today.  It was first written to the Christians who were scattered after persecution grew more severe, and it was clear just how at-odds the Christian Gospel was with, not just the Jews, but the world in which they lived.

In our day, we are still recovering from the generations when it was okay to be a Christian in public, and actually meant that you were a respectable member of society.  Sometimes today, it feels like being a confessing Christian is swimming upstream against a waterfall.  Holding a biblical worldview is increasingly rare.  It’s a rare thing to belong to a Church body that publicly confesses God’s supernatural work in six days of creation, the God-given sanctity of human life, the good creation and distinction between male and female.  How uncommon it is to see people live out this Psalm verse: “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.” (Ps. 119:46-47)  We hold to these truths not because we are traditionalists, but because we belong to the true God.

This Epistle in particular comforts us by teaching that the suffering and rejection that we experience in the world is actually not surprising.  After addressing matters of how a child of God will find themselves living as strangers in society, how those who are married are to live together, St. Peter turns to every Christian—how appropriate on a day where two young Christians are confirming the faith God has given them!

They are nervous because today is being treated differently from other days.  But please allow me to take the spotlight off of them, and shine it on all of us equally:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

Alienation is not something that stops after you graduate from high school.  For Christians, our alienation begins at our Baptism: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:3, 6)  There in the waters of Baptism, we receive a new birth that marks us as different, set apart, “holy to the Lord.” [Exod. 39:30]  And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lord would just take us home, or at the very least, give us a nice colony where we could be around just other believers?  But that isn’t how it works.  He leaves us as we are in the world, with this birth from above and the vestiges of our unspiritual flesh.  We don’t fit in with the world—we can’t fit in—but we still have our flesh that wants to fit in and does what the rest of the world does.

Our birth from above gives us the light and power to walk in the Spirit, and not follow after the way of the flesh.  The way of God’s child is to have unity of mind, not division by earthly distinctions—skin color, ethnicity, language, social group, or wealth.  The way of God’s child is to sympathize with one another, not close our hearts to cancel others and say I’ve got one less problem without you.  The way of God’s child is love for our brothers, not a thin tolerance that gives each other only the bare minimum.  The heart of God’s child is the work of God Himself: Compassion and humility—both qualities our Lord Jesus Himself displayed: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless” and “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” (Matt. 9:36, 11:29)  He has a heart that is vulnerable for others.  Compassion means to be moved in your guts—to grieve with those who grieve, rejoice with those who rejoice, and share the burdens of those in need.  Lowly means to abase yourself, choosing to consider the needs of others before your own.  It’s no easy task when the messages around us encourage us to take care of ourselves first, and isolate from those who are different or cause us pain.  Rather than “everyone for himself,” our lives as God’s children are for the purpose of blessing others.

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” [cited from Psalm 34:12-16]

These are not empty human words, a motivational speech to spur us into better living.  This is God with us, who has given us the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)  God is with us as we walk through this world, bringing His blessing to our friends and enemies alike.

But, as God well knows, His blessing often not well-received:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

Blessing those who curse us, but in that suffering, we are actually blessed by God.  Fear is removed, because we do not live by the acceptance of others; we live by the acceptance of God through His Son.  Our identity in Baptism—where God knew us before we were born and here in time named us with His own Name, bestowing faith, peace, and an eternal future on us—is firmer than the fickle favor of society.  It endures even when the closest of family ties are strained.  The bond we have in the Spirit is closer than we have with even our friends who we’ve known the longest and the most.  This is the rock upon which your life is founded—your ground of being.

Christ the Lord is holy to us, even as He has set us apart to be holy to Him.  He is our highest good here in time and there in eternity, because He has loved us and blessed us with the gifts of forgiveness, joy, peace, and hope that outlast this world and its trouble.

Christ our Lord desires this life for every human.  People not a discardable entity, an accident, a hot mess, or a dumpster fire; each person is a sacred creation of God the Father, whom He values so much that He shed the blood of His own Son to save from the devil, rebellion, and eternal destruction.  He blesses our fellow human creatures by putting His Word on our lips.

So, I’d like to come back to what we’re doing today with this rite of Confirmation.  In the words echoing from Luther’s Small Catechism, “Was ist das?” / or as we know it, “What does this mean?”

There are several misunderstandings about Confirmation that should be cleared up first.  In case you didn’t know, Confirmation as a rite was never specifically commanded by the Lord.  The result of confirmation certainly happened: Peter and the other apostles were beaten for preaching Jesus, but they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41)  Paul suffered for the sake of Christ’s Name, nevertheless “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities… purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech… through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise…10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:4-10) (Acts 9:16).  And Timothy, who “fought to food fight of the faith, [taking] hold of the eternal life to which [he] was called and about which [he] made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Tim. 6:12)

But in practice Confirmation often takes its cues from our own imagination.  For some, it’s nothing more than a coming-of-age ceremony, since it happens usually in middle or high school.  Then it becomes little more than a reason to have cake and receive unexpected gifts, and now you’re free to either come to church or forget everything and live like everyone else.  This is the rationalist side of it, that just sees the outward, the material.  This is also where the graduation analogy haunts pastors and members of the congregation, as they see these confirmands today, but rarely ever again, as if the pews and parish hall were as inappropriate to revisit as your high school once you had diploma in hand.

Confirmation can also be misunderstood in the other direction: That it gives you some additional grace which you did not previously have.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “By Conformation, Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit…By this anointing the confirmand receives the ‘mark,’ the seal of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1295).  But to this, I ask, where is the Scripture which backs this up?  Where does Scripture teach a specific grace given beyond what is already bestowed in Baptism, besides the various gifts of the Spirit which manifest themselves as we serve God and our neighbor?

It also might be misunderstood that after today, these two young people become “full” members of the congregation, where before they were some kind of 2nd class passengers, because today they are welcomed to the Lord’s altar.  It’s understandable, if we see the Lord’s Supper as a privilege we earn by our studies.  I’ll save this topic for another sermon, but suffice to say now, confirmation is not a prerequisite for beneficially receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the fellowship of this altar. But more on that another day.

But what is confirmation to be?  It is the point where you have been called by the Gospel in your Baptism, matured in your own faith and study, and are able to articulate your faith and understand why you are a Christian and why you make this confession.  Confirmation is where you assume the responsibility of being a public Christian.  And how great this responsibility is in these last days!

For such a great task, we need, first of all the Holy Spirit’s grace, who our Lord promises to send in our need: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) and “Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

You need support in the Body of Christ, because from here on it will only get more complicated and difficult.  “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness.  Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and subordinate to their own husbands” (Titus 2:2-5)   This congregation is not a club, but one piece of the Body of Christ here in Lebanon, and if we are to endure the blessed sufferings of belonging to Christ, we need to do so together, caring about and caring for one another.

And finally, we continually need to pray for one another.  We already do, every time we beseech our Father as His Son taught us. But I would urge you to pause in your praying of the Our Father, and put a name to your brothers and sisters that they would hallow God’s Name in their lives, or that His Kingdom would come to more people in this world, or for whatever trials we bear that God’s will is done, that He forgive us when we sin, that He aid each other against temptation, and when His purpose is fulfilled for each of us, that He take us to Himself in eternity.

Landon and Gwen, and all the saints gathered here, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thess. 5:23-24) In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Genesis 50:15-21 | Romans 8:18-23 | Luke 6:36-42

Text: Luke 6:36-42

We are living in what could possibly be the most judgmental period in human history.  Despite the efforts of previous generations to teach us not to be judgmental, the pendulum has swung back sharply and made us and the society we live in into critical monsters.  Judging makes small men feel big, gives us a feeling of control in a chaotic world. We vainly imagine that we sit above it all, objective, fair, and wise, ready to weigh in with wit and insight that will garner the approval of others on and offline.

This is an age of great delusion, a time of chauvinism where we believe we can look with superiority over the actions and motives of others.  Not only do we think that we’re competent to judge every decision which our supervisor makes, but even the public policies of nations and the way the neighbor cuts his grass. We think that we’re competent to understand complicated scientific and societal problems.  After all, didn’t we read that 900-word article on the topic that our friend shared on Facebook?  Didn’t we skim what Google has carefully curated for us?  Ask anyone their opinion of masks, vaccines, and health policy, and you’re sure to bring the expert out in each of us. 

Repent. These are all vanities. They do some harm, but we do worse. Technology has enabled and encouraged us toward judgment. We have laughed at compilations of America’s Dumbest Criminals. From the safety of the screen, we have been self-righteously disgusted with what media outlets and YouTube has showed us. Still, we have been worse. We have looked at our own family and friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and silently, or quietly behind their backs, labelled them idiots because they dared to have an opinion different than ours — as though we were all-wise and perfectly educated and reasonable and had the right to judge them. According to Jesus if you call a man a fool—even that man can’t hear you, even if he is only an image on a screen—then you are in danger of Hellfire. Don’t brush off the words of Jesus. That is what He says, and He means it. Repent.

Judging in these ways is unbefitting of our calling. It is condemned by the 8th commandment. Even if the judgments were accurate or fair, even of your brother-in-law is a fool, these judgements would damn us. They hurt people. They damage our faith.

The golden rule exposes us:

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

We hate to be judged with the judgment with which we have judged. Who has never been bullied out of fear of judgment into silence or into towing the party line? In our day, a single misstep, the repetition of a thoughtless cliche, or even failure to praise and pander to the right group with the right words can end a career or incite violence. And if that can happen when the one being judged is actually innocent, imagine what happens when we actually deserve judgment, that is when we say something wrong or ignorant or mean out of stress or pain. You could be the next “Karen”—a called out white woman, that the world feels superior to and you could lose your job and your family and friends because of it.

We would be fools to not be careful in this social climate, but even so we are weak. We sometimes lash out in that weakness, from pain or fear or exhaustion. We sometimes cave to our baser desires. And if we weren’t enough of a problem in ourselves, the world’s standards are ever changing. We cannot appease them for the prince of this world is the father of lies. He loves the judging, the plotting, the putting on of appearances. If we think that we must win his approval through the world’s judgment we will be driven either to self-righteous delusion or to despair.

Instead, turn to Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is more ready and eager to forgive than Joseph, of whom we heard in the Old Testament lesson. He has plans for us beyond this groaning world, adoption into His home and the redemption of our bodies. He has been the victim of slander, false accusations, and racism. He has suffered terrible injustice and cruelty. He has been tortured and betrayed and killed. He has borne all this in our place. His sorrow and suffering is our bride price. He has won and paid for us with His own life to free us not only of the punishment that our sins deserve, but also to free us also from judgment. For Christ’s sake we are spared our Father’s wrath and the judgment of the world is moot. He presents us as His immaculate Bride, clean and without blemish, free of the past, of guilt and regret, with eyes only for Him.

That is both a present and a future reality. Our guilt is removed. We are declared righteous by Christ now. And yet, we do not yet fully know this righteousness in our bodies or our minds. We must contend still with our own fallen flesh and the broken world all around us. This is not our home. We do bad things here, failing to live up to God’s Law, and bad things are done to us, some of which we deserve and should expect and some of which we shouldn’t. Thus, we are ever more eager to depart from this world, for us to die is gain.

While we are here, groaning with creation in eager expectation of our revelation to the world as the church, and ourselves as God’s own sons, we fight within ourselves. The old man is daily drowned by the Law. We hear Jesus’ command: “Judge not; condemn not; forgive” and we repent. We recommit and set our wills to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in what is good, in what He gives, in what He says, even if what He says accuses us. And we trust that our salvation is secure in Him, by His grace, not by our keeping of the Law, but by His keeping of the Law and facing judgment for us. We are saved by grace through faith.

When it comes to our own temptation to judge in the ways of the world and our failures to resist it, our repentance and amending our lives means that we must do the work of reconciliation. While the unbelieving world has a loud group of spectators ever ready to judge and criticize all actions by their own fickle standards, our homes and our families and our church do not. We must not. We cannot. We are not spectators, waiting to sweep in on those who make a mistake or who cave in to lust or anger or greed.

We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are bound by forgiveness and compassion. We kneel together in humility and joy. We pray therefore for courage and compassion, that we would act as true friends and companions. We ask that the Spirit would increase our love for one another and give us wisdom so that we would actually care for one another in word and deed and thought.

We are not interested in party slogans or posing as Christians, while we hold bitterness in our hearts. We do not care for code language meant to show that we are in the right tribe or on the right side. We love one another. We, the children of God, always have – even we have acted as though we did.

41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Forgiveness and tolerance are not novel ideals for us in this new, exceedingly judgmental environment. Forgiveness and tolerance are the hallmark of what Christ has done for us, how He sustains us, and who He makes us to be. Our prayer is that God honor us by allowing us to care for one another where it hurts and where we differ. We do not ignore the specks in one another’s eyes, nor do we seek to profit from them or to show our superiority in any way. Let there be no delight in the failure of our enemies or our friends—”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:20-21) We continue, by grace, in what God has begun, in what we learned in the Catechism. We strive to speak and act and even think in love at all times and places, to put the best construction on why specks exist, and to see one another as Christ sees us, in compassion and mercy, and not as competition.

This, the measure that Christ has used with us, even though we have no right to it. In Him, we ask, that we might share His abundant patience and love also with one another and be His Church.  In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Original sermon by Pastor David Petersen of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, IN, adapted by Pastor Michael Miller.

Third Sunday after Trinity

Readings: Micah 7:18–20 | 1 Peter 5:6–11 | Luke 15:1-10

Text: Luke 15:1-10

There are times in Scripture where we can see the truth of God’s work on the lips of His enemies.  Consider how Caiaphas spoke of the Sanhedrin’s plot to kill Jesus in John 11:

Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:49-52)

God used this significant statement for His praise in spite of the desires of speakers.  And a great example of this is here in Luke 15:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling against Jesus because, of all things, He was receiving sinners and eating with them.  What was offensive to them came to be that very thing which Christians have rejoiced in!  It is such glory for us, that we joyfully sing, “Jesus sinners doth receive!  Oh, may all this saying ponder!” (LSB 609:1)

The Pharisees had the wrong idea about Jesus’ person and work—and in that they also despised the very work of the Lord God among the sons of the promise made to Abraham. They refused to believe that Jesus was the Promised Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, sent from the heavenly Father. They refused to believe that one Man is able to make atonement for the sins of many.  Even more troubling, they failed to understand the depravity of human nature. A pious Pharisee would never dream of calling himself a “sinner.” Such religious people behave like the chief of sinners—that is, those who consider themselves the exception to God’s rules and choose their own way—but they would never dream of calling himself chief of sinners.

But it’s not just a problem for the Pharisees, as much as we might like to distance ourselves from their practices.  Pastor Scott Murray recently wrote,

“Some years ago while doing door-to-door evangelism, I met a woman who claimed that she hadn’t sinned in the previous two years. To my Lutheran years such a claim itself seemed to be a sin: the sin of pride. However, I had the wisdom (or the cowardice) to keep my opinion to myself. This woman’s self-view contradicted Scripture. St. John puts this claim to moral purity to flight in 1 John 1:8: ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ Note we remain sinners. John includes himself with his readers. Christians remain sinners. This is why the church constantly prays, ‘Forgive us our trespasses.’” (Memorial Moment, June 27, 2022)

Thinking reasonably, who would want to be a sinner, much less spend extended time in their company?  Aren’t they the cause of all the trouble in the world?  When we dream of a utopia in the world, we imagine how much better society would be without creeps, cheats, unfaithful, and the disobedient.  Wouldn’t the world be better off without such people?  Oh wait, where do you stop?

The other scandalous thing about Jesus is that He actually seeks out sinners in order to eat with them.  A Holy God and Savior who seeks sinners is ridiculous! Sinners should seek salvation, shouldn’t they?  They should recognize the wrong they’ve done, the hurt they’ve caused!  Isn’t that what we wish about the people who have hurt us?

But that is not God’s way.  Instead, our Lord teaches us about God’s heart with these parables:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’…
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

If we follow the logic of the parable, it would be easy to fault the sheep for wandering off, or in the parable that follows, fault the son for his foolishness.  But what about the lost coin?  These parables are all together because the point isn’t the will of the sinner.  The heart and will of every sinner is hopelessly lost until God our Savior comes and seeks us out.  Rather than find fault in the thing lost, it’s to show just how powerful sin is over a person.  It can distort everything like a funhouse mirror—a twisted version of God and a twisted version of ourselves.

Sin makes people wise in their own sight, which is precisely why they don’t see their need for a Savior.  In fact, those without faith look at repentant sinners found by Jesus Christ and taunt them. Secular therapists just can’t understand why Christians would be so obsessed with things like sexual purity, duty, or forgiveness toward those who mistreat us.  Just as the Pharisees looked down on Jesus and the company He kept, they see God’s mercy in Jesus Christ as foolishness.  

Jesus indeed receives sinners. God works in the lowly to shame the wise. God uses the folly of the cross in place of the ways the world expects Him to work. The world expects God to break into our world to work some sort of showy, flashy event. Even in our estimate, those repentant sinners ought to get it together and stop sinning by sheer willpower.  But Jesus is not the sort of Savior who just gives us the “buy-in” to salvation.  He is with us to take us the whole way through this life, there with His grace and goodness, His power to save us even in the continued struggle against the weakness of our sinful flesh.

From our perspective, it’s a mess.  Jesus seems to pick lousy company, this lot of people with messed up pasts, failures day to day, hurting each other and being hurt.  But yet, He receives them.  He receives us.  Foolishness, the world says.  Foolishness, the pious Pharisee says.

By these parables, Jesus invites all of us to a view from above.  It’s a view that’s so far above none of us could ever dream it if He hadn’t told us about it:

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy in heaven? Angels rejoicing?  Can it be that the halls of heaven ring out in celebration over sinners?  Yes!  For every sinner whom Jesus finds—washing  them in His precious blood, covering them with His spotless robe of righteousness, rescuing them from a thousand perils (including pride) that would send them to destruction—there is joy before the Father’s throne.

What brings joy to angels, like we see in the cover picture from ceiling of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome?  It’s not the room being filled with thousands of skilled singers, the most beautiful adornments, or even the number of people who were in attendance.  It’s the person on his or her knees saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

That is not at all what we on earth expect to be the theme in heaven.  As it is in heaven, so is God’s desire on earth.  What do we expect to find in the Church?  Who are these people who are sitting next to us, behind and in front of us?  They are sinners, just like you.  They have hurts and shames, faults and flaws, just like you.  It is Jesus, the friend of sinners who has brought us together in this congregation.  We have come to the right place—the only place—for relief from our burdens and to be healed from our sin.  So, as the angels rejoice at sinners who have come to Jesus, God teaches us to rejoice in every brother and sister we see here.  This is not a congregation of perfect saints (save that hope for the Last Day), but a bunch of misfits who have been called by the Gospel to know God’s mercy found in Jesus.  And with that vision of the Church, our merciful Father is teaching us to have mercy for one another.

Not only does Jesus receive sinners; He eats with them too.  And that is what the Lord’s Supper is which we receive this day.  Our Lord is inviting us once again to His table, where it’s no potluck.  He is the host, and He will serve the meal, for all we bring are empty hands, fainting hearts, and the faith which God the Holy Spirit has put in us.  What does He say to us?  No matter how many times we have failed, He says to our repentant heart:

“Take; eat.  This is My Body given for you.  Take; drink. This is My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of our sins.  This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.” 

Jesus receives you, and dismisses you with heavenly joy.

This is also why it’s so important that the Lord eat with us at least every week.  Each time, we come with our burdens and griefs, our longings and hopes.  All of these things are very real: the pit in our stomach, the ache in our heart, the strife we are in the midst.  They are all we see and feel and touch through the week.  But then we come here, and the Lord gives us a perfect cure which we can see, feel, and touch: a tangible proof that Jesus receives sinners and eats with us.

Even though the unbelieving world may scoff at it, and our sinful flesh fight against it, it the truth by which we live: Jesus sinners doth receive.  Do not disbelieve, but believe [John 20:27].  In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.