Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

“The winged bull (or ox), recognized as the animal of sacrifice, was applied to St. Luke because his Gospel emphasizes the atonement made by Christ’s sacrifice of himself on the Cross. The bull (ox) is also synonymous with service and strength, which reminds us as Christians that we should be prepared to sacrifice ourselves in following Christ.”

Reading – Luke 10:1–9

1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Hymn of the Day – O Christ, Who Called the Twelve (LSB 856)

1 O Christ, who called the Twelve
    To rise and follow You,
Forsaking old, familiar ways
    For ventures bold and new:
Grant us to hear Your call
    To risk security
And, bound in heart and will to You,
    Find perfect liberty.

2 O Christ, who taught the Twelve
    The truth for ages sealed,
Whose words and works awakened faith,
    The ways of God revealed:
Instruct us now, we pray,
    By Your empow’ring Word.
True teacher, be for all who seek
    Their light, their life, their Lord.

3 O Christ, who led the Twelve
    Among the desolate
And broke as bread of life for all
    Your love compassionate:
Lead us along the ways
    Where hope has nearly died
And help us climb the lonely hills
    Where love is crucified.

4 O Christ, who sent the Twelve
    On roads they’d never trod
To serve, to suffer, teach, proclaim
    The nearer reign of God:
Send us on ways where faith
    Transcends timidity,
Where love informs and hope sustains
    Both life and ministry.

5 O Christ, the_apostles’ Lord,
    The martyrs’ strength and song,
The crucified and risen King
    To whom the saints belong:
Though generations pass,
    Our tribute still we bring,
Our hymns a sacrifice of praise,
    Our lives an offering.

Text: © 1993 GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110004659

Sermon

“After this,” St. Luke writes.  After what?  After a section titled “The Cost of Following Jesus,” at the end of chapter 9, which reads:

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

One seems to be willing, unless it means he will lose his home.  Another is called, but not if it means losing his family.  A third pledges his faithfulness, but hopes to keep one foot in his old life.  It would be entrapment if the Lord didn’t disclose this to us: What it will cost to follow Him.  Dreams we have of believing in God and He in turn making our life run smooth are a fantasy.  They are called Christians because they belong to Christ.

And how did it go for Christ?  As meanly as it can for a human being.  Yet in that life of perfect obedience, perfect self-sacrifice, perfect suffering, He opened the barred gates of Eden.  But Christ’s life is also a template for those who are adopted by God as children through Him.  It is a life of eternal peace with God, but often not in the outward sense we think of.

After this, He appointed seventy-two others, men who would be conformed to the template of Christ.  He sent them on ahead of Him to do the same thing as Him: Labor in the Lord’s harvest, be His lambs in the midst of wolves, entrust their life to Him, and bear His peace to those they met.

These 72 are first and foremost an example for pastors, who are publicly sent to preach and teach, administer the mysteries of Christ, and to embody the Lord Jesus in their lives.  Yet it’s also true for everyone who follows Him, and so let’s take a look at each of those activities for which Christ sent out the 72.

We pray—no, beg[1]—the Lord to send out laborers into His harvest.  It is always His harvest, never one’s own labor.  We default to think that the Church is the sum of its parts.  After all, it’s true for every other human institution. You get in what you put in. Therefore, the Church must depend on having the right quantity of pastors, volunteers, friendly people, donors, sturdy buildings, and so on.  But the Lord doesn’t let us be deluded into thinking the harvest is ours.  He bids us ask Him to grant success to the harvest, even if in our calculations, things look scarcely possible.  Just as was mentioned a few weeks ago, all that the Church possesses belongs to the Lord.  So it is with the increase or decrease in a particular time or place.  His Word always accomplishes His purpose.

He sent these disciples out without any promise of personal glory.  In fact, it was nothing of the sort: “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”  This is something we could all stand to be reminded of.  The world is uncomfortable and painful because of the evils that happen to us and our own foolishness.  But the world is also enemy territory.  Little Christs as we are, we need to take to heart how Jesus was received.  The demons writhed against His reclaiming of men from the devil’s kingdom (Luke 4:33-36, 8:26-35; 9:37-43a), and those who refused to believe irrationally sought Jesus’ destruction (Luke 4:16-30; 19:45-48).

The warfare may not be intense all the time, but we should always expect it.  It may be that the wolves have had a meal lately and it keeps them at bay.  But also know that you could be their next meal.  See how Jesus rebuffed the temptations of the devil in the wilderness: “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone.”’”

Luther wrote in the preface to his Large Catechism,

“Nothing is so effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy oneself with the Word of God, talk about it, and meditate on it. Psalm 1 calls those blessed who “meditate on God’s law day and night.” You will never offer up any incense or other savor more potent against the devil than to occupy yourself with God’s commandments and words and to speak, sing, and meditate on them. This, indeed, is the true holy water, the sign which routs the devil and puts him to flight.”

And speaking of that time that our Lord faced off with the devil in the wilderness, His next instruction to the 72 is, “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”  Just as Jesus faced the devil in the wilderness, we daily need the lesson of how God provided for His ancient people for 40 years in the desert.  That Scripture Jesus used against the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone” comes from a larger lesson God gives through Moses in Deuteronomy 8:

“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.”

There are times when it’s easy to believe God provides all we need…because we can see it.  Then, there are times when each day seems like a miracle how it all comes together.  But unlike those around us who don’t know God, we have learned from Him that He can and will provide no matter how dire the circumstance.  Desolate wasteland and thousands of people? He’s got that.  Providing for a family, kids in college, and the furnace goes out?  He’s got that too.  Bills coming due before the paycheck, and then a medical emergency?  He does not lie when He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Moses zeroes in on it when he says that God put them in the wilderness to humble them and to test what was in their heart.  When our material life—especially our money or our health—goes out the window, these are moments when God is treating us as children, teaching us to rely on Him for every need.  No, it doesn’t mean we should overspend and waste His gifts, because that would be putting the Lord to the test.  But it does mean that we go out like the 72, with the promise that God will provide it when we get there.  He will give us today our daily bread.

Last, He tells His disciples, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.”

It’s the job of the pastor to publicly proclaim His peace, as these seventy-two did and I’m doing now.  But His peace rests upon every believer, and it is shared in our lives, through the vocations we have toward one another.  The “sons of peace” are those recipients of God’s kingdom.

But what exactly is this peace?  It’s the announcement of the angels to shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)  It’s the result of knowing God through Jesus Christ: that though we rightly deserve His wrath for all that the human race has done and what we ourselves are guilty of, He made the once-for-all atonement.  That being reconciled with our Creator, we also have the sure hope of following where Jesus has gone in eternal life on the other side of the grave. 

Like we heard St. Paul say last week in the Epistle, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7)  The sons of peace have this gift, guarding their hearts and minds even as the world reels and rages.  As political ideologies clash and anarchists plot, we are heirs of an unshakeable, eternal Kingdom and today have hope in the God who rules over all the earth.  As pandemic orders wear on and people are at each other’s throats, we are filled with the love of Christ for every person.

Truly, the Kingdom of God has come near to you, here as we share in those gifts unique to the Church, but also as each of us go out into the world.  He sends us out, and is always with us on the way.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.


[1] Δέομαι – ask, request, beg

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Reading – Matthew 22:1-14

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’

But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Hymn of the Day – At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing

Sermon – Sacrificial Invitation

Today, Jesus gives us another parable about the kingdom of heaven. This time, He compares it to a king who was holding a wedding feast for his son. Throughout the course of the parable, two different problems arise. The first is that those whom the king invited refused the invitation. The second is that some who came refused to wear to wedding clothes provided for the celebration. Both had consequences. And both let us know what just what it is that sin does to us.

Now some background is helpful: wedding feasts in those days had a time limit. In fact, every feast did. Because in order to have meat for the feast, the animal needed to be offered at the Temple. Or if you were far from the Temple, exceptions were made. But the animal was offered as a thank offering to the Lord. The fat and internal organs were burned upon the bronze altar. The priests were given a portion to eat. But the bulk of the meat was them given back to the one who offered it to share with family and friends. It was a holy meal unto the Lord. [Lev. 7:12-18] Which is why it mattered who you invited and who you ate with. Because not only were you eating with your guests in celebratory thanksgiving, you were eating with God Himself as well.

But the meat could only be eaten on the first day, and the second day. And any not eaten was then to be burned. On the third day, if there were any left, it was a blasphemy against God who had given the meal in the first place. Because apparently, you care more about saving leftovers than the Lord. Therefore when we hear the king say to the guests a second time in our text, “See, I have prepared my tdinner, umy oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”  Time is short. The clock’s ticking. Only two days remain.

But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. And the first day ends with the king sending out his troops to avenge the deaths of his servants. The first day ends with no one at the holy feast.

Do we realize just what our sin does? Or do we tend to think of our sin as no big deal? Nobody’s perfect, right? We’ve all been there. You’re doing the best that you can. Don’t be so hard of yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’ll all turn out okay in the end. All because your sin isn’t really that big a problem. Just a little forgiveness from Jesus, and it all gets swept under the rug and forgotten.

But that’s not the way sin works. Not even the small ones. Anytime we try to make our sin manageable, We’re telling God that we don’t need Jesus. We don’t need the death and resurrection of the Christ. We don’t need the forgiveness that won, nor Him giving that gift to us. We can handle it all on our own just fine. All by pretending that we’re actually good, worthy of eternal life on our own merits. When we pretend that our sin is manageable, we achieve a staggering arrogance. An arrogance that it is the same as ignoring the king’s time sensitive, once in a lifetime invitation in order to go do what we do every day. Or worse, to harm and destroy His messengers who come with the King’s message.

If that were the end of the parable, it would not be good news for us. Still true. Still showing just how bad our sin is. But then what? What hope would we have? However, in the parable, there is still one more day. The king sends the servants out once again. But this time, they are to invite everyone they meet, wherever they find them. And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

All whom they found, both bad and good. The original guests were not worthy, as the king says. But if we compare them to who actually arrives, they were the most worthy of all. For they had actually received the first invitation. Now the invitation has nothing to do with worthiness. Because “no one is righteous, no not one. No one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Ps. 53:1-3) And yet, the feast must be eaten.

We could compare this to the promise coming through the Jewish people, but now it goes out to everyone. That’s certainly how the Pharisees in that day took it, which they did not like one bit. But I think we do better to apply it to ourselves. If we’re to be worthy, to be righteous on our own, then we will never be at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end. But the invitation is not reserved for the worthy. The invitation and command to enter comes instead to all.

In this way, sin does still hold all its seriousness. But that is not what determines entrance. Rather it is the king’s generosity, the king’s sacrifice that invites. And make no mistake, it is a sacrifice by the king in the parable to invite all. After all, this is a holy feast. A thank offering. And it both needs eaten, and eaten by those who are ritually clean. But when both are impossible, the king chooses one. And it is the choice of compassion. The choice of generosity. The choice of gift. The king sacrifices his own righteousness for the sake of His new guests.

Which is what Jesus does. He sacrifices His own holiness. Sacrifices His own perfection. Sacrifices His own kingship. All to save you. All to pay for your sins. Even the ones that you think shouldn’t be that big a deal. Because that’s the price your every sin demands. And it’s a price you can’t pay, not even for a single one. But Jesus has indeed paid it on your behalf. And that payment for your sin happened at the cross, nearly two thousand years ago. And that payment comes to you personally when you were clothed in the baptism that He gave you.

That’s in today’s parable too. Every guest was dressed in wedding clothes. They didn’t dress themselves. They were dressed when they entered the feast. Dressed by the king’s gift. But not everyone who was invited to the feast wore the clothes. There was one who refused. One who thought that he was just fine the way he was. That his sin didn’t need to be covered. That he did not need to be washed by Christ’s baptism. It’s a different description of the same problem. True, this one was willing to go to the feast, unlike the first invited guests. But only if he was worthy all on his own. And in that self-justification, in that rejection of the forgiveness that Christ gives, the man was thrown out.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter if you’re outside a congregation, or in one: if you think that your sin is any different than everyone else’s.  Only by the forgiveness of sins does one have a place in the kingdom of heaven. And that forgiveness is given out without cost. Without your work. Without your worthiness. It comes solely from Christ Jesus. He has invited you to the feast. He has dressed you in the wedding garments of your baptism. He has sacrificed His own body and blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. And it is still today.

As is written in the epistle to the Hebrews, “Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.””

Invited by God the King, and coming in faith, you eat His body given for you at the cross. Drink His blood, shed for your forgiveness. Your sin has been paid for. Your debt is covered. And so we enter to celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. Amen.

“Tortured for Christ” Screening

On August 2 after service, we watched Tortured for Christ, the story of Romanian Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand. If you weren’t able to attend, you can find the link below.

Watch “Tortured for Christ” by Voice of the Martyrs

Historical Background

Sermons by Wurmbrand

For three years during his imprisonment, Pastor Wurmbrand was in solitary confinement 30 feet underground. He would sleep during the day, and woke during the night. Each night, he prepared and preached a sermon. Owing to his extraordinary memory, he memorized those sermons and they are published in this volume.

Memorizing Scripture

The Soviets outlawed possession and distribution of the Bible. This action has accompanied all the major efforts to repress Christianity over the past 18 centuries. Pastor Wurmbrand had a remarkable memory and the movie mentioned that he had memorized a verse of the Bible about fear for every day of the year.

What would we do if we were to lose our Bibles? If we rely on a mobile device, a recent discussion about Tik Tok revealed that Google and Apple are able to remotely wipe out apps from our phones. Even though the pressure isn’t on the near horizon, it is good practice to immerse ourselves in God’s Word so that we will be able to recall it whenever the need arises. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pray the psalter daily (the Psalms). It is the first songbook of the Church, addressing topics related to our whole life before God. I suggest praying it aloud because you will be using two senses (sight and hearing) which help you remember it better. One suggested plan is for morning and evening. Here is a bookmark with the schedule.
  • Listen to the Bible. Even if you have a busy schedule or many distractions, Faith Comes by Hearing has provided audio Bibles in both the ESV and King James. It is available as the Bible.is app, and also in standalone formats.

Influence of Government on Religious Practice

It’s shocking to think of what happened just 70 years ago under gross abuse of state powers. Persecution like this is happening today in China. But something to which we can relate is the use of state power over religious practice, especially as it has to do with public health during the pandemic. From the state’s perspective, they are enforcing restrictions to protect the good of the public, but from many Christian’s perspective, state governments are overstepping the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

In addition to that, there are currently socialist movements and calls for revolution in several major cities. If fascism in the name of equality brought on the evils of the USSR and China, what could happen in our own land?

It’s something we should be mindful of, as Christians who live in the End Times.

Passion Reading Schedule

Day 1 Matt 26:1-46
Day 2 Matt 26: 47-27:28
Day 3 Matt 27: 29-66
Day 4 Mark 14:1-72
Day 5 Mark 15:1-47
Day 6 Luke 22:1-38
Day 7 Luke 22:39-71
Day 8 Luke 23: 1-56
Day 9 John 18:1-27
Day 10 John 18:28-38
Day 11 John 18:39-19:16
Day 12 John 19:17-42

With all the disruption brought by recent events in the world, this is still a sacred time for us as Christians. Easter draws near, and as our Lord reminded His disciples just before His betrayal, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So lifting up our eyes, I encourage us to use this time to meditate on our Lord’s passion according to the four evangelists. This reading schedule was published by Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, IN, and I pass it on to you.

In order to help you in this devotion, I will post a video reading the assigned section for the day.

LWML Sunday

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

LWML Sunday (Proper 22C) – October 13, 2019

Text: Luke 17:1-10

Today is LWML Sunday. The theme of the day is from the Gospel reading, where Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”  It is that gift of faith in people’s hearts which is so precious in the Lord’s sight.  Today, we recognize and celebrate the support which dedicated women from all across the country give to spreading the Gospel, so that He, through the means of His Word and Sacraments, increase faith in people’s hearts and bring unworthy servants into His household.

To understand what Jesus is saying about faith and mustard seeds, we’re going to have to dig into the Greek a bit.  Our Lord uses some pretty powerful language to make His message clear to us.

First, He says some things which sound familiar and pretty basic:

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

You know what the most difficult part of living on earth is?  People.  You’ve often heard it said and probably thought it yourself, This world would be great if it weren’t for all the people.  Well, the same goes for the Church too.  Being in the Church and following Jesus would be great, if it weren’t for all the other people!  Think about it: The thing that is our biggest source of frustration is the people we live with (sometimes even other Christians!).  It’s hard not to take the perspective of one popular song: “I’ve got one less problem without you!”

Jesus says something shocking though, not just that “temptations are sure to come”, but “It is impossible that temptations should not come.”  It can’t be any other way, which means that all the things we hate—the deadbeats who lure our children away from what they know is right, the abuses and injustices we suffer—are unavoidable.  It also means those people you get annoyed by the most, the people who tick you off, those who you loathe to speak their name because of the memories it brings up…Yeah, God put them in your life.  It can’t be any other way.

Now that’s no free ride for the creeps, because God pronounces “Woe!” to them who cause one of these little ones to stumble, who scandalize faith.  But don’t underestimate the almighty power of God to bring good even out of the evil of others. (Genesis 50:20)

But the Lord doesn’t support us just denouncing the world and bemoaning how corrupt it is.  He says, “Pay attention to yourselves!”  He is speaking to each of us personally, not just that guy we really think needs to hear it.  Listen up, dear Christian, He is talking to you and applying this to you as you follow Him.

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

This series of statements use a special construction in Greek called a conditional statement.  The gloss is, “Whenever this happens, this is what the result will be.”  So it reads not “if” but “When your brother sins, rebuke him”  It’s not a matter of if he sins, because he will.  (The same message is being preached to him about you, by the way.)  So, whenever your fellow Christian sins, you are to rebuke him.  This is unpopular, especially because we would rather make people happy and like us than have to be the bearer of “negativity.”  But, this isn’t an optional thing for the Christian.  It’s a basic part of being part of God’s family, that we actually speak to our brother or sister about their sin.  It’s not judgmental; it’s loving:  “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:1-2).

“Pay attention to yourselves!”  When you rebuke your brother for his sins, you don’t do it from a high horse. You do it, realizing you are just as dirty. He may have this sin that needs to be called out, but you have your own. The motivation for rebuking another Christian has to be because God loves them, and you love them enough to tell them when they are mixed up with sin.

The next part is also crucial: “If he repents, forgive him.”  Without Peter even having to ask (as he does in Matthew 18:21) Jesus drives home how important this is, saying, “If he sins against you seven times in a single day [emphasizing the Greek], and turns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”  If you claim the name of Christ, this is absolutely how you are to conduct yourself.  Anything less profanes God’s Name—even the name of Jesus which means “He saves His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)  The Christian Church is a community of repentance and forgiveness.

That’s not the way we like to operate, though.  It’s much more satisfying to see people have some sort of consequences.  We figure they need something to teach them a lesson and keep them from doing it again.  But doling out consequences is not a vocation that God gives us with respect to our brother or sister (unless we hold a civil office).  Truth be told, we often find ourselves avoiding the person who has sinned against us, rather than to do what the Lord commands here.

That’s when the disciples, like us, realize how spiritually bankrupt we’ve been, and cry out, “Increase our faith!” or literally “Add to our faith!”  That’s when Jesus throws them another humbling reply: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” He says this because it’s not that things would magically be better if we just tipped the scales on the “right amount” of faith.  He points to the mustard seed, and says if you had even the tiniest speck of faith, you could command a tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.

Here is another place, where the Greek tells us more: This is what’s called a contrary-to-fact statement, like, “If you had blue hair, you would look like Marge Simpson.”  But you don’t have blue hair, so neither is the other part true.  “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed (which you don’t), you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted.’…”  But the point is you don’t.

Boy, what a downer, Lord.  I thought you wanted everyone to have greater, bigger, stronger faith?  I mean, your prophet, Habakkuk even said, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4)  It sounds pretty important.  But Jesus isn’t diminishing our faith; He’s diminishing us.  He’s humbling us, so that we realize this immense work of living reconciled with God and those around us isn’t our work.  Having faith is being humbled to realize all that dwells within us is desires to see the wrongdoer have their comeuppance and for God to vindicate our worthy case.  But those are not God’s ways, because they are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:9).

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”

The final humbling statement comes with the illustration of a house servant.  This doesn’t make much sense to us today, as I don’t know any of us rich enough to have domestic servants.  But we can still understand it from the employer—employee relationship.  If you have an employee, would thank him for doing what was already his job?  I’m so glad you came in on time today, and answered the phone! Splendid! I think we’ll make you employee of the month! Well, what this means is that it is our basic duty as Christians to rebuke our fellow sinners with God’s Word, and when they recognize their sin, forgive them with God’s forgiveness.

This is the work which the LWML supports.  But it’s not just about the money they raise for missions; it’s about the way these women dedicate their lives to living out their faith.  But that is really nothing over the top: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”  All Christians, from the least to the greatest, are called to this amazing-and-humanly-impossible work of steadfast reconciliation.  That is our witness to those who don’t know Christ—not just that we get walked all over by people who never understand, but that our lives witness to the grace of God in Christ to fellow broken people who need God’s grace.

But it’s not about us; it’s God’s work through us.  So, when we find ourselves loving those who have wronged us, thanks be to God!  This is what our Lord has commanded us: Love one another; forgive your enemies (Matt. 5:46-48, Luke 6:27-31).  This is what faith does: it puts God’s love into us so that we love as He does.

So today is really about Jesus who has loved us while we were still sinners, whose love sends His Holy Spirit to add to our faith, to put into our cold hearts a divine love which witnesses that in Christ, there is peace with God and peace with our fellow man.  And we thank God for the support of the LWML both in sharing and living this Gospel.  To God alone be the glory, forever and ever! Amen.

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (Rev. 12:7-12)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Feast of St. Michael and All Angels – September 29, 2019

Text: Revelation 12:7-12

We often thank God for the dedicated service of the members of the armed forces.  We thank Him for giving these men and women such dedication to their country and its citizens.  That peace we enjoy in our nation as a result of their service is something we should rightly be thankful for and never take for granted.

While as Americans, we do enjoy liberty day to day, there is another nation with which we are familiar because we are also citizens of it.  That nation is the Christian Church.  God calls us a holy nation, a people for His own possession [1 Pet. 2:9].  This nation also has an army—although its service is mostly unseen.  There are those dedicated soldiers who work tirelessly to defend the citizens of God’s nation—the army of God’s angels.  Today, on this Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, we remember the faithful service of these angels to us.

But we might ask, What does the God of Peace need with an army?  The very fact that the angels are God’s army means that there is an enemy to be fought and defeated.  This is what we learned from the 2nd reading, from Revelation 12:

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (vv. 7-9)

This war is between powers in the heavens, between the angels of God and the angels who follow Satan, who we know as the demons.  Satan and his demons are determined to destroy God’s people, as they have been since the beginning of creation.  This is the true battle between good and evil: It isn’t between warring political parties, social ideologies, or nuclear powers.  It is a war between the Creator of heaven and earth, and a rebellious faction of His servants who threaten the crown of His creation—mankind.  The stakes are not merely the rise and fall of an earthly nation, but the difference between an eternity in hell for us or God’s goal of bringing us into eternal fellowship with Him.

The battle lines are drawn upon the salvation of sinful men and women.  For this, immortal creatures clash as Satan and his army vies for dominance.  As the prophet Isaiah alluded to, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Isaiah 14:12-14).  Satan desired the glory that belongs only to God Himself.  He wants man to worship and serve him.  He wants the majesty of God to be his own, though he is not God.  Then, he planted that same deceit in the heart of Eve, and then Adam.  How he rejoiced when we became convinced of our own ability to become like God, judging for ourselves what was good and what was evil.

But God would not let such a victory be had.  He would not let His glory be given to another [Isa. 48:11].  So, He swore to trample that serpent, to crush his uplifted head, and to unravel the corruption Satan had incited in man.  And because God swears to do it, no creature—not even the most powerful of angels—can overturn God plans. 

That plan of God was carried out with the birth of a “male child” (Rev. 12:5).  Yet this male child was no ordinary son of Adam.  He was not simply another human, conceived in sin and ripe for deception and accusation.  No, this was the One who would turn the battle in favor of God and the salvation of man.  From the beginning, the angels of God have had a heavenly, eternal commander-in-chief: known as the Angel of the Lord and the Lord of Sabaoth.  “Sabaoth” is Hebrew for armies, as we sing in the Sanctus—“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of Sabaoth.”  He is the Lord of God’s Army.  This One entered the battle Himself when He became man and was born that male child.

In this way the battle was swayed in our favor, because the commander of the Lord’s Army, God’s Son Himself, fought for us by taking up our cause in the flesh.  He entered the fray with His almighty power, at which the demons cried out: “I know who you are!  You are the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24) and they cringed at His presence.  No enemy can withstand His power, because He commands even the angels who have rebelled against Him.

Yet it wasn’t only with His might that He fought for us.  His most effective weapon against Satan and the demonic host is His human flesh.  Satan and his army had brought corruption and death to the sons of Adam.  All their flesh had followed in the image of Satan, so that there was none righteous, no not one and all had turned aside to this angel posing as God [Ps. 14:1].  Then came the Lord of Hosts in the same flesh—yet without sin.  The Accuser had nothing to accuse, and try as he might, he could not tempt and deceive this Second Adam [Matt. 4:1-11].  Yet Jesus bore these accusations on behalf of man.  He bore the punishments in our place.  The Lord of Sabaoth died in lowly grief and shame.  And on the Third Day, this same Lord rose victorious over Satan’s greatest weapons against man—sin and death.

Because of this victory, the song rings out in heaven, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev. 12:10-11).  This is the victory which guarantees the success of every battle fought until the Last Day.  The commander of the Lord’s army Himself has won in the fight, laying down His life for man and taking it up again [Jn. 10:18].

This battle continues, as it says, “Woe to you, O earth and see, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath because he knows that his time is short!” (12:12).  For this reason, the angels of God still fight the devil and his angels.    The battle is far greater than any human being could win.  The proud devil has been thrown out of heaven, and instead, we have been promised a place there.  But he will not rest until he is cast into hell on the Last Day.

We have heard it in so many Gospel accounts of demon possession, yet we see it in our own day how the devil has deceived a whole generation into only watching out for visible dangers.  The Prince of Lies has convinced the masses that stories of angels and demons were invented by primitive people who had no better way to explain the world around them.  But this plays into his power over us.  As true as the rest of God’s Word, Satan and his demons are a very real threat.  But even more so, the angels of God are a very real help against these enemies!

Satan’s wrath is great against God and against those who belong to Him.  Ever wonder why unbelievers have it so easy?  It’s because Satan and his demons aren’t fighting against them.  They are right where Satan wants them—lost in unbelief.  But we belong to God.  He redeemed us out of the devil’s house with the blood of His only-begotten Son.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, God brought us into His Kingdom.  But Satan always wants us back.  He fights to regain us as hard as he can, and he’s got a third of the angels fighting with him.

All armies seek the defeat of their enemies, but the devil’s army fights for the damnation of every human being.  It is against this kind of army that God and His holy angels fight.  And, unlike earthly battles, what’s at stake isn’t land or power over people.  As I said before, the outcome here is the difference between eternal life or eternal death. In the Gospel, Jesus says, Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20).  This shows us what the Lord and His hosts fight for.  He isn’t out to defeat Satan just to show that he’s more powerful.  It’s not a war for the sake of bragging rights.  The Lord is seeking the salvation of all people.  Our boast is in the Lord, not only because He is mighty, but because He is mighty to save us in body and soul forever.

So, it’s for you and me that God’s angels fight.  The Lord Jesus Himself commands these forces to defend us against the devil’s attacks, whether these attacks come to our bodies or our souls.  Satan tries to destroy our souls by fillings us with doubts and telling us lies about God.  Demons cannot dwell alongside the Holy Spirit in believers, but they certainly come pounding on the door.  But God sends His angels to defend us against these attacks.  As Psalm 91 says, “He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Ps. 91:11-12).  They guard your path, so that you can stay on the narrow path which leads to life [Mt. 7:14].

But the devil also seeks the harm of our bodies because he wants to catch us off-guard.  In one of the ancient prayers of the Church, God’s people pray for deliverance from “sudden and evil death.”  A sudden and evil death is one where we are caught at a time when we’ve been lazy in defending against satanic attacks and perhaps we’ve even hung the Armor of God up in the closet.  But even in these times of blindsided attacks, the Lord sends His angels to watch out for us.  We may or may not know what’s happening, but the help is still there.

The Lord of Hosts and His angels are a great army, always watching out for us.  They fight for us, against an enemy far stronger than any human being.  They fight for God’s people, always keeping vigil for our safety.  They carry out God’s commands with swiftness, accuracy, and without question.  All this they do because of the incredible love of God in Christ Jesus.  Though they already see God face-to-face, they gladly leave His presence to come to our aid.  This they do for us, so that we too can behold Him face-to-face when we will arise in the glorious resurrection.  Through the labors of the holy angels, you and I will enjoy that peace which never ends.  Thank our God and Savior for the faithful service of His holy angels!  Amen.

St. Matthew the Evangelist (Matt. 9:9-13)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Feast of St. Matthew (observed) + September 22, 2019

Text: St. Matthew 9:9-13

Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  The Lord said this about Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist.  Really it’s one of the main themes of the Gospel that Matthew wrote.  From the very opening verses, it’s a Gospel for sinners—law-breakers like Tamar, prostitutes like Rahab, outcasts like Ruth, adulterers like David and Bathsheba (1:1-17).  Jesus receives John’s baptism for sinners in the Jordan (3:13-17).  He invites good and bad alike to eat with Him (22:1-14).  He goes up to Jerusalem not to be hailed and adored, but to suffer at the hands of evil men and give His life as ransom (16:21, 20:28).  At the end of the Gospel, before He ascends to the Father, He commands that all nations be made disciples, being baptized into Him and being taught His Word that saves sinners (28:16-20).

And all along the way, we think God must have it wrong.  John the Baptizer said, “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?”[1]  The Pharisees said, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”[2]  Peter said, “[Suffer and be killed?] Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”[3]  There must be some mistake with the Christ, the Son of the living God!

Everyone expects God to call the righteous and to keep company with the good people.  Businesses open close to their clientele.  There’s a reason all the pawn shops spring up by Walmart.  So also, if you were in 1st century Jerusalem, looking for the Messiah, you would think to watch for Him in the Temple or with the most devout Jews.  That’s where any self-respecting Messiah would spend time.

But the Messiah says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[4]  So Jesus should keep company with those who have never used the Lord’s name as a curse, who have never despised God’s Word and worship, who haven’t angered their parents and civil authorities, who have never had a hateful or unchaste thought, and so forth.

And Jesus would be entirely alone: “There is none who is righteous, no not one.”[5]

Jesus wasn’t born for godly people.  His very Name says it all, “He saves His people from their sins.”[6]  If He had wanted to avoid the ungodly, He would have stayed in heaven like the god of Islam.  But He didn’t.  He came to the very creation filled with sin, and to the very sinners who fill it.  The surprise of God’s Messiah is that He walks right into the tax collector’s booth and says to Matthew, “Follow me.”

But what about the Law?  We know our unholiness and what we deserve from God. “My punishment is more than I can bear,” cried Cain the murderer.  “Woe is me! For I am lost,” cried Isaiah before God’s throne.  “Our hope is lost,”[7] cried the sons of Israel.  And this is all the devil wants us to believe.  There couldn’t be hope for someone as miserable as you.  You’ve gone too far down, wandered to far from the fold.  You’ve messed up one too many times for Jesus.  You’re not good enough to come to church—maybe a biker church, but not a formal one.

But the true Jesus, the real Messiah, “preaches peace to you who are far off and peace to those who are near.”[8]  It is impossible to be too bad for Jesus.  He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  He came to call sinners, no matter how guilty, depraved, wretched, and naked.  No matter how long you’ve denied Him, what you’ve done years ago or this morning, Jesus is your Savior.

The problem isn’t being too sinful to have a Savior, but rather of thinking you’re good enough.  Jesus also says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”  The question for each of us is, when have we thought ourselves healthy enough to get by without Jesus?

Nobody goes to the doctor if they’re feeling fine.  We’re practical and busy people, and if there aren’t any symptoms, then why be bothered?  This is so much the case that some insurance companies use incentives to convince people to have preventive checks.  But if we’re feeling fine, there must be no problem, right?  Enough of us have had experiences that have showed that can be a false sense of security.

So also with our spiritual health.  Everything seems alright from our viewpoint.  Sure, I’m a Christian because I was baptized and confirmed.  I’m a member of that church…or I was one time.  But then our Lord, the Great Physician, starts asking diagnostic questions:

Have you loved everyone with whom you’ve crossed paths, always honoring, protecting, and doing everything you can to build them up? (4th-10th commandments)

Do you love God’s Word and are grieved to miss church? (3rd)

Do you always tell the truth, letting your yes be yes and your no be no?[9] (2nd)

Have you feared or loved in something on earth as if it were a god? (1st)

As you sit in the exam chair of the pew, things aren’t as fine as you think.  Then He orders lab results.  The results of that are even bleaker: “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”…“God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away.”… “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[10]  We may not have the symptoms of someone who is terminally ill, but the test results are there in black and white.  Truly we are all sick to the point of death.

               But what treatment is there for such ill patients?  Some will try home remedies.  After all, it’s so much hassle to go to church and the people can be overwhelming.  The pastor might say something that hits too close to home.  Better just to stay at home and watch a church service on TV, or read the Bible in the privacy of your own home.  If you have a question about something, just ask an Internet forum and there’s sure to be an answer that makes sense to you.

               Another option is to get a second opinion.  Take your illness to another pastor and church and see if they give you a different answer.  Maybe you’ll find one that silences your guilty conscience and lets you live the life you want.  Even better, you could find a church where nobody knows you, and  you can fly under the radar.

               But if neither of those options sounds good, you can always just ignore the diagnosis until really bad symptoms manifest.  The Great Physician hasn’t given you a prognosis on how long you’ll live, but wouldn’t it be better to live out your days enjoying the time you have left?  Check off your bucket list!

               There is only one Physician who can treat and heal this sin-sickness.  If you recognize your terminal condition, He is always ready to heal.  Here’s what the treatment will be like: You may see some immediate results, but don’t be discouraged if you can’t see them.  There are no side effects from the medicine, but your disease will definitely respond adversely to it—like the raised bumps on your arm after a TB vaccination, only worse.  In the pamphlet called the Book of Romans, St. Paul teaches us what signs to watch for: “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” (Rom. 7:7-8)

               The medicine that Jesus gives to sin-sick people is His Word. “He sent out His Word and healed them,” says Psalm 107[:20], “and delivered them from their destruction.”  His Word kills and brings to life because its active ingredient is the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, is in that Word to raise sinners up from spiritual (and one Day also bodily) death.

               What’s more, the Great Physician has more than one way to administer this saving Word.  He applies it with water: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  With water and the Word He washes our hearts and gives us a good conscience before God.[11]  He gives us the Holy Spirit to confirm and strengthen us in faith.  It is vital for everyone who desires salvation to receive the medicine in Baptism—“for the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”[12]

               The Lord also applies His Word in Confession and Absolution.  He puts His Word on His people’s lips with the amazing reality: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”[13]

He also gives His medicine in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  He “earnestly desires” to share His Body and Blood with us,[14] because of how He heals and strengthens us.  Taking bread, “…he gave it to them saying, ‘This is my Body, which is given for you.’”[15]  Taking a cup, “he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is sacrificially poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”[16]

               And in this congregation, we have the profound opportunity to receive these treatments weekly—well not the last one, but if anyone wants to help out on altar guild, we can look at that.

               It is a mysterious treatment that our divine Physician gives because it doesn’t work a full cure until the resurrection on the Last Day.  You may see improvements in symptoms here and there, but you will still see yourself moving toward the grave.  Fear not and don’t stop His treatment.  His Word is effective, for by it the heavens were created.  And, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.”[17]

               Fellow sinners, you are all beloved by God.  He came down from heaven with you in mind.  He sought out Matthew in the tax collector’s booth and He is seeking you now.  “Follow Me,” is His call, for He is fully able to absolve you and bring you to His eternal Kingdom.  Amen.


[1] Matthew 3:14

[2] Matthew 9:11

[3] Matthew 16:22

[4] Matthew 5:20

[5] Psalm 14:1-3

[6] Matthew 1:21

[7] Genesis 4:13; Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 37:11

[8] Ephesians 2:17

[9] Matthew 5:37

[10] Genesis 8:21, Psalm 53:2-3, Matthew 5:48

[11] Ephesians 5:26, 1 Peter 3:21

[12] Acts 2:39

[13] Matthew 18:18

[14] Luke 22:15

[15] Luke 22:19

[16] Matthew 26:28

[17] Romans 8:11

Holy Cross Day (observed) (John 12:20-33)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Holy Cross Day (obs.) + September 15, 2019

Text: John 12:20-33

“Lift high the cross,” the Church sings, “the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adore His sacred Name.”

The cross has been a symbol of Christianity for countless generations.  At a glance you can recognize a Christian or the church they belong to because it has a cross on it.  (You can also learn something when a group purposely doesn’t put a cross on anything.)  But I’m afraid that if enough crosses are stamped on things to identify us as Christians, it’s possible for us not to feel its full weight.

While Lift High the Cross, prominently featured in the Mission and Witness section of the hymnal, evokes images of military formation and victory in battle, that is not yet what we experience in our daily life. It is what we know from God’s Word and we hold to by faith, but the cross, this side of Christ’s return, is more often associated with pain.

The cross is a stumbling block.  Early Christians were ridiculed for such a stupid religion that we glorified an executed criminal: “Alexamenos worships his god,” one graffito teased as it depicted a man with a donkey’s head hung upon a cross.  The cross is an instrument of brutal torture and asphyxiation.  When Jesus breathed His last, it was after hours of agony bearing the sins of the world and just rejection of God.

But even if it is a stumbling block to those who are perishing, the crucified Son of God is the One in whom we glory.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we poor sinners know that through that shameful execution of Jesus, God the Father was offering up His Son as a ransom in our place, to save our lives from both death and hell.

Here in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus foretells His death and resurrection.  Yet, here He foretells it, not with echoes from the Prophets, but as a proclamation of the Father’s glory and His will for all men:

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

When the Son of Man is lifted up from the earth, suspended between earth and heaven—putting Himself in that breach between God and man made by sin—there He draws us to Himself with the almighty and renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

The occasion for Jesus saying this is some Greeks coming to see Jesus.  When these people come to see Him, He begins to teach them about what it means to follow and serve this Crucified Lord:

25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

As we contemplate and celebrate the Holy Cross, this is a refresher for us as to its true significance in our lives:

  • When we are drawn to the cross, it is necessary that we die.  It’s an easy thing to wear a cross pendant around your neck, but when the cross is put upon us in Holy Baptism, “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” (Romans 6:3) We die to the old man with his corrupt desires, for “How can we who died still live in [sin]?” (6:2)  [Colossians 3:5-9] We die to sexual intimacy and desire except in  God’s institution of marriage. We die to the on-demand attitude of the world that imposes our personal preference on others and demands that everything—including corporate worship be to our liking.  We die to lusting after other’s lives.  We die to using our tongue as a weapon to wield against others, either with aggression and rage, or subtly as the snake [Gen. 3] with slander.  When we are drawn to the cross, all of those things must perish from us, and be nailed to the cross. And all who will not die to them endanger their salvation.
  • When we are drawn to the cross, we remove sins as far as the east is from the west.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Many think the central mark of Christians is their social ministry activities.  But when Jesus draws us to Himself, He says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) That means a far more difficult thing than handing out a warm blanket and a bowl of soup.  “As I have loved you” comes from the One who laid down His life for His enemies.  True Christian love is that which forgives from the heart and will remember those wrongs no more.
    • I commend to you a practice that I’ve found helpful.  During the Lord’s Prayer, pause after the Fifth Petition, and say the names of your offenders out loud.  Say it and picture their sins being nailed to the cross.
    • If you don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer at home, start now—by yourself, with your family.  Jesus taught us this prayer so that we would know the blessings which flow through the cross, and so the cross would daily be a part of a Christian’s life.

There is no room for grudges—any—because God has forgiven the debt which would send us to present death and eternal suffering.  So, if we do what our Lord commands, let Him give us new hearts, contrite and humble, which “forgive as God in Christ forgave [us]” (Eph. 4:28). 

When we are drawn to Him who hung on the cross, we receive the Life of the World.  It is true that the Lord Jesus draws all people to Himself, but only some heed the call.  Not by your own reason or strength, but because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel are you here (or reading this) today.  And because you have ears to hear, you are blessed.  The Lord who has drawn you to His cross, forgiven you all your sins, now also invites you to taste of the fruit of His cross: His very Body and Blood given and shed for you.  You are drawn not only to follow Him, but to have Communion with Him.

The holy cross of Jesus became yours when you were baptized into his death and resurrection.  The holy cross is yours every time you pray to God your Father in the Name He gave you.  The fruits of the holy cross are in you as you eat His Body and drink His blood.  So, you see the cross is far more than a symbol to quickly identify Christians—it is a Christians very death, and eternal life.  Glory be to God forever. Amen.

12th Sunday after Trinity (Mark 7:31-37)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity + September 8, 2019

Text: Mark 7:31-37

Jesus performed many healings in His ministry.  He raised Peter’s mother-in-law when she was sick with a fever, He healed lepers, cured lame and swollen limbs, and made the blind to see.  What the people say is true: “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  But among the healings He did, this is one of the strangest: He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits and touches his tongue, and speaks a word in Aramaic (which the Evangelist does the favor of translating for Christians of following generations).

We can relate with the desire for miraculous healing.  We often expect that from the doctors, with mixed results.  Sometimes they get it right and a new medicine will really alleviate your rheumatoid arthritis.  But as many of you know, there are times when the doctors either can’t do anything, or make mistakes.  Test after test, scan after scan, but no relief.  Like the woman with the flow of blood in Mark 5, “who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” (Mark 5:25-26)

I’m sure somewhere in history there has been someone crazy enough to emulate what Jesus did here, as if it were a magic formula.  How gross that would be, and I suspect the only result was copious amounts of ear wax and sprayed spittle.  But the key is not found in what Jesus did, as if He were a wonderworker.  The key lies in who this man has been brought to.

Jesus says, “Ephatha! Be opened!”  He is the Creator, of Whom “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).  He speaks, and it happens.  He who formed the ear and the tongue [Ps. 94:9] has the ability to reform what was malformed by sin and death.

But how He restores His broken creation is not just with a word (although He does say to the leper in Mark 1:41, “Be clean,” this is not all it takes).  It takes the Creator Himself coming in the flesh of man, into the wretched and sin-filled world.  As Matthew mentions, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” (Matt. 8:17)  He not only took them, but He took our trespasses and shed His blood as the one sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The Creator Himself lay in the grave, and thereby overcame the sway that sin and death have over each of us.

We wish that God would enable doctors to take away our cancer, give us relief from our chronic aches, and undo our foolish mistake that landed us in physical therapy.  And sometimes He does, but our hope must not be in healing in this life.  Jesus says in the next chapter of Mark, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36)  If we follow Him, let us deny ourselves the physical healing we would wish, and accept each cross that He has laid upon us—the cross of memory loss, of arthritis, of seizures, of physical pain—and follow Him.  He is able if He wills to give us relief at the proper time.

We live in hope, because this is the same One who stood at Lazarus’ tomb:

32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”…38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:32, 38-44)

This is what He is going to do for the bodies of us all, when we are nothing but breathless dust.  He will say to us at our tombs, “Come out,” and the dead will be raised imperishable, immortal—no aches, no aging, no wrinkles, no defects—for eternity.

But even while we live in hope of the Last Day, our hope is in the Word He speaks now, for He does speak powerful Words of life to us.  He speaks in the words, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Together with the water, these are the words of rebirth, birth from above.

He speaks in the words of the absolution on His servant, the pastor’s, lips: “Peace be with you, I forgive you all your sins.”

He speaks in His Word to you, which His Spirit carries into your heart, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12-14)  It convicts you and puts your sinful flesh and all its desires to death, and raises you with Christ to new and eternal life.

Even if He doesn’t take away the ailments in this life, He has healed you with a healing that will last through death.  That is the Christian’s hope, in which we are saved. Amen.