Sermon, August 12

Ephesians 4:17-24 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

There are all kinds of ways to walk, or run or skip or for that matter, march. I am sure I do not walk as I did when I was a young man. Drunks have a hard time walking in a straight line. People on crutches or walkers don’t walk the same way as a normal person would. And to an extent, there are many different walk patterns among healthy people. I recall before I had glasses I could tell who people were, by the way, they walked- provided of course, if I already knew them. One person in particular whom I saw often but didn’t know her name I called “The Sliding Lady.” Her shoes never left the ground. She slid from one point to the other.

However, I have wasted your time unless using this for an introduction gets your attention because in the Bible the word “walk”- and in this case- has nothing to do with our feet and legs and how they get us from place to place. Walk means the entire lifestyle.

St Paul explains how and why the non- Christians walk the way they do. “You should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.”

1. Their understanding has been darkened. 2. They are ignorant of the ways of God. 3. Their hearts are blind and 4. They have lost their sense of right and wrong.

In another place, St Paul writes, “The gentiles show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” In other words, all peoples have a sense of right and wrong. However, this inner sense can be destroyed. How else can the Nazis and serial killers and Soviet Communists be explained? To me it is obvious, they lost all sense of right and wrong.

To a lesser degree, I think we have all known people who seem to lack any sense of right and wrong. I am not talking about making mistakes- especially if we learn from them. I am talking about a pattern of life- or to use the term this text uses- a “walk” which demonstrates a complete absence of a conscience. A complete absence of shame.

Years ago in Germany, while having Bible study we heard someone walking about above us. We assumed someone was trying to find us and thought no more about it. Later we discovered someone had stolen the Crucifix and Candelabra! What kind of a person would do that?

Well, I had a nephew who stole my crucifix while I was being ordained! He later went on to steal $6500 from his grandmother and didn’t think he did anything wrong. As far as I know, after several incarcerations, he hasn’t ever changed his ways.

Well, how does God deal with that kind of sin? We would like to say God will get them for those wicked sins! But St James has a different take on that. Listen to what he says: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as your self,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For He who said, “You shall not commit adultery”, also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”

St James was writing to Jews who created over 600 points of what to do or don’t do in order to keep the Law perfectly. St James was telling them- and us!- If we break any one point of any of the 10 Commandments- we are guilty of them all.

That means a gossip has broken the Law. That means a murderer is no less nor no more a lawbreaker. Society has graded sin and while some are not so bad, others are terrible and the punishment or lack of punishment must be different. We don’t hang gossips and we don’t turn a blind eye on murderers.

God is different because He is holy. Jesus said, “You must be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That means skipping worship is breaking the Law. That means passing by on the other side of someone who is hurting is breaking the Law. That means not loving our neighbor as our self is breaking the Law. That means that a whole lot of things we may consider as insignificant is serious in God’s eyes. Let us remember- He is our Judge, He makes the rules and He decides what is right and wrong.

The Law is purposefully hard and demanding to show us that we cannot in any way save ourselves. The Law is made to humble us and turn us to our only hope- and that is Jesus. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Blood and righteousness I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus Name. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!”

Standing on that Rock, on that hope, we turn again to our text and read. “Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind”, The old trinity of “me, myself and I” drops away and we think in terms of Jesus. What does He want me to do? How does He want me to live? How shall I respond to this situation or that situation? What am I to believe?

The teachings of Jesus! “Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, blesse those who curse you. Do not return evil with evil, but evil with good.” We cannot be perfect as our heavenly Father is, but Jesus does say this, “Wide is the road that leads to destruction and many there be that travel upon it. But straight and narrow is the road that leads to eternal life and just be a few who find it. Strive to enter by that gate!”

To strive is to struggles against our old man- who wants to do things his way, to satisfy himself, to be his own judge and his own god. As our text says, “Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man.”

The Old man wants to worship himself on a Sunday morning- the new man wants to worship God. The Old man wants to think he is good enough just the way he is. The new man confesses “O most merciful God, I have sinned against You in thought word and deed and I am sorry and I do repent.” The old man struggles within himself because his conscience accuses him. The new man has that peace that passes all understanding.

The Old man think s that he has done more good than bad and that this is what will get him into heaven. The new man trusts in Jesus, that His perfect life, substitutionary death, and His resurrection are what will justify him before our heavenly Father.

On the Last Day, Jesus will say to the old man, “Depart from Me, I never knew you!” On the Last Day, Jesus will say to the new man, “Come blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundations of the earth were laid!”

Question: what do you want Jesus to say to you on that Last Day?

Hope for Saint Luke

Holy Gospel Mark 6:45–56 Immediately [Jesus] made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. And after He had taken leave of them, He went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and He was alone on the land. And He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized Him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

Many years ago, my devotion for the morning was this same text. I recall it very vividly; it was entitled: “Ich bin’s.” Yes, it was our LCMS Taegliche Andachten. That is German for daily devotions and the title was “I am.” It was taken from this verse, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” That is, “It is I.” That is the same words what Moses asked for from the Burning Bush episode namely, “Whom shall I say sent me?” And God answered, “I am.” It the same words Jesus used when He was arrested. The soldiers said they were seeking Jesus of Nazareth and He answered, “I am” and the text goes on to say they fell to the ground.

“I am” that is in Hebrew “Yahweh” which was how the Jews called God. The Jews were actually afraid to use that Name. They took His Name so seriously in the 2nd Commandment that they would never use His Name at all, lest at some point they would speak that Holy Name in vain! To guard against even reading the Name aloud from the Scriptures, they would substitute another name. When a group of Jewish scholars updated the Hebrew text they combined that substituted name with the real name and therefore Yahweh became Jehovah which is not really a name at all.

Nevertheless, going back to our text, the apostles being in danger at sea and being frightened when they thought they saw a ghost only needed to hear one thing and that was “I am!”

From their Jewish teachings, they would know, I am — He who created this world. I am He who called order into the chaos of this earth which was void and without form. I am He who created life. I am He who parted the Red Sea and gave manna from heaven and caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.

And now speaking from their own experience, Jesus could say to them, “I am He who turned the water into wine. I am He healed the sick, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. I am He who fed the 5000 with a small amount of food.” “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And this text comes down to you and to me. This Hymn says it so well: The Lord hath helped me hitherto By His surpassing favor; His mercies every morn were new, His kindness did not waver. God hitherto hath been my Guide, Hath pleasures hitherto supplied And hitherto hath helped me. Or how about this one? Through many dangers, toils and snares… we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far… and Grace will lead us home.

Who here cannot identify with these hymns? Who here hasn’t been through some dangerous, if not rough moments and has overcome them? Speaking for myself, I have lost track with the number of time that I have escaped bad situations and the only answer was divine intervention.

I have had 3 if not 4 serious operations that were a matter of life and death and I stand before you here very much alive. In the army, even in peace time, I was in two situations where I was almost killed. Back home also a few episodes. And then there were the countless times when an angel prevented things which I never realized were dangers. The angel took care of them before they even happened!

You could also tell of those situations and you also did not know the number of times when things were avoided because some angel intervened.

And yes, there were times when bad things have happened. We have all experienced death of loved ones, we have all had our share of cuts and bruises. We have all faced problems that at the time were overwhelming. St James says this: “Count it all as joy my friends, when you meet the various trials, for they will build you up in your faith.”

In those moments, in those difficulties, in that sufferings, in that grief, in that storm in the sea of our life, Jesus comes and He says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

There were also times in the life of the Church when it seemed as though Satan had the last word. In the 1st three centuries, Christians were severely persecuted. Before the Reformation, it seemed again that Satan had won when the very Gospel was not proclaimed but a works righteousness. In our own Synod’s history at the very beginning when our forefathers even considered leaving America and going back to Germany, the Church pulled together and started to grow by leaps and bounds. In my day in the Late 60’s and 70’s, it seemed as though our Synod was going to go the way of all modern Protestantism, but we pulled together and were stronger for it.

In reading the history of this congregation there were also turbulent times. In the 1960s there were some issues over the sale of some land having to do with the school. Some members were lost. And here last August there was also a problem.

Jesus said if we had faith even as small as a mustard seed, we could move mountains. It doesn’t take a doctorate in theology to apply it here to our situation. If we have faith, this church can be on the move again and be both an exciting place to worship and fellowship, but also an active force within the community.

If you feel this church is in a storm like a ship that is about to sink, then listen again to Jesus who says- “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” “Lo, I am with you always.” “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Amen!

Sermon July 22, 2018

The Holy Gospel according to St. Mark, the sixth chapter. The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But He answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

There are those people who do things for others and there are those who want things done for them. There are those who think about what is good for others and there are those who think about what is good for themselves. Where do you fit in, in these two categories?

In our text this morning, we read: The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

I notice a couple of things here. The apostles had been busy helping others and teaching them. In Luke we read: After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go….. I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. … The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your Name.”

Indeed! they had been very busy carrying out the Lord’s command. They preached the Good News, they cast out demons and most of all, they prepared the way for the Lord. They were indeed thinking about the good of others, both their physical and their spiritual welfare.

Then there is this, “And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Here Jesus is thinking about them. He cares that they had worked so hard. He cared that they didn’t even take time off to rest and to eat something for themselves. “Come away and rest awhile. You deserve it. You need it. I care about you!”

Later on, however, we read: “And when it grew late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Now the question is: Were they concerned about the people? Were they concerned about themselves? Or were they concerned about Jesus?

At first glance it could be any one of the three but I think this section points to one answer: But He answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” That sounds to me that they were more concerned about themselves than they were about the crowd or about Jesus.

Now we cannot condemn them for feeling this way for they were also the same ones who went out 2×2 and worked so hard for the good of others. That pretty well reminds me of myself. I have my good moments and my bad. Times when I really am concerned about others and times I only worry about myself. There are times when I am selfless and there are times when I am selfish! And I will be so bold as to say I am speaking about you as well.

There are times when we can feel pretty good about ourselves. We have helped others. Perhaps we have done any number of things the way Jesus wanted us to. Like turn the other cheek, bless those who curse us, walked the extra mile.

I recall the last conversation I had with a man who basically hated all pastors, although he was in church every Sunday. His problem was that he came from a family of generations of pastors and his parents expected him to be one too. Instead, he went for the job that paid him a lot of money. Anyway, he had a 50-year history of causing trouble for pastors and he turned on me as well. In that last conversation, he would say something bad about me and I would say something good about him. This went on for an hour and I thought maybe- since he said he knew more about the Bible than I would ever know, that he might catch on. But he didn’t. As we closed the conversation I asked God’s blessings upon him and hung up.

Before I could feel too good about myself, St James reminded me, “If we keep the whole Law but offend in one point, we are guilty of the whole Law.” And Jesus reminded me, “You must be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” My arm didn’t have a chance to pat myself on the back.

Getting back to this miracle, Jesus asked “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

The people were hungry. There were only 5 loaves of bread and two fish so a miracle was needed. Jesus did not just hand out the food but first He offered it to His Father (looking up to heaven) and He blessed it and then handed it out. He was concerned about their physical welfare.

Our text says, “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” Jesus was concerned about their spiritual welfare.

I am in no position to do much help physically. I am too old to cut the grass or clean windows or patch holes in the plaster of people who are not able to do that for themselves. And I am not rich enough to buy someone a new car or to pay off a mortgage or a lot of other expensive things. I am concerned, but I can’t do much about it.

But I am concerned and can do something about your spiritual welfare. I would like to try to teach you some of the things about God’s Word that possibly you have forgotten or maybe never knew. I brought with me a Bible study that will definitely enrich your understanding of the Bible and how our Church teaches it. And it is my prayer that the services I conduct, and the sermons I deliver will be a help to your spiritual walk with the Lord. But I can only do these things with your participation.

As I said, Jesus was and is concerned about both the physical and the spiritual welfare of His people. I have seen and so have you, the way Lord has blessed us with physical things. He has answered prayers, not always as the way we direct Him (as though we know best!) but in the way that is best for us in the long run. I could spend the whole time of this sermon showing how the Lord has actually answered prayers in ways that were undeniable.

Mostly however He is concerned about our spiritual welfare. That is why He took our sins to the cross and paid for them.That is why He established His Church and watches over it. That is why the Word has been preserved and shared with us. That is why the Sacraments are so effective. Effective especially as we assemble together to hear His Word, to receive His Sacraments and to feel His presence. And yes, He is present everywhere, even at the lake, but especially here. That is why the Bible says, “O Lord I love the habitation Your house, the place where Your glory dwells.” Amen

The Parable of Roast Rump of Goat

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.'”

One of the long-standing standing rules of parable interpretation is that we find the point of comparison and let that be what the parable is all about. Now historically it has been named, The Parable of the Prodigal Son- but is that what it is all about? Not hardly. A famous German theologian said it ought to be named, The Parable of the Awaiting Father.

However to name it with any name is to exclude other points that ought to be explored. If, as we say in the LCMS, every word of the Bible is inspired and is profitable for teaching, then all of a parable ought to be examined! So tonight I would like to examine a little more closely the lament of the elder brother.

When Jesus gave this parable he only mentioned that the younger son wasted his money on “wild living.” The Greek basically says he scattered his living wastefully. That could mean almost anything. It could mean simply he made some investments without really understanding what he was doing. It could mean that he tried to live like a millionaire as if this new style of life would go on forever.

But what was the elder son’s version: “this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes…” The text does not say anything about prostitutes. That is how the elder brother put his spin on it- perhaps indicating that if he had half a chance, that is what he would have done.

Think about it for a moment. We learn in our catechism that we are always supposed to “put the best construction on everything.” The elder brother put the worst construction on what his brother had done. Are we any better? If we do not like someone, do we always explain what he may have been doing or thinking or what his motive was – as the new version says, “in the kindest way”?

So what will satisfy this upset son? His answer, “Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” #1. Instead of the delicious fatted calf, he will settle for a goat, albeit a young goat. #2. He doesn’t want to celebrate with his father and with his brother but with his like-minded buddies, the elder sons of the town.

I think about a full-blown worship service where, as the Bible teaches, things are done, decently and in order. Where sermons are clearly based on the Bible and contain both Law and Gospel. Where the Law is preached so as to remind each and every one of us that we have sinned by thought, word, and deed and we feel sorry about that. And the Gospel is so shared that we are comforted and feel the love of God in our hearts.

Within that service, there is a place to confess those sins and feel that absolution, where praises can be sung to God and hymns are not based on making us feel good about ourselves but feel good about God! And yes, where the Lord’s Supper is offered so as to strengthen our souls for this life in which we so often experience aches and pains, sorrow, death, and disappointments.

But what do so many people want? Roast Rump of Goat! So much less! “O I can read my bible at home.” “ I get more out of quiet time on a boat at the lake than I do in church.” “I work hard all week long and I need my rest and the only chance I have is Sunday mornings.” (What happened to the traditional Sunday afternoon nap???) And a hundred other morsels of that roast rump of a stupid goat!

But what does God offer? We read “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. A full-blown party with all the trimmings! The servants of the Lord and the hired hands and most of all the brother — the long lost brother!

It was in November of 1945 and my brother has been away in the Pacific in the war. We had been having regular mail from him but now for whatever reason, no mail. For some reason, I was kneeling on the couch which faced the road and I was looking out and a taxi pulled up. A young very thin solder got out of the cab, carrying a duffle bag. I shouted out “Will is home!” Nobody believed me. “Don’t talk like that!” my mother said. But it was true and how happy, excited- overjoyed we were to see him, this our long-lost brother!

To a lesser degree that is how I feel back in Tennessee when I see my brothers and sisters come to church on a Sunday Morning, especially those who have been missing for a while. And that is the way I am beginning to feel here as I am getting to know you. And I am sure many of you feel the same way about your congregational members.

A long time ago a member of the church I served had been the boss of that church, having ruled about everything, always getting his own way and my predecessor accepted that. But I did not and this man tried everything to get rid of me, even stooping to hurt others and caused a rift in the church. He finally left when the District President told him he wasn’t going to get his way anymore and he stormed out very hatefully. Fast forward to about 35 years and he came back and I was there on a visit. He came up to me and greeted me warmly and said, “I don’t want to go to heaven carrying any grudges. So let’s be friends.” That was one of the most rewarding experiences in my ministry! And don’t you feel the same way about members who finally return??? Question: what are you doing to help that to happen? Amen!

Sermon July 8, 2018

Jesus went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. And on the Sabbath, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the Carpenter, the Son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. And He went about among the villages teaching Mark 6:1 ff

In the Epistle lesson for this morning, St Paul lets us know that he is not perfect and wants no one to judge him except for what he says. He also gives us the famous quote about a thorn in the flesh.

What exactly that was no one really knows. There are several possibilities, generally given by people who have a particular problem and identify their problem as his. In that sense, it is a good thing for we all have problems, weaknesses, propensities that distract from our walk with Christ. And it is good for us to know that whatever our problem, our pet sin, God is able to work with that to help us to stay on the straight and narrow.

Yet, on the other hand, Jesus was perfect and still, people found fault in Him, and perhaps the most discouraging of all, his own hometown people.

He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the Carpenter, the Son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.

This is where Jesus grew up. Many could recall seeing Him as a child running around playing with the other boys of the village. They saw Him grow up as a young man, working with His father and learning the carpenter trade. These people had sons of their own who played with Jesus as a child, who learned their father’s trade, who went to the synagogue and were taught the Old Testament. Yet their sons were not that skilled, didn’t know the teachings of Moses that well, didn’t do any miracles. In other words, “Who does He think He is!”

How do we respond to successful people? I find that some feel honored to have been a part of their lives and some feel left out, jealous or some sort of unwarranted negative feeling.

I have a cousin who felt she was special because she was in the class when her high school graduated the first Jew and the first Black. That’s her claim to fame. In Sevierville where I live, Dolly Parton is highly honored and anyone who has seen her up close considers themselves special. My driver in Germany was so excited because we passed Elvis Presley’s jeep. (Didn’t see him, but only saw his jeep!) He bragged about that for a long time.

On the other hand, some people feel left out when someone they know is honored. “O, I knew him when…” and they fill in the details proving that he wasn’t worthy of any special recognition. I recall when “Sound of Music” first came out and Julie Andrews was acclaimed and so wonderful, my friend’s wife simply couldn’t accept that “because no one is that good.” Why she felt threatened by her I could never figure out.

The Jewish leaders found every fault they could with Jesus and well, He was a threat to them. He wasn’t a threat to Judaism in its purest form, but He was a threat to their corruption and especially their arrogance. For their own corrupt sake, they needed to criticize Him! But the hometown boys- that is a different story!

This is how St Luke recorded the event: He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s Son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell Me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that You did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” He continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. ….All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him off the cliff. But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way.

This begs the questions: #1. Why didn’t He show them a miracle? #2. What did they think of this miracle, His passing through them?

#1. Remember at the cross Jesus was asked to show them a miracle so they could believe. But their request was not an honest one but a sarcastic one. Jesus knew a miracle would not please them. #2. Recall the healing of the blind man. They absolutely knew it was a miracle for they condemned Him for healing on the Sabbath. Yet they acted as though it was not a miracle.

In other words, as you well know, there are some people you cannot please no matter what! (If I were political I would mention how $2 an hour raises, $1000’s of dollars in extra bonuses, record jobs for Blacks and Hispanics are crumbs and insignificant- but I won’t)

It comes down to us. Sometimes we are never satisfied. Sometimes we find fault in everything. Sometimes, as opposed to the what Jesus taught, we refuse to walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek and bless those who curse us. Luther said to put the best construction on everything but we choose to put the worst. Sometimes we claim St Paul’s words as our own, namely. “O the good I want to do, I do not and the evil I don’t want to do, I do. O wretched man that I am — who shall deliver me?”

The answer to his question is also ours, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. He not only forgives our sins but gives us the will and the strength to follow His example. Oh, we do not do it perfectly, for we cannot. But we try — the word is we strive and in the Greek; it implies a struggle and it is.

And in that struggle, we do what Jesus did, when they tried to kill Him before His time, He walked away in the midst of them. We choose not to argue, but to simply walk away. Indeed, we turn the other cheek, we bless those who curse us, we put the best construction on what was said or done. “O he didn’t really mean that.” Or “He is having a bad day” or some other way to excuse bad behavior.

We are not yet perfect, but we are strivers. When we fail, we are sorry, because we want to be better and to do better. At the same time, we do not despair but rather claim the words of St John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To which we say, Amen!

Sermon June 10, 2018

And His mother and His brothers came, and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him. And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to him, “Your mother and Your brothers are outside, seeking You.” And He answered them, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Closer than Family

Several years ago, another pastor and I often had lunch together. Both his wife and mine worked in offices and so we were alone and liked each other’s company so this was a natural thing for us to share this hour as I said, 2-3 times a week. He was not a Lutheran but AOG and very much a gospel-centered pastor. We found out that we agreed much more than we disagreed and on some issues, I won him over, especially on our doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. A real change for him!

One week the newspaper stated that his denomination was holding a convention in our town and his brother was also a pastor of that same denomination and would be coming. So I said to him, “Well Bob, I won’t be seeing anything of you this week because of the convention. Besides that, your brother will be here.” He said, “Brother Lin, I love my brother very much, but you are closer to me than he is.”

And I find this is something that is in our Text. Jesus undoubtedly loved His family very much. In our Lesson, the town’s people were after Him. They had been stirred up by the leadership of Jerusalem. We read from our lesson: “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons He casts out the demons.”

Our text takes place just after Jesus shot down their charges using their own logic. It is where He said (which inspired Abraham Lincoln to say) “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

And His mother and His brothers came, and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him.

I have to say, I cannot imagine my mother or my siblings doing that- interrupting one of my sermons. Yet I know that has happened, not by family members but by some members of the congregation. In Texas I had two women storm out of the congregation because they knew that their self-righteousness had been exposed! In California, there was a woman who told me ahead of time that is what she did to show her disproval of the sermon. And she did that a number of times. But worse of all was what the Russian-Germans did in Oklahoma. I was told that the last time before the church split, an elder jumped in and preached for 45 minutes about how wrong the pastor’s sermon was. That was 50 years before I became their pastor — thankfully these people had died off!

And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Your mother and Your brothers are outside, seeking You.” And He answered them, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus, instead of dropping everything, shows us two things. #1. The bond we have as Christians, but more specifically, as a congregation is — or at least it is supposed to be — very tight, very warm, very personal. #2. Borrowing from the Martha/Mary episode, the teaching of the Word, gathering around Jesus is more important than what most people — even Christians realize!

St Paul alluded to this when he said, “Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” Think about this: You cannot feel this way about people you do not know, like in a mega-church. Also, you can’t feel this way about people you care little about. And what did Jesus say about that? “Love one another, even as I have loved you.” Jesus did not say that to the crowd of 5000, but to the 11 gathered there, alone with Him.

We are supposed to love everyone, for love is of God and we are of God. But honestly, speaking for myself, I am not able to love every Christian as deeply as Christ loves me. And even within my human and spiritual ability, I cannot love other Christians whom I do not know, the way I love those I associate within a personal setting. And I dare say, neither can you.

And looking about at those who sat around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and so did these people in our text. You and I also sit at His feet, listening to His Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit we believe it. But I must tell you something, rather let St James tell you, ‘Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Being doers does not save us, but if we are saved, we will also be doers. Someone offers me a glass of a liquid. He tells me, “Now do not drink this, it is poison, it will kill you.” I listen, I believe him and then I drink it. No! That is not the way it goes. If I believe him, I definitely will not drink that poison!

Believing is doing! 57 years ago I met a girl and fell in love with her and so I simply walked away from her. Not hardly. I married her. That’s love- real love compelled me to do something about it!

St Paul puts it this way:” For the love of Christ constrains us because we are convinced that One died for all; therefore all have died. And He died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who died for their sake died and was raised.”

As Lutherans, we very adamantly teach that we are saved by faith alone. We quote ST Paul, “For by grace are you saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone would boast.” five different clauses there to state in two words. Faith alone! Yet those same two verses are followed by, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The word “walk” means a way of life, a life of good works done in gratitude to God for Jesus. In other words, we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is not alone!

Now there are all kinds of things we can do to show our love for God and to others. But the one thing I want to emphasize — which this text spells out so clearly — is the hearing of the Word and in the fellowship of believers. Yes, you can and should read your Bibles at home. Yes, you can listen to the radio and to tapes and CDs. But the Bible has so many passages which talk about public worship!

I pay good money to go to a movie. I sit through the previews and then I leave! Not hardly. I go to a restaurant and order a steak. While waiting I drink a glass of water and eat the bread. But that fills me up and so I leave. Not hardly! Why then do Christians think that anything less than a worship service with Word and Sacrament, praise and fellowship, is soul-filling and more importantly, acceptable to God???

St Paul says, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day is drawing near.” Now am I preaching to the choir — no, I am equipping you so that you will go out into the highways and byways of your sphere of influence and do what Jesus said, “Compel them to come in.” Be a compelling witness!

For yourself, say with St Paul, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” Help others to say and to feel the same way. Amen

Midweek Service April 30, 2018

John 15: 26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—He will testify about Me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.

John 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is Mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”

How many of you can remember the parade which was held here a few years ago when Dolly Parton’s wig flew off and she was completely bald? Or what about that time when our Mayor stood up on the dais to speak and his pants fell partly down exposing a bright red pair of shorts? Who here can recall that day when WW2 ended and the whole town came out and hugged each other and all the pastors got together and sang the National Anthem? Now hold these questions for just a few minutes.

There is a whole lot in our text and as you know me, I do not exposit every word and thought but try to find one thought, one idea and share that with you. So, the central part of our text I will omit just looking basically at the beginning and the end.

As I looked at last Sunday’s lesson it struck me as how the way the Holy Spirit inspired St Luke to describe how Phillip spoke. It said there, “Phillip open his mouth and he began to speak.” We also see this in the Gospels. Our expression is, “Think before you speak.” However what Phillip did was to open his mouth and allow the Spirit to do his thinking for him.

That is very much in line with what Jesus said, “Make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”

Now the Bible does not contradict itself when it seemingly says also the opposite. From St Paul, we learn, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who need not be ashamed.” And from St Peter, we learn, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Now realize that these two verses do not contradict what Jesus said, but rather must be taken in context. Jesus also said, “I will send you the Holy Spirit and He will bring into your remembrances, all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The key word is “remembrances.” How can you remember anything that you haven’t already been exposed to?

Let’s say that I am going to visit a prospective member whom I believe has a hang-up about baptism. So, I study that issue until where I can effectively share it. Case No.1. He really isn’t wanting to talk about baptism but some other issue of which I am not prepared. Now what? Case No. 2. He does want to talk about baptism but the conversation takes a turn and raises a question I am not prepared for. Now what?

The answer to both questions is that we do our part and the Holy Spirit takes over. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—He will testify about Me.” There’re many things in the Bible which we could talk about and some of these things in depth. Some of these things might be very interesting and some may not be. And as we discuss religion with others, some subjects may come up which we wonder about- why do we believe the way we do and why do they believe the way they do?

But notice carefully what Jesus says, “He will testify about Me.” What about the Rapture? What about Pre-,post- and mid- Millennialism? How many angels were really at the tomb? What was the hidden message in the empty tomb behind the linen cloth folded instead of just lying there? These are side issues which do not directly matter in terms of the Gospel- which has as it center, Jesus!

There are those who like to argue about peripheral things, but the real issue is Jesus. A couple of years ago when I was at Staples I used my tax empty card to buy office material and the clerk asked me if I happened to be a pastor. I answered in the affirmative and he said he was one too. Then he asked me if I was aware that Adam actually had two wives. He went off on some tangent that didn’t even begin to make any sense. That is what was really important to him.

At other times I have been asked, as first importance upon just meeting another pastor or some key laymen, what I thought about this, that or the other. The Saturday Sabbath, Jesus coming in a short time, speaking in tongues, wearing a beard or a mustache, drinking alcohol and a host of other things. Not really testifying about Jesus as Lord.

On the other hand, I have been very blessed to meet other Christians, including pastors, who rejoice in the idea that we are all Christians who, despite our differences on minor doctrines, have the same faith and Lord. While I have been in some Circuits of our Church (roughly 10 congregations) and have enjoyed my fellow LCMS pastors, I have also been in places and situations where it was the pastors of other denominations who were my closest brothers and friends. The same Spirit in them was in me, testifying of the same Lord Jesus.

Now getting back to my strange introduction: My point was we cannot remember what we haven’t witnessed. And we cannot remember what never even happened. (I made up the story of Dolly and our mayor and WW2 celebration here!) My point is, you cannot remember Scripture verses you have never learned. You cannot give an account of the faith that is within you if you are not prepared.

Now the Holy Spirit could put verses into your mouth to repeat, verses you have never read or heard, but He hasn’t promised to. The promise is what? He will bring into your remembrance all things whatsoever I have commanded you.

Our text goes on with Jesus saying, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” He said that to them before the Day of Pentecost. He would say that to us if we had just been converted. But- we have been converted a long time ago. We have been confirmed and we are seasoned Christians. Now the word given to us is again, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who need not be ashamed.” And, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

And then there is this, “Then we will no longer be infants,
tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body
of Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

Therefore in studying to show ourselves approved unto God workmen who need not be ashamed, and being able to give an account of the faith that is within us and in growing up in Christ, we will be enabled to “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” And to that, we say, “Amen!”

The Vine and the Branches

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.

In 2009 I attended a Methodist/Presbyterian church in Ireland. There, in the heart of Catholic Ireland, this church was struggling. As I left the service I asked the pastor if he had ever heard of what Americans are doing with Church Growth. He answered me rather sharply, “Any fool can fill a church but are they making disciples?”

This is what our text is about. Over and over again we stress that a person is saved by faith and not by works. We sing, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” We are indeed saved by faith alone. But the same verse from St Paul which so clearly and completely affirms this is followed by this verse: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. This is how Jesus put it: “This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.”

Let’s say that you go to the grocery store- which maybe you will do tomorrow or sometime soon. Anyway, you see that beef roasts are on sale so you buy one and take it home. Then what? Leave it in the car? Bring it in and leave it on the counter? Place it in the Fridge and leave it there until it spoils? No! You buy it because you want to cook it and eat it. So that is what you do.

Maybe you are not hungry but you are in need of a new car. So you shop around and find one that meets your needs and you buy it. Now, do you leave it there at the dealer? Do you bring it home and lock it up in the garage and never drive it? Or do you use it because after all, it is a car which you need?

We are saved by faith alone- but simply put, saving faith is never alone. Saving faith motivates us to be about the Lord’s work out of genuine gratitude.

Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit…” He does not cut people off because they have not been bearing fruit, but because they didn’t have saving faith which would have motivated them to bear good fruit.

“…every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” The vine which has been pruned will produce more fruit than if left alone. As we pass by vineyards in the Fall we see mthe trunks staked to their supports with just a small amount of branches. Then in the summer, we see that these branches have grown out and have produced even more branches and it is these that produce the grapes.

Have you ever noticed how some new members are more excited about their church than some of the older members? Have you ever noticed how some recent converts are more into our doctrines that some of the lifelong members? Have you ever noticed how some people, after a tragedy or a severe problem become active? A death in the family, a divorce, loss of a job, or some other thing which makes then stop and start out on a new life? “…. every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” You didn’t get clean- that has your sins forgiven- because you bear fruit. Rather it was the Word, namely the Gospel that set you free from your sins. Again, “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the Law.”

Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. In another place Jesus said, “ My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” Here we have a promise, as long as we desire to be Christians, as long as we never deny Jesus, He will be with us and will keep us. Notice the order of what Jesus said. “You remain in Me and I will remain in you.” Not the other way around. Unfortunately, we have all known of those who have withdrawn from the Christian faith.

And sadly this has become a doctrine which gives false hope to those who believe in “Eternal Security.” They trust in what they did at some point in their life, like at an altar call, and believe they are eternally secure because of what they did. They think they no longer need to be involved in any form of living a Christian life, including public worship. While no external force can remove us from our relationship with Jesus, we can choose to cut those ties ourselves! “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” As a born again Christian we want to live a life that will please God. We want to walk on that straight and narrow road which leads to eternal life. We want to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” We don’t have to earn God’s favor. We already have that. We do these good things because we want to, because we love Him.

He is the vine and we have been engrafted to Him by His precious Blood. We have been given the Holy Spirit and He leads us and guides us and directs us. And with His direction, we say along with St Paul, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” And upon hearing Him, we say along with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!” Amen.

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

Luke 24: 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

“While they were still talking about this…” When I read this text the first thing I wanted to know is what was the context. It is when the Emmaus disciples reported back to the apostle what had happened to them, namely Jesus appeared to them and opened their eyes to the rumors that were going about concerning His resurrection. It was true. He is risen, He is risen indeed!

While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” This is Luke account of the post-resurrection experience and he only addresses the first appearance and moves quickly to the ascension.

Think about it. The last time He saw these cowards, (except for John) was when they were running away from Him and Peter denying Him. But what is the first thing He says to them? “Peace be with you!”

Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. You have been with these men for 3 years. You have shown them countless miracles. Water was turned into excellent wine, thousands were fed with a small amount of food and the leftovers exceeded what they had started with. The blind were made to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. Lepers were cleansed and the dead brought back to life! Add to all this You had clearly stated at least 5 times that you would be handed over to the Gentiles and shamefully treated and crucified but that you would be raised again in three days. Yet they still ran away when the chips were down. So- what would you say to these men??? What would I say to them? Most likely nothing- because I wouldn’t even want to be near them!

Maybe now we can see where so many Christians cannot accept pure grace because we haven’t got it in us. We have the idea that we have to earn everything we get. As the one song from the Sound of Music goes, “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could…”

Now, of course, that is not true in modern liberal politics. The idea is that the government can give everyone everything and not grow bankrupt. However, it does come from somewhere and that is to soak the rich and make them pay for it. Studies have been made to show that if we took everything away from every millionaire and billionaire in this Country we would have enough to run this government for 6 months. Then what???

But that is politics and not religion. The question is asked in the Bible, “What must I do to be saved?” And the answer was given, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

“It is not that simple,” so many say. “First you have got to get right with God.” “But the Bible says…” “Never mind what the Bible says, I am telling you, you have got to ….. and then they add their additions.

But the Bibles does say, “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the Law.” And “Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Indirectly, if not directly, our text demonstrates that so clearly. “While they (those who had deserted Him!) were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds? (No super saints who believed what was in front of their eyes!)

They hadn’t cleaned up their act. They did not find Jesus! They did not accept Jesus! Jesus found them, Jesus accepted them, Jesus forgave them before they even asked for it.

“Look at My hands and My feet. It is I myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet.” Jesus walked the extra mile, Jesus blessed those who denied Him. Jesus didn’t meet them halfway- rather 100% of the way even walking through a lock door to do so.

“And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement..” What do we have here? It seems just too good to be true. They wanted to believe, but it was more than their human minds could accept at that time. So, what did Jesus do? First, He ate something to prove He was human and secondly “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Without the Holy Spirit we cannot understand the Bible! God created the world out of nothing. Can’t happened. All the 1st born children of the Egyptians died. Well what really happened, the History Channel tells us, is that the first born slept in their father’s room and in a lower bed. And there was a marsh gas that filled the lower level of the room but not up to the father’s bed. Moses struck the water and the Red sea parted. What really happened, is that every once in a while, there is enough silt that clogs a river and blocks it for a short time. That is what the people walked on. You know, they have more faith in their garbage than I do in the Bible!

Now, onto us. I find myself very much like these Apostles. I haven’t been the most faithful follower. These are not just empty words for me from our confession, namely, “I have sinned against Thee by thought, word and deed.” Like St Paul, “O the good I want to do, I do not and the evil I do not want to do, this I do, o wretched man that I am.” And because these are not empty words, and as our Liturgy also says, “With a true heart, let us confess our sins.” and so I do, and undeservedly I hear, “I forgive you of all your sins, in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

And that begs the question, why would anyone miss any opportunity to assemble in God’s holy House of Prayer and be able to confess our sins and receive, not only Holy Absolution, but also the sign and seal of that forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar?

And this is where the last part of our text comes in: “You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” You and I have already had our “Pentecostal experience.” That is somehow or the other, through the preaching of the Word or from our receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in our Baptism, our spiritual eyes and ears have been opened. We know and believe the Gospel. We have been born again to a new and living way. We are equipped to be His witnesses.

And that is what we need to be doing. We have close to 200 members and we can start right here in our own “Jerusalem.” We have never had all 200 here at one time. In fact, I will go so far as to say, not even within a month’s time. Needless to say, we have never had half that many for a Wednesday service. If you have received a blessing in these midweek services, in having the opportunity to confess your sins and receive the absolution, and in hearing the Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper, then witness the same to your fellow members!

Be an Easter Christian, that is someone who has witnessed the reality of a living Savior in your own life because He has risen! He has risen indeed! Amen!

Sermon Sunday April 8, 2018

Acts 4: 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein.” As we look at our text, we see this is what the early Christians understood rather well. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

Jesus made this rather plain when He gave us the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There you will recall in hell the rich man had nothing but intense thirst while Lazarus was being comforted by the holy angels. Jesus talked about storing up treasures for ourselves either in heaven or temporarily on earth.

But! This is the first Sunday after Easter and as you can see our stoles and the paraments are white. This is not really a stewardship text nor theme but it has another purpose. How in the world could people feel this way and act out their feelings if it wasn’t something they firmly believed in? The reason something so completely and forcefully transformed their lives was an event witnessed by over 500 believers and enthusiastically shared with countless others until these people- now since Pentecost- numbered in the thousands!

Think about it. At Jesus arrest, the disciples ran away. Now they are quite public and quite outspoken. This is what we read from the episode before our text. “Then they (The Jewish leaders) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied,…. “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What transformed them to go from being cowards and denying Jesus to so boldly confessing Him??? It wasn’t this lie- “Some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”

This text so much reminds me of my uncle who often said, “Some people will tell a lie when the truth would serve them better!” Now was the time for them to confess the Christ instead of continuing with their hatred. But they didn’t!

So, what changed them? What transformed them? What made them turn 180 degrees? “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.”

“The angel of the Lord …rolled back the stone and sat on it.” I can see the face of that angel. A sense of victory and yet tenderness as he spoke to the women. Jesus’ enemies did everything they could to stop Him. Humiliate Him, kill Him, bury Him and even post a guard but what good did it do? Nothing stood in God’s way.

He is the God who created this world out of nothing. He is the God who delivered His people out of Egypt through the Red Sea and with all those miracles. Jesus started out by turning water into wine, feeding thousands from almost nothing, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear the lame to walk and even raising the dead. So, move back and get out of His way for, “The angel of the Lord …rolled back the stone and sat on it.” And he did not do it to let Jesus out but to let us in to see the empty linen cloths and the two angels. So that now we to can say to those who would silence us, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

And it now comes down to us, we who have just celebrated Easter! We are not only to say, “He is risen!” but to live and act as though we are serving a living, all powerful God.

Our text might suggest a communistic way of life for Christians and certainly some cults have practiced that, including Jim Jones. But if this were what our Lord wanted then this would have also taken place in the other areas where the Church was planted, such as Rome, or Corinth or Philippi, but we see no evidence of such a structure.

What our text tells us is that these were completely changed people. The Resurrection had completely transformed them. This is how they saw the need for the Church to both grow and go into the utter most parts of the world.

You and I, living here in this day and age are not required to give up everything we own and turn it over to our church and depend on the Church to supply our every need. But like the Christians of old, we are to be- as quoted by St Paul- to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. In that transformation we will be enabled to walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek and bless those who curse us. In that renewed mind will love the habitation of God’s house and we will see and feel and experience His glory as we gather together and partake of the Lord’s Supper and enjoy the fellowship of His people.

Broad is the road that leads to destruction and many there be that travel upon it. Its end is ruin and death but because their minds are not renewed, they can’t see it. Their thinking is that it can’t be wrong because everyone else is doing it, believing it, following it. I am reminded of the newsreels of the 30’s when Hitler paraded down the streets of Germany and how ecstatic and enthusiastic the people all were. It was said that at Stalin’s funeral, 1500 people were crushed to death trying to get closer to his casket because the people loved him so.

If we were to take a poll and ask every American if they thought Jesus is the only way to heaven, we would realize what President Obama said was true- namely, this is not a Christian Nation. If we asked the same question to everyone who calls himself a Christian we would be amazed and sadly disappointed in how many believe there are other roads to heaven.

It is easy to gloss over the 10 Commandments, to highlight some and ignore others. I don’t steal, I don’t murder, I do not swear, I don’t covet. But when we look more intensely at these Commandments, we see that by not helping our neighbor to keep what is his we are in a sense stealing from him. We learn from the Parable of the Good Samaritan that murder is the same as not helping our neighbor in his every physical need.

Well, I am a good Christian I go to church and do this that or the other. (Small Catechism) We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but gladly hear and learn from it. I can’t but help think that if every Christian truly believed that, then our churches would be filled every time the doors were opened for public worship. I can’t but help think Bible studies would be much more attended.

We talk about C&Eers (people who only attend on Christmas and Easter.) but what the Lord wants is E’ers! That is Easter Christians, people who have been transformed by the renewal of their minds and want to live as though they pray and mean, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” And sadly, that isn’t always the case, not for me and not for you. That doesn’t give us a pass, but rather after experiencing Easter, after hearing Jesus say, “Because I live, you will live also.” we will be more E’ers and keep our eyes on eternity.

St Paul put it this way: We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Easter happens in Spring. Trees are greening and flowers are blooming and plant life and animal life takes on a new meaning. So, then we also are excited about our Lord in this renewed season. With the Holy Spirit leading us, and yes, and yes at times falling, he nevertheless picks us up and dusts us off and puts us back on that straight and narrow. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen!