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Sermon for Advent 2 2017

Psalm 80:1, 3, 14, 17; antiphon: Is 62

Behold, Your Salvation Comes

Advent 2 Populus Zion

December 10, 2017

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Commemoration of St. Nicholas, Bishop

Commemoration of St. Nicholas

Midweek Advent 1

December 6, 2017

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Sermon for Advent 1 2017

Jeremiah 23:5-8

Behold, the Days Are Coming

Advent 1

December 3, 2017

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Matthew 25:1-13 "Prepared for Christ"

Matthew 25:1-13

Prepared for Christ

Trinity 27/Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 26, 2017

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Thanksgiving Day Sermon 2017

Luke 12:13-21

Thanksgiving Day/Harvest Observance

November 23, 3017

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

You’ve probably all heard the saying that you’ll never see a hearse pulling a uhaul trailer. While I’m sure someone somewhere has hooked up a hitch to a hearse out of humor, the saying holds a truth that cannot be denied no matter who you are or what you believe: when you die, you can’t take any earthly possessions with you.  But that doesn’t stop us from trying to pile up worldly things. The most common idol on earth is that of possessions. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes comments on how he had gained all that his heart desired, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Now, to be sure, the problem does not lie as much with possessions as it does with the human heart.  We readily acknowledge that God gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals and all we have. And even more, He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life. We pray for as much in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And we pray that God would lead us to recognize that every good gift from above comes from the gracious hand of God. But why does the contentment with what we’ve been given seem to run out so quickly? 

Though our lives may be filled with all these possessions, there remains an emptiness that all too many people suffer. We desire what we do not have, and when we have it, the satisfaction quickly fades.  The novelty and newness wears off.  And so a common solution is to attempt to buy their way out of depression and anxiety, of fear and apprehension, of the effects of age and illness.  This is a plague in our current culture, a plague of worldliness and greed and covetousness. Yet, when faced with death Jesus’ words ring all too true, “One’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions.”

The truth is, the emptiness we try to fill with the acquisition of stuff can only be filled with Christ, who puts meaning into life, a meaning that transcends the few years we have here on this earth.  St. Augustine, the 4th century church father, was absolutely right when he wrote, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."

This is the point of Jesus’ parable today and His answer to man consumed with wordily things. He approaches Jesus and asks His help in obtaining what he felt he was entitled to: half of an inheritance. Jesus’ response almost seems ironic, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus is called elsewhere the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Timothy 2:5).  The problem though is that this man approaches Jesus asking His help for half an inheritance on earth, while Jesus is offering him a whole inheritance in heaven.

Jesus speaks this parable of the rich fool to illustrate His point. The man is foolish not because he is rich, but because of the way that he handles the riches he has received as a gift. To what he has, more abundance has been added as a gift.  A gift, by nature, is not earned or deserved. It is not dependent upon the receiver, but upon the giver. The abundance of this man’s possessions, just as his life, comes as a gift bestowed apart from his own efforts.  The question that is posed to him now is what is going to do with his gifts, both his possessions and his life. When blessed with more than what he expected, and faced with the decision on what to do with it all, the fool answers selfishly and greedily, storing it all up for himself, neither sharing his possessions nor his life with others. 

This rich fool did not recognize that the gift of surplus goods was from God. He should not have been surprised that his very life is also a gift from God and that this gift may be “demanded back” by God at any time. He was so concerning with gaining the whole world that he loses his very soul. This is why the man is a fool: the possessions that possessed him during his life are now meaningless when that life is demanded back by God.  There will be a time of accountability when God will ask whether His free gift was received through faith or if it was abused by the arrogant assumption that God’s gifts were personal possessions earned by one’s works or entitlement.

The things that matter most in this life aren't the things you can buy, they are things money can't buy.  God has purchased and won you for eternity not with gold or sliver, but with the precious blood of His dear Son.  This Son of God who was rich, for your sakes, "became poor, that you, through His poverty might be made rich."  Jesus left His heavenly throne, His glory at the side of His Father, to take on your restlessness, your discontent, your searching, your longing, your emptiness.  He bore your covetousness, your sin upon the cross.  He took away all the reasons you could find to hide it from Him, to find satisfaction in the things of this world.  And now, He sets before you the wholeness of things with eternal significance. 

With God there is meaning, there is worth, there is salvation, but the treasure of heaven is not like the treasure of this earth.  Although He is the creator and owner of all things, He lived among us as a poor person.  Although He has all authority in heaven and earth, He lived under the authority of the law.  Although He has all power, He made Himself helpless and submitted to the punishment we deserved as He suffered and died on the cross.  Although forgiveness, life, and salvation are worth more than we could ever pay, Jesus offers them to us as a free gift.  Although Jesus deserves our unending service, it is His desire to serve us.  It is Jesus who makes us rich toward God.

To be rich toward God is to believe that God is the giver of all things, it is to receive Him who has given up His very life so that you might share in His eternal inheritance. And for all this, it is our joyful response and to give Him thanks and praise.  Thanksgiving is the only secular holiday that the Church really observes.  And it is good that we do, for on Thanksgiving, we don’t just give thanks for what we have, we give thanks to the Giver of all good gifts. As we have freely received, so we freely give and share with others the gifts given by God. This is the constant teaching of Jesus in His various words about possessions.  Behind it all is the Gospel of grace: forgiveness is bestowed as God’s free gift in Jesus Christ, received through faith in. Amen.

Matt 22:15-22 "Rendering What is Owed"

Matthew 22:15-22

Rendering What is Owed

Trinity 23

November 19, 2017

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

They are at it again.  It seems as though the Pharisees never tire of trying to trip Jesus up in His words. This time, they are trying to put Jesus in the middle of church and state issue. So they ask Him if it is lawful to pay taxes. If Jesus were to say that they should not pay Caesar, then He would be guilty of robbing Caesar. If He said you should pay them and regard Caesar as Lord, then that would insult God, who wants to be the nation’s only Lord and only king. The Pharisees thought that whichever way Jesus would answer, He would get into trouble in some way. We see this over and over again as Jesus’ opponents talk to Him. They don’t like Him, so they try to trap in His words and make Him say something that is going to be Himself in trouble. But it never turns out quite right for them. 

Jesus has a wisdom that is greater than theirs, for He is wisdom that Proverbs speak about.   “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion…” and later, “By Me, kings reign, and rulers decree what is just, by Me princes rule, and noble, all who govern justly.” (Proverbs 8). They don’t realize, or they just flat out reject, that Jesus is Lord, and the Caesar exists by the grace of God and is placed in that position as a mask of God to for the sake of peace and good order in the world. 

Regardless, we should be less concerned with how the Pharisees try to trap Jesus and more concerned with Jesus’ answer about rendering what is owed. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).  What does this look like? This is included in the Small Catechism, under the title “Table of Duties.” If you haven’t looked at that in a while, it is worth it checking out. It’s simply a list of Bible passages concerning out different vocations in life and how Christians are to act. So let’s take this one at a time and explore the Lord’s words.

“Render to Caesar.” Most of the time, when I think about this passage or a sermon on this passage, I think about paying taxes. The Roman tribute was rendering to Caesar an acknowledgment for the benefits of law, security, and order of living in the Roman Empire. Render back what is owed, acknowledging the benefits of living under the lordship of each kingdom. The same goes still today. As citizens of the United States, as residents of Nampa and the surrounding communities, we have a duty to be good citizens, to be law abiding citizens, to strive for peace and harmony in our lives and conduct.

But it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, that’s not really Jesus’ point.  The Lord’s response to this is “Render to God the things that belong to God.” For the Pharisees this doesn’t mean give more money, or pay the right amount of taxes.  They were keeping the Law in an external way. They paid taxes. They were tithing. They were going to the Temple. They were faithfully reciting the Shema, the Old Testament Creed. Yet, the rejected their Lord and their Creator standing right in front of them. They sought to trap Jesus for the sake of murdering Him. They were hypocrites, acting for the sake of appearance but not believing it in their hearts. In our Gospel reading, we hear how Jesus is offering Himself to the Pharisees, and to us, that they might be freed from the hypocrisy and know the joy of giving to God what He already has.

What were they, what are you, to render to God? In Divine Service 1, we sing Psalm 116:12-13, 17-19 as our offertory that asks, and answers, this very question.  “What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.”  We are to return to God for our creation, for our preservation, and all our blessings in life.

What belongs to God? You do. He has claimed you, redeemed you out of slavery and is restoring His image in you through faith and the deliverance of His grace. Human creatures naturally belong to their Maker, who stamped His image on them at creation.  Sin shattered that image.  By His atoning work upon the cross, He declares you holy and righteous. The Lord restores His image through the waters of Baptism. As Baptized children of God, declared righteous through faith in His word upon the cross and sustained by His body and blood in the Sacrament, you are bearing the image of Christ, who will transform these lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, a body that bears the image of God.

In the Epistle, St. Paul reminds us that we our citizenship is in heaven. We are resident aliens here, and that is our struggle.  Our Gospel gives us instruction for our earthly walk as citizens in heaven. To Caesar we are to give what is his, but to God we are to give what is His. The Christian will always be the ideal world citizen if he obeys the Lord, though the world may not recognize it.

The division into sacred and secular is convenient, but it is no more than some duties are paid to God and some to your neighbor. Our neighbors are best served, Caesar is best served, by those who serve him for God’s sake. Christ bids us to render to Caesar and we do it because Christ bids us, and in doing so we serve not Caesar but Christ.

When there is a conflict between what God says and what man says, between how God rules and the way that government rules, remember your citizenship. When faced with such situations in the books of Acts, St. Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” We give both kingdoms the honor that they are due since God rules through both. Jesus does not say, “give to Caesar whatever he wants.”  But He sets a limit on how far he should reach. That limit is “what is Caesar’s.” Only that which belongs to him is by the grace of God. Caesar can have our taxes, he can have our loyalty.  Our lives are with Christ, both our lives here and now and our eternal life.

We can, in an external way, set our wills to fulfilling the Law. We can pay our taxes, honor the government, obey the laws.  We set a portion of our income for the work of the Church, for the care of the poor. We can recognize that God has given us duties to one another and then set about doing them. We can fulfill part of the Law in an external way and it is good when we do so. The Pharisees aren’t told to stop tithing, and neither are we.  God makes a claim on everything you have and everything you are belongs to Him and is to be in His service.

Thank God there is more to rendering unto God what is God’s than our keeping of the Law. Nothing belongs to God more than Christ Himself. Born without sin, Christ is the ultimate offering made on our behalf.  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:1–3).

The Lord Himself is the ultimate cheerful giver. He renders unto God what is God’s: Himself. He does hold back. He doesn’t daydream about having more.  He doesn’t act as a hypocrite. He willingly go to the cross. No one takes His life from Him, but He willingly gives it that you may have life. He not only forgives our sins and declares us righteous, but He also presents us to His Father as His pure, righteous bride. He gives Himself. He restores our image as a child of God. And He renders to His Father we who have been redeemed by Him. Jesus fulfills the Law for us. He renders to God what belongs to God so that we again belong to God.

Matthew 18:21-35 "Forgiven to Forgive"

Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiven to Forgive

Trinity 22

November 12, 2017

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

The Lord Christ spoke this Gospel reading today in answer to St. Peter after He had committed to Peter the loosing and binding keys. When St. Peter asked Him how often he should forgive his neighbor he is asking how often he should use these keys that Jesus had bestowed to the church. Is seven times enough? Jesus answered him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” At the same time, Jesus concluded his parable with the summary that if we do not forgive our neighbor, our heavenly Father will deal with us the same way as the king deals with his servant. To ask, how often should I forgive my brother, is in fact to ask, how often should I be forgiven. A defining mark of living here and now in the kingdom of heaven is that of repentance and forgiveness.  In fact, when we are urged to live a life of repentance and forgiveness, of sorrow over our sin and faith that Jesus takes that sin away, we are simply being urged to live a Christian life. 

This is a very comforting Gospel reading because it contains the forgiveness of sins.  But it is also a frightening verdict for a hardened heart, especially one that has heard and received God’s forgivingness but refuses to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. What God wants to have in His kingdom is that no one lets himself become so angry and so bitter that he cannot forgive his neighbor. Even if he angers over and over and over again, we are to abandon our right and freely forgiven him everything.

To further explain what this looks like, Jesus spoke a parable. First, the king sets the servant free from all his debt. He had begged the king for patience, stating that he would repay it all, which is just flat out ridiculous.  This man had a debt that could never be repaid, even if he and his family were sold. But the king has pity on the man and forgives not just part, but all of it. He doesn’t just lessen the debt so that it is payable, the king wipes it completely out.

This is a picture of how God deals with His people.  Our sinfulness has piled up a debt that is completely unable to paid and fulfilled.  God certainly isn’t obliged to forgive you because of you. He has every right to look at your sin and demand that you make up for it, even knowing full well that it would impossible.  In our opening verses in Divine Service IV that we use today, which also serves as the antiphon, the bookends, of the Introit, “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with You there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). You could work your entire life and never do it. In a literal sense, there is no human way possible to pay for your sin.  Not all the blood of your life, nor your family, nor in all the world could cover one man’s sins.

But Jesus can and He does.  He’s not only man, He is also God. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Upon the cross, He redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” (SC 2nd Article meaning). Not only has Jesus done this for you He has set up a kingdom in which there is grace, which will never cease, where you are forgiven everything as often as you sin. God gives Himself completely to you, becomes your gracious Lord, and serves you with all that He has.

God desires to forgive, not to punish. He is compassionate and merciful. But that does not mean that punishment will not take place. We live in a time where evil continues to rear its ugly head. Mass shootings, murder of innocents in the womb, political controversy.  Offense is given often, and it is taken even more often. God desires that His people would turn to Him in repentance and in faith receive the forgiveness of Christ for the evil and the sin of thought, word, and deed. But when this does not happen, there is a prison sentence waiting.

The servant who refused to forgive was condemned. He was condemned for taking the forgiveness of the king, freely given and received, and then abusing it.  He uses his forgiveness as a license to continue sinning, which is nothing else than spitting in the face of the king. This is the same warning that St. Paul gives in Romans (6:15-16), “Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” The one who refused to confess his sin, who persists in his sin and therefore rejects God’s forgiveness has a bleak future.

This is a stark warning, and it should make us squirm. Justice will be dealt out one way or the other. Either it is on Christ, or it is on you. Either Christ pays off your debt upon the cross, or you spend an eternity in the prison of hell paying off that which can never be paid off. Either Christ has mercy on you and you have mercy on others, or you will not receive mercy.

And so St. Paul says in our Epistle, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:11. By becoming a man, Jesus actually lived out that righteousness. He life is actually lived out through us as His Spirit regenerates and moves us to follow His example.  The thoughts, words, and deeds that are produced in a person who possesses the righteousness of Christ actually regenerates a person who thinks, speaks and does what it right.

So we ask why then the servant in the parable did not want to forgive, why he refused.  Why did he go and demand that his fellow servant pay him the small amount that was owed and not be merciful as his king was merciful to him?  Maybe a better question is, then, why do you act this way?

If you want to live in God’s kingdom, you must forgive. It is not optional for a Christian. The blessing of forgiveness is the defining gift of the Church. Nowhere and nothing else can offer this heavenly blessing. Make no mistake, forgiveness is not acceptance of sin. It is not saying that the sin doesn’t matter or that it is ok if it continues.  Sin is never ok, and once confessed and forgiven it should stop. Call sin what it is, “evil” and “sinful”, and whenever there is repentance, exercise your God given right and you forgive that sin. If you want to remain with the world and follow the world’s ways and the world’s standard of justice, then there you will stay.

Our ability, therefore, and more so, our willingness to forgive a neighbor is grounded on Christ’s mercy toward us. Are you struggling with the weight of sin? Come to Christ the King and receive His forgiveness. Are you struggling with forgiving others? Come to Christ the King and receive His forgiveness. The result of this is rather simple: Christ continues to forgive you when you sin, therefore you ought to forgive those who sin against you as often as they sin. He has cancelled your debt that the you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (SC 2nd Article meaning). Because of Christ, your sins are forgiven. Now, go and do likewise. In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.