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Trinity 7 2018 - Genesis 2:7-17

Genesis 2:7-17

Humanity in Creation

Trinity 7 2018

July 15, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

In our Old Testament reading for today from Genesis 2, we zoom in to the 6th day of creation when God creates Adam.  Unlike the rest of creation, God does not make humanity out of nothing. He does not simply speak him into existence like He does the birds and animals and fish and plants, the light and sun and the moon and the stars.  No, God shapes man from the existing material of the created world.  God takes the dust from the ground and He forms man, breathing the breath of life into his nostrils to make him a living creature.  Right there from the beginning we have a definition of what it means to be human – God created, Spirit breathed and enlivened body.  Or in other words, a body and a rational soul.  That is what it means to be human.  It takes both, not one or the other, or one and something else.

At first glance, this may not seem to be such a profound teaching, but nowadays in our culture, this is critical.  Our culture is suffering from an identity crisis. What I mean by that is that there is wide spread confusion over what it means to be human. When you disregard or discount God’s creation of Adam and Eve, when a person doesn’t know their creator, they can’t know their purpose or reason for being as a creation. There is a widespread belief that the body doesn’t really matter, that it’s not the “real” you. This is how people can think that a 5 year old can be think he is a boy trapped in a girl’s body, or vice versa.  Or non-binary, feeling that they are neither a man or woman “on the inside” regardless of biology.  It is the promotion of the false idea that the true self is made up only of how a person self identifies, of their feelings, that what matter is all that is on the inside.  This is how people can be led to think that taking hormones, or having surgery to change the body’s natural growth, can fix the problem of identity.  Take my mind and download it into a computer and I’ll still be me, but better because machine is better than flesh. All of this is a rejection of our creatureliness, of how the Lord God created humanity. It’s not new, but it’s really just part of an ancient heresy that continues to plague the Christian Church called Gnosticism.

Along with this is the all too common in popular Christian, and non-Christian, belief is that the goal and purpose of this life is simply to die and go to heaven, disembodied spirit singing with the heavenly choirs for all eternity.  That then leads to a sense that this world and this life is like the trial period for heaven. That this life is just a temporary valley of sorrow and tears we must get through to get to the “real” life. That’s not Scriptural, and that’s not Christian. The most common place I hear about this is at a funeral, when someone looks a dead body and says, “my grandma” isn’t there.  What they mean is that her soul isn’t there anymore, which is true, but her body still is. And that is a body that Jesus died to redeem from death. That is the body that Jesus will raise again from the dust. According to Genesis 2, that body is half the person that is experiencing the ultimate curse of sin, death.    Listen to the final blessing in the liturgy for the burial of a Christian, “May God the Father, who created this body; may God the T Son, Who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, Who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.” Which means the way we treat the body and the way we treat the soul are both important because body and soul is the Biblical definition of what it means to be human.

The key to this is found in the incarnation of Jesus.  The Son of God is at the same time both God and man. He is God begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother, Mary, composed of a rational soul and human flesh. This takes place not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity in God. This Christ, perfect God and perfect man, suffered for our salvation, died upon the cross, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead (Athanasian Creed). 

Jesus Christ risen, alive, forever fully God and fully human. Christ then both communicates to us who God is, but also who man is.  Jesus has redeemed us to be fully human, not to be something different, or only human in part, but to restore humanity to its created intent and purpose.  This is why in Philippians 3:21 St. Paul writes in regard to the resurrection that Christ will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself. That is our goal, that is our eternal life: as fully human, body and soul, living with God and all His people in perfect fellowship and unity and purpose.

Immediately after creating the first man, Adam, the Lord God plants a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He plants not just the trees, but also Adam. It is here in the Garden of Eden that we hear of the first “great commission”, be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over creation. Why is man created? To work in and keep God’s creation.  Man’s first purpose to take care of God’s creation.  This work is neither a punishment, nor is it “hard’ in the sense that it is unpleasant.  Work only becomes a source of hardship and suffering as a result of the Fall into sin. But Christ has dealt with your sin.  On the cross, your sin is forgiven. By the means of grace, that forgiveness, the fruit of Christ’s work for you, is applied.  St. Paul explains in our Epistle from Romans 6, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” It is through Christ that you are freed from your sin, from the curse of the law, from your death, from your selfishness. You are freed to live and work under the cross of Christ to be who you are in Christ: a beloved child of God, created by Him, made anew through the waters of your Baptism, to do the work of God that He has prepared in advance for you to do. 

What are you supposed to do? How do you answer those questions, “Why I am here? Why am I still here?  What is my reason for being?” The Lord reveals this to you: to take care of God’s creation.  That’s your job, that’s what you are supposed to do. Do you need to go be farmers? Plant some corn, sugar beets, hops, hay? Not really, unless that is what you want to do.  All the different tasks that we do are part of taking care of creation. If you’re a doctor, you’re taking care of God’s creation by taking care of the physical needs of people. If you are a teacher, you’re taking care of God’s creation by teaching others about God’s creation. If you’re a police officer, you’re taking care of God’s creation by protecting and serving others.  If you’re a mechanic, you’re taking care of God’s creation by fixing things that become broke because of sin. If you’re a farmer or a rancher or a dairyman, you’re taking care of God’s creation by those means. All of the different vocations that we have go to serve this purpose.  And in all these vocations, God works through people to care for His creation.

In a confused world, remember who you are: created by God, beloved in the Lord, redeemed by Christ, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  

Funeral for Evelyn Munster

Romans 8:35-39

Funeral Sermon for Evelyn Munster

July 6, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Gone, but not forgotten. That’s why we mourn today.  A dear child of God has died. After 96 years of life on this earth, she made quite a mark, and so she is not forgotten.  The Munster name can still be found around town.  The Munster name is still connected to the barbershop. Children and grandchildren, great and great-greatgrandchildren. Five generations. Memories, experiences, that must live on here is quite astonishing.  After the service today, I hope you can join us in Luther Hall to share in some of the memories.

Gone, but not forgotten. But what happens when you who remember Evelyn aren’t here anymore either?  What happens to us when those who remember aren’t here anymore either? If we are forgotten, does that mean that we are gone?

Or let me put it another way. It is no secret that over the last several years, Evelyn’s mind was not what it once was. Most of her memories were gone, but that could not rob her of who she was: a faithful wife and mother, a friend, and most importantly, a child of God. In my opinion, this was one of the defining aspects of her life in her last years.  Still singing the song she taught her children, and she may have first learned from her parents. “Jesus loves me.”  She sang this song continuously, to everyone at every situation. The staff knew it. The other residents knew it. Any visitors knew it. It could very well be that Evelyn was one of the greatest evangelists in Park Place, simply by singing and sharing that “Jesus loves me.”  What a testament of her faith. Testament of her Savior.  She may have forgotten much, but she is not gone. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Not dementia, not death, not sadness.

Her faith in Christ was deeper than her memory, because the Lord remembers His people. Though her mind may have been gone, she was remembered by the Lord who preserved her in that true faith to life everlasting. Psalm 115:12-18, “The Lord has remembered us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Arron; He will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great. May the Lord give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth! The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth He has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the Lord, not do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!”

This is very significant. The Lord remembered Evelyn.  He remembered His promises to her, delivered at her baptism when she was only a couple weeks old, reaffirmed throughout her life by the Word of God itself, fed and nourished continuously by means of the true body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Lord did not forget His promise that nothing would separate her from Him, not death nor life, angels nor rulers, things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, not even dementia.  As the Psalmist says, the dead do not praise the Lord. Because of Christ, Evelyn lives. Death is defeated. She continues to praise the Lord even now. And she will rise again when Christ returns.

The Lord remembers you. He knows you. He knows your fears, your sadness, your joys.  He knows your sin. And what He remembers is that He sent His Son to die so that you might live, that your sins be forgiven, that you be placed into His nail pierced hands to be remembered forever.  He remembers the promises made at your baptism, as we spoke already this morning from Romans 6, “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” 

Gone but not forgotten, indeed.  Today, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us by sending His Son, Jesus, into the world for us.

Trinity 6 2018 - Matthew 5:17-26

Matthew 5:17-26

The Role of the Law in the Life of the Christian

Trinity 6

July 8, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus spoke these words as part of His sermon on the mount.  The chief purpose of this sermon was to teach the right understanding of divine justice. This is why He came into the world: to bring people to realize His gracious deeds so that by His righteousness they would be justified before God, and that people rely solely upon His righteousness and abandon trust in their own works.  For whoever continues to seek righteousness within himself does not seek it with Christ.

Now, if people are to abandon trusting in their own works, they must have a proper understanding of God’s Law, which requires not just perfect outward obedience, but also perfect inner obedience.  This is why Christ explains the Law in so much detail here.  He counters the Pharisees false teaching that only an outward obedience is what matters.  Jesus doesn’t speak these words in opposition of the Law as if He wanted to make something more perfect or do away with what Moses delivered to the people.  For Jesus comes not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.

So Christ, the giver of the Law itself, states here that the Law demands more. In His example of the 5th Commandment He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  He differentiates between the judgment, the court, and the fire of hell according to Leviticus 19, in which these judgments were exacted, all upon the pain of death. He wishes to teach that even the slightest breaking of this commandment, outward or inward, in itself is deserving of judgment.

God gave His Law and His demands are high.  Not just perfect external works, but also a purity of heart.  When God says, “You shall not murder”, it is His wish that the hand, the mouth, the heart should not be inclined to hurt or harm the neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need (SC).  This is what the Law requires.  But when we examine ourselves, we do not find this within us. The Law requires holy and pious thoughts, but as Matthew 15:19 states, out of our hearts comes every evil thought, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  The Law demands a perfect righteousness, yet as Isaiah 64:6 states, all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.

So what are we to do? We can’t do away with the Law, for it is simply God’s will for His creation. People try to live without the Law, and yet God’s nature demands perfect justice. You break the Law, you face the consequences.  It is as simple as that.  Without righteousness we are not able to stand before a holy and perfect and righteousness God.

So we seek the righteousness of Christ.  He has taken our place. He is perfectly obedient to the Law, both outwardly in His words and actions, and also inwardly, for His obedience flows out of a totally perfect and sinless heart, doing everything out of a perfect love.  Not because He had to, for He Himself was the Lawgiver, and there was nothing that He had to earn for Himself through His own obedience, for He had everything by His eternal begotten-ness from the Father.

Here’s the beauty of the Gospel: Jesus does it all for you.  As St. Paul so eloquently put it in 2 Corinthians 5[:21], “For our sake, [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  His obedience, His righteousness, His eternal love is yours, received only by faith in Him. We become righteous only when His righteousness is imputed, is given and received, to and by us, held on to by faith: by the fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. 

And this is why we value the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, so highly.  In Baptism, we are clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sin. How do you know you stand righteous before God? I am baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We begin the Divine Service in the name of the Triune God, making the sign of the cross upon ourselves just as it was given us in those blessed waters.  In the Absolution, we hear God’s declaration that our sins are forgiven and we stand righteous before God. In the Sacrament of the Altar, the very body and blood of Christ are given and shed for us for the forgiveness of all our sins, that we are kept steadfast in the true faith to life everlasting.

This is the righteousness, the reception of and the faith in Christ’s righteousness, that one must have before God. From this flow all good works, by faith hearts are made pure. Where a pure heart exists, good works must follow. The Christian can never do this perfectly in this life. We remain poor, miserable sinners who need the forgiveness of our sins for Christ’s sake.  But we are to strive toward this active righteousness of our faith, but always and only trusting in the perfect righteousness of Christ.  That is what Jesus means that our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, that we have the righteousness of faith, the righteousness of Christ, which alone can stand before the judgment seat of God.


This sermon was partly based upon one by Johann Gerhard, Postilla, Vol. 2. “On the Sixth Sunday after Trinity” pp. 68-76.

Trinity 4 2018

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-80

June 24, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Nine months of silence, of listening without talking. Nine months to reflect on what it all meant.  Nine months of doing his job, a priest before God in the temple, without being able to speak out loud to the people of God, or to utter his prayers vocally before the Lord. Nine months because he did not believe the angel’s words that he, an old man with a barren wife, who would have son who would be great before the Lord, who would turn many to the Lord their God, who would go before the Messiah in the spirit of Elijah to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

But then the silence was soon to be broken. Zechariah’s child was born as the angel had promised. Eight days later, Zechariah and Elizabeth brought the boy to the temple to be circumcised and to be named. There is confusion over the name itself, until Zechariah motioned for a writing tablet and a pen and wrote, “His name is John”, which had no family connection, only the word of the Lord. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed and he spoke blessing God. The text of the Benedictus, Zechariah’s hymn of praise, likely were the first words out of his mouth, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people…”

These words show exactly where Zechariah’s heart is.  His first words since knowledge of his son’s life were not about John, his newborn son. They were about the Lord.  When you open your mouth, when God has done great and wondrous things in your lives, what are the first words that come out of your mouth? Do you praise the blessing, or do you praise the One who blesses? This will tell a lot about a person’s heart, for your words also show where your heart is.  Remember Psalm 51:15. King David writes this after his affair with Bathsheba and then when Nathanael points the finger at him and says, “you are that man.”  He writes, “create in me a clean heart of God and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free spirit.”  Later he writes, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” This verse is a powerful and profound part of the Christian’s prayer and praise. And wonder upon wonders, the Lord hears such prayers. He knows the faith of Zechariah and opens his mouth, so too he knows your faith and He opens your mouth to speak of Christ.

What a blessing this is! How many times have you been faced with a situation where there is a chance to speak about your faith, your hope in your savior and wonder what to say, you wonder if you have the strength or courage to speak up.  How many times have you thought back and wished that your mouth might have been opened.  So pray this prayer. The Lord will hear, He will act. When you speak, speak not of yourself, but speak of Christ, Christ for you, what Christ has done and what He still does.

This is what Zechariah does. He speaks of the Lord who has visited His people and redeemed His people. Pregnant Mary may have even still be staying in their house at this time, though regardless Zechariah would have remembered the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, which fittingly is called the Visitation, and is celebrated by the Church on July 2.  Greater than the visit between the cousins of Mary and Elizabeth was the visit of the cousins Jesus and John. This was no chance encounter, but promised of old. As surely as God walked in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, so too He would walk His people again. Feet on the ground, in the dirt, visiting His creation.

In Christ, God assumed the human nature.  God literally, physically, He visited and redeemed His people, He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. The Son of God dying, nailed to the tree, bleeding divine blood that you might be delivered, freed from the enemies of sin, from death, from the devil.  Delivered for a purpose: “that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”  All of God’s covenant and victories on Israel’s behalf had one purpose: to redeem His people and to enable them to serve Him freely, fearlessly, in holiness and righteousness forever. You have been redeemed to live this way, here on earth as a foreshadow of what our eternal life shall be like.

Zechariah’s words turn to his child John, who had a certain calling from of old: to be the prophet of the Most High. He speaks not just of the Lord, but he speaks of what the Lord has done for him, and how He will use this newborn child to go before the Lord to prepare His ways: to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of sins.  This is the central theme of the Gospel that echo the promises of the new covenant. That was John’s job, to point to Jesus. By his birth, he does this.  Through his life, the Lord opens his mouth to prepare the way for Jesus. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And that’s why you’re here this morning. You come here to be directed to Jesus, to receive Jesus, to have knowledge and faith of the salvation that Jesus won the forgiveness of sins for you. And He has. This is all yours, by faith. Your doubting of God’s promises, you’re failure or even your refusal to open your mouth and declare the praises of God are forgiven because of the tender mercy of our God.

He is faithful to His promises. He was faithful to Zechariah and Elizabeth in giving them a child, promised of old, who would prepare the way of the Lord. He was faithful in keeping His promises of visiting His people by sending His Son into the flesh. He kept His promise of redeeming His people by His death and resurrection.  There are still more promises to keep, and that is what we look forward to as well. We hope for a fulfillment of all God’s divine promises, to the immanent return of Christ, of our glorification with Christ, of eternal life with Him, to guide our feet into the way of peace until peace with God is all that remains.

Trinity 2 2018

Trinity 2 2018

Luke 14:15-24

June 10, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear of a great banquet, a feast, unlike any other.  It is freely offered to be freely enjoyed. Many were invited, the meal was prepared, the notices sent out that all was ready.  The man who prepared the supper is our Lord God Himself. The meal that is prepared is the Holy Gospel. He Himself is the food which is brought to us in the Gospel, that He has made satisfaction for our sins through His death and redeemed us from our own death, from sin, damnation, and the wrath of God.

So God invites to a feast of all grace, with everything prepared and provided for ion the Church of Christ. It is a feast of joy in the present and in a certain hope of the future. The work of the ministry in proclaiming the Gospel is the invitation to come and join. The preaching of Christ is the great meal with which He feeds His guests. He sanctifies these guests by means of Holy Baptism.  He comforts and strengthens them through the Sacrament of His body and His blood so that nothing is lacking and everyone is satisfied. It is an eternal food and eternal drink, so that one never again thirsts nor hungers again.

As Jesus speaks this parable, He does so at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. He has already upset them for He healed a man that very day, which was a Sabbath. He told a parable of the wedding feast where guests ought to come in humility and not in pride trying to sit in a place of honor.  Then He spoke of inviting those who have nothing to give back, no way to repay, no honor to bestow, but are the least and lowest in society.

Now, he speaks of their rejection of Him and the kingdom of God. The many who are invited to this meal are the Jews and the whole people of Israel, who had especially been invited from Abraham onward. The Seed through whom the blessings would come was promised to Abraham, the great patriarch of our faith.  The prophets send by God carried it further and pointed the people to it, even inviting the nations. Now, when the hour had come for people to go to the table, that is the time when our Lord Christ was born, would suffer, and rise again, servants such as John the Baptist went out and said to those invited: Now is the time! The kingdom of God, the great feast, is at hand! But what did they do? The invitations had already been sent and accepted, but now insult results as they refuse.  They all alike began to make excuses.

Christ refers to three people here, each polite enough in their excuse, yet all the same full of vanity.  The first says, “I want to go check on my field.”  The second makes an excuse about examining their oxen. The third explains he cannot come because he has just married. The feast is so great, so complete, so free and easy, it is amazing how many refuse to come.  In reality, there are many excuses, but only one reason: they are already engaged with something else, everything else. They are too satisfied with the world’s riches, too busy with its cares, too happy with its temporary nature. This serves a serious warning for us as well. Those who love their possessions and positions in life more than Christ, who think they are deserving of this invite for the sake of their own virtues, but brush it off as less important than worldly things will not taste this heavenly feast.  It’s as if he says, “Since you’ll examine your field, your oxen, and your wife but abandon Me and My Gospel, so I will in turn abandon you and find other guests who will attend.” According to this passage, everything that was wife, holy, rich, and powerful in the people was rejected by God because they would not accept His Gospel. There is plenty of room at this banquet, but no room in their hearts.

The host doesn’t like this much. His anger is roused, but His graciousness and loves continues. He doesn’t beg those invited to come, he does not try to entice them with something different, he doesn’t whine and complain. He simply tells his servants to go out and invite others. He seeks the outcasts, those whom the Pharisees would consider unclean and unable to share in table fellowship with them, and when there was still more room, those outside the city as well, the Gentiles, who to the Pharisees would be the personification of the outcast and sinner.  These know their hunger, they are aware of their need, and are ready to come even at such a short notice. Those who were once far off have now been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13).

There is no room for pride at the table of the Lord. There is no room of a sense of deserving. There is no treating the Kingdom of God as second best, or something to simply be brushed off. This parable deals a final blow to any expectations the Pharisees had about the table fellowship of Jesus embracing their particular religious perspective. It confirms for them that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy and deserving of death. Jesus comes not for the self-righteous but for those who have no righteousness of their own.  Jesus comes not to confirm a person’s idea of self-worth and pride, but to invite to Himself the humble and the lowly.  “God saves no one but sinners, He instructs no one but the foolish and stupid, He enriches none but paupers, and He makes alive only the dead; not those who merely imagine themselves to be such but those who really are this kind of people and admit it.” (Martin Luther).

Jesus comes to have fellowship with sinners, and only sinners who know their need and hunger and thirst for the righteous of Christ are invited to His table, those compelled by the Holy Spirit in repentant faith to a foretaste of the feast to come.  The feast is now, it is ongoing in the eucharistic life of the Church.  It is here, in the Lord’s Supper when we receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that the crucified and risen Christ is made known to us and has the most intimate fellowship with us. Blessedness comes from eating bread in the kingdom of God, which Christ is now ushering in through His fellowship with outcasts and sinners, and of which we share here and now every single time the Word and Sacrament is present.

While this parable began with a banquet beatitude, it ends with a stern warning. Fellowship with Jesus is a two-edged sword of blessing and judgment.  The temptation comes to all who think themselves too rich, too busy, or too happy, to be bothered to show up.  Those who reject this invitation, regardless of how good the reason it might seem, will not taste this meal. The wrath of God will remain on them and they will be condemned because of their unbelief.

This is a harsh word from God to our pride and our idolatry of worldly things. Our place at the heavenly banquet is one of honor, but not of our own. We are invited only by the grace of God.  Only the beggars, the poor, the lowly, the needy have a place at the Lord’s table. And there is still room.  God compels us when He sends this preaching of the Gospel to people. He points out both heaven and hell, death and life, wrath and grace and reveals to us our sinful condition.  Wrath and repentance force us to run after and cry out for grace, which is the right way to go after this supper. Thus out of Jews and Gentiles there is one Christian Church, and all together are called poor, miserable sinners invited in to the blessings of the eternal banquet, the eternal heavenly wedding feast. So come. The Lord awaits.

Trinity 1 2018

Trinity 1 2018

1 John 4:16-21

June 3, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 “Beloved in the Lord!”  This is how we began the Divine Service after the name of our Triune God was spoken upon this this morning.  “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart…”  Have you ever thought about that statement?  Have you ever realized what the pastor is saying at that very moment?  We hear the name of God, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exclamation pointed statement, “Beloved in the Lord!” 

You are beloved!  You are “much loved” by the Lord Himself!  What a statement that is!  What a relief that is!  What comfort that brings!  I have never heard anyone complain about being told that they are loved.  It is not something I ever get tired of hearing, of being reminded of, of hearing from my wife or my family or my God. So we are reminded again of this saving and true love in our Epistle from St. John.  In this letter alone, John calls us “beloved” 6 times!

This is the best part of the whole thing: you are beloved by God because of who God is, not because of who you are or what you have done.  Love is from God as God is Love personified.  To love is to will the good of the other.  As God is God, He is able to do this and do this perfectly. God doesn’t need anything, He doesn’t need us. He is complete and perfect and whole all by Himself.  And so He is free to love us based on His goodness, on His grace, on His kindness without any selfishness on His part, but with a love that is totally and completely focused on His creation. You are beloved because of what God has done for you.  Beloved by God through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Beloved by God through the forgiveness of your sins.  Beloved by God because His Word abides in you.

Verse 15-16 of 1 John 4 states, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe that the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.”  In the Gospel account that John wrote, he records Jesus’ words explaining this further.  Abiding in God is nothing else than abiding through faith in Christ. Abiding in Christ is nothing else than having the Word of Christ abide in you.  A sinner can know God, and thus love, only through faith in Jesus Christ, the Word of God become flesh. Again, earlier in the chapter, St. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.”

So if you have ever feared, not felt good enough, special enough, plagued by worry or doubt, cling tighter the gift of faith God has given you in His Word and Sacraments and know that you are beloved by God.  You don’t deserve it.  You don’t earn it.   But you are.  And if you are not certain enough or doubt or wonder if tomorrow you won’t be loved, look again at the cross of Christ.  For you can’t get away from God’s love for you there.  Look to the cross, where the One who is perfect love casts out all fear and where God teaches us what is love and how to love.

As child learns to love others through the example and the love of parents, so Christians learn love through God in Christ.  This is how Jesus summarizes the 10 Commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).  It starts with the love of God; not your love for God, but God’s love for you.  We cannot truly love each other until we know the love of God in Christ. We love because He has first loved us, not so that He will love us. 

“Our love for God, even though it may be small, cannot possibly be separated from faith. For we come to the Father through Christ. When forgiveness of sins has been received, then we are truly certain that we have a God, that is, that God cares for us. We call upon Him, we give Him thanks, we fear Him, we love Him as 1 John 4:19 teaches, “We love because He first loved us.” In other words, we love Him because He gave His Son for us and forgave our sins. In this way, John shows that faith comes first and love follows” (Ap V 20). 

This is where the world gets things mixed up.  They attempt love apart from the One who is Love. What the world considers love is actually selfish and self-centered, based on emotions.  But love isn’t an emotion, it’s an act of the will, again that if focused upon the good of the other.  It’s not my love through you. That’s the trick we like to play.  I love you so that you love me in return. I’ll be nice to you so that you’ll nice to me. I’ll be fair to you so that you’ll be fair to me.  But that isn’t love.  That’s why Jesus says, “Great love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). There’s no selfishness there, but it is for the other.

The Rich Man and Lazarus exemplifies what this looks like. It is not that rich man did not love at all, but rather that he loved all the wrong things. His love was not focused on God or his neighbor, but on his possessions and himself. Surrounded by every luxury, the rich man lived a mean and despicable life, counting on himself and the things that he had accumulated. His problem wasn’t his riches, but rather his lack of real love that flowed from a lack of faith in God.  He did not love his brother and therefore could not love God. The absence of love is the absence of God who is love. The unloving man was far poorer than Lazarus, a man who had nothing in this life except the love of God.

Since God is love, to know God is to know love, to know love is to know God. It is not merely that we must love God before we can know Him, but that knowing the love of God in Christ Jesus shows us what love really is and teaches us how to love.  Every aspect of love that appears in the world, whether by Christians or non Christians, whether recognized or not, comes from God, is built into His creation by Him. But without Christ, there is no real love. Without knowing the love the God, we cannot love others. 

True love, perfected love, cannot be accomplished by trying harder, doing more, or being better.  It is not a fickle love that fades over time, waxes and wanes depending on mood and emotions. Perfect love casts out fear.  Fear of sin, fear of death, fear of failure, fear of loneliness, fear of disappointment, fear of not being good enough, fear of ridicule or rejection or refusal. God’s love for us is so strong to chase away fear of punishment because God poured out His wrath against sin upon His Son on the cross. This love is based not on what we do, but on what God has done for us.  It is a love that moves God Himself to eternal commitment by sending His Son to be the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice, for our sins (1 John 4:10). It is only perfected in us by Christ, by receiving His true and perfect and holy love as His bride.

St. John always proceeds from faith to love for one’s neighbor, and from here he returns to faith and demonstrates it on the basis of this fruit.  If one believes in Christ, he has love. The reception of Gods’ love actually alters the attitude of the Christian toward God and toward others. It turns a self-centered heart outward in faith toward God and in love toward others. Having learned this love from God, we don’t wait for others to begin. We cannot be said to love God if we do not love others, our family, our friends, our community. We are loved undeservedly, and so we love undeservedly. If you want to love more, look to Jesus.

And so as beloved in Lord, we as Christians love our neighbors as God has loved us.  What joy we have in the fact that we have people to love, either a wife or children, friends, even enemies, and we thank God, who gives us people to love.  Others may do what they please and the world can run after the fleeting rush of emotions that always fades too quickly; we shall love one another with the love of Christ.  A love based on commitment and relationship in light of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  For consider what a great thing it is that Christ does not spare Himself. He dies that you may live forever. He did not try to buy love or coerce it out of you; He gave His life. Through the love of God and Christ we come to the love of God the Father and of our neighbor. Although we do not see God, yet we believe and love and are declared “beloved in the Lord.”

Trinity Sunday 2018

Trinity Sunday 2018

John 3:1-17

May 27, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Probably one of the most confused, and confusing, beliefs within Christianity is that of the Trinity. The question, basically, is: who is God? How does God relate to Himself.  And then, a follow-up question that is closely related, is “what is the will of God” or how does God then relate to us.

Knowledge of God is incomplete without knowledge of God’s will and vice versa. When a person correctly understands one of these, will understand the other. And also if you don’t understand one, you don’t understand the other.  Christians have long answered these questions by means of the creeds, the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, which are simply statements of belief concerning God and His will in relationship to us. We confess in the Nicene Creed, “who for us men and for our salvation…” Through His Son, God restored us. By the Spirit, we are given that restoration, earned by the Son’s death upon the cross, delivered by the means of grace and received by faith. 

Let us look at how our Gospel reading for this morning reveals this to us. Nicodemus says to the Lord, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).  Nicodemus acknowledges God, and without a doubt, this is how it should be for every Christian: that there really is a God. In an age where even the existence of God, of anything greater than ourselves, is questioned, this is extremely important. The evidence of a creation is built into all creation.  This is how St. Paul can write in Romans 1:19 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, even since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Creation itself demonstrates that God exists, and those who deny this revelation from God do so without excuse.

But this knowledge of God is not complete. Looking at nature, at the beauty of creation, might tell you some of the first part of the Creed, that there is a Creator, but it does not tell us anything else about who God is or His attitude toward His creation.  Nicodemus recognizes this as well, which is why he approaches Jesus in the first place. He had heard about Jesus, and acknowledges that He is sent from God and that He is a teacher come from God and that God is with Him.

By this we understand the first person of the Godhead, that is God the Father, has sent His Son into the world. This Son of God teaches Nicodemus about eternal life, life that comes only through faith in Christ, who must be lifted up upon the cross. This is how God shows His love, and His will, for His creation: in sending His Son into the world, to bring life, true life, divine life, eternal life. In the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Scripture also tell us that Jesus is the mediator, He is the advocate. We are to know God only through knowing the second person of the Trinity, Jesus. For as Jesus says in John 12 “Whoever believes in Me, believes not in Me, but in Him who sent me. And whoever sees Me sees Him who sent me.” (John 12:44-45) And again Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known Me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7)

And Jesus continues to teach, “unless one is born again, that is born of water and Spirit, one cannot see or enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, 5). Here we see the third person of the Godhead, the Spirit, who as we confess, is the Lord and giver of life, who uses the tools of the Word and the Sacraments to create and sustain this spiritual life. We live in Christ by the Holy Spirit to the delight of the Father (Beckwith, The Holy Trinity, 5).

So when we are baptized, we believe; when we believe, we confess our faith; when we confess our faith we speak of one God in three persons. The relationships to the persons is what defines them.  The Father begets the Son. The Son is begotten by the Father. The Spirit is preceding. This is what the Athanasian Creed spends so much time confessing. This is how God self identifies, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” Three persons, one God. It is not for us to alter the name of God, it is not for us to speak in any other way about who God is, it is not for us to confuse the persons nor divide the substance of one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

At the end of the day, when we’re honest, we are often left puzzled by all this, just as Nicodemus was. Nicodemus doesn’t fully understand what Jesus is saying about the Spirit’s miraculous work of new birth through Baptism. He doesn’t fully understand the Divine Sonship of Jesus and the atoning sacrifice He would make upon the cross. Human reason, corrupted by sin, cannot accept many things about God, but as St. Paul writes, it is only by the Spirit of God that we can believe in spiritual things. That is the work of the Spirit, whom Jesus sends from the Father, who bears witness about Christ (John 15:26), as we heard about last Sunday on Pentecost.

And therein lies the key. It is a Spirit wrought faith in God, not just any god or every god, but in the Triune God – God the Father who sends God the Son in the power of God the Holy Spirit to save those lost in sin and death. That’s why John 3:16-18 is so important, so powerful, so well known, so often confessed: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”