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Trinity 14 2022 - Galatians 5:16-24

Trinity 14 2022

Galatians 5:16-24

September 18, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Do you remember those old cartoons where someone is faced with a decision to make and they have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other?  Each give reason to the person on why they should make this or that choice, usually to do something good or bad. It’s not far from the truth that this struggle goes on in each of us. In the Epistle, St. Paul shows the great battlefield of the soul, where the Kingdom of the Spirit and the kingdom of the flesh, the Kingdom of Grace and the ungodly kingdom of sin are locked in battle.  Two opposing forces are active and doing battle, and as a Christian, you are caught up in that struggle.

One of the ways the Apostle distinguishes between the two is to refer to the "works" of the flesh in contrast to the "fruit" of the Spirit.  St. Paul describes the flesh as distinct from the Spirit who guides us Christians.  The flesh is our sinful human nature, which is ours by natural birth.  The spirit is the Spirit of God, which is our by the birth of holy baptism.  Paul writes, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law."  Paul says we cannot simply do as we please.  God seriously wants Christians to avoid the desires of the flesh, if we want to remain in the Spirit.  On the one hand, we are not free to do evil, because we are the adopted children of the Holy One.  Evil is contrary to who we are.  On the other hand, because the sinful man still clings to us, we are not able freely to follow what is holy, because our flesh resists and fights us every inch of the way.

The Christian life is not easy; it is a daily dying to our sin and rising to new life through faith in Christ.  Walking by the Spirit has its difficulties, its challenges, and temptations to sin come to all of us.  What the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit to prevent you from doing what you want, that is what you want to do according to the Spirit.  You want what is evil, and you know what is good.  Resist and do not follow the desires of the flesh so that you do not provoke God to anger.  Avoid these evil things that are listed here in our text.  Keep away from them. Don’t play around with this stuff, guard your soul.  They are not befitting of a Christian, nor of the sanctified life in which the Spirit works.  In living the Christian life, our behavior represents a decided break from the non-Christian, flesh-driven worldliness.  

As a Christian, you still sin but you will not live your lives looking back to the desires of the flesh. The Christian walk is always directed forward, under the shadow of the cross, and facing the dawning of the new creation at the return of Christ.  Even though you may still feel weakness in this struggle you have a power available to you in your ongoing personal struggle that is not accessible through observing the Law, but is one by grace given in the Spirit.  Every Christian is like a tree planted by the Holy Spirit to bear good fruit. When your Lord Jesus baptized you, His word was sown like a seed.  That seed shall root, nourished by the Word and Sacrament, to produce the fruit of faith.  The Holy Spirit grows this seed. St. Paul does not envision walking by the Spirit as an act of your willpower.  This fruit of the Spirit grows from Jesus, but it is first and foremost fruits by Jesus.  

There’s an old Mad TV skit with Bob Newhart wherein he plays a counselor, Dr. Switzer. It’s a spoof of Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, counseling type shows. A woman comes into his office for some help. She is an uncontrollable fear of being buried alive in a box.  She tells him about her problem and he tells her that it will only take 2 words for him to solve her problem if she takes it and applies it to her life.  He says to her, “Stop it!” The woman says she doesn’t understand, so he repeats himself again and again. This seems to be his answer to all her problems, “Stop it!”

While Scripture tells us to “stop it!” when it comes our sin, the way that happens comes only through faith in Jesus.  The solution to your sin is that Christ has put a stop to it.  He died upon the cross to put an end to such things.  By the blood of Jesus, enmity, division between God and man is reconciled. Because of that, enmity between one another is as well. For Jesus’ sake, you are freed from the burdens of jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, envy and the like.  Because you, who have been baptized, belong to Christ. You have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Baptism entails a daily crucifixion, a daily putting to death of the sinful flesh so that we have peace with God and with one another.

Foster a love for the fruit of the Spirit. Taste its sweetness in your lives, the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Pursue these things, actively go after them, for they are the work of Christ in your lives, the fruit of His Spirit working upon you and through You by His means of grace.  He works love, because God is love.  The joy arises from knowing your redemption, your salvation, the promises of God which are a fulfilled in Christ.  Peace comes from a right relationship with God, forgiven of our sins, reconciled to the Father through His Son. We have patience because we know the outcome of this war, that we have victory in Christ and so we wait for the final consummation of all things. While we wait, kindness and goodness are shared with our neighbor because God is kind and gracious and good.  He is so good that we overflow with His goodness when He dwells within us.  God is faithful and just, and so, when the Spirit works faith in us, He also works faithfulness in our lives.  The gentleness and self-control flow out of all the things that the Spirit works in us.  We are gentle and controlled because we have nothing to be violent about.  God is in charge.  God in Christ has and will provide. 

Walk by the Spirit, or in other words, through faith in Jesus live your lives by the Holy Spirit’s power and leading.  Do not gratify the desires of your flesh, but reap the sweet harvest of Christ’s work in your lives as beloved children of God, crucified with Him, forgiven, strengthened, and preserved unto live everlasting.  The good work of God that he has begun at your baptism, He will bring to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Trinity 11 2022

Trinity 11 2022

1 Corinthians 15:1-10

August 28, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

One of the greatest compliments I have ever received as a Pastor came from a young man years ago.  The irony is that he didn’t mean it as a compliment at all, but as a complaint.  It was after Easter, I asked how he was since I hadn’t seen him in a while. He commented with the obligatory “Eh, I’m good.”  I said it was good to see him and that I hoped to see him a little more often.  He looked at me, and said, “Why?  Every time I come it’s always about the same thing.”  What do you mean?” I asked.  We had just celebrated Easter, after all, and we had extra music, a little more pomp and circumstance than normal.  And he said, “You just talk about Jesus, how He died and rose from the dead.” To which I promptly say, “Thank you!  Praise God!”

In the Christian faith, there is nothing more important than the Gospel – which is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead for the forgiveness of your sins.  Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation.  You are justified, declared righteous, by God Himself for the sake of Jesus. To make good news even better, this is a gift, given to you freely because the love that God has for you, a gift to be received by faith in Christ. 

If this message, implicitly and explicitly, is not at the very heart of the Church, of this congregation, of our ministries such as our school, our daycare, quilters, LWML, then what are we doing here?  Really?  You can visit with your friends at any time.  You can volunteer at other places, go to other schools, help your neighbor in a lot of different ways, you can be “a good person” in the eyes of the world, and in your own eyes, without the Church and without Christ crucified.  This was the attitude of the Pharisee in today’s parable from the Gospel reading.  

We are tempted in this way all the time.  We can get caught up in the same thing, to think that church is a social club, maybe an instrument for social justice, or even a political platform at times; to believe that a sermon should be like a 12 step program to better life.  It’s easy to be tempted to say, “now that I know the Gospel, I know that Jesus died for me, can we move on to the practical applications, the real stuff, the day to day living.”  Not that these are bad, but there is no moving on from the Gospel, nothing greater than the Gospel, no more important message than the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.  This is not something we ever move beyond.  

“Now I would remind you brothers of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed it in vain.”  St. Paul writes these words to the Corinthians, who had such zeal and desire for knowledge that they neglected what was most important.  But he warned them of misplaced priorities, of overlooking the most important thing. Paul had much to teach the Corinthians, yet nothing was more important than the Gospel.  In the first two chapters, he states, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seeks wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God... For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:22-24; 2:2).  

All that Paul writes to them draws them back to Jesus.  And it’s the same for you.  When we come here on Sunday mornings, or throughout the week, or participate in various ministries and services, all these things are meant to direct our faith, our attention, and our witness to Jesus.  The Gospel is why we have a big cross at the front of the church, to direct your attention to Jesus.  The Gospel is why there is symbols and meaning throughout the building, so that when the sermon goes on too long and is too boring your attention can still be brought to Jesus.  The Gospel is why we use the liturgy, a historical form of worship with roots going all the way back into the Old Testament comprised of almost entirely Scripture spoken and sung back and forth to one another and to God. 

The Gospel is the main and most important aspect of our school – that Christ and His Gospel and His Word.  Every morning our children begin by hearing the Word of God, pray throughout the day, leave each afternoon in the assurance that Christ crucified is for them, for their families, for their friends, for the world. How many of you can say the same in a different school?  Or in your job?  Or even in your home? All these things are meant to keep you anchored in the most important thing, that Jesus Christ died for your sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He has appeared and is coming again in glory. 

Wow, and that sounds a lot like the Creeds, right?  These words are at the heart of the Creeds.  We confess one of the creeds every week, typically the Nicene Creed, which is meant for use in public worship when the Sacrament of the Altar is offered.  But also the Apostles’ Creed, the Christian’s baptismal declaration of faith, is meant for daily devotional use, to remind you and others to keep the first thing first. Use this gift, confess it often, morning and night, for that is your right. 

Hold fast to that word of the cross, St. Paul says.  The term “hold fast” has great meaning. Restrain, to hold it back from going away or leaving.  To adhere firmly to traditions, convictions, or beliefs. To keep in your memory, to guard, and keep in possession.  Paul urges Christians to never let go of the Word of God preached, the Gospel which you have received.  To guard it jealously, so that nothing can steal it away.

So hold fast to these things, the things of first importance, the Gospel itself. Don’t let it go, don’t comprise the faith.  In everything that you do as a Church, as God’s people, those who have received the preaching of the Gospel, in which you stand and by which you are being saved, in everything you do. Keep the main thing the main thing. “Your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Cor 2:5

Hold fast to the word of God.  Just as we are saved by the Gospel, so we stand firm and live by the Gospel and the Gospel alone. It is by the word of the cross, which is the Gospel, that you owe you present status as Christians. And it is by the same Gospel that your present and future salvation is being secured.  

Trinity 9 2022 - Luke 16:1-9

Trinity 9 2022

Luke 16:1-9

August 14, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

The parable in today’s Gospel reading is traditionally called the parable of the unjust steward.  In the English Standard Version that we normally use in our liturgy it translates as the word “manager.”  I guess this makes some sense because we don’t really have stewards in modern American society, but manager sounds a little strange as well. It makes me think of a manager of a store or restaurant or something like that. 

But in the ancient world a steward had much more authority than a manager at a department store.  He was more like a regent, an agent of the king who was ruling in the place of, in the stead of, and by the command of the king.  He was more like an executive officer in the military, the second in command, who ran the day to day things for the commander when he wasn’t around.  While most of society doesn’t work this way anymore, the military is still run with a strict hierarchy that is structured primarily for efficiency.  

The reason why this is important is that the rich man in this parable, the master, must honor the deal that his steward makes since it is made with the master’s authority.  That means that when the steward says, “Take your bill and write fifty, or eighty” then that is what it is, even if it’s dishonest.  The master can’t take it back, even though he’s been cheated out what was owed to him.  He must honor the bill.

Now this parable is one of the most difficult of all Jesus’ parables because at the end of it the master commends the steward for his shrewdness, which is in his dishonesty, in his unrighteousness.  So that’s the surprise.  The master is displeased with his steward because he was wasting the master’s possession.  But then he commends him for lowering the bills of those who are indebted and it seems to make no sense.  No earthly master wants his steward to cheat him, to give his kingdom away. 

For some, this parable makes a certain amount of sense.  The master, unhappy with his steward, is then outsmarted by him, and so the master loves it, or at respects it, and that’s a good thing.  So the moral would be to use dishonesty to gain something greater, to be shrewd in the ways of the world if it gets you want you want, the end justifies the means.  

But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here.  In the larger context of when Jesus spoke this, He is responding to the Pharisees and the scribes grumbling that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  Jesus responds with parables about lost sheep and lost coin and the prodigal son.  And now He speaks specifically to the disciples about the way in which He deals with sinners. 

This parable should be a little shocking, it should make us uncomfortable and scratch our heads.  It’s meant to.  Because when we continue to think God is like us, that He should work by our standards of fairness and justice, then we are tread into dangerous territory.  God is not like us. Scripture tells us that His ways are not as our ways, and His thoughts are thought as our thoughts. He doesn’t need to justify Himself to you, to the unbelieving world, to any part of His creation.  He is not pleased with dishonesty, but He is pleased when debts are forgiven. He wants to forgive debts. He wants what He has to be given away.  He doesn’t want He possessions wasted, but He does want it given away for free.   

If there is anything you take away from this in terms of ethical instruction and to what it means to be a Christian, it’s that our lives should be marked with praise and thankfulness and gratitude for cancelled debts and God given possessions.  To use what we have for the good of our neighbor, to be engaged in acts of charity and generosity and mercy. To demonstrate your righteous faith, that you have been made righteous through faith in Christ, by being shrewd, wise, resourceful in your integrity and in your charity, to be upright in the management of your households, of your finances, of your various responsibilities. Fight against the temptations of envy and greed.  God is faithful, He will enable you to endure it.  Do good, not because of some sort of reward, but because it is good to do good because God has declared you good in Christ. By faith, receive the goodness of the Lord and be shrewd with what He gives, that is to say, to share the mercy that you have received.  That as the Lord forgives us our trespasses, our debts, that would ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us (Luke 11:4). He forgives your bad stewardship. You receive it freely for the sake of Christ, give it freely for the sake of Christ and love for your neighbor.

This is the important thing to remember, the parable about the unjust steward is not about stewardship. It’s about Jesus.  The purpose of the parables is to reveal the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, how He is Lord and King and rules in us by the power of His death and resurrection according to His mercy. This is good news. We all have debts that can never be repaid. If we had to deal with a just steward, we would all be damned.  If we had to pay back what we owed to God, there would no hope for us because the bill is too high.  King David gets is right in our Old Testament reading, “With the merciful You show Yourself merciful.”  And we cry out each Sunday in the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” 

Because Christ is mercy.  He is like a steward who shrewdly gives away the kingdom of God, who forgives debts and sins. In the eyes of the world, He wastes the possessions by doing so, but this is way of the Kingdom of God.  Mercy is unjust by definition.  Mercy is not giving the justice that you deserve, but forging the debt you owe, undeserved, unearned, unjust. The unjust steward is what we need.  His injustice is grace and mercy, the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ, with all His works, didn’t earn heaven, since it was already His. He served us and became our servant. But He served us in this way, not seeking anything of His own, but that you might have the riches of the Father through faith in His Son.

Trinity 8 2022 - Matthew 7:15-23

Trinity 8 2022

Matthew 7:15-23

August 7, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, we read how God’s people returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and how the city was to be restored and built up again according to God’s Word.  Nehemiah does an inspection of the ruined city, and moved by God’s Word, they start to rebuild the wall around the city.  Now, as you can imagine, this made some of the surrounding nations upset, and Nehemiah was mocked by the Samaritans, Arabs, Ammorites, and Ashdodites. When that didn’t stop the building of the wall, they planned to attack the city, knock down the walls, and scatter the people again.  When Nehemiah heard about their plans to attack, he ordered that those who were doing the construction should carry a sword, spear, shields. Half the workers would then be on guard duty while the other half built, and then they would switch places.  The laborers who carried away the rubble of the ruins were to work with one hand and hold their weapon with the other in case of attack, and they were urged to remember the Lord, to defend their brothers and sons and daughters and wives and homes, and if the rallying trumpet was sounded, to gather for defense with the knowledge that God Himself fights for His people (Nehemiah 4). 

In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus shows how He comes not only to suffer and die upon the cross, to pay for the sins of the world, but to admonish and warn and even guard the building up of His Church, which takes place according to His Word as the only begotten Son of God.  Christ teaches us the same truth that He taught His people 2500 years ago in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, that we are to rally to Him and believe that in Christ, God fights for His people. With one hand, He builds up the Church by means of the Gospel through the forgive sins, to grant mercy and protection and guidance, and with the other He reaches for His sword and drives away everything that seeks to tear down the spiritual Jerusalem that He is building. Jesus warns that these spiritual attacks happen in two ways: through false prophets preaching false doctrine, workers of lawlessness; and the bad fruit which comes from their diseased tree. 

Beware the false prophets, Jesus says.  A prophet has one main job and that is to speak the word of the Lord.  He first hears what God says, then he speaks what God says, for the building up, the edification, of God’s holy people, the Church, the spiritual Jerusalem. We heard today from the Prophet Jeremiah, speaking God’s Word about false prophets, that they speak visions of their own mind, filling with vain hopes, refusing to speak God’s judgment on sin, prophesying the deceits of their own hearts.  God does not look kindly on those who speak lies in His name, or those who fail to speak His word faithfully.

This means that doctrine actually matters; what we believe, teach, and confess is a matter of life and death.  One of the most dangerous things that you can do as a Christian is to act of if our differences don’t matter.   They do; they matter to Jesus, and they should matter to you. It matters what you believe about baptism.  It matters what you believe about the Lord’s Supper.  It matters what you believe about salvation, forgiveness, grace, faith, and how you answer Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” It matters who and what you listen to, what kinds of shows you watch, what kind of school you send your children to.  Every Christian must be vigilant against false prophets, false teachers, false messages from the world and from the devil so that you are not seduced into misbelief. Mark and avoid false prophets; they seem good, but they are deadly. Pick up the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and guard your souls. St. John says in 1 John 4:1 to not believe in every spirit, but test whether they are from God, St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test all things, and keep what is good.”

But how do you know?  Jesus says they are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothes, so it’s hard to tell by how they look.  The false prophet’s outward piety is used to disguise their false and deadly teaching. They appear to be righteous, but their hearts are far from the Lord.  For one only belongs to Christ’s true flock when clothed in Christ’s righteousness, that covers all sin; this isn’t a costume or a disguise, but it’s an identity based on which shepherd one belongs to.

And so Jesus says, you will know them by their fruit; that is, by the content of their message, which comes from the roots and trunk of their faith.  But this still isn’t that easy.  A piece of fruit may look good on the outside, it may look ripe, but the only way to tell is to look deeper to see if it has been eaten by a worm or rotten to the core. Look at the tree, the source of what is being said.  If the tree is diseased, so will the fruit be. 

The obvious bad fruit is easy to see, that which outright contradicts God’s Word; the harder part is that which appears good but is rotten.  Which means sometimes you’ve got to go deeper than the surface and you’ve got to look at the source of the fruit, at the tree, to see whether it is healthy or diseased. In other words, you’ve got to judge whether what is being said matches with God's Word revealed in Holy Scripture; whether the one who presumes to speak for God is taking God seriously, at His Word, believing and confessing Christ and Him crucified. So the author of Hebrews begins his letter, “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…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).  And St. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the message of Christ.” The message about Christ and by Christ. The point is this: everything must be judged according to the Word of God, which is the source of the Christian faith as it flows from the mouth of God.  

All these things are wrapped up together: the Lord God, His holy Word, right faith, right practice and worship, the true Church built up by Christ upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, and eternal salvation.  False teaching on part of doctrine leads to false beliefs in many others. Sincerity, assertiveness, charisma; casting out demons and miracles, don’t make a teaching or a teacher true or faithful.  Jesus is clear, not everyone who says “Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of God.  True prophets must be those who hold to Christ’s revealed Word, who do not take away from it or add it to, but builds His life to it through faith in Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  The man who builds on Christ does and has what he hears from Him. 

Trinity 7 2022 - Mark 8:1-9

Trinity 7 2022

Mark 8:1-9

July 31, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Tired, hungry, and away from home.  That’s the situation of the great crowd that had followed Jesus.  For three days, they had followed Him around, listening to Him speak, and now they find themselves in a desolate place with no food and no easy way home. Jesus’ disciples didn’t know what to do for them.  But Jesus does.  He has compassion on the crowd.  

The disciples struggle with their faith that Jesus can do something.  It seems impossible to feed all those people in such a place.  But Jesus doesn’t seem to care about what the disciples think is impossible.  He asks them how many loaves of bread they have, seven being the answer.  He gives thanks, breaks them, gives them to the disciples to distribute among the thousands of people. And then He repeats with three fish.  And everyone eats and is satisfied. And they have more leftovers than what they began with.  

On our pulpit, we have a picture of seven loaves and three fish.  This is no accident. It is reminded to us of this miracle, a visual symbol proclaiming God’s compassion and provision.  You have followed Jesus’ call here.  You have heard His Word, received His blessing.  He provides for you.  The words of today’s Gradual describe you, “Come, O children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” 

Jesus doesn’t leave the Church empty handed. He delivers the meal as surely as He delivered the bread and fish.  It didn’t look like enough then.  It doesn’t look like enough now.  We have a small amount of bread and wine. Delivered by God to us here today, He will take it and multiply His grace to us.  We are fed to the full and overflow.

We should learn by this to be hostile to our unbelief and to oppose it. We should get into the habit of thinking that Christ can do and does do more and greater things that we can understand or believe. We often stress and worry about our own earthly goods, as well as that of our church. We vote today on a budget for our church and school.  We receive what the Lord has given and strive to be good and faithful stewards. It causes worry and strife and hard feelings.  It shouldn’t be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way.

So you might say, “I know that God gives good gifts and provides for the needs of His people but how come so often that He lets His Christians suffer in the world?”  Here we must know how the kingdom of God works, for He wants to show us that His kingdom on earth is not a secular kingdom, which consists of eating and drinking and money and possessions. To the Christian, the whole world is to be considered as nothing other than a wilderness itself.  The godless consider the world to be a paradise, or at least the potential, and work toward making it so.  But for us Christians, this is but a temporary home, as St. Paul describes in Romans 8, a creation fallen, subjected to futility, and suffering because of the effects of sin and eagerly longing for the revelation of the sons of God in the hope that it will be set free from bondage and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

But Christ has ordained that you live in a spiritual kingdom in which you are to seek and find eternal, divine blessings. Notice that He doesn’t shorten His sermon so they can get beat the rush to the favorite lunch time restaurant or because some have come a long way and have a long way to go, but He continues to teach them and provide for them. 

If Christ demands entire devotion, He will give much grace.  If He calls us to seek Him first, He will not neglect what we have left for His sake. The Gospel adds a message of comfort the believer who strives for God’s righteousness, who is feeling the weight of things that seek to weaken our purpose, defeat our effort, and impair our service. He knows how far we have left on our way and will in order to sit at His feet, and He will see to it that we shall be cared for.  We are to learn to believe that they will not lack the physical and are to expect from Him also what is necessary for the physical life of His Church on earth. He has arraigned to continuously feed you with His Word and Sacraments as you follow Him through this desolate and sinful world.  You can never have too much, you can never feast on the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper too often, for it is the food of immortality. 

Christ also wants us to put our faith into practice so that we are to look to His hands and expect the necessities of this life from Him. Luther’s prayer before a meal in the Small Catechism echoes this as it starts with Psalm 145:15-16, “The eyes of all look to You, O Lord, and You give them food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”  Closes with Psalm 147:11, “… the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

Christ teaches us here that no matter how little or great it is, we should use what God has given to us, and accept it with thanksgiving. The Psalmist says, “The little a righteous person has is better than the great possessions of many godless people” (Ps 36 [37:16]; “The blessing of the Lord makes rich” (Proverbs 10:20), “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6).  When a man is content with his poverty, when he is left with nothing else to do but receive from God’s hand, then he has a very great treasure which is called “God’s blessing” (Luther, LW 78, p 265).

Christ would have His Church no less compassionate. He calls His disciples to share in this. It is the duty of the Church to feed the flock of Christ committed to her care, and to consider her needs. At the same time He chases away the doubts of the disciples, He uses them as His instruments to share His compassion to others.  They don’t keep the bread and fish for themselves, but on Christ’s command, distribute it to the people.  This is how each of us, to whom God has given more than is necessary, should gladly share with our neighbors in need.  

Trinity 5 2022 - Luke 5:1-11

Trinity 5 2022

Luke 5:1-11

July 17, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

This last week, someone came into the church and said, “We have such a beautiful church!”  And indeed, we do. Zion, at least in my opinion, is the most beautiful LCMS church in the Treasure Valley.  This isn’t by accident, but our fathers in the faith here built this building in this way on purpose.  The beauty of the building reflects the beauty of what takes place here, where God’s Word is read and taught, people are baptized, the Lord’s Supper distributed, of heaven joining earth, and Christ making Himself present in His mercy and grace for sinners.

One of the things that is most appealing about this church is the meaning and the symbolism of the way it is built, much of it in an ancient, and traditional manner.  In traditional church architecture, visually, aesthetically, teaches the Christian faith and directs our attention to Christ.  We have the various symbols in the stained-glass windows, banners which match the themes of seasons or festivals, furnishings of the altar, pulpit and lectern, the cross, even the direction that our church is orientated.  

This part up front around the altar is called the sanctuary, and sometimes we use this word to refer to the whole church space. Where I usually stand up front is called the chancel.  Taken together, this whole area then is reminiscent of the holy of holies in the Old Testament temple, which is the place where the altar of the ark of the covenant sat, where the sacrifice of atonement was made and from which God acted in mercy to forgive and save His people. The large cross right above the altar highlights the central aspect of the Christian faith – the all atoning sacrifice of Christ crucified upon the altar of the cross, which flows out from our altar in the Sacrament. 

When you come to church, you enter in through the narthex, which is like a transitional area between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. The place where the congregation sits is called the nave, a Latin word that means “boat, or ship” from which we get the English word, navy.  The beams on the ceiling are shaped like the supports of the bottom of a ship. So when you come here, you exit the chaotic world and enter into the ship, or the ark, of the holy, Christian Church in which the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ is delivered to you. 

In our Gospel reading, we hear Luke’s account of Jesus calling His first disciples – Simon Peter, brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  Crowds of people were pressing in to hear the word of God from the Word of God.  He was by the lake of Gennesaret, which is the sea of Galilee, and he gets into the Peter’s fishing boat, by which he would teach the people. After He does this, He tells Peter and the others to get.  Though they were tired, unsuccessful, down in the dumps, Christ called upon them to put out into the deep and let their nets down for a catch.  They were to be brave, and trust that Jesus knew what He was doing and talking about. And so they respond in faith, doing as Jesus instructed at His word.  And they catch so many fish that their nets were breaking the boat was about to sink.  

From this miracle, Jesus calls Peter, James, and John to be His first disciples, to be fishers of men in fulfillment with His word in Jeremiah 16:16, “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch [fish/Israel].” Their former way of life foreshadows what they were now called to do: be fishers of men.  These disciples are to throw out the net of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the sea of this world, catching men, bringing them through the water of holy baptism, into the boat where Christ is, and where He keeps His people safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving His name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope. 

Luther once wrote, “Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.”  LW: 52:39-40. Or as Cyprian 3rd century bishop of Carthage coined, “There is no salvation outside the Church.”  There is no other way to be saved apart from being in the boat of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church with Jesus. 

Peter was afraid at this miracle, so much so, that he felt unworthy to be on board with Jesus.  He feared that because of his sins he would be punished in the presence of Christ; he knew he didn’t deserve to on board with Jesus.  All his efforts when left to himself came to nothing. But Jesus comforts the terrified Peter, “Do not be afraid…” He calls sinful Peter to a fisher of men, one who would cast the net of God’s word out into the world gathering people for Christ. Just like the miraculous catch of fish, not Peter’s work, but Christ working through him.  

“Be not afraid,” is how He still comforts terrified hearts today.  Be not afraid of being on board with Jesus, in His holy and righteous presence, for by the net of the Gospel you were brought aboard the boat of the Church. Be not afraid of standing in front of a holy and righteous God, for you are declared righteous in God’s sight for the sake of Christ.  Do not be afraid of guilt or shame you carry around every day, for Christ has taken that burden upon Himself on the cross. Do not be afraid of the struggles you go through in life, the evil you experience, the hurt you feel, the despair you are tempted with, and let no one think that their sins are too great that Christ won’t forgive. Let no one think that the ship of the church will sink because of the weight of the burden of the souls.  Storms may rage around you, suffering, war, weakness, family fights, surround the kingdom of God.  

While the boat begins to sink, since Christ is on board, it cannot sink completely.  Likewise, in the sea of this world, the Lord Christ knows how to protect His ship against dangers, just as the ark was preserved during the great flood.  Christ must remain in the ship of the Church, and if Christ and His Word are thrown overboard, so that Church will capsize and be sunk to the bottom of the abyss. 

The sad fact of the matter is, though, fishing can be frustrating work.  Christianity is shrinking in the United States.  In efforts to combat this, there is the call to do something new to reach new, to model the world to reach the world, to change God’s word to make it more agreeable, in other words, to try a different net. We are tempted to think we need a different net.  Maybe the one we’ve been using isn’t doing the job anymore. Maybe we should switch and use different bait to lure the fish in. Programs. Fun and games. Rock music, light, smoke machine. None of this sin-and-grace business. That’s not what people want to hear. You’ve got to appeal to their desires, give them what they want, keep the customers satisfied. So get rid of the crosses, get rid of the Christ-crucified talk, get rid of the Sacraments, only sing contemporary music, ditch the liturgy! That’ll bring the people in!

Well, maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but it won’t be the church you will be growing. It won’t be Christians you will be gaining if you switch the net.  The problem is not in the net. Nothing else will get the job done as Jesus would have it be done. No, if we’re going to be disciples of Christ, and therefore fishers of men, let’s use the net that Jesus gave us to use - the Word of God, the gospel in its truth and purity and the Sacraments – casting it out into the sea of the world according to the Word, and leave the results up to God to call and gather people to Himself. He’ll catch all the fish he wants to be caught. None will be lost. And the ones that are caught will be caught in the right way, through repentance and faith, through the word and working of Christ.  Christ can fill the net to breaking and the ship to sinking. But the ship that has Christ will remain forever. 

So let’s keep building beautiful buildings, making beautiful things, being engaged in beautiful worship that reflect and cast out as a net the beautiful Gospel. 

Trinity 4 2022

Trinity 4 2022

Luke 6:36-42

July 10, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Not too long ago I was following a conversation on social media, which is a horrible place to argue theology.  One side was trying to state the Biblical position on some moral issue, the other side was throwing out phrases like, “you’re intolerant, hateful, ignorant, stuck in the dark ages, judgmental.” 

In our current American culture, this is a pretty common type of argument when one person disagrees with another.  It’s poor rhetoric, a bad way to argue, though all too often it is effective.  No one likes to be called hateful or intolerant.  This changes the argument then to be about emotions, rather than the truth. When that happens, one of the worst thing you say is that there a definite truth, an objective right and wrong, that the individual or majority is not the decider of morality, or what is good and true, but that God is. And then to make things worse, one of the worst charges brought back against a Christian when speaking the truth is that they are being judgmental, that the Christian isn’t perfect either, and/or they are being hateful, or triggering the sensibilities of another person.  “Judge not, lest ye be judged0” 

We’ve probably all been there at some point, or maybe even used, parts of our Gospel reading for today.  “Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Judge not, and you will not be judged, condemn not, and you will not be condemned, forgiven, and you will be forgiven…” (Luke 6:36-37). This reading is part of Jesus’ sermon on the plain which begins with the Beatitudes followed by a series of woes.  Then Jesus speaks about loving one’s enemies, from which directly flows our Gospel reading. After this, we hear how a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bad, and then the to build the house of faith upon a firm foundation of the rock rather than upon the shifting sand.

So, this section, then, comes right in the middle of Jesus’ sermon.  What Jesus is telling us here is that, as Christians, as people blessed by Christ and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are to be merciful toward others as God has been merciful to us, for this is the fruit of our faith being built upon the rock that is Jesus. We are to be long-suffering, loving and doing good to any and all people, expecting nothing in return.

Keeping this in mind, it is a little easier to see how these words of our Gospel apply to us.  We are to judge not and condemn not, but rather forgive and give. The Lord has been merciful to us, despite us deserving otherwise, and because of this we ought to be merciful to others even when they don’t deserve it.  As a Christian, you ought to be more merciful than the unbelieving world, more willing to listen, to seek understanding, to serve.  Verse 38 of our text uses the illustration of honest marketing, not padding the product, but dealing with integrity and truthfulness. This is simply bearing the good fruit of faith.  To do otherwise, to withhold forgiveness and generosity is not befitting of one who has been blessed by Christ, but rather is a rejection of Christ’s mercy.

So what does this mean for us?  Does it mean that we should only be concerned with ourselves and not speak up about truth and sin and salvation to our neighbors, to our friends, to our family?  Of course not.  God is judge of hearts, not you. The role of judge and jury and executioner has not been given to you.  But as a Christian, it is your responsibility, it is your duty to proclaim both God’s righteous Law which shows us our sin and need for a Savior, and also Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  Exposing sin where it exists, calling evil evil, is not being judgmental, it is repeating what God has said, and at times, pronouncing God’s judgment. It is not an act of hate, it is an act of love and correction.  It is not intolerance of a person, but it is intolerance of sin. It is not out of ignorance or stuck in old fashioned ways, but it is a morality, it’s a truth, it’s a life built upon the will of God, the creator of the universe. 

Who gives us the right to do all this?  Well, Jesus, the judge does.  Before His ascension, He says that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Him, and then He sends out His people into the world to preach and teach the whole counsel of God. To do any less, to avoid proclaiming God’s judgment to the world, to never speak of God’s intolerance of sin and evil, to spare the rod is to spoil to hell.  This is all in light of the 8th commandment, You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor. Part of this is putting the best construction on things.  And the best construction is simply calling a thing what it is. To not speak against sin, to not call out the evils of society, to keep silent and do nothing is to live a lie, is it to bear false testimony.  Not calling sin sin is to be bear false testimony.  There is nothing more hateful, nothing more selfish, nothing more un-merciful than failing to proclaim God’s Law, followed always by the sweet Gospel and forgiveness we have in Christ.

And frankly, as a Christian, you need to be ok with believing the truth, confessing the truth, holding firm to the truth, even if the world thinks you judgmental or foolish in whom you show mercy. You need to be ok with showing mercy to those who deserve it the least, for forgiving more quickly and more fully than the cancel culture and the self-righteous.  You need to be ok with the idea that the world may hate you because you hold to God’s sense of judgment and condemnation, and to God’s sense of mercy and forgiveness. You need to be ok with the idea that holding to Jesus’ word may divide your family, that your children and grandchildren may think you are dinosaurs who hold to an outdated bias.  You don’t need to go out of your way to cram this down someone’s throat, but you can’t be afraid to trigger someone’s outrage by speaking the Word of God.  You can’t be paralyzed about the thought of being cancelled for speaking the truth, even if it comes from a family member or friend.  The Gospel does not call you to be nice, but to be faithful.  

Lastly, then, Jesus warns of hypocrisy in doing just this.  He uses the absurd analogy of having a log in your own eye while trying to pick out a splinter in another’s. The point is this: before worrying about out the sin in others, first recognize your own.  Repent. Repent of your own sin,.  Repent of your false beliefs, your lack of mercy, your quick judgments.  And be forgiven and receive God’s mercy.  Then, and only then, are you in the place to share God’s love through His Law and Gospel.  Then, and only then, are you empowered to be merciful even as your Father is merciful.  People have to be shown their sin in order to see their Savior from sin.  The point is mercy; mercy for the helpless, the hopeless, the despairing and downhearted, the rejected and dejected.

The way that we live this out ought to be an example to the rest of the world.  Confessing both the mercy of God and His judgment.  It’s not to ignore the sins of the world, nor dwell on them, but to judge them in view of God’s mercy shown in Jesus.  In that ultimately, the judgment of sin has been placed on Jesus.  The point of this is not to win an argument or prove you’re right and someone else is wrong. The point is faith.  That we would all have faith in Jesus and in His Word, each of us reflecting upon our sinfulness and need for a savior, and in seeing the Savior through the eyes of repentant faith, knowing that God’s judgment again sin has been given to Jesus so that all who believe might receive the mercy of God for the sake of Jesus.

Parents, grandparents, if you want your children to know how to do this, bring them to church and Bible study, teach them this at home.  If you don’t know how to talk to your children, if you can’t explain why homosexuality, or transgenderism, or abortion is both sinful and how other people’s sins affect you and your family, come and talk to me.  As a pastor, I am here to help you, to help your family, to know and believe the Word of God and live out your Christian faith. And send your kids to our school, to your school.  If you send your children to a non-Christian school, they will be catechized in non-Christian values, ideas.  Teach them the faith at home, be ready to give an answer as to why a man is a man and a woman is a woman, why marriage matters, how to be faithful in Christian convictions, how to live a life of godly virtue and character shaped by Christ and not have it undone at a school, or by social media, or TV or internet programs that conflict which entices the sinful flesh and works to undo the faith of your family.  This is a matter of life and death. 

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