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Trinity 26 2022 - Matthew 25:32-46

Trinity 26 2022

Matthew 25:31-46

November 13, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Last week in our observance of All Saints’ Sunday, I mentioned the last words and prayer of Scripture from Revelation 22, “Amen. Come quickly Lord Jesus.” But what does that look like when Jesus returns?  One of the greatest areas of confusion that exists is the return of Christ, what this means, what will happen, when it will happen, etc. Often people will jump to Revelation, which is not the easiest book to understand and takes a good foundation and understanding of the rest of Scripture. Some people go to popular books, or movies, or try to import non-Christian ideas.  But really, the best place to start, and to finish, is with Jesus Himself.  Let’s see what Jesus actually has to say in His teaching at His coming, not only so that we know what will happen then, but that the certainty of our future might prepare us for that day and shape our lives here and now.

So today, in our Gospel reading from Matthew 25, we hear Jesus speak about His coming and the Final Judgment.  Before we get there, let’s back up a little to the previous chapter of Matthew. In Matthew 24, Jesus specifically states that no one knows the day or the hour of His return save the Father, so it is no use guessing or trying to figure it out when it’s going to happen.  Jesus warns that those who try are false prophets and false teachers who ought to be avoided because they lead people astray.  Then, he tells the parable of the 10 virgins, which we will hear next Sunday, and the parable of the talents, both of which Jesus uses to tell people to be ready for His return.

And then He speaks of what will happen at His return, that which we heard today, and what He describes is judgment, vindication and damnation, with Jesus Himself as the Judge.  Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, both in connection to the Old Testament references and prophecies and to indicate that He will appear in His assumed human nature and visibly hold court.  Christ, who was condemned on earth, will be the Judge.  For by virtue of His human nature, He will be the Judge over all men and that His honor and glory will be made known, all of which is bestowed upon Him according to His human nature by God the Father, so that Christ is Lord and Judge over all things, as He states before His Ascension (Matthew 28:18                      6), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” 

And when this Son of Man comes, He will come in glory and in judgment.  At His first coming in the incarnation, He came lowly and humble; but in His final coming He will come with glory, as Hebrews 9:28 states, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”  And to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin during His trial (Matthew 26:64), He states “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” This will be no secret event, no hidden coming to establish an earthly kingdom, but it will be visible for all the world to see according to His divine nature.

As He comes, He will be attended by the angels.  They will serve Him by sounding the trumpet so that the foundations of the world will collapse, just as happened at Jericho when the children of Israel blew the trumpets and shouted the battle cry.  So Jesus speaks in Matthew 24:31, “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” And St. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

So we hear that at the coming of Christ, He will raise all who have lived and died from their graves in the universal resurrection of the dead, and those who are still alive on that last day will be brought forward before Him. And the sheep and the goats will be separated, not only by the knowledge and judgment of Christ, but by the angels at His command reaping the harvest.  The Son of Man will command His angelic servants and they will gather His elect and separate them from the unbelievers.  This righteous Judge turns to the sheep first and then to the goats in order to show that He prefers to reward the righteous more than to punish the wicked; His proper work and nature is mercy, His foreign and alien work is punishment.

Notice that the sheep receive their reward of eternal life before a single word about works is spoken.  For one is justified, declared to be righteous, only by grace through faith in Christ.  But this doesn’t mean that works are unimportant or that they don’t matter, but that a position at the right of Christ is not dependent upon what you do, but who your faith is placed in.  As spiritual Israel, the sheep fear, love, and trust in the voice of their Good Shepherd, and in Him have become partakers of the eternal blessing and delivered from the curse of the Law. 

This faith manifests itself in good works here and now, especially in works of love and mercy, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, hospitality to strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.  In such works, the Judge proclaims the sheep are serving Him; and in the lack of such things, the goats fail to recognize Christ in their midst.  But where do the sheep encounter Christ, and where do the goats miss Him?  Particularly in His body, the Church, for one when serves a part of the body, the head takes notice. Jesus is with the Christian Church in such a way that we serve Him when we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is why St. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 6:9-10 to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

It's important for us to recognize what the proper, God pleasing works are, by which the elect prove their faith and which Christ will publicly praise and reward on Judgement Day.  Love and compassion to one another, not just in bodily needs but also in other ways. It looks like a parent taking care of their infant child, changing diapers and feeding her, and bringing her up to know Jesus.  It looks like hosting a Thanksgiving dinner so that people don’t have to celebrate a holiday alone.  It looks like making quilts so that the cold may be warmed.  It looks like sending a care package to a deployed family member.  It looks like looks like a neighbor lending a helping hand to someone in need.   It looks like supporting the education of children in our community through a classical Lutheran school.  So you see, Christ shows us our future as members of His body, as sheep who know and hear the voice of their Good Shepherd.  Knowing this, knowing what awaits His people, frees us from the curse of the Law to now do the good works of law in love and service to another; gladly and willingly, with humility and out of the goodness of our hearts purified by the Gospel.

But Jesus also describes a terrible judgment of wrath against those who do not know Him nor recognize Him in His body, the Church.  For in denying Christ’s body they have denied Christ Himself.  He will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  Terrifying words that eternal fire, rather than life, has been prepared from the devil and his angles is also where the damned have chosen to be because of their unbelief and clinging to their own sins rather than having them placed upon Christ on the cross.  

In speaking of this day of Judgment, God wishes to make it clear to us that we must remain constant in true faith in Christ, demonstrate this by works of love and charity, and finally, by the grace of God, arrive at the goal of our faith, eternal salvation in the life of the world to come. 


This sermon is based upon Johann Gerhard’s sermon for the 26th Sunday after Trinity, from his Postilla, pp. 260-272.

Reformation Day 2022 - John 8:31-36

Reformation Day 2022

John 8:31-36

October 30, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


“You wouldn’t recognize the truth if it was staring you in the face.” We’ve all heard that expression and it’s one, that I often think about on Good Friday.  Just before Jesus was crucified, he stood on trial before the Roman governor. “What is truth” Pilate asks.  Jesus could have yelled out “You’re looking at Him” but it would have made no difference.  The truth had to die, and die He did. But not even a cross nor a closed tomb can silence the truth.  For what the world intended for evil, God intended for good. 

Christianity holds an unpopular ideology in today’s day and age.  We believe, teach, and confess that there is a truth, that the truth can be known, and that the truth holds significance not just in this life, but throughout eternity.  This truth is revealed, it is made known, by the Word of God – sola Scriptura.  As Christians, we need to speak forthrightly of the nature of the truth that reached its fullness and culmination in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one holy Christian and apostolic faith is not speculation; it is the truest of truth.  This truth is not some kind of objective knowledge floating around out there that we have to find a way to grab a hold of before it floats away. The truth is the Word of God, written, spoken, sung, incarnate, for sinners! 

We shouldn’t be surprised when the world outside the Church challenging this point.  In fact, we ought to expect this as sinful nature mankind can do nothing but reject the truth.  And moving forward in a Christless society, you need to be ok with the realization that you will looked down upon, you will be rejected, you will be criticized, you will be called unprofessional and inappropriate and slanderous for holding to the truth of Christ.

But it is even more troublesome when within the Church, the truth of God’s Word and the truth of the Christian faith is often treated merely as theory and speculation and personal interpretation. It is a sad fact today that many within the Church and those who call themselves Christians treat Scripture more like mythology than facts, and more like human opinions than the Word of the Lord. It is a sad reality that many treat Jesus more like a morality lesson where one gets to pick and choose what they feel matches to their own views rather than the objective reality communicated by the Creator, and more like a suggestion than the way things really are.  

Gathered by our Lord today, heirs of the Reformation, are faced with much the same question as Luther more than 500 years ago as the Reformation began.  Will we mirror back the lies the world loves to tell and hear, we will accept and promote denial of biological reality of gender, the heretical view of evolution, the slavery to the emotional passions of the sinful flesh, or will we mirror back the truth of Christ according to His Word?

There’s an old saying, “You may hurt me with truth but do not comfort me with lies.”  The truth is not always comforting.  It goes against the grain of the deceptions we pile upon ourselves in order to deaden the pain of sin. The words are not easy but they do describe how God deals with us.  He refuses to tell us lies and He will not tolerate us to live with our own lies -- without challenge at least.  The lies of our self-sufficiency, of our independence, of our inherent goodness, of our freedom, of our right to happiness, and of the naturalness of death have become the comforting lies we find hard to give up.  

In comparison with the truth of our weakness, our need, our sinfulness, our bondage to sin and its death, our contentment constantly tried by sorrow and struggle, and death as our enemy, the lies are surely easier to swallow.  Yet before we can find true and genuine comfort for our souls, we must meet the truth and face up to its hurt, disappointment, and pain. The truth is this: all who sin are slaves to sin. And all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 

This is a hard truth that we do not like to hear.  When we hear the stinging truth of God’s Law many times our reaction is the same as the Pharisees in our Gospel reading, “Nuh uh. I’m not that bad, not that enslaved, not that sinful.”  And we all make our excuses.  It’s the same reaction that goes all the back to Adam and Eve when caught in their sin, passing the buck on down the line. But God in His mercy refuses to let these lies stand unchallenged. The truth destroys the fragile house of lies we build and lays bare our sinful nature. 

But the truth does not stop there.  No, the One who is the way, the truth, and the life frees by taking you to cross and to the grave. He frees you from slavery of lies, of deceptions, or false comforts and from the inevitable effects of that slavery – death.  Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  As the baptismal liturgy says: you are a slave to sin, death, and the devil until Christ sets you free.  Christ sets you free by the power of His sacrificial death, applied to you by water and the word, and by His body and His blood.  He has put Himself in your place on the cross, to die for your sin, and to pay the debt of sin that you could not and would not pay.

But this freedom won for you is yours only so long as you stand in the truth of Christ by faith.  And by faith means that you are freed to actually believe Jesus and His Word no matter the ridicule the world piles on you because of it, no matter how the unbeliever and unbelieving world tries to shame and guilt you for being intolerant, unloving, mean, backward, offensive, out of touch.  This is what the legendary statement often attributed to Luther meant, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”  As redeemed, blood bought sinners, we stand upon the truth, the rock of Christ, the cornerstone of our faith. We are free only as long as we abide in the Word in the Christ, for it our freedom comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. A person is not free by the gospel to say they believe in Jesus but reject the truth that Jesus says in His word. 

We are not given this precious freedom to simply to indulge ourselves or squander it on selfish living but to live in service to Christ, as a servant of the Gospel.  This freedom brings a life of daily repentance, seeking the grace of the Holy Spirit to live holy, upright, and godly lives; justified by faith in Christ apart from works of the Law, freed from the curse of the Law in order to do the will our Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been freed from the curse of the Law by Christ, do not fall back into denial and slavery to sin.  Abide in Christ, abide in the truth.  The church exists solely by the grace of God. And solely by the grace of God will it continue as the Word of truth breathes life into poor, miserable sinners.  The eternal Gospel truth does not change, nor waver, is not hidden. It is revealed in the only begotten Son of God, delivered to His people through the Word and Sacrament. So come, blessed of the Lord, come to receive the truth of the body and blood of Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins, the truth that sets free. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. James of Jerusalem 2022

St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr

Acts 15:12-22a; James 1:1-12; Matthew 13:54-58

October 23, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Within the New Testament there are five men who bear the names of James. Three of them are fairly obscure: there is James who is the father of the disciple Judas (not Iscariot); there is James the Less, the brother of Joses and the son of a certain Mary (not the Virgin Mary); there is James the son of Alphaeus, one of the disciples.  Then there is James the Great, the son of Zebedee and the brother of the apostle John. Lastly, there is the James the Just, a half-brother of Jesus and early leader of the Jerusalem church, author of the epistle in the New Testament.  It is this James who we remember today.

Many modern theologians believe that James was a son of Joseph and Mary and, therefore, a biological half-brother of Jesus. But throughout most of the Church (historically, and even today), James is thought to be the son of a sister of Joseph or Mary who was widowed and had come to live with them, or the son of Joseph from a previous marriage.  Either way, James is among the household of Joseph and Mary and most likely grew up with or very near to Jesus.

In recent years James has been in the headlines around the world because of a first century ossuary that has been found inscribed “James, the Brother of Jesus.” An ossuary is a box that the bones of a deceased person were put in. In the burial practices of first century Jews, the departed were placed on a ledge in a cave. After a year or so, when the body had decomposed, the bones were placed in the ossuary. The James ossuary is authentic, meaning it really is a first century artifact. It also seems most likely that the James referred to is the one we remember today. This also supports the reliability of the biblical record.

Although later a leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, his early life doesn’t show any belief or support in Jesus’ claims to be the Christ.  In our Gospel reading today, Jesus goes back to his hometown of Nazareth, teaching in the synagogue, probably the very one that he grew up attending most of his life. And he shocks the people there, he shocks them because He speaks as One who actually has authority, who not just knows what he is saying, but literally embodies the promises of God. 

And there is James.  He is offended along with the rest of what Jesus is saying and doing and doesn’t believe, not even welcoming Jesus his brother at home.  As bad as that might be, it gets worse.  While James refuses to believe that Jesus is the Christ, or follow Him as a disciple, he isn’t even mentioned as present during Jesus’ death.  Maybe he was afraid of the close family connection and that he might be arrested and killed along with his brother, or maybe he had so much anger or animosity that he felt Jesus was getting what he deserved.  Either way and whatever the reason, as Jesus’ mother wept at the foot of the cross, our Lord commended her into the care of one of His disciples, John, who was present, rather than into the care of the absent brother, or any of the other family members.

After years of rejecting Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, a resurrection appearance seems to have been the life altering moment. It takes an encounter with the resurrected Jesus to bring somoeone from unbelief to faith. St. Paul mentions him to the Christians in Corinthians in his first letter to them, “Then Jesus appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:6-8). Significantly, Paul only includes the name of one person that Jesus appeared to, James, and includes him as one of his apostles.

It’s not all that different with each of us.  It takes an encounter with the resurrected Christ to bring one from unbelief to faith. Regardless if you were an infant when that happened, a young adult, or elderly, it takes an encounter with the resurrected Jesus.  And Jesus promises where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is.  Where the Word is preached, heard, there Jesus is. And this Jesus calls you by name. Today, we witnesses the miraculous new birth of water and spirit the holy baptisms of Raleigh and Dylan. Brought to faith through hearing of the word and in response to the faith brought about by the Spirit of Christ and the promises of God, they were brought to font where Jesus called them by name, and even more importantly, the name of the Triune God was given to them. It takes an encounter with the resurrected Jesus.  

Apparently, it didn’t take long for James’ faith to express itself in loving service to others.  Very quickly, James becomes a leader of the church in Jerusalem, Paul described James in Galatians as one of the three pillars of the church, along with Peter and John. As Bishop of Jerusalem he occupied a position of unrivalled importance in the early Christianity. The book of Acts shows that James was respected as an important figure. When Peter was miraculously freed from prison and had to flee Jerusalem, he asked that James be informed (12:17). As we see in our text, when Antioch Christians were concerned about what Gentile Christians needed to be saved, they sent Paul and Barnabas to confer with him. And when Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money raised for the faithful there, he goes to James (21:18). He even gets to be known as James the Just because of his outstanding virtue.  This can be most clearly seen in the Epistle that he authored, where he encourages and guides Christians to live godly lives of faith leading to piety and good works. 

James is a godly example of true piety and godliness.  We see in him an example of someone who outright refused belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who thought his half-brother had lost his mind, who wasn’t even present at Jesus death.  Yet, through the encounter with the resurrected Jesus was brought from unbelief to faith. And then from faith to martyrdom. 

During his thirty years as Bishop of Jerusalem, he converted many Jews to Christianity. Annoyed by this, as extra-biblical historical documents show, the Scribes and Pharisees plotted to kill him in the year 62. They led him to the pinnacle of the temple and asked what he thought of Jesus. According to the great Church historian Eusebius (following Hegesippus), they entreated him to “restrain the people, who are led astray after Jesus, as if he were the Messiah,.” Instead of denouncing Jesus to the people, he confessed Jesus as the Messiah, as the One who is risen from the dead and grants eternal life to all who believe in him.  Greatly angered, the Jewish teachers threw him off the roof. He did not die immediately but with his final strength, prayed for his enemies. Eusebius adds that after the fall failed to kill him, they stoned him and at last broke his skull with a club.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James writes, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). It is on that broken skull, to be healed on the day of resurrection, that Jesus will hang the crown of eternal life.  That is God’s promise to you – blessedness, steadfastness under trial, and the crown of life that comes through an encounter with the resurrected Jesus.   The freedom of the resurrection means that we are free to face death and to face that moment when the sinful world wants to control us, even to kill us. We can only do that because of the resurrection of Jesus, that allows us the freedom to die in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

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.