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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. 

Trinity 1 2022 - Psalm 13:1-6; Genesis 15:1-6

Trinity 1 2022

Psalm 13:1-6; Genesis 15:1-6

June 19, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


The first commandment states, “You shall have no other gods.”  Now, every Lutheran should know what this means, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”  Certainly easier said than done.  While each of these three aspects have their own nuance, this morning we consider what it means to trust in God above all things.

Psalm 13, which we sang as our introit this morning, highlights the kind of trust that we are talking about here in the first Commandment.  This is a Psalm of David, and the impression we get when hearing this Psalm is that it is the voice of a man in deep distress.  To make matters worse, David complains that God seems indifferent to his suffering, that God has forgotten him despite His promises to be with David. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”   The exact threat that he faces is never really spelled out, and not really even the focus on his attention.  It is what is behind the scenes of his trouble that riles him up. 

What seems to really bother him is a sense of loneliness, of abandonment by God.  There is no indication here that this is being caused by being a sinner; there is no confession of sin, no contrition, no recognition of personal guilt.  But his worry and concern lie in his fear that his enemies will succeed in their evil plan and the question of where God is in the midst of his suffering. 

This is a wonderful psalm for us to pray. Which one of us here hasn’t felt abandoned at times, experienced the unfairness of this life when no fault lies within ourselves?  When God doesn’t seem to be holding up His end of the bargain, His covenant, His promises. “Am I being punished for something? Did I do something to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?  How long must I go through this?” 

For the psalmist, these questions do not paralyze him with fear or lead him into self-pity and wallowing in depression, rather is aggravates him.  He doesn’t adopt the cringing speech of a victim, nor engage in some sort of passive aggressive virtue signaling.  He doesn’t beg or wallow in self pity.  The “how long” questions express a deep and abiding faith, the sentiment that God has been hiding long enough, that he has been suffering long enough, that the enemy has worked against him long enough.  How long is God going to put up with this?  This has more to do with God than it does with us. 

Veiled within these questions, is the faith that he actually matters to God, that he is important, that God actually cares if he lives or dies.  And so he is tossed back and forth between the feelings that he actually matters in God’s eyes and his feelings that God has forsaken him, or that God has left him to suffer alone, that God has stopped caring. 

Abraham also knew this feeling well.  God had promised that He would be the father of many nations, a blessing to the world, yet here he was childless, a wandering man with no future.  And God seems to have abandoned His promise, for now he and Sarah were much too old to have children.  And so he struggles in trusting God’s previous promise and his current situation that seems hopeless and out of his control. 

And then the Word of the Lord comes to him and says, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  Abraham questions what the Lord could give to him, for it is too late.  God directs Abram to look up. God tells him to number the stars, if he can. God’s promise would be fulfilled in a way that was greater than Abram could imagine, and greater than he could see with his eyes.  And then we have it, one of the most important Bible verses in the Old Testament, “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). 

This is the first passage of Scripture which we have had until now about faith. In this passage no mention is made of any preparation for grace, of any faith formed through works, or of any preceding disposition. This, however, is mentioned: that at that time Abraham was in the midst of sins, doubts, and fears about his future and the future of his family, he is declared to be righteous.  How? In this way: God speaks, and Abraham believes what God is saying. Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, bears a trustworthy witness and declares that this very believing or this very faith is righteousness or is imputed by God Himself as righteousness and is regarded by Him as such.

No one has treated this passage better, more richly, more clearly, and more powerfully than St. Paul in the third to the twelfth chapters of Romans. Paul treats it in such a way as to show that this promise concerning Abraham’s descendants should not be interpreted to apply solely to the legitimate biological offspring, but to the spiritual and eternal heritage, those who are children of Abraham by faith in promises of God.  For righteousness is given to Abraham not because he performs works but because he believes. It is the same for us: righteousness is given because of God’s thought, which faith lays hold of.  So Paul writes in Romans 4:24-25, “[Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

And this is the answer promise of God-Jesus the Christ who was crucified for you, and who was raised for your justification. Every promise of God includes Christ. Therefore, the only difference between Abraham’s faith and David’s faith and ours is this: that they believed in the coming Christ who was promised, while we believe in the promised Christ who has come and who promises to come again; and by that faith in Christ, and only through faith in Christ, in the Old and New Testament alike, that people are saved, that God answers our cries of “How long?”

It is out of this belief, it is out of God’s declaration to you that you are righteous, justified, for the sake of Christ through your faith in Him, that we can pray along with the David the Psalmist, along with Abraham, indeed along with Jesus Himself as He cries out the Father while hanging on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”  In the most astounding way, the Father sent His own Son to experience the entirety of human life, to feel the burden and the pain of “how long” suffering endures and to give answer!  “How long” ends with the cross and with the resurrection – both Jesus’ and yours!

  In your baptism, God has marked you as His own, given you all His promises of God.  In the Lord’s Supper, the very body and blood of Jesus that hung on the cross is given to you for the forgiveness of your sins.  In this, He tells you that you matter to Him, that He pays attention to you, that you are loved, you are never completely abandoned, for you have the Word of God and the Spirit which He has sent to live in you. 

As people of faith in Christ, continue to pray, “How long, O Lord?” while at the same time confessing that all the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ, rejoicing in your salvation for the One who has dealt bountifully with you (Psalm 13:6). While you wait on God to keep His promises too, when you wonder, doubt, question, the word of God directs our attention up to the heavens as well. To look up to Jesus, to behold the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus, and to know that God’s plan is greater than you realize, and more than what you can always see, and to learn to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. 

Trinity Sunday 2022 - John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday 2022

John 3:1-17

June 12, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


One of the most famous and most well memorized verses in the Bible comes from our Gospel, reading for today.  Of course, I’m talking about John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” Children to adults, various languages, athletes, and more.  It’s a wonderful thing, and should be encouraged all the more, yet the meaning of the verse grows immensely given the context of Jesus’ statement. 

First, and importantly, this comes in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin who approaches Jesus by night out of fear of what his collogues might think and do, and along with Joseph of Arimathea, would take the crucified and dead body of Jesus from the cross and bury it in the grave.

Nicodemus approaches Jesus at night assuming that he’s got it all figured out.  He gives what he apparently thinks is a generous and profound interpretation of Jesus’ work when he says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one else can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2).  But this was not enough.  For Nicodemus, the signs that Jesus had been doing was the indicator of God’s presence with Jesus.  Nicodemus recognizes Jesus as “from God” because of the signs, but Jesus shifts the focus from what He had been doing in the signs to what the Spirit does and then to what Jesus speaks and came to accomplish by the will of the Father.  Jesus didn’t merely have God with Him, He is the Son of God come down to earth.  Only by Jesus does birth “from above” happen, which is a sign, a miracle by Jesus, for He alone came from above.  The recalling of Numbers 21 and the story of the bronze serpent shows that only through God’s chosen means are His people saved.  And so He would be lifted up, that anyone who would look to Him in faith, and only to Him, would be saved. 

Which brings us verse 16, which again, is one of the best known verses, but also one of the most misunderstood.  Often people think this verse means, “God so loved the world” as in God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  But that is not what the word “so” means here, and that is not what Jesus means when He speaks to Nicodemus. The question isn’t “How much does God love?” It is not about quantity.  But rather, “How does God love?”

A slightly different translation could be rendered thusly, “For God thus loved the world…”  Or as 1 John 3:16a states, using exactly the same word Οὕτως  – “In this way we know love, that He laid down His life for us…”  So, “God in this way loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  

Again, Jesus is explaining how God loves the world, not how much.  How do you know that God is still there watching? How do you know that God still cares in the middle of disaster?  How do you know that God loves the world?  How do you know that God loves you? The way we know God’s love for us is the sign, the miracle, of the cross. 

The answer to your fears, your doubts, your questions, your worry is Christ crucified.  Jesus who was sent by the Father to a world that rejects Him, accuses Him, kills Him.  And He knew this would happen and still goes through with it. This is the way that He loves Nicodemus. This is the way that He loves the world.  This is the way that He loves you. Love is found in the action, in the will and commitment for the good of the other, not in the passion of the emotions.

But let there be no mistake.  There are those in the wilderness bitten by the poisonous snakes because of their sin, who by their pride refused to accept this love, refused to trust the promise of God, refused to believe He who was lifted up for the salvation of the world. Love given, love rejected.  Many of you know the pain of rejected love.  A young romance not reciprocated. A divorce where one walks out on another, abandoning marital vows to love and cherish until death parts made before family, friends, and God Himself.  A child speaking angrily to his parent, “I hate you.”  God knows that pain. He knows the hurt of rejection, of broken promises, of being spat in His face, of giving His all, even the life of His Son.

There are consequences to this rejection, devastating effects of unbelief, and we dare not forget John 3:18, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  And it is the most unloving thing to avoid warning people of hell, of treating God’s sacrifice of Jesus so lightly that a Christian would reject God’s justice. There is only one way to be saved, and that is faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died upon the cross, taking the condemnation of the sin of the world upon Himself and who was raised on the third day. Where there is no faith, where the love of God in Christ is rejected, there is no salvation, no eternal life, but condemnation and eternal hell.  Salvation is the natural, the proper, work of God.  Condemnation is called the “alien” work of God.  Though condemnation is a result of rejection of God’s love, God wants all men to be saved.  The world is only saved through faith in Him. 

Jesus is very clear, and loving, in speaking this truth. Those who don’t believe are condemned already. They are “dead in their trespasses” as both Eph. 2 and Col. 2 say. They are literally, the walking dead. And dead men can’t live.  Which brings us back to Jesus’ first answer to Nicodemus – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You must be born again, a birth that comes by the means of water and Spirit, a birth of faith by baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

You who born again by baptism and faith in Christ are not condemned.  You have eternal life now.  Physical death is not the end of life, because for you who believe, life is eternal. Faith, believing and trusting that Jesus has died to save you from your sins, receives the love of God in Christ. One of the best parts is, we don’t deserve it.  We don’t deserve to be loved, and yet we still are.  We deserve condemnation, but we receive eternal life as a free gift of God’s grace.  This is how He shows His love, that while it is not deserved, it is still given.  Your worthiness of God’s love does not depend on the weakness or strength of faith, but upon Christ’s merit.  And believing in Him, you have eternal life. 

Pentecost 2022 - John 14:23-31

Pentecost 2022

John 14:23-31

June 5, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


Just before today’s Gospel reading, Jesus had been teaching His disciples not to fear the world, nor the trouble, nor hardships that would come by following Him.  As we had heard in the last several weeks, Jesus was preparing His disciples for His Ascension, and the reassurance that He is not abandoning His people, and that God has not stopped acting in the world. Rather, Jesus tells them that He ascends to prepare a place for those who love Him, that no one can enter into the kingdom of God except through faith in the Son whom the Father has sent, and that the Holy Spirit would be sent to guide and direct God’s people in the way of truth.

Now, today, we’ve come to Pentecost, where the promise of God sending His Spirit in the name of the resurrected Son to teach and guide disciples of Jesus is fulfilled.  Tongues of fire upon their heads and tongues of boldness in their mouths to speak of the mighty works of God in Christ. 

Today, three young men in our congregation are confirmed, which is to say, they bear witness to their receiving of the Holy Spirit at their baptisms, the same Spirit who loosens their tongues to confess the Christian faith they have held and believed since they were infants.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments.”  So, you were taught the Ten Commandments and their meanings.  Jesus said, “Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” So you were taught the Apostles’ Creed, the Christian’s baptismal confession of faith and it’s meaning.  Jesus invites His people to pray to God the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, and so you were taught the Lord’s Prayer and its meaning.  Jesus says, “If anyone love Me, He will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him.”  And so you were taught the love of God shown throughout the Old and New Testaments in His mercy and grace, and most clearly through sending His Son Jesus to die for you. 

And so they will stand up in front of us this morning, confessing their belief in Jesus, and make solemn promises of their intention to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully; to live according to the word of God, and in faith, word and deed, to remain true God, even to death; to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. 

This is what some of them said about this… 

This all sounds good and well and commendable, yet Jesus warns that this sinful world is against those who are in Christ just as was against Him, that the spiritual battle for soul does not get easier, but even harder.  These young men already live in a world and culture that is foreign to some of you here today, face pressures of this age that you all would not even have imagined when you were their age.  You will increasingly find yourselves out of step with the values and norms and lifestyles of those around you. The fallen world in which you live and continue to grow will be hostile to your faith and your life as a Christian. It will tempt and tug, push and pull off the path of Christ.  

They need help, as we all do.  They will answer these questions of their intention by saying, ‘I do, by the grace of God.” And isn’t that the truth!  It is only and always by the grace of God, not by our own works or efforts.  Too many people have stood up in too many churches declaring these same promises only to fall away from the Christian faith, to fall prey to the world’s sinful idea and the misguided notion of too many Lutheran churches that confirmation is the end, or the goal, and that one is now free to decide for themselves if they want to go to church, what parts of God’s Word they want to throw out or simply ignore! What God protect us from these temptations, and forgive us for promising one thing on Confirmation Sunday only to do to the opposite the very next Sunday. One of these young men says this… 

Zion Lutheran Church, as the family of God in this place, it is your responsibility to one another to encourage and build up the faith of one another in all love and unity of belief. Do not think or act like you can do this on your own, or be a Christian apart from the family of God, but listen to the Holy Spirit who teaches you all things and brings to your remembrance all that Jesus has taught. 

And when you find yourselves lacking even in this, remember the Holy Spirit has been given to you for this purpose – to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.   In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives the sins of all believes, taking what the Father has given to the Son and delivering it to you.  Jesus gives you peace, not as the world gives, but only as God Himself can.  This is the peace of God’s presence, of His love and forgiveness, the peace of God that passes all understanding, the peace of God delivered in His means of grace.  In your baptism, God has granted you His peace by reconciling you to Himself.  In the absolution, God has granted you His peace by forgiving your sins, by restoring the broken relationship between God and man.  Now, for the first time for these three young men, and one more time among many for most of you, God grants His peace in the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.  This is the reason why at the end of the consecration, the pastor holds up the body and blood of Christ before you and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” 

This work of God in His Word and Sacraments is much more important today than any confirmation vows and promises.  It is the promise of God for you.  By faith, hold tight to Christ, to His Word and promises. He will never leave you nor forsake you. 

Rise, let us go from here.  Jesus leads His people out into the world.  

Easter 6 2022 - John 16:23-30

Easter 6 2022 Rogate

John 16:23-30

May 22, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


When Moses asks God for His name, God replies “I am who I am.”  This God who made the heaven and the earth, who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, who made Abraham a father of many, who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, who sent His Son to die for the salvation of the world, is the God who IS.  This is an exclusive claim of Christianity. He is the only true God. All other gods are imaginary, idols of fallen humanity’s imagination, or demons masquerading as something they are not.  God is truth, idols are lies.  God IS, idols are made.  God leads people to live holy lives, idols give permission for sinners to sin.  

The Psalmist speaks to this in Psalm 135:15-16 wherein he says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.  Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, uses many derogatory words for idols, one of my favorites being “dung deities” showing no mercy, grace, nor respect to idols and false gods (Chad Bird). St. Paul describes in 1 Cor. 8:5 how the world believes that other gods exist, yet only one God lives.  The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine Being.

Just like we see throughout cultures and times in the OT and in the Roman world, religious pluralism runs ramped in our culture today and says that all gods are the same and ought to be tolerated, or even honored. To our modern way of thinking, how silly it is to think that some pray silver and gold, to a statue of wood or stone.  Who is foolish enough to pray to a god that they themselves have made?  But what happens when the false god is a little more sophisticated?  What about the Muslim god, the Jewish god, the Mormon gods?  What about the idol of one’s body, to elevate fitness or diet or physical health above everything else, or to shape or reshape one’s physical self through introducing foreign hormones or even surgery to change? COVID certainly highlighted our culture’s worship of physical health and a deep seated fear of suffering and death to which one must make sacrifices of physical distancing, isolation, lockdowns, compliance with cries of salvation to the government?

This all rests on the first table to the Law, the first three commandments.  The First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods.” This is how you identify what you worship: what do you fear, love, or trust in above all else.  But it is also tied to the next commandment of not misusing God’s name.  Rather than misusing it, or avoiding it, or twisting it, we should call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. But you have to know and believe in the God who reveals Himself in His Word in order to call upon Him and use His name, otherwise your prayers have nowhere to go.  It’s like letter sent to the wrong address.  If there is a return address, the letter comes back.  Return to sender - address unknown.  If there is no return address, the letter goes to the dead letter office.  Either way, the letter does no good.

In a similar way, words intended for a false god have no place to go.  They are intended for a destination that does not exist.  Words addressed to the nature god of the Wiccans or to the generic god of the Unitarians, or to the god of the Jews, or to the gods of Mormonism, or to the god of Islam, or to god of government, or any false god ultimately do no good.  No matter how sincere the words are, they have no effect on their intended recipient because their intended recipient doesn't exist, or they have no power to truly save.  The only “god” who can respond to prayer is the God who actually is. In order for our words to become a prayer, they must be prayed to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Hoy Spirit.

This again is a unique aspect of Christianity. This is for the simple fact that we believe, at St. Paul writes to Timothy, that there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…”  Because of Jesus, we have the right and privilege to bring our wants and desires before our heavenly Father in prayer. We pray in Jesus’ name, that is with faith in Him as our Redeemer. We pray with confidence, that is with trust and faith that for Jesus’ sake our prayers will be answered. It takes faith to ask for faith, forgiveness to ask for forgiveness. No one confesses his sins to God without expected God to remove them. Notice the confession we make in Church each week. We flat out say we are sinners and we deserve God’s wrath.  But this is not the confession of a scared person. It is a confident request that expects God’s grace for the sake of Christ.   For Jesus invites us to pray, “Truly, truly I say to you, whatever you ask of My Father in My name, He will give it to you… Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23b, 24b).

So pray to the Father in Jesus’ name with boldness and confidence and without fear to the One who declares you righteous in His sight for the sake of Christ.  The prayer of a person made righteous by faith is motivated by that faith and seeks God’s will.  This is why the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  The power does not come from you nor your sincerity or passion of faith. It comes from Christ. Jesus is the power in prayer because Jesus is God.  Out of the Father’s love for His fallen creation, He sent His Son to restore creation.  If Jesus is not God, if He is not sent by the Father to save us from our sins, then calling out to Him in prayer is meaningless at best, and blasphemy at worst. But since we believe, along with the disciples, that this Jesus is the true Son of God sent by the Father, then it is true that all our prayers, all the promises of God, find their “Yes” in Christ.  To which we add “Amen” as the great word of faith. Amen is the confession that God’s promises are true, reliable, trustworthy, that when we pray in Jesus’ name, we have the promised yes in His name.  For the word Amen simply means “Yes, yes it shall be so.” Or translated into Lutheranese is means, “This is most certainly true.” 

This is the way of prayer.  And it connects us to the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”, which means to not despise preaching or God’s Word, but gladly hear and learn it.  Prayer goes hand in hand with the Word of God and we cannot pray without it. God’s Word is first heard. It enters you, then it comes out again. He speaks, and then you speak His Word back to Him in faith. Because it is His Word, you have the Lord’s assurance that your prayer in His name will be heard. You will find the Father’s heart wide open praying in Jesus’ name, and the Holy Spirit will speak the truth plainly so that we might hear and believe that this Jesus came from God, and that He came to save us and bring us with Him to the Father’s side.

Christ gives us the invitation and command to pray, which carries His promise, “ask, and you will receive.”It is handing over the content of our prayers to God, giving up the control and the worry and the doubt because God is our Father. So pray for yourselves and for your family and for your friends and for your enemies.  It does not annoy your Father in heaven to hear the voices of His children. It is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior to hear the voice of His children. Lay your wants and needs before God, not as though He doesn’t know them, but that by pouring out your cares to the Lord, you may unburden and comfort our souls. Even when you or I neglect our prayers, when we forget or are forgotten by others, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes with groans that even our words cannot express (Romans 8:26).You have Jesus, who has ascended and sits at the right hand of the Father and speaks on your behalf (1 John 2:1-3).