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Trinity 26 2021 - 2 Peter 3:3-14

Trinity 26 2021

2 Peter 3:3-14

November 14, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

St. Peter wrote his letter about 30 years after our Lord’s ascension.   The first generation of Christians were dying out, and still the world did not come to an end. There were still some disciples alive who heard Jesus’ promise to return, yet there was no indication that the end was any nearer.  There was a concern among some that the delay would lead to complacency and apathy among the believers, or worse yet, to people falling away from the Christian faith because of their impatience.

So while we wait and wonder why Jesus is taking His sweet time in returning, He does not share our impatience, nor is He slow to fulfill His promises as some count slowness.  Scoffers are going to scoff, so they mock, “Why is Your God taking so long?” The answer is that, “He’s not.” But also that God has determined the exact moment in the history of His creation, and from His perspective there is no delay in the return of Jesus.  

To address this issue, St. Peter reminds us that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8).  Peter is not saying that 1000 years and a day are the same.  God doesn’t see time from one to the other, but He sees both the beginning and the end simultaneously.  He is not bound by the created element of time. He speaks from the viewpoint of eternity, where there is no time, no day, no year.  Since God is eternal, what seems to us to be a long time is not to Him.  As God’s Word created and preserves creation, as God’s Word declared judgment upon the world by means of the Flood, by that same Word, the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly will come, and the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promises.

And so as we ought to be patient for His coming, He is even more patient toward you.  His motives are His love and long suffering, so that, for He wishes that all would reach repentance.  God’s timing of that day is arraigned to give people time and opportunity to turn to him in faith. Why is He waiting? Why doesn’t He hurry up and fix all the pain and suffering and evil?  Because He wants you, your family member, your friend, your neighbor, to hear the Gospel, and by means of hearing the Word, come to repentance and faith in Christ crucified.  There are people who still must be saved, and this world remains for the one purpose of the salvation of all who would believe. While the scoffers say that the delay is slowness, or just made up altogether, you who believe count it as salvation.  

The day of the Lord will come as a surprise, without special warning, like a thief in the night, without a different announcement than what we already have in Scripture.  Everyone, believers and non-believers alike, will be surprised.  Upon the sudden return of Jesus, the heavens will pass away with a roar, the heavenly bodies burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. No secret rapture, no “Left Behind” heretical nonsense, no end of the world movie scene.  But the sudden return of Christ, the fire of God’s judgment of the living and the dead, which will refine and purify creation to the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, paradise regained, and the bodily resurrection of believers to enteral life and unbelievers to eternal damnation.

Many people today comment that the end must be near because of the unrest in our country and some other places in the world.  Christians have been saying ever since Jesus ascended.  We already know that the end is coming.  We have been living in the last days since Jesus’ ascension.  It should be of no surprise that creation falls apart because of sin, when our lives fall apart because of sin, but there is also no need for panic or fear.

For us, the bigger question isn’t “if” Jesus is returning, nor “when” Jesus is returning, but rather what do we do while we wait? What sort of persons ought we be?  Certainly not fearful of the end of all things, nor the end of our earthly life!  The believer has nothing to fear! But rather, you are called to be people in lives of holiness and godliness, eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus, the great and awesome day of the Lord.  Since you know that everything must pass away, both heaven and earth, consider how you must be prepared with a saintly and a godly life and conduct to meet this day (Luther, AE 30:197). 

By virtue of your baptism, you have been prepared for that great and mighty day, given what you need, set apart for God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Since Jesus is holy, God declares us holy through faith in Him.  Your function in this world flows from this identity as part of God’s holy people. Holiness is the separation from the service of sin and evil, from the godless world.  That means you are called to lives lives that reflect this reality, lives of godliness. Godliness is the service of God, the reflecting of Christ in our own lives. You’re not to live like the unbelievers. You’re not to buy into the contradictory information of the secular world and believe in that more than you believe in God’s Word, taking care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (2 Peter 3:17); you’re not to act as if God doesn’t matter or as if He isn’t involved in your life; you’re not to panic or fear in suffering or hardship, for the Christian life is one of bearing the cross; you’re not to lazily sit on your duff and let the world to go to hell when you have the only answer that eternally matters, the only comfort that lasts beyond this life, the only true hope for a future. You are to hasten the coming of the Day of God’s judgment and salvation by sharing the good news of Jesus. This life of suffering and sorrow, of struggle with temptation, of strife and heartache and conflict and unfairness, you live this life under the cross with the certainty that you shall meet our Savior in the new creation of righteousness and shall feast with him in His eternal kingdom!

In light of these words, we receive the Lord’s Supper today.  Through the worthiness of repentance and faith, this foretaste of the feast to come equips you in this life, strengthen you to stand firm in the true faith, and testifies to the return of the Son of God in glory In this holy meal, Christ comes to you, and as St. Paul explains in 1 Cor 11, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).  Eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood is how you proclaim the Cross until Jesus makes Himself visible to the world at His coming.  Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is evangelistic, and as often as you receive this gift of God, you bear witness to Christ’s work in your life here and now and in confident faith of future at His coming. 

Be diligent to be found in Christ, counting the patience of God as your salvation, and to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 

All Saints' 2021

All Saints’ Day 2021

Revelation 7; Matthew 5:10-11

November 7, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Today as we observe All Saints’ Day, we do so with an eye to the past, to the present, and to the future.  As we celebrate those faithful departed, we rejoice in the unity that we share with those who have gone before us.  We recognize today that even though the Church is still divided, part on earth and part in heaven, we united in Christ with the hope of the resurrection. We have a glimpse of departed believers in the reading from Revelation. These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, those who suffered in life, suffered injustice, pain, sin, divisions in family, ridicule for believing in Jesus.  They come from every nation and tribe. But what is the most striking about them isn’t their diversity; it’s their unity.  They are united in what they have received from the Lord: they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Their sins are forgiven, and they hold the palm branch of victory that He has placed in their hands.  And they are united in their attention to the Lamb upon His throne, the Lord Jesus Christ to whom they look for their full salvation.

And this is what unites us to them as well.  Jesus is the One who comes in the name of the Lord to make us blessed along with all the saints who have gone before us. He is the Christ, the elected, the anointed, the Righteous One of God to whom you have been joined as a member of His body the holy, the sanctified, Christian Church. Thus you have been joined by virtue of your baptism with the elect of every nation, and every generation, who are one with Christ. 

That is what the Divine Service of Word & Sacrament is all about--declaring and making you one of those who whitewashed in the red blood of the Lamb. And thus, making you who believe a saint, one of the blessed with Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who is His Blessed One.  We realized that while the Church Triumphant rest from their labors, the church on earth struggles on, the Church Militant still fighting against sin, the world, and the devil, still living in this earthly tribulation. 

“Blessed are you” for this is what it means to be a saint. That you are blessed, righteous, set apart by and for God.  God is proclaiming to you in our Gospel reading, in the Beatitudes, that you are among those who are blessed by virtue of faith in Christ. This is a sacred paradox of the kingdom of heaven. The power of the Beatitudes which Jesus preaches lie in the reversal of human values. They see the present in light of the future.  “Blessedness” moves beyond emotion to a state of being, beyond a temporal world, one that is not swayed by what happens to someone in the moment, but is instead characteristic of a person’s identity in Christ. This blessedness refers to the condition of someone who has been favorably accepted by God through faith and received His divine approval.  Blessedness comes from the One who is blesses, through Jesus Himself.  

The human spirit does not like the fact that who we are is deficient, that blessedness comes not from within and isn’t something you can just create yourself.   Unrest in realizing that we are flawed, that we are not what we could and should be.  Our bodies fail.  Our minds forget.  Our lives are marked by our sin and the sin of others, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Who we are in this present reality fall short because we have no righteousness of our own.

But you do have Jesus.  And by faith, and faith alone, the righteous of God in Christ is yours.  For Jesus is the Righteous One, and it is exactly because of this righteousness that He is persecuted and eventually put to death.  And so it is no wonder that the 8th beatitude speaks of this, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  The mark of the true disciple is that like Jesus, he becomes a target of the world’s hatred for the same reason – Jesus’ righteousness.  

This is an important distinction.  The world’s antagonism against those made righteous through faith in Christ is against Christ Himself.  Consider the conversion of St. Paul, as we did this morning in our adult Bible study.  Here was Saul, the zealous Pharisee, who was ravaging the Church, even going house by house, dragging off men and women to prison because they believed in Jesus. In Acts 9, on the road to Damascus, Jesus calls, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’” And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…’” (Acts 9:4-5). To those who face persecution, hardship, who are reviled and spoken evil of because of Jesus, because of His righteousness given to you.  

Your suffering is not in vain.  “Troubles are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are God’s works, intended for our benefit, and that God’s power might be made more apparent in our weakness” (Ap XIIB 63). “Those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, those who are reviled and have all kinds of evil spoken against them falsely because of Christ” are blessed in the knowledge that they follow a great line of prophets and apostles who understood their identity in the One who was martyred for them.  Disciples of Jesus will be like Jesus by being a target of Satan Himself. 

Rejoice and be glad, as you struggle on this earthly life, for Jesus says your reward is great in heaven.  In the midst of trouble and tribulation, slander and fear, attacks of the devil, keep your eye on the prize, the goal, the eternal destination, the surpassing greatness of the crown of eternal that Jesus will bestow upon who remain true, those who are declared blessed by the One from whom all blessings flow. It is only through the blessedness of Jesus given to you that you are to stand firm in the truth faith to live everlasting. Because you too are declared by God to be a saint, made pure and righteous by the One who is holy and purifies, cleansed in your Baptism, and there united to both His death and to His resurrection.

And that is the source of our true joy, of our rejoicing!  Consider again those heavenly saints.  While they have been delivered from the tribulations, they are not yet in their glorified state as they will be after Jesus’ second coming when their bodies will live again.  They still look to the resurrected Christ in the sure and certain hope of their bodily resurrection.  And so do we!  And so we hear in 1 John, we hear, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when we appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 1:2). There is a better version of yourselves coming, but not here yet. Until that day, may we gather before the throne and before the Lamb in praise and adoration, in unity with the Church Triumphant, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting, blessed to be saints of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Reformation Sunday 2021 - Matthew 11:12-19

Reformation 2021

Matthew 11:12-19

October 31, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  With those words, Martin Luther began his 95 Thesis, which sparked the Reformation, 504 years ago today.  With the strike of the hammer upon the church door, we are taken back not to Luther, but to the greatest days of the history of the world, when the Kingdom of Heaven invading this world in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Our Gospel text today speaks of this. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist is in prison and has sent messengers asking if Jesus is the one to come or if they should look for another.  Jesus answers with the signs prophesied in Isaiah 61 that speak about Him.   He speaks these things so that John might have hope in the midst of his suffering and trials.  Here is the man who Jesus says is the greatest ever born of women, suffering injustice, pain, sorrow, isolation, and certain death.  And if that wasn’t enough, John’s life would not get any easier because of Jesus’ words. His suffering will continue until he is beheaded, put to death for calling out sin and calling a sinner to repentance and faith.

Jesus says, “From the days of John until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). John experienced violence as the forerunner of Christ, one who stood at the on the threshold through faith in the promise of God. Jesus told His disciples to expect violent opposition at the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven by means of preaching the Gospel; that God’s people would be hated and persecuted for His name’s sake (Matthew 10).  And so the truth is under violent attack, pretending that morality and reality are relative and fluid. God’s Word is under violent attacked, no longer treated as the living Word of the living God, without error, applicable to life, and THE authority over body and soul.  Christian values are under violent attack as Christians are called judgmental, bigots, mean, unloving, evil, and worse for insisting upon Biblical morality. Your homes are under violent attack by the devil and the sinful world sneaking in through television, the internet, conflict among the family. Your very soul is under violent attack.  The devil, the world, and the sinful flesh are enemies of the Gospel of Jesus and seek to destroy you. 

This is nothing new, for this is simply the Christian life.  Your life will not be any easier by following Jesus.  By virtue of your baptism, you have a target painted on your back. Because of faith in Jesus, the gates of hell seek your eternal death in hell.  There is no choice but to fight, for evil rages against you whether you want it to or not.  The fact that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence from the days of John the Baptist and is seized by violent men is a fruit of the Word of God (Luther AE 67.129). 

Jesus isn’t referring just to the violence of enemies who persecute and kill to destroy the Kingdom.  Even though the kingdom of heaven suffers violence from the devil and the world, the violent, that is those who trust in God’s promise and refuse to let go of Jesus despite all the pain and the doubts and the fear, take it by force. Violence is the victories of the advancing of the kingdom of God. It’s a holy violence which makes men heirs of God.  The force is spiritual, not physical, the violence done to the corrupt heart and soul.  It’s a violence in which God delights!   There are those who hear the Word in such a way that they cannot be dragged away from it by any violence.  They die rather than deny it.  These are the ones who beat on the door of the kingdom of God and desire to be saved above all, even to the consequence of hatred by the world, even by their very own families.   

The Reformation began with Luther struggling with how God could be just and holy and righteous and gracious at the same time.  He stormed the gates of heaven by the power of faith, storming again and again by prayer, forcefully believing that anyone may be allowed in the Kingdom despite their sin, through the free forgiveness of sins only by God’s grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone. Only sinners dwell in hell; sinners who cling to their sin and do not want to let it go.  And only sinners dwell in the kingdom of heaven; sinners justified/declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law. This declaration of justification by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone is at the very heart of the Gospel and the Christian life.

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Repentance is sorrow over sin and faith that God is good and gracious and able to forgive. The Christian life, then, is one of repentance as we rightly use our baptism as we examine our daily responsibilities and wrongdoings in the light of the Word of God.  This life of repentance is the daily drowning of the Old Adam with all sins and evil desires, and a daily rising of the new man in Christ to live before God in righteous and purity forever.  This struggle is one of violence against sinful desires, doubts, fears, uncertainties, self-righteousness, misbelief. This earthly life in the kingdom of heaven is marked with pain, sweat, tears, and blood. The old sinful self is not put to death without the violence of repentance over sin. The violent are those Christians who have been forgiven by God, who live a life of repentance, who suffer in the flesh against temptation, depression, loneliness, isolation, despair. Whose conscience drives them to the daily forgiveness of all sins. God forbid and keep you from impenitence, of quitting the good fight of faith, of rejected Jesus’ forgiveness because you deny your sin or love it more than you love your Lord.  Continue to fight the devil and temptation with the sure and certain hope of Christ, that “take they our life, good, fames, child, and wife, those these all be gone, our victory has been worn. The kingdom ours remaineth.”

Christ is invading this fallen world through the preaching of the Gospel.  Christ has come and brings His kingdom to your home and your lives.  This is the life of repentance and hope. So count yourselves blessed even in the midst of earthly trials. You stand in a long line of heavenly saints, those justified by faith apart from works of the law (Roman 3:28). The kingdom of heaven suffers violence but your struggles in this world are not hopeless or in vain. They have been fulfilled and completed in Jesus.

Trinity 21 2021 - Ephesians 6:10-17

Trinity 21 2021

Ephesians 6:10-17 – The Battle

October 24, 2021 

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID 83686

The war had been going on for years.  Countless battles fought. Lives lost. Lives saved. There he was. The soldier. He wasn’t anyone special.  Just a grunt. Following orders the best he could under the circumstances.  At one time, he was on the front lines, but the fighting had been seemingly slow. Despite some incredible battles, against all odds, he’s only been wounded, and is still able to fight. 

As you can imagine, war wears on people.  Maybe the waiting for the battle to come is the hardest. He sits at his post, with only random gunfire to be heard far off in the distance.  He’s been assigned to this duty with special emphasis, yet it seems the most boring of them all. It is simply guard duty.  His dreams alternate. He wants to be back home with his family and friends, the way it used to be when he was younger and ignorant of the horrors of war.  At the same, he also dreams of the glory that could be his. Oh, the battles he could fight and the hero he could be if he just had the chance. 

His chance came.  A battle began.  The enemy forces tried to break through the front lines, but this was only a diversion. The real attack was to come from behind.  Long hours of anticipating an attack which never seemed to come had dulled his attention.  Weariness, lack of good rest, boredom, and hours of staring into an endless darkness on a moonless night.  The enemy was using these against this soldier, as he snuck around to attack from behind.  The enemy wanted to be silent, so none of the other guards would be alerted that the perimeter was breached.  His gun was put away. He would use more silent and inconspicuous weapons.  He prowled, like a lion stalking prey. He got closer.  He knew the guard was distracted.  And he waited. 

While all this was going on, what the soldier on guard duty didn’t know is that while battles were being fought the war has been won already.  The enemy didn’t seem to know this either though, or at least care. He still fought, even though his side has already been defeated.  In that sense, this one battle wouldn’t determine anything in the grand scheme of the war.  But it meant everything for this soldier and the enemy stalking him.

The soldier was enticed by the battle going on in the distance, and had no clue the danger lurking behind him.  He wanted to help his fellow soldiers.  He didn’t see anyone around him, and it wouldn’t do any harm to leave his post since he didn’t feel he was guarding much anyway. He could help, and he wanted to help. So he grabbed his weapon, and as he was about to hastily make his way to where he thought he could do some good, it was at that moment that the enemy pounced…

What happens next, I don’t know.  Because that battle is being fought as we speak, right here, right now, in your lives.  You are that soldier of God, enlisted into His army by virtue of your baptism.  St. Paul speaks of this in our Epistle lesson. The Christian life is one of diligence, of guard duty, to stand firm in the Christian faith dressed in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:13).  Knowingly or not, as a Christian you are constantly tempted by impatience to seek out dramatic encounters and glorious victories.  So you are tempted leave your post and go out in search of the enemy and seemingly glory in spiritual warfare… 

That’s just what Satan wants us to do.  The devil’s frontal attack is to get us to sin, then accuse and condemn us because of that sin, rather than letting us rest in the forgiveness of Jesus. His back door attack is to get others to sin against us and then for us to quit serving in love.  He wants us to abandon our post, our station in life, so that he can lead us on a wild, spiritual goose chase.  In doing so, rather than being the war hero, we become the one that needs to be rescued.  We cannot win the war ourselves.  We cannot be the war hero, for there is only one true hero of this war.  The son of the General of the army, the Lord of hosts, Jesus Himself joins the battle, rushing headlong into the waves of enemy healing those wounded by sin, caring for the victims of evil, sacrificing His life for His men so that all who believe in Him might live. 

Which means we do not need to chase after the enemy all over the world, but only at our post. St. Paul writes, “Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”  We are not required to defeat evil, but only to stand firm and faithful against it. That is enough, the outcome remains with God.  It is His war after all.  Our post is our given location in our family, the world, and the Church.  Christ puts us there and appoints us to guard duty together with Him.  There we stand on guard duty for the saints, the holy people of God, those whom God has placed in our care.  There we guard holy ground, the territory Christ has conquered, and the people that belong to Him.

The place for battle is our station in life, the place where God has put us.  If we remain there, we do not need to look for the enemy; Satan will come out of hiding and engage in battle with us right where we are.  We need to use the right power in fighting the enemy.  In spiritual combat, our knowledge and expertise, our guile and courage, count for nothing.  We rely totally on Christ; He is our champion, the victor in battle. We depend on His strength and power, for He is our armor.  Being ready to fight the good fight of faith means being dressed in the righteousness of Christ.  He empowers us by giving us His Word and His Spirit.  These were the weapons Jesus used when tempted by Satan at His baptism. And these are what Jesus gives to His soldiers.

Spiritual struggles in life call for persistent resistance, withstanding the attack, standing our ground, refusing to retreat from our post or surrender to the enemy.  We fight by our faithful attendance of the Divine Service, for here is where Christ fights for us and equips us for the battle.  It is here that our sins are forgiven again and again, and spiritual strength delivered in the body and blood of Christ. We fight through our daily devotions as the Word of God comes to us.  We fight by raising up our children in faith in Christ, so that they may be equipped with the whole armor of God.  We fight by having a faithful school, a faithful daycare, by having a Sunday School, wherein the Word of God is central and sinners are declared righteous for the sake of Jesus. We fight through trusting in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and living daily under that grace by His protection freed from all adversities and devoutly given to serve God in good works (Collect of the Day). 

When attacked by the great enemy, and drawn into the battle of your eternal soul, simply say, “Yes, I have sinned, but Christ has died for me and my sins. He stands in for me against the devil and before God the Father. I am baptized, and He covers me with His righteousness and holiness. His blood I receive in Holy Communion cleanses me from all sin.  The Gospel is the ground on which I take my stand against the attacks of the devil.  Christ fights for me. Christ protects me.  Christ has already won for me.  And in His victory, I am victorious over sin, death, and the devil! For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Trinity 18 2021 - LWML Sunday

Trinity 18 -LWML Sunday- 2021

1 Peter 1:22: “Love One Another Earnestly from a Pure Heart”

Modified from a sermon by Dr. Dale A. Meyer

October 3, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

This morning in the Divine Service we remember the LWML. “LWML” stands for the “Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.” As the word “missionary” in their name suggests, they sponsor mission efforts reaching around the world. They do that with their mites, small offerings that together help more and more people learn the Good News about Jesus. For this LWML Sunday, I’d like us to think about 1 Peter 1:22, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words. You can picture today’s sermon by looking at the logo for LWML Sunday, “Our Hearts in HIS Hand.” 

Think about a heart in a hand. Literally, think about holding a real heart in your hand. That’s what a transplant surgeon does. He takes out the diseased heart with his hand and puts in a new heart. That’s what God has done to you and me. Do you see the cross and the drop of water in the logo? You know what the cross represents, Jesus dying for the forgiveness of our sins. And what does the drop of water represent? I’m sure you know: Baptism. Baptism gives you a new heart, a pure heart with all the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection. Long ago God had promised in the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you,” (Ezekiel 36:26). He has kept His promise. Unlike a physical transplant that lasts some years, the new heart God gives you through Baptism will live forever. 

Because of our fallen sinful nature, we all come into this world with a heat disease.  I have within my heart thoughts and feelings, ideas, and urges that are sinful. We all have things deep down in your heart that would shame you if others knew? My heart by nature is not pure and neither is yours. We are born with original sin, inherited from the sinners before us, all the way back to Adam and Eve, and we daily commit actual sins. Sooner or later, what’s deep down is going to be known. “No creature is hidden from his [God’s] sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). This sin in us, original sin and the actual sins we commit daily, this is the Old Adam who continues in us, even in us who are forgiven. 

This is the wonderful mystery of Baptism. Baptism brings us the forgiveness of Jesus Christ here-and-now and gives us grace to live new and holy lives here-and-now. St. Paul says, “We were buried … with him [Christ] by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). St. Peter describes it as a new birth. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Mysteriously, Baptism is your daily death and new birth. When a surgeon transplants a human heart, new physical life comes to a fatally ill patient. Now God has given you a new heart, a pure heart, newness of life… and with the life God gives, you have love, His love.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Two remarks are necessary here. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” sounds like you have made yourself pure by keeping the commandments. That’s not what Peter means. Peter is simply talking about faith and the good works that follow from new birth in Christ, who had made and keeps you holy. Our new heart, our new birth, makes us “children of the heavenly Father” who want to live holy lives for His sake. Being pure before God is not our doing, it’s all grace, a washing clean and declaration that your sin is all washed away. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  Martin Luther once wrote on this topic and described it this way:

Then what is a pure heart? What is meant by a “pure heart” is this: one that is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its ideas with the Word of God. This alone is pure before God, yes, purity itself, which purifies everything that it includes and touches. Therefore, though a common laborer, a shoemaker, or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch, still he may sit at home and think: “My God has made me a man. He has given me my house, wife, and child and has commanded me to love them and to support them with my work.” Note that he is pondering the Word of God in his heart … If he attains the highest purity so that he also takes hold of the Gospel and believes in Christ — without this, that purity is impossible — then he is pure completely, inwardly in his heart toward God and outwardly toward everything under him on earth. [i]

Second, we are to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Together with one another, God gives us His Word, His Word of new birth, of life and love in Christ. Together we receive this transforming Word as we hear it, spoken and sung, and as we receive it physically in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There are various reasons we come to church, but more than anything else, we come because this is where Jesus promises to meet sinners. This is what’s unique about our coming together. It’s here that God comes through His Means of Grace to share His love with us. 

Jesus is not content to hold only us in His hand. He reaches His hand out to others. When a leper met Jesus and begged to be healed, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him (Mark 1:41). When Jairus’s daughter died, Jesus took her “by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” and she had new life (Mark 5:41). When Peter tried to walk to Jesus on the water, he got scared and began to sink. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him (Matthew 14:31). And he took them [the little children] in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them (Mark 10:16). Today He reaches out His hand through you and me to people who don’t yet know His life and love, to people who still have spiritually diseased hearts and desperately need the new heart Jesus gives. 

In your bulletin, you’ll find the LWML pledge. It’s printed right after the sermon. Please look at it now. The pledge reminds us why we come to church and why our hearts are in His hand to reach out to others. Our motivation is this: “In fervent gratitude for the Savior’s dying love and His blood-bought gift of redemption.” And since He has put our hearts in His hand, let’s  take His outgoing love to all people. 


[i] Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther’s works, vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (21:33). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

St. Michael and All Angels 2021

St. Michael and All Angels 2021

Luke 10:17-20

Opening Sermon for DMin Project

September 29, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Let us pray. Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The seventy-two had been sent out in Jesus’ name, two by two, in the midst of wolves.  They were to go house by house declaring “Peace be to this house!” Jesus told them, “And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him.   But if not, it will return to you.”  They were to heal the sick and declare that the kingdom of God has come near (Luke 10:1-12).  Now we hear in our Gospel reading for today how they returned with joy, for as they do what Christ has commanded and sent them to do, even the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name! 

Think about that for a moment.  Even the demons were subject to them.  But not just to them and because of them, but in Jesus’ name because that is where the authority comes from.   It comes from Jesus, the One who sends the disciples out to go into the homes of God’s people and proclaim, “Peace be to this house!” And when that happens, even demons hear the name of Christ and tremble.  In the very preaching of the Gospel, the kingdom of God is becoming a present reality and the kingdom of Satan defeated. The kingdom of God invades the devil’s domain as Christ Himself snatches people out of the jaws of hell!  This is exactly what still happens here and now when the Word of God is proclaimed in the name of Jesus.

Tonight, we pause to think about this whole invisible world that the Bible reveals is going on around us.  Tonight, on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, we give thanks to God for His angels who wield the word of God on our behalf. And we are reminded who the real enemy is. St. Paul says in Ephesians 6, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Behind the Church’s earthly opponents stand demonic forces.  But also alongside God’s church on earth stands the angelic host of heaven.

We are encouraged by the presence and protection of St. Michael and the holy angels, by the authority of Christ, they are sent by God Himself to guard and keep us in body and soul. These heavenly servants of God preserve His human messengers on earth, the ministers of “the blood of the Lamb,” against all the power of the enemy.

Consider our reading from the book of Revelation.  This is the fall of Satan of which Jesus speaks (Luke 10:18).  War breaks out in heaven.  Michael and his angels fight with Satan, and against other angels who followed this dragon.  And what are the weapons of this war in the heavens?  They are words.  Satan and his demons fight by using words of deception, lies, and untruths. It’s the same tactic that the devil used against Adam and Eve. It’s the same tactic that the devil used against Jesus in the wilderness.  It’s the same tactic that the devil uses against you.  St. Michael fights in similar manner, using words, but not just any words, but speaking the words of Truth. 

But Michael doesn’t just happen to speak what is true against the lies of the devil. He speaks the Truth who is the very Word, the Lamb of God, who shed His blood upon the cross and is raised from the dead never to die again.  “And they [Michael and his angels] conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). Remember, angels literally means a messenger. The angels serve God by being His messengers. Angels speak God’s words.  They don’t act of themselves.  That’s what we see in Revelation as words fly back and forth in that war between good and evil, between demonic and angelic forces, between lies and the truth, between Satan and the angel Michael.  Words are their weapons of war. By this Word, St. Michael and the angels overcome the lies and the misleading words of the Devil. This Truth that Michael speaks is united to the One who is the Truth, Jesus Christ.  And it’s that Truth—joined to the One who is the Truth—that undoes the lies of the father of lies.  Upon the cross, as the devil screams in delight at the death of the Son of God, the heavens and all who dwell in them rejoice! For the blood of the Lamb conquers all sin, overthrows death, and crushes the head of Satan.

While the devil continues to rage, he continues in his lies even until today, it will not last forever. Satan and his wicked angels have been thrown out of heaven and have come down to earth “in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). Make no mistake, he is still dangerous. As a Christian, the devil takes special interest in you.  The devil is stubborn, and prideful, and will not go down without a fight. You are surrounded by him and the other angels who followed his path of rebellion.  But the devil and his angels aren’t just thrown out of heaven, they are thrown out of God’s Church. Because God’s Church is where heaven comes down to earth. For in the preaching of the Gospel, the kingdom of heaven comes down and invades this land that the devil desires have as his own. The kingdom of heaven comes to you.  God’s peace has come to your house by His divine blessing.

Peace be to this house! For you are beloved of God. The war is won in Christ, yet the battle for your eternal soul rages. The devil and his angels, the evil of the world, and your sinful flesh are conquered only by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of God. These are the weapons of war.  When you eat and drink the body and blood of Christ at the Lord’s Table, Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil is delivered to you.  When you hear the Word of Christ, read the Bible, sing the hymns, pray God’s Word, you engage the enemies of Christ as people whose names are written in heaven. Hidden in this Word is the power of God Himself.  It is Word of God empowered by His Spirit, believed and spoken in faith.  It is this Word that created the heavens and the earth and all that dwell in them, including the angels. It is this Word, as the Psalmist declares that commands His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11). It is this Word that declares you righteous and holy and justified in God’s sight for the sake of Jesus Christ, and an heir of God’s eternal kingdom. It is this Word that drives back the devil from your lives, whose accusations of sin can no longer stick. 

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” (Martin Luther) So rejoice, O people of God, for your names are written in heaven by the very word of God.  God’s peace to be to your house in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Trinity 17 2021 - Ephesians 4:1-6

Trinity 17 2021

Ephesians 4:1-6

September 26, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

At the beginning of our Epistle for today, Paul urges us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  So I have a question for you this morning, “How is that working out for you?”

There’s no doubt that over the last year and a half this been tested.  COVID, politics, mandates, being labelled essential or non-essential, virtue signaling, virtue shaming, not to mention all the other issues that were already going on in our lives, have all put us to test in our Christian walk and doing so with the characteristics listed here. Which by the way, are all qualities of Christ Himself, which He works in the believer for the sake of unity. 

And that’s where St. Paul is going here.  Paul focuses on the major theme of the entire letter to the Ephesians, which is our unity in Christ. Seven times (note the completeness of the number seven), Paul writes of our oneness in 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  As Christians, we are one in Christ, brought into the unity of the Church through baptism, and kept there through God’s Word and the Sacrament of the Altar.

The fancy name for this is the una sancta.  This Latin phrase comes from what we confess in the Creed, that we believe in the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church.  Broadly speaking, there is only One Church, one spiritual body of believers in Christ, whose one and only head is Christ.  This One Church is to be found where the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.  These things are the marks of the true Church – Word and Sacrament – because it is through these means that the Holy works faith and unity with Christ.

Even so, there are divisions in the church. Differences of denominations, of language or culture.  Divisions within congregations even.  Divisions are the work of the devil and our own sinful pride.  It was sin that turned man against woman until they could not even look at each other without guilt and shame.  It was sin that built distrust between people and between the Lord and all He had made.  It was sin spoiled love with fear and self-interest.  It was sin that broke the world and left us as competitors and enemies. 

Our old Adam desires to do his own thing, strengthened by the individualistic American culture in which we live.  Our old Adam desires to redefine God’s Word, to pick and choose what to believe in or not believe, to be enslaved by what feels good at the time or what may please man.  We want to do it on our own, by ourselves.  We cannot sacrifice our unity in Christ for the sake of uniformity to the world. Where that leads is not to unity, but to isolation, loneliness, division.

To restore unity with God and to build anew the unity between people took nothing less than the incarnation of our Lord and the sacrifice of His very life on the cross to restore what sin had stolen. Earlier in Ephesians, in chapter 2, Paul speaks about the oneness we have in Christ. “He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace and might reconcile us both in God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph 2:14-16). We can only have unity with each other if we have been united with Christ through faith. One Lord – a confession that Jesus is Yahweh, that He truly God. One faith – not the act of believing, but that which is believed, true doctrine. One baptism – baptism as new birth cannot be repeated, and there is only one Baptism into which all Christians are baptized and joined together as Christ joins Himself to His people by the means of the water and the Word. 

The true unity of the church centers around the agreement of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:19, “… there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Divisions, though sad, make clear who is following Christ and His Word and who is not.  A Christian should avoid false teachers, false teaching, and false churches so that we are not tossed to and for by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 

What is at stake here for us is not the true unity of the Church, but our continued connection to it.  Twentieth century theologian Herman Sasse once commented, “No one can split the body of Christ. But what can happen is that we cease to be members of this body, that we defect from the Una Sancta by the grave sins of schism and heresy.”[1]  We should always seek to be and remain part of the Una Sancta, the One Holy Church, by sincere faith in Christ and faithful to that visible gathering of God’s saints where the Gospel is purely taught and Sacraments are rightly administered.  The basis for what goes on over there (Luther Hall, or even outside the church) is what goes on in here.  (Exemplified by “Communion” with God and one another). It really does matter which denomination you belong to, and it really does matter which congregation you attend, and it really does matter what you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth and your actions.   

 The unity of the Church is at the same time a gift that is given by God in Christ and a task in which we are to work toward maintaining in the Spirit. We are to maintain, to hold fast, to keep, to treasure that which has been given to us. Christ makes us one, Christ provides the gifts to maintain the oneness, and all Christians are to seek it as our goal. It is not of human making, it is the work of Christ. Nor is it of human preserving, it is the Spirit’s gift.  Nor can it be destroyed by human neglect or hostility, it has Christ as its cornerstone.  The true unity of the Church is always a perfect, holy thing, because it is of God. Through faith in Chirst alone, and by His grace alone, so are you. 


[1] Quoted in Concordia Commentary: Ephesians by Thomas Winger, CPH 2015, p 485.

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