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With Man, Salvation is Impossible, but Not With God

Seminarian Martin Loescher delivers a sermon entitled “With Man, Salvation is Impossible, but Not With God” based on Mark 10:17-27 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, May 20, 2018

Our first lesson today was a call to repentance, spoken by the prophet Amos, to the nation of Israel, which applies very well to us. At this time in Israel, things were pretty similar to 21st century America. Money was plentiful, but honesty and generosity were scarce. The love of money was everywhere, but the love of God was hardly anywhere to be found. And so the prophet Amos pleaded with his countrymen, “Turn away from this cult of money, and worship God, “Seek the LORD, and live!”

Our second lesson today urges us to do the same, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and trust in God instead!” “Stop loving your money, and start loving each other like family!”

And in our Gospel lesson, Jesus asked the rich young man to give up all of his money for the poor. It kind of seems like God asks a lot from us, doesn’t it? God wants us to put him and our neighbor before all these other things that we earned by the sweat of our brow? What if we refuse? What if we can’t put God before everything, even though Jesus clearly says in the Gospel, “Do this, and you will have treasure in heaven”?

After reading all these Bible passages, having treasure in heaven, being saved that is, begins to seem like a very tall task, maybe even impossible for us. But as we hear more about Jesus and his encounter with the rich young man, let’s listen very closely to hear what Jesus has to say about being saved: this is impossible with man, but nothing is impossible with God.

Now this rich young man had stopped Jesus along the road, in order to ask him his burning question about salvation. “Good teacher, what must I do, to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus fired a question right back at him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Of course Jesus was good, he was in fact, God; but what Jesus was doing was dropping the man a hint: “You are mistaken right from the start to think that anyone but God is good.” But Jesus moved on and humored him a little. “Ok, what must you do to inherit eternal life? You know the commandments. You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not cheat/swindle anyone, and you shall honor your father and mother.” But the young man, who considered himself to be something of a moral expert, felt disappointed by such a no-brainer answer. “Is that it?” the man said. “You’re telling me the commandments are all I need to do? I’ve kept all those since I was little boy!”

But Jesus knew that couldn’t be true, and so he looked at the man. And out of love and concern for him, because Jesus really did want the young man to inherit eternal life, he exposed his flaw. “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”

Now hold on just a minute. When Jesus told the man to give everything away, was he adding another commandment? Do we now have to give everything away if we want to get into heaven? Not exactly. By telling the man to give away everything, Jesus was teaching him something very troublesome about the 10 commandments. Jesus was pointing out to him, “Friend, you think you’ve nailed down all the commandments? You think you can check every one of those off your list?

Obeying the 10 commandments isn’t just about filling out checkboxes; obeying the 10 commandments is about loving God over everything you have, and loving your neighbor as yourself.” And when Jesus told the young man to let everything go–he got Jesus’ point. He didn’t love God more than his possessions, he didn’t love the poor as much as he loved himself, and he knew it. And so he hung his head and walked away, because he realized how much he cherished his wealth, and it was so close to his heart that he couldn’t let anybody have it, not even God.

When the man had gone away, Jesus turned to his disciples and lamented, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” Now we modern Christians get it, we know what Jesus means, right? It’s tempting for rich people to love their money more than God. They can be led astray to the point where it is hard for them to get into heaven. But surprisingly, the disciples didn’t get it! The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ words, Jesus had baffled them. And he went on, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.”

Now the disciples were more baffled than ever, in fact they were worried. You see, the Jewish people viewed riches in a slightly different way than we do. They viewed riches as a sure sign of God’s favor! To them, riches were God’s special way of rewarding the wisest, most upstanding citizens. Do you see now, why the disciples were worried? “If the rich, that is the wisest and most upright Jews can’t get into heaven,” they think, “what’s going to happen to us? If it’s going to be impossibly difficult to be saved for people like that sterling young man whom Jesus just shot down, who on earth can be saved?”

What about us now, can we be saved? Most of us are pretty model citizens, and we do a pretty good job of keeping the commandments day after day. Most of us can go right down the list of commandments and check them off one right after the other. “Keep the commandments? Ok, well let’s see, Jesus, the 1st one (You shall have no other gods) I don’t even have to think about that one. The second one, (You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God) I’ve kept that one all my life. And the 3rd commandment (Honor the Sabbath day by keeping it holy) well I’m here aren’t I? You’ve got to hand it to me, Jesus,” we think, “I’ve been pretty faithful with these commandments.”

The problem is, actually being faithful with the commandments is much more complicated than it seems. Even if we seem to have checked them all off, Jesus says that there is still something we lack. Remember what the 10 commandments is all about? It’s about loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and loving your neighbor just as much as you love yourself. This we know we can’t do. Just like the rich young man, there are things we refuse to give up for God, and for each other.

Most of us have a pretty good reputation, and we don’t like to risk losing it! When a brother or sister needs to be confronted about sin, or when an unbeliever needs us to tell them about Jesus, we may wish the best for them, but what happens when we have to choose between talking about God, and holding on to our good name? We need our good name, God can’t ask us to give it away. Then of course there’s our money, which we hold pretty tight, too. What if God asked us to let it go? What if he didn’t even ask, what if God just took it? If God took away our money, that wouldn’t seem fair at all; God can have our Sundays, he can have our attention for a few hours each week, he can even have a few dollars from our wallets, but all of it? That money is how we take care of ourselves, and our family, our way of life depends on it—no way, we think, God wouldn’t take our money if he was good; not if he loved us.

Finally, there’s something else too that we feel we simply cannot give up—our sin. All of us have at least one sin, one sin that we’ve fallen into so many times, it’s like it’s become a part of us. And when God confronts us about the sin, and commands us to give it up, we dare to think, “God I don’t even think that’s possible. I wish it were possible for me to give up this sin but I can’t. This is who I am, and I hope you’re ok with that.” How dare we refuse the almighty God. How dare we hang our heads and walk sadly away from Jesus when he asks us to let go. How dare we love ourselves more than our neighbor, and how dare we love things more than the one who created them, and yet we still think, “hey I kind of deserve to be saved.” Instead we should be thinking right along with the disciples, “Who then can be saved, Jesus? No one can surrender everything to God, we can’t do that. Jesus, this is impossible.”

But listen closely to Jesus words, as he answers us in today’s Gospel. He says to us, “You know what, you’re right, salvation is impossible for you. But think no more about what you have to offer, about your ability to be saved; think about the power of God. Who then can be saved, you ask?”

With God’s power, anyone can be saved. Do you remember how exactly Jesus put it according to the Gospel? “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible!” Just because salvation seems impossible for us, doesn’t mean it’s impossible for God. Quite the opposite! Take the rich man in the gospel, who went away sad; it hardly seems possible to us that he could be saved, but God could save him. God could put that rich young camel through the eye of a needle. He can take us too, in all of our hairy, bulky, humpy sinful bodies, and squeeze us through the eye of the smallest needle, because nothing is impossible with God!

We may doubt ourselves, we may doubt we have enough faith, enough love, enough goodness to be able to put God first in our lives, but God told us in our second lesson, Hebrews, that we can trust him. God told us, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” As much as we have forsaken God and flung ourselves away from him in pursuit of riches and pleasure, God can always save us, he can always get us into heaven.

But how is that possible? If God is a just God, who punishes sinners, how is it possible for him to allow us into heaven? Well when Jesus told his disciples, “anything is possible with God,” he had the answer very much on his mind, he knew every gory detail of how exactly, God was going to get us into heaven. You see, when he said “all things are possible with God,” he was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. He could say that all things are possible, that sinners can get into heaven, because he knew that, come one Friday, he was going to be the one to make them clean.

He could say, “It is possible for you, my friends, to avoid God’s judgment,” because he knew that God would judge him instead. He could say, “Anyone can be saved,” because he knew that he would save every person who ever lived. And Jesus can now say to you and to me, “Yes, it is possible for you to be saved too.  Because no matter how much difficulty you have in loving me, and giving up everything, I have given up everything for you on the cross. And no matter how much guilt you carry, no matter how many sins you have piled up in your efforts to get ahead, my death on the cross has taken it all away. My death on the cross has taken away the sins of the whole world; of course that includes you!”

And if Jesus words ever begin to sound impossible—and they may—if we ever become scared that maybe Jesus death 2000 years didn’t take away our sins, Jesus our brother can be found right here, quieting our fears with the mighty words of Scripture: Nothing is impossible, with God.

And the beautiful thing is, those words don’t just apply to salvation, they apply to our everyday lives. Do we really think we’re so timid that we can’t bring ourselves to risk our reputation for Christ? Do we really think we need our money so much that we could never let it go if God asked us? And do we really believe our sin has attached itself to us so tightly that we are powerless to give it up? We were baptized! God promised us forgiveness through Jesus and we have received it through faith, don’t we know what that means? It means that God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our very being, and we are filled with his awesome power. Just as it was not an impossible task to save us, so it is not an impossible task for us to obey God’s commands. For he has not only commanded us to love him and one another, but he has empowered us to go and do so freely. Amen.

 

 

 

There is No One Like This God!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “There is No One Like This God!” based on Deuteronomy 33:26 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Ascension Sunday, May 13, 2018

Although he is a two time winner of the Mr. Universe competition, John Brown knows what it was like to be ignored, forgotten and overlooked. That’s what happens when you have the 2nd most common first name and the 5th most common last name in America over the course of the last 100 years. He was determined that his firstborn son would not be subject to the same utterly forgettable moniker, so John Brown went to (what some might consider to be) the opposite extreme. He wanted his son to never be overlooked, to always be remembered and so he named him Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown. If that name rings a bell—and well, why wouldn’t it?—it’s probably because Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 6th round of last month’s NFL college football draft.  So it’s possible that you might hear that name a lot more in the years ahead, along with his younger brothers, who are equally as talented on the gridiron: Osiris Adrian Amen-Ra J. St. Brown and Amon-Ra Julian Heru J. St. Brown.

John Brown knew it. Unusual names grab people’s attention. When you hear them, read them, or are introduced to someone who has one of them, they tend to stick. We have one of those unusual names in the Word of God before us tonight. It makes us stop, pay closer attention, and it might just stick with you long after you leave this place. As we study, we’ll see that this unique name opens the door to a discussion of our unique, one kind Savior. Truly There is No One Like Our God!

Moses says in Deuteronomy 33, There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.”  He’s not called the God of Israel. Not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the God of Jeshurun. A name so unique that it only appears 4 times in the whole Bible, three of them right here in this section of Deuteronomy.

Most Bible scholars think that Jeshurun is a diminutive name for Israel. You know what a diminutive name is? It’s a term of endearment. It’s like on Gilligan’s Island when the Skipper calls Gilligan “little buddy.” It’s when I shake hands with a little one after church and I say, “Good morning, chief” or “Good morning, princess.” A diminutive could also be a nickname, like Margaret getting shortened to Maggie, Joseph to Joe or Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown perhaps being called EQ by his close friends. It’s the name that people call you when they know you less formally, and more intimately.

So now take all of that and consider that Moses talks about God and the Israelites with a diminutive name. There is no one the God of Jeshurun. Their great Jehovah had brought this people too far, they’d been through too much together to be relegated only to formal addresses and high falutin’ verbiage. Oh, don’t misunderstand. They were not comrades, nor were they equals. He was still the Creator and they, the Created. He was still perfect and they were still cabbageheads, creeps and clodhoppers. But they were His cabbageheads, creeps and clodhoppers. (Yes, I had to get out the thesaurus for that one!)

It might make you think how nice it would be for God to have a nickname for you, for you to be so dear to his heart, have that close of a relationship with the Almighty. No, we don’t have what Israel had. We aren’t his little Jeshurun for a limited time and in a specific context. We have something even better and closer.  We aren’t a physical nation that belongs to him. We are his family.

Remember what Jesus called his disciples after he rose from the dead? He said “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)  At Mount Sinai, Israel became God’s Jeshurun. But at Mount Calvary, you and I become something so much more, not to mention so much more than we deserve. And it was all because Jesus willingly became so much less than he deserved. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus was treated like a sinner, vile and disgusting in the eyes of the perfect God so that sinners can be treated like family, approved, welcomed and unconditionally loved in the arms of the perfect God.

It’s just like Moses said. There is no God like this God! I read something that crystallized that perfectly this week. I cannot attribute it to its proper writer because I absolutely cannot remember where I read it. But it was something to this effect. Every religion in the world is like swimming lesson at the lake. Buddha, Muhammad and all the rest will gladly shout instructions to you from the boat. But only one, only one will jump in the water when you start to go under, only one will plunge to the deepest depths for you. Not only does Jesus have the heart to jump in. He has the power to save you.

See that’s the beauty of the Ascension that Moses unwittingly brings out for us-1500 years before Jesus and his disciples stood on the hilltop in Galilee! There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The same God who is the God of a soft heart and diminutive names is the God of powerful arms, who rides on the clouds in his majesty. He doesn’t just ride on the heavens, he rides on the heavens to help you!

That is why we’re here. We need help. Because every day is a struggle. We were just talking in Wednesday morning Bible study about the Greek word ἀγω̂να. It gives us our English word “agony.” It literally means conflict or struggle, especially in the context of an athletic competition. Paul uses it in his letter to the Philippians to talk about our Christian struggle. (1:30) I asked the class what kind of things do we struggle against as Christians? Where do we have a little ἀγω̂να? They didn’t have any trouble coming up with answers: We struggle with being content with our callings and carrying them out each day without wanting to be someone else somewhere else. We struggle with temptations that lure us before we sin and then we struggle with consciences that bother us after we sin. We struggle with doing the things we shouldn’t do. We struggle with not doing the things we should do. We struggle with serving selflessly when we know our service won’t be acknowledged our appreciated. We struggle with not always knowing the God-pleasing thing to say or do in a given situation. We struggle with holding on to our values and principles in the face of work demands, family demands or the demands of a world that thinks they’re outdated and even hateful. Is there a single moment of the day when we do not struggle?  Sadly no. The struggle is always going to be there. Good thing Jesus says he’s going to be there, too. “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

The one who was once visibly present among men, now is eternally present among us in Word and Sacraments. The one who stood on the neck of the devil now sits at the control panel of the Universe (while still standing on the neck of the devil!)  There may be times when he eases our struggle. May be times when he takes a particular struggle away all together. But most often, he picks us up and carries us through the struggle. See his tender heart today. Trust his powerful arm today. Rejoice in an ascended Savior today. Who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. There is no one like your God! Amen.

 

 

 

God Gives Us Salvation – Jesus Is the Only Way

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “God Gives Us Salvation” based on  Acts 4:12 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Confirmation Sunday, May 6, 2018

In 1999 LeDainian Tomlinson, college running back for TCU, broke a record for number of yards in one single football game.  He rushed the ball for 406 yards.  He was THE guy…THE ONLY guy who had ever done that.  For 15 years that record stood, until our own Wisconsin Badger, Melvin Gordon, ran the ball for 408 yards in one game.  And then Melvin Gordon became the ONLY ONE in Division I college football to have that many yards in one single game.  Until a week later, when that record was broken by some guy from Oklahoma.  The point is, someone may rise to the top and be THE guy, the ONLY ONE but just wait… eventually someone else will come along and take their place.

Not so with Jesus.  He is the ONLY ONE who brings salvation.  He’s the ONLY ONE who can bring you and me to heaven.  No one else is ever going to come along and do what Jesus has so completely and perfectly done.  The Apostle Peter agrees, when he says: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  This weekend we have 29 confirmands who also agree.  Jesus is the Only Way to Salvation….there is no other.

That’s not a very popular message today.  We live in what some call a pluralistic society.  That’s where we have many different people who have many different backgrounds and cultures…AND…many different beliefs.  In fact, in a pluralistic society, people are encouraged to be tolerant.  Believe what you want.  Just don’t force your beliefs on other people…and be willing to admit that their beliefs are just as valid and true as yours are.

Do you know that our surroundings today are not that different than what Peter and John had to deal with?  Let me provide some background.  Jesus had ascended into heaven.  He told his disciples, go to Jerusalem and wait there – I’ll send the Holy Spirit to you.  That had happened.  The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  As a result, they told people about Jesus.  They taught and preached.  And that got them into trouble.  The local authorities didn’t like them preaching and teaching that Jesus was the ONLY WAY TO SALVATION.  They arrested Peter and John and told them to stop it!  And that’s when Peter replies:  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

1st Century Jerusalem, 21st Century America – not much has changed.  People still don’t like the idea of Jesus being the only way.  And if you suggest as much, you might be called an arrogant jerk or a narrow-minded jerk or any number of colorful words for jerk.  Consider this:  Just three weeks ago a young Italian boy named Emanuele approached a world-renowned Christian leader and asked him whether or not his atheist dad would be in heaven.  And with a hug and smile, that church leader assured little Emanuele that his father who had shunned and rejected and denied Jesus his whole life, is now comfortably at Jesus’ side in heaven.

In other words, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe or who you believe in.  We all end up in the same place at the end.”  Today we denounce that pluralistic viewpoint.  Today we echo the words of Peter:  JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO SALVATION.  By God’s grace we make that confession…29 teenagers make that confession.

And today, we admit how badly we need Jesus.  You see, we believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus…but we also believe what the Bible teaches about us.  One of the passages the confirmands learned well, and we know too, comes from Psalm 51:5 – Surely I was sinful from birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  We are conceived and born into this world with a great need for saving.  We can ignore it…make light of it…or flat out deny it…but the truth is, when I was born into this world, no one had to teach me how to be greedy or how to think about myself first.  I didn’t need lessons on how to lie or talk back to my parents or hold resentment in my heart or pout when I didn’t get my way.  I didn’t need a step-by-step youtube video to show me how to become a pathetic sinful human being who was deserving of God’s punishment.  I could do that all by myself.  What I couldn’t do was change my status.

There’s ONLY ONE who could.  There’s ONLY ONE…

  • Who would take my filthy garments of sin and wear them as he suffered and died on the cross…meanwhile taking his clean and perfect garments of obedience and holiness and draping them on me at my baptism.
  • Who would change…has changed…my status from pathetic sinner to forgiven sinner…from lost orphan to found child of God…from hell-bent to heaven-bound.
  • ONLY ONE – that’s Jesus.

Salvation is found in no one else!  Prior to saying that, Peter had said, of Jesus, that he was “the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”  In other words, yes it’s true, many have rejected this precious stone…many people have tossed Jesus aside and decided to build their lives and their eternal hopes on someone or something else – to their peril…but just because many have rejected him…just because we may live in a pluralistic society…that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is indeed the capstone.  Which means, he is the most important part.  Everything must be built off of him.

  • Our purpose in life is defined ONLY by him.
  • Forgiveness for the many times we have failed comes ONLY from him.
  • A relationship with the true God comes ONLY through him.
  • A victory over death and sin is ONLY because of him.

Let me illustrate.  This past December I had a funeral.  A life-long Christian and now at the age of 88, his body was wearing down and eventually, he fell asleep.  There was some sadness, because Dad would be missed; but mostly the son rejoiced because Dad was now with Jesus.  A month later I had another funeral.  A life-long Christian, but he was a few months shy of his 25th birthday.  About a decade ago he wore a white robe and sat right there as a member of the 2007 confirmation class.  I’m sure at the time of his confirmation, he hadn’t planned on a heart attack at age 24.  But at the time of his confirmation he did plan to place his trust in Jesus…because he knew that ONLY JESUS was the way to salvation.

I stood in the hospital room as that young man was drifting off to sleep.  I saw family members come in and out of the room, saying their goodbyes.  It was heart-wrenching.  There was definitely sadness; because he would be missed.

  • But even through the tears, his mom saw heaven waiting for her son.
  • Even amidst the pain of sadness, his mom knew her son’s sins had been forgiveness by Jesus.
  • Even when she was blanketed in hurt, she knew her son was blanketed baptismal grace.
  • Even in her emptiness, she knew her son would enjoy the fulness of heaven.

Why?  Because of Jesus.  For her and her son, Jesus was not the throw-away stone.

Jesus is the ONLY ONE and the MOST IMPORTANT ONE not just on the day we wear the white robes and make our confirmation vows and not just on the day we close our eyes and fall into the sleep of death – but every day in between

-since forgiveness and victory over death and a relationship with God comes ONLY through him

-we will make it our purpose and goal to live for him.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Miss Out on This!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Don’t Miss Out on This!” based on  John 15:5 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, April 29, 2018

In the Name of the One who lives to save us, support us and strengthen us, Christ, our Redeemer, Our Vine. Amen.

I attended a presentation on Teens and Social Media at our PLS Parent Teacher Association meeting this week. Christian Family Solutions therapist Ryanne Mallow brought us up to speed on the apps that our children are using and some of the dangers that those apps can present. In the course of the presentation, I learned several things.

  • 1) I’m old. I knew I was old before—but learning about that stuff reminded me how old I am!
  • 2) Being a teenager is hard. Much harder today than I when I was 14. Social media makes it so much easier for people to make fun of you, to bully you, to criticize you.
  • 3) I learned what FOMO means.

Young people, I promise, I will not incorporate that acronym into my daily language in a lame old guy attempt to sound cool. But I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning it just this one time.  FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” I thought when I learned that, I’d been granted access to some of the secret knowledge and language of the teen world. But when I googled that acronym I found out that actually I’m late to the party. The Oxford English Dictionary added the term already in 2013. I found that Time Magazine had an article about it in the summer of 2016.  That’s where I saw FOMO defined this way: ‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’. Under this framing of FoMO, nearly three quarters of young adults reported they experienced the phenomenon. It’s certainly not a good thing. (The article continued.) It leads you to check social media again and again and again so you don’t feel out of the loop. So you know you’re doing okay. So you don’t feel left out.

Is that why you all are on your phones all the time? So that you aren’t last the one to know? So that you won’t feel out of the loop? Do you feel better when you’re constantly connected because you know that you’re not missing out? And is there an important spiritual lesson for all of us to learn here? Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

You see, Jesus and the disciples didn’t have iphone 8’s and they would’ve been very unfamiliar with twitter and hashtags and likes and instagram. When Jesus wanted to illustrate constant connection, he had to use a different metaphor.

Agriculture and vineyards—those were things they understood because they saw them every day. If you use your imagination, maybe you can even picture Jesus and his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening walking from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. As they pass a vineyard, Jesus stops and points to one of the plants growing near the road and says “You and me are connected–like this vine and its branches.”

When you think about who really needed who, shouldn’t it have been the disciples saying that to Jesus instead of the other way around? Shouldn’t it have been the disciples expressing their great need to have an unbroken, continuous connection with the One and only One who could save them? They needed him, not vice versa. And yet Jesus was the one doing the talking.

Okay, but rather than expressing an undying connection between them, wouldn’t you think that Jesus would have at least been creating a little distance between himself and these knuckleheads, in light of the fact that they within minutes would let him down…yet again. And would be doing all within their earthly power to deny any sort of connection with him. Why would he want to be associated with them at all, much less constantly connected with them as one entity, a vine and its branches?

Such is the grace of our Jesus, friend of sinners and lover of knuckleheads, who sought us though we did not ask for it, who continues to love us though we did not deserve it. He points us to his cross, he stops us at the font, he feeds us at his table and he reminds us “These are the things that connect you to me, personally, individually, intimately and inseparably—like a Vine and its branches.”

Don’t miss out on this! Connection with Jesus, like a vine and branches, means that the things he is are things we are, too! When we stand under the gavel of God’s courtroom, we can mention his name. When we stand at the front door of God’s heaven, we can say, “I’m with him.” And when we stand on the receiving end of the devil’s accusatory, wagging finger we can say, “Jesus is the Vine, I am the branch. So you can shut your mouth, you ugly devil, because you got nothing on me.” Being connected so closely with Jesus means that the sins that so often defeat us are not things that define us.

When we hear about the cross, when we remember the font and dine at his table, that connection is live, and the power of God flows–despite what the world around you would have you believe. Maybe you saw this week that GQ magazine, ranked the Bible in its list of List of Classic Books that are not worth reading, the writer calling it repetitive and foolish and ill intentioned. The devil laughs because so many are missing out on the one thing that we truly, eternally cannot afford to miss out on.

So many disconnect themselves casually, perhaps without even realizing that it’s happening. Recent polls show that only about 25% of Americans are weekly church attenders. Going to church won’t get you to heaven. Going to church will keep you constantly connected with the Vine, every single week. It’s what we do here, it’s why we exist.  I’m not trying to give myself job security. I’m not trying to make Peace indispensable. I’m trying to keep you connected to your Savior by pointing to ways that he keeps you connected to him–the Word and Sacraments. Don’t miss out on this!

So that’s what Jesus means when he says “remain in him.” What does he mean when he says “You will bear much fruit?” That’s a little harder to talk about in specifics, because bearing much fruit can mean so many different things in different people’s lives—one person’s fruit might be resisting a temptation just one time-and then resisting again, and again. One person’s fruit may be stringing four weeks of church attendance in a row. One person’s fruit may be a gentler demeanor toward their spouse. One person’s fruit might be humbly carrying a cross that this life has placed on them. Everybody’s different. Maybe that’s why Jesus left it a little ambiguous.

Two things are quite certain and quite specific however. One—apart from him we will bear no fruit that pleases God, and two—remaining in him, we will bear much fruit. Think about the disciples themselves. Did they themselves remain in Jesus, remembering his words, connected to him in faith, even after he ascended to heaven? Yes. What kinds of fruits did the Vine produce in those branches? Humanly speaking, billions of people came to know Jesus as Savior because of them. In fact, again humanly speaking, aren’t we sitting here today as the fruit of their efforts 2000 years ago? That’s an incredible harvest!

How will we be remembered by those who come after us? What fruit will be produced by us in this church? This school? Our world? Our homes? Only Jesus knows. We need only to remain in him. And watch what he does next. Whatever it may be, you won’t wanna miss this. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is Your Good Shepherd

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd” based on  John 10:11-18 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, April 22, 2018

Which is easier to say: I would live for you or I would die for you?

If you were married here at Peace over the last 10-15 years, you may have been asked that question by one of the pastors in a pre-marriage class or seminar.  After a few moments of thought and consideration, though, the time comes for the follow up question: which of those is easier to actually do for your future spouse?  Would it be easier to live for them or to die for them?

That is a valuable question to be asked—and answered—as people consider what their married lives will be like and how they can truly be a good husband or wife for their future spouse.

Dying for someone that you love is by no means an easy decision to make, no matter what the circumstances are that surround your particular situation.  To give up your life in place of another is an enormous expression of love and an act that would not be soon forgotten.

But what about living for someone that you love?  Would that really be easier than dying for them?

While it would no doubt be a tremendous act of self-sacrifice to die for someone else, living for someone else is a series of acts of tremendous self-sacrifice.  Rather than one life-changing moment, living for your loved one involves an intentional and determined decision to be made over and again, day after day.  Being a good spouse means putting the wants and needs of your husband or wife in front of your own.

What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd?  Does that phrase conjure up any pictures in your mind?  Perhaps you see a man in white robes with a long shepherd’s staff in his hand, walking ahead of and leading his flock.  Maybe, instead of leading his sheep, you’d rather see the broad shoulders of that Good Shepherd carrying the poor sheep who cannot walk on their own or the tender arms and warm embrace of the Good Shepherd enfolding and enveloping the littlest of his lambs.

Those things may constitute a pretty picture of what qualities qualify Jesus to be your Good Shepherd.  However, as you likely know from other sections of Scripture, your God has different standards than human beings.  The very word Jesus used to describe himself as the “Good” Shepherd is the same one that the Greeks used when they translated the God the Father’s satisfaction with the creation of his perfect world.  He saw that the separation of land and sea, the vegetation of the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals that he placed on to his perfect planet earth were, according to his standard, good.

If, in order to be a good shepherd, you would simply have to measure up to man’s standards, there would likely be many who would qualify for the category of good shepherds.  Those hired hands to whom Jesus compares himself were ones that carried out the tasks that people expected of their shepherds.  They surely were leaders who guided their flocks to green pastures on which they could feed and streams of quiet waters from which they could drink.  They would, no doubt, at the end of the day, guide their flock back into the safety and security of the sheep-pen for protection.

But, Jesus doesn’t consider that good enough.  The hired hand is not a good shepherd because there is one quality and characteristic that the hired hand is unwilling to undergo and accept.  When the wolves and other wild animals come to feast upon the flock, the hired hand sees the danger and values his own life far more than the lives of the flock.  They are not his sheep, so he runs for cover, abandoning those who were depending on him for deliverance.

Instead, in contrast, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because the Good Shepherd, as he says lays down his life for the sheep.  Instead of running away for his own sake, he put the benefit and welfare of the flock in front of his own.

There are plenty of wolves in your lives that are seeking to devour you.  Greed seeks to lure you away from the safety and security of your pen under the guise of finally allowing you to live the good life.  Jealousy plays primarily on your pride and works to remind you of what everyone else has and why you deserve it instead.  Lust lingers around and advertises all the pleasures of the flesh that would seem to fill the void in your relationships—or the void you feel because you don’t have any such relationships.

Convinced by those conniving wolves who so often sneak around in the sheep’s clothing of basic human rights and privileges, you would be doomed to be their dinner night after night, as they would eat away at you until, finally, you would be kept away from those green pastures and quiet waters for all of eternity.

But, thankfully, Jesus is not simply some hired hand, seeking to keep himself well fed and safe.  No, Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He does not only live up to the standard that human beings expect from their shepherd.  He worked according to a much higher standard.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life.

His purpose in coming to this earth and being your Good Shepherd was not to please you or your standards, but, rather, to measure up to his Father’s definition of good.  He had to do what no one else could do.  He made himself the Good Shepherd by laying down his life for his sheep.  He didn’t decide to live or to die for the flock that he loves.  God’s requirements made it necessary for him to do both.

He laid down his life by living his life for you.  Every breath, every step, every thought, word, and action had nothing to do with what would make his own life here on earth any easier.  When he faced the same temptations toward greed, jealousy, pride, and lust that you face, he didn’t fall for them.  He kept himself aligned with the Law the Father laid down for all of humanity and shows that life to his heavenly Father whenever he looks to see how you measure up against that Law.

And then, to complete the task assigned to him, he laid down his life by taking that life of perfection and sacrificing it on Calvary’s cross.  In so doing, he died the death that your sins cause you to deserve and took on himself the fullness of God’s wrath so that you would never have to undergo the same.

Jesus is your Good Shepherd because he did the only thing that makes you loveable in the eyes of your God.  He loved you and laid down his life for you, living and dying for you, his sheep.

Because of that, and in thanksgiving for that, be a good spouse to your husband or wife.  Be a good dad to your daughter and be a good mom to your son.  Be a good child, a good brother or sister, and a good friend.  Be good at your job and be good while you are enjoying your hobbies.  Be a good member of this congregation and a good representative of Christ to the world around you.  Lay down your life for those you love and for those you hate, for those who deserve it and those who don’t.

Put aside the temptations to greed, to jealousy, to pride, and to lust.  Put aside what will make your life easier and, strengthened by the love that your Good Shepherd has shown to you, make every step you take, every thought, word, and action that you make for the benefit of those who surround you.

And, when you fail; when you can’t find the strength or the desire to measure up to God’s standard of good, go into the welcoming arms of your Good Shepherd.  See his nail pierced hands and rest on his broad shoulders that once carried the weight of the world’s sin.  Remember what he did to be your Good Shepherd and, with your cup overflowing, be good again.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Lord Has Made Us One With Him, With Each Other

Guest Preacher, Pastor Ben Reichel delivers a sermon entitled “Our Lord Appears Has Made Us One With Him, With Each Other” based on  Ephesians 4:1-10 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, April 15, 2018

 

Transcript Not Available

 

 

 

 

Jesus Appears to You

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Appears to You” based on  John 20:19-31 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, April 8, 2018

When the prophet Ezekiel pronounced the judgment of sword, famine, and plague on the people of Israel because of their sin, terror struck the Israelites.  In fact, their fear was so severe that the bible says, in many English translations, that their knees became weak like water.  No, they didn’t become wobbly.  They became wet.  The Israelites were so frightened that they lost control of their bladders.

Sometimes, it is better to use a euphemism to describe an act that is undesirable to speak about in public.  However, like the translators of the most recent New International Version of the bible decided to do for that section of Ezekiel’s prophecy, using clear and unquestionable language can make the point more clear.

There probably isn’t an appropriate euphemism that could convey what Thomas was talking about in the Gospel account from John for today—but, when you think about it, it is something that may not be desirable to speak about in public.

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.

The Roman soldiers had pounded nails into the hands and feet of Jesus and, in order to confirm his death, shoved a spear into his side, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

Yes, his hands and feet and side had been washed clean by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but those marks of his crucifixion and death still remained and it was there that Thomas wanted…or, rather, insisted to put his own hands?

Really, Thomas?  No wonder Christians for centuries have nicknamed him Doubting Thomas.  The only thing that would convince him was something so unbelievable, itself, that you probably couldn’t imagine anyone saying the same thing today.  Even if you wanted to put your own hands inside of Jesus’ sacrificial scars, you wouldn’t say that out loud, would you?  Not for fear that people would call you a doubter, though.  No, instead, they might call you insane.  And, really, you don’t want people thinking that about you, do you?

But, wouldn’t that be easier than what you have as an answer to your doubts?  Don’t the confirmations of your faith seem pretty unbelievable to the world around you?  Sure, one third of the world may claim to be Christians, but even out of that number, how many would agree that the only way for your faith in God to be strengthened comes through a 2000 year old book—or when words from that book are combined with ordinary water, a little sliver of something that tastes a little like bread, and the smallest cup of wine you’ve ever held in your hands?

The world around you has scientific evidence of how humanity came to be and yet you believe your ancestors were formed from the dust of the earth because a man, admittedly a few thousand years after it happened, wrote it down?

Your relative, who was a pretty good person, suffered through sickness before finally succumbing to the disease and dying, and you believe that they are now in the same paradise that murderers and thieves are able to enjoy because they all had a little bit of water sprinkled on their heads when they were infants?

You actually think there was a talking snake, a boat big enough to house two of every animal, that water came out of a rock and a sea was split in two, a virgin gave birth, and that, later on in this service, you are going to eat and drink the body and blood of your God?

When those topics come up, do you ever find yourself identifying, at least a little, with Thomas?  It would be so much simpler if you could, as Thomas did, actually see and speak with your Savior and put your hands where the nails and the spear pierced his flesh.  If only he would appear to you like he did for Thomas.  Then, surely, you would give the same confirmation and confession of faith that he did.

So why doesn’t he?  Friends, instead of giving to you what he gave Thomas, he gives you more.

Thomas said to him, My Lord and My God! 

 Then Jesus told him, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

 When you have in the past, or continue to today, lock the doors of your heart for fear of what those around you might think—or even what your sinful nature might convince your own mind to believe or not believe—Jesus comes and stands among you.

Nothing you can construct to keep Jesus out is more powerful than he is and the promises that he gives to you.  No matter how great your fear or your doubt, he promises that when you are in this place, when two or three of you are gathered together in his name, he will be here, too.

No, you may not see his face or be able to put your fingers where the nails were or put your hand into his side, but, instead, though his Word and Sacraments, he will bolster your faith to believe that when his workers stand in front of you and forgive your sins, they are forgiven.  That when they counsel you through your marriage struggles, sit next to your hospital bed to pray with you, plan your spouse’s funeral service with you, or baptize your infant son or daughter, that Jesus himself is sending the Holy Spirit to be received into your heart to trust in him and his love and plans for you all the more.

He doesn’t show you his hands, feet, or side, but rather he explains to you why his hands, feet, and side were pierced.  They were pierced for your transgressions, he was crushed for your iniquities.  The punishment that brought you peace was upon him and by his wounds you have been healed.

The power isn’t in what you can see.  The power comes in what he strengthens you to believe.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 These words, contained in a book, sent daily through your email, received through text messages, and preached day in and day out in this congregation were written not only to help you overcome any doubts that you might have, but to forgive you for those doubts and give you peace with your God and peace in your heart.

Whenever you feel your knees becoming weak like water, either because of the doubts that come calling or the dangers in this world that surround you, be even bolder than Thomas was with his unbelievable request.

Talk to your invisible best friend in the sky and listen to him as he responds through the words of a 2000 year old book.  Remember that a man wearing a long flowy robe once sprinkled a little bit of tap water on your head and pronounced you a child of God.  Believe that God overcame that talking snake by means of your God, who was born of a virgin, walked on water, and died the death of a criminal.  And, in celebration and remembrance of that victory won for you, come and eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Through his Word and sacraments, Jesus appears to you.  Believe it and have life in his name—now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Rejoice Greatly!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “REjoice Greatly!” based on  Zechariah 9:9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.  I was a little surprised when I looked up the word that is translated “rejoice” in my Hebrew dictionary and saw that the word can also mean to run around in a circle. If you get the picture, right now, you’re maybe thinking about a kid on Christmas, so deliriously overjoyed over the present they’ve just unwrapped that they’re literally running around the living room in wild-eyed celebration. Or if you’re still having trouble making the connection between delirious joy and running around in circles, check out this clip….

That. That right there is the Hebrew word—gil—or rejoice and it is the Holy Spirit’s kid on Christmas, just won the championship on a buzzer beater encouragement for us this Palm Sunday.  Hundreds of years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah wrote about what would happen in Jerusalem. And his exuberant imperative still rings true for us hundreds of years later. Rejoice Greatly, dear friends. Because here comes Jesus!

I don’t want you to think I’m naive. I know that just telling someone to rejoice when they’re weighed down doesn’t necessarily help them a whole lot. In fact, that might even make things worse. “You say I should be rejoicing but I’m still struggling. So now I feel both sad AND guilty!”

The Bible writers understood that too. When they tell us to rejoice, they also tell us why. Paul wrote the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice.”  Zechariah writes in our text, “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion, shout O Daughter of Jerusalem, see your king comes to you.”  In the Scriptures, a believer’s rejoicing is inseparably intertwined with the presence of Jesus. When believers see Jesus, rejoicing is the inevitable response. Maybe it’s because he never seems to show up empty handed!

Do you see what he brings in our text? See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.  He comes with the key to release you from Satan’s prison. He comes bearing a checkbook with more than enough financial clout to pay your debt of sin. Of course, those are just metaphors. In reality, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with nothing in literally in his hands, so poor that he had to borrow a donkey for the occasion. And yet inside of him, he was carrying gifts of immeasurable worth.

His perfection and his blood. The one to give God what he demands. The other to pay what we owe.  If he was only perfect, yet unwilling to shed his blood. That would do us no good. If he was only willing to shed his blood, but was not perfect. That would do us no good. But he has both, and so he is, as the writer to the Hebrews says, the author and perfecter of our faith.

To put it even more bluntly, Jesus had one job before him—save you from hell and when he shows up amidst the palm branches, you know that He’s come to do just that. The Promised One who would come to crush the serpent’s head is now lacing up his boots.

Your king comes, bringing salvation. The perfection which will count for you, the blood that will cover you. The things that will benefit you for eternity. He doesn’t necessarily bring a lifetime guarantee of happiness, universal acceptance by society at large, or an accident free, injustice free world. Our rejoicing gets dampened some times because perhaps we unrealistically expect him to provide those things, things he has not promised. Don’t stop rejoicing because of what he doesn’t bring. Rejoice at what he does bring. Rejoice your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.

Rejoice because he still comes to us today. When we hear his Word preached, our King comes to us. There he teaches us about his kingship in this world and in our hearts and in the world to comes. When we gather at his table, our King comes to us. There he gives his royal command for our sins to be banished from his sight, our slate to be washed clean. Is any wonder that right before we approach his table, we echo the song from Palm Sunday? “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”  Where Jesus is, rejoicing follows.

But even after all that, you might say, what if I still don’t feel like rejoicing? We started off with that picture of wild euphoria in our introduction. That’s the picture that our text uses, too. But rejoicing doesn’t always have to look like that.

In fact, we’re going to see in just a few days, Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, overwhelmed with sorrow. His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death, and yet, “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.” There was no euphoria in the Garden of Gethsemane. But at the same time, the picture and prospect of the good things to come never left his mind. As one writer put it, Jesus looked to a joyful future and that sustained him in a joyless present.

There’s a parallel to our lives. A Christian is always rejoicing, it’s a just a matter of volume. Some times it’s louder than the brass choir on Easter, sometimes it’s barely audible. To put it another way, even without running around in circles in delirium, you can still say, “God, you are good.” Even with a heart that is heavy and eyes that are tear stained, you can still say, “I put my trust in You.” Even when there’s nothing to smile about, you can still look forward to heaven and say, “Thank you for what’s still to come.”

It’s a daily struggle for me and maybe for you too. There are so many things in this world that want to take away our rejoicing. The kitchen floor that sparkles because we worked with mop and bucket soon turns back into the dust bunny trap and the crumb collector. The euphoria of payday Friday gradually turns to the gnawing worry of “please don’t cash that check” Thursday. The news websites refresh every hour with word a different discord and deeper depravities. Marriages and families require a lot of hard work, often with few tangible results. Our faith can often feel like its limping along, our consistency nonexistent, our obedience up and down like a roller coaster. It’s all so frustrating, it’s all so exhausting, it’s all so disheartening, yet through it all, there still is reason for rejoicing!

Our feelings don’t change God’s facts. And that’s a good thing! High or low, happy heart or heavy heart, our God stays the same, his work in Christ unchanged, his love for you undiminished, his Word still true.  Your King still comes to you, righteous and having salvation. On Palm Sunday, your King comes to you. In Word and Sacrament, your King still comes to you. And therefore we have reason to rejoice. And rejoice greatly. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Life For Death

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Life For Death” based on John 12:20-33 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, March 18, 2018

There are three times in the New Testament when God the Father’s voice is heard, booming from above.  The first was at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.  God told all of the men and women who had witnessed this ceremony that Jesus is his Son and, therefore, Jesus is the One who was commissioned to carry out the work of the world’s salvation.

The second time, as Peter, James, and John were almost blinded by the transfiguration of Jesus, God reminded them, again, that Jesus is his Son, but, this time, made sure that they focused more on what Jesus was saying, rather than on what they were seeing.  Jesus had been talking about his impending trip to Jerusalem and his work of the world’s salvation.

So, now, maybe a week or two later, after Jesus had entered into the streets of Jerusalem amid shouts of praise and glory on that first Palm Sunday, people wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.  It could have been some of his miraculous signs and wonders that garnered their attention.  After all, the chapter right before the Gospel reading for today recounts the account of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.  Perhaps, though, it was simply word of mouth about the way that Jesus spoke and taught, either in his style that was so pleasing to the ear, or his content that was so comforting to the heart.

Whatever it was, some who had not met Jesus yet, wanted to see him.  They wanted to see the One who was changing the world one small word or deed at a time.

Jesus recognized that now was the time for him to answer those questions to groups much larger than his twelve disciples.  Now was the time to tell people to see who he really was and why he came onto this earth.  Listen again:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds…

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  Father, save me from this hour?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.

Wait, first, he was talking about his glory and then, right afterward, he started talking about wheat kernels and death?  That doesn’t seem to follow.  What do wheat kernels and death have to do with Jesus’ glory—his renown among the people?

That’s seems like a pretty logical question; one that could still be asked today.  As millions, and even billions, of people still seek to find out more and more about Jesus, there are plenty of points of interest that are involved in their investigations.

Was Jesus really born of a virgin?  What happened from the time of his birth until he was 12 years old in the Temple?  What about the next 18 years between then and the beginning of his ministry at age 30?

Do you really have to believe that he was and is the Son of God to follow some of his most basic teachings—like loving your neighbor as yourself, taking care of the poor, the needy, and the widows, or, here’s a big one, judge not, lest ye be judged?

Did he really do all of the miracles that the bible says he did or, rather, can science explain them away, just like it can for the beginning of the world and the 10 plagues?

Some of those questions have pretty clear answers found in the Scriptures.  Some of them don’t.  And, really, that’s ok.  Some of them are very important.  Some of them aren’t.  That, too, is ok.  However, when people wanted to know about Jesus in this section from John’s Gospel, he didn’t tell them about his virgin birth.  He didn’t address any questions about his formative years.  He didn’t talk about loving your neighbor or raising his friend, Lazarus from the dead.

But, oh, don’t you wish that he did?  Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus’ purpose in coming down to this earth was to be a great moral teacher or if Jesus simply came onto this earth to make people’s lives physically easier?

Wouldn’t that, really, make your interactions with your God much more honest?  If Jesus was only here to say good things and do good things for your earthly life, then you could pray that to-do list that you’ve been wanting to ask about anyway.  You wouldn’t have to feel selfish about asking for lots of money, for a better job, for a better looking wife, or for kids that are smarter and better behaved than yours.  You wouldn’t have to start or end with, thy will be done.  You could just get to the heart of the matter and ask him to make you feel better; to remove your sadness, your sickness, or your pain, without having to worry if God is somehow trying to teach you something through it.

The first two times that the Father’s voice boomed from above, it was to direct people’s attention toward the work that Jesus was going to do in order to save the world from its impending and deserved doom and destruction in the fires of hell.  Like a divine arrow pointed at Jesus, the Father’s voice marked Jesus as his anointed and appointed Savior for all of mankind.  And, not surprisingly, the third time that it happened was for the same purpose.  Listen again:

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  Father, save me from this hour?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!

Then a voice came from heaven, I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.

The Father was confirming that what Jesus was talking about was true; that it revealed the glory of God and the purpose for which Jesus came.  He came not to be a shining example of a teenager, to be a great moral teacher, or to be some sort of miracle healer.  He came to be a kernel of wheat.  He came to die so that others, through his death, would have life.  He came to die so that you, through him, would have life.

And, because Jesus died, because he substituted himself in your place, to die the death that your sins deserve, the Father’s voice booms again to let you know what gives God glory and the purpose for which Jesus came.  No, it no longer gets confused for thunder or the voice of an angel.  Instead, it is much more clear and available anytime you want to hear it.

Week after week, you hear it right here in this building as he says to you, “God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to us and has given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Therefore, as a called servant of Christ, and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

He speaks officially and publicly through his called workers, but he also does so informally through your Christian family, friends, and neighbors and through your own eyes and ears as your read his holy Word.

It says that Jesus died so that you would be forgiven and so that, through him and his death, you would have life—not an enjoyable time with nothing to complain about for 70 or 80 years, but life eternal with him in heaven.

With your salvation as his purpose, Jesus was willing to do anything and everything that it took to accomplish his task, even giving up his own life for you.

What is your purpose?  Are you here on this earth to be morally good?  Are you here simply to garner all of the shiny stuff of this world and the respect and admiration of everyone you know?

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.

You are here to be a servant of Jesus so that you can follow him to where he is.  That means doing what he did—not sacrificing your life on a cross, but, rather, carrying your cross and sacrificing your wants, your deepest desires, and your own needs for the benefit of everyone else around you and not letting anything stand in the way of that.

Give glory to God with your life, not yourself, and you, too, will produce many seeds, so that others may hear, believe, serve, and follow Jesus, too.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Grace Is Lifted Up

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “God’s Grace Is Lifted Up” based on Numbers 21:4-9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, March 11, 2018

In 1969 Sesame Street aired its first episode.  One of the staple segments is a song called “One of These Things is Not Like the Others.”  The children watching are asked to look at four items.  Three are similar, one is different.  Three red sneakers are shown and one big red rain boot.  The boot doesn’t belong.  Three hammers are shown and one tennis racquet.  You get the idea.  Ones of these things is not like the others.

For whatever reason, this popped into my head when I read through the verses from Numbers.  The Lord sends manna to his people.  The Lord sends quail.  The Lord sends water from a rock.  The Lord sends venomous snakes.  Ok, one of these things is not like the others.  Manna.  Quail.  Water.  Snakes. The snakes don’t seem to belong.  The snakes seem like some kind of punishment sent by some kind of angry, irrational God.  However, the snakes do belong.  The snakes are good gifts that were sent by a loving, caring God.  Take a quick look at some of Israel’s recent behaviors and see if you can understand why venomous snakes could be seen as a good gift.

  • It all started back in Egypt. God sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh – soon the people would be released from slavery…this is a good thing!  But the people complained when Pharaoh’s treatment turned harsh.
  • God prevailed – ten plagues later, the people were now free. But they complained…they even longed to go back to Egypt  because the food was better, in their opinion.
  • So God sent them manna and quail. Guess what?  They displayed greed and then discontent.
  • God gave them his written law. Before Moses could even return with the tablets of stone the people had made a golden calf and were worshipping that.
  • The Lord led them right up to the promised land…all they had to do was step over the border and take the land for themselves…but they were afraid because the inhabitants looked too powerful and they did not believe the Lord’s promise and they rebelled.
  • Still the Lord was patient with them…continued to lead them in the wilderness…training them, blessing them, loving them.
  • Now their wilderness journey was nearing its end. All they had to do was cut through Edom and enter their new home.  The king of Edom said, No, I don’t want your 2,000,000 people to tromp through my land; go around.

And apparently, that little detour caused the people to rebel again…and complain again…like those GIF video clips that repeat and repeat and repeat…same scene over and over again.  The people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?  There is no bread!  There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Let me paraphrase.  God, we are sick and tired of you…sick and tired of your leadership…sick and tired of your provisions.  Can you see how sending those snakes was meant to be a loving wake-up call to those Israelites?  Can you see how they had been developing a very unhealthy attitude…and how God loved them enough to intervene and provide an attitude adjustment?

Can you relate to those Israelite journeyers?  It would be pretty bold for us to speak against God and tell him how much we detest his gifts and his leadership.    Detest is a strong word.  Do we prefer terms like take for granted?…complain?…wish we had something different?  Those are just polite ways for us to say, “Lord, we’re a little sick of your leadership and your provisions.”

If we are so content and happy and thankful for God’s gifts…why do we covet someone else’s bank account or their job perks or their spouses or their houses or their health?…why do we have moments where we hate our jobs and hate our bodies and hate our lives?

When we watch the Israelites, it’s so easy to see their repeating sins and bad attitudes.  Again and again.  Grumble…complain…repeat.   Grumble…complain…repeat.  When the Lord watches us, what repeating sins and bad attitudes does he see?…again and again…like a GIF video clip.  Grumble…Complain…repeat?  Covet…Lust…repeat?  Gossip…Lie…repeat? Apathy…Laziness…repeat? What sins do you hide from others?  What sins do you cover-up and try to pretend aren’t hurting anyone?  God sees them…so he sends in the snakes.

Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you.  Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.”  

Those snakes accomplished what God wanted.  He wanted to give his people a wake-up call.  He wanted them to repent.  God loves us enough to send in the snakes.  Actually, for us it’s not literal snakes.  They are attitude adjusters.  Attention getters.

  • He may permit diabetes and cancer and heart disease – but why? To remind us that we are mortal and our main goal on earth is to prepare for heaven.
  • He may give us a detour in life or extend some kind of hardship – but why? To show us that we are not in control and we cannot fix everything…so we are to turn to him…trust in him.
  • When we sin, he will make sure there are consequences and deep and heavy guilt – but why? To teach us that sin is indeed a serious thing…and to have us ever pleading for and yearning for the forgiveness that only he can provide.

Did you notice that the Lord, while he heard the prayer of the people, he didn’t answer their prayer in the way they wanted?  They wanted the snakes to be taken away.  What does God do?  The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

He didn’t take the snakes away.  He gave them a bronze snake up on a pole.  And that bronze snake didn’t do anything either.  It was a symbol of God’s grace and promise.  It was the sure Word of the Lord connected to that bronze serpent.  Does that remind you of anything?  Does that remind you of baptism?  It’s not some special water, blessed by the right person or poured just the right way, or at just the right temperature.  It’s the promise of God that in the waters of baptism we are forgiven and we are given power to live for him.  Does that remind you of holy communion?  It’s not the wine and the bread that send you away satisfied; it’s the promise of Jesus – I bled and died for you and now I forgive you.  Does that remind you of what Jesus said to Nicodemus?  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. We were snakebitten with sin.  We were dying.  We were doomed.  But the Son of God was lifted up.  And here’s God’s promise:  look to him and be forgiven…look to him and live!

We’ve been talking about things being lifted up?  God’s grace lifted up in the desert.  God’s grace lifted up on Golgotha.  We are lifted up too, by God’s grace.  God has lifted you up and away from your guilt…up and away from your sin…up and away from your repeating loop of sinful attitudes and behaviors.  You are forgiven. One day he’ll lift you up and away and take you home.  Until that glorious day…

  • Live in the power of your baptism
  • Live with the full nourishment of the holy supper
  • Live as people lifted up by the grace of God
  • Live for him. Amen.