All posts by Pastor Rhodes

June 16, 2019 Trinity Equals Mercy

June 16, 2019 Trinity Equals Mercy

With last Friday being Flag Day, I thought this would be a fittingly patriotic story. Right after the Civil War, Senator Henderson of Missouri is said to have asked President Abraham Lincoln to pardon some men from here who were in prison for various military offenses. He admitted that these men did not deserve a pardon.

They deserved to remain in prison. But he appealed for mercy anyway. Lincoln replied: “I have often been charged with making too many mistakes on the side of mercy, but I’ll do it just the same.” And he wrote “pardon” by each name. With that stroke of the president’s pen, they were all set free.

God has done the same and so much more for us in Jesus Christ. In the story from the civil war, it was after the war that the pardons came. So also for us. We were at war with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and have been since we rebelled in the Garden of Eden. All of mankind cannot truly understand the Trinity, and so we, all of us, rail against it.

But God in His mercy after the war, after Christ’s defeat of all that is unholy – through His cross – after that battle was won, God now grants a full pardon to all who call on Jesus name. God’s word of pardon has been written on our indictments of sin. Just as Lincoln’s pen granted those pardons that were underserved by those men from Missouri, so God grants pardon, peace and reconciliation with us.

We each deserve death for calling God into question and for trying to make Him answer to us; that is what condemns us. We’re no different than others in that we also have questioned God and tried to put Him to our test. Think of the many disasters and inhumane acts we’ve seen in recent weeks in the news. We humans have wanted God to explain Himself to us to our satisfaction for allowing such things to take place. We’ve questioned if Jesus work alone is sufficient.

In the epistle lesson today Peter makes clear that God has attested to Jesus as His Son through the works that Jesus did. Through Jesus’ works, God is revealed. And in the ultimate work of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, we see that the Trinity has revealed Himself to us by His mercy. His declaration of pardon for our rebellion is full and complete in Jesus and His words and works.

A man once said, “I always knew the Trinity was wrong because, to my mind, it never made sense!”

Now that’s poor reasoning. It’s extremely dangerous to reject things entirely simply because we fail to properly comprehend them. Look, I’m now 64 and I still don’t really understand electricity, but – am I glad to use it! Never really understood it, still don’t entirely understand it, but I recognize it exists.

This man who thought the trinity never made sense, was not unlike the Jews in the gospel lesson today. They thought that God must fit their image of Him. That image did not look like the itinerant preacher standing before them. And so they also wanted Jesus to justify Himself to them.

Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.

For us to try and make God fit into our definition of Him comes from our own human pride and not from an understanding of His mercy shown in the glory of Jesus Christ.

A 2009 survey in the Seattle Times, “substantiated the growing number of people who say they have “no” religion. The report further said that the country has a ‘growing nonreligious or irreligious minority.’”

And in US News and World Report I read, Recent events in the U.S. are destroying Americans’ ability to connect to God, according to Cardinal Robert Sarah, a native of the West African nation of Guinea. He then quoted the Catholic News Agency, “God is being eroded, eclipsed, liquidated,”

I bring up these reports in the news to show that in our human pride we feel we need no God… other than ourselves. If there is no God ‘out there’ to believe in, then we gladly put ourselves in the center of the universe and so we become our own god. That sounds like what Adam did when he chose to ignore God’s direction. Instead Adam put his judgment over Gods and took the knowledge of good and evil for himself when, on his own, he chose to eat the fruit that Eve gave him from the forbidden tree.

The action we need, rather than our pride, is what Trinity, in His mercy, has done for us in Jesus Christ. Now, having received His mercy, now all our actions rest on what He has first done for us.

Through repentance the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus, and we acknowledge our need for His pardon and forgiveness. As we receive God’s peace and pardon, by His mercy then we are free to act based on His grace and not on our pride. This is what His Holy Spirit empowers us to do.

It’s not as easy to live free as you might at first think, because you now choose how to live. And what then do you choose? Yes, you’re free from divine judgment by the power of the blood of Jesus when you make a mistake, though you may still have to live with the consequences in the here and now. More so, you are free to choose the ‘wrong’ but what does that profit you? What do you get from that but regret and sorrow? Yes, you are free, yet now you’re free to choose to show love for God and for each other. That was Christ’s new command on Maundy Thursday. “As I have loved you so you must love one another.”

So, how will you do that? What will you choose to do to show Christ’s love to each other? This isn’t about warm feelings; it’s about showing love. We’re free in our daily lives to choose to show the love of God to one another as it was first shown to us, by the mercy of God, through the actions of Jesus Christ.

We are free – each day, each moment – to live in the grace God gives us. That means we’re free of old habits, free of personal practices that lead us astray. We’re free in ways the Jews that Jesus spoke with in the gospel lesson today, did not understand.

Listen again, Jesus said, Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!

Jesus is before Abraham was born. When Jesus said those words, I Am, those Jews knew and understood that Jesus was claiming to be God. Only God is I Am, as was made known through the burning bush to Moses. Again, this is the mystery of the trinity we confessed in the Athanasian Creed. So as Jesus, the great I Am, grants us His righteousness to live before the holy God of heaven, we have His mercy to live in now!

We’re no longer bound to repeat our mistakes. By Jesus’ blood and righteousness, we’re free of the guilt of our mistakes, free to put the past, all of it, behind us. Recognize this from God, that we are free to live / now! Here and now.

We come as a congregation to the holy triune God with our hands open to Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel with one another. So also in our personal, daily, moment-by-moment lives we come to God and with open hands receive His divine guidance to live out His mercy in us to others.

The Holy Trinity that is God is not something we need to have explained to our satisfaction, to ‘make sense to our mind’, before we can receive His grace, pardon and freedom. Rather we live under the knowledge that the Holy Triune God has come and made Himself known to us as – the Father, the God of heaven and earth; the Son, the redeemer and emancipator of all mankind, and as the Holy Spirit, the One who gives us power and faith to live under the freedom He bestows.

Again as St Peter said in Acts today Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Remember, that this mercy is ours only by grace through faith in the holy God who has revealed Himself as Trinity. He has poured out this knowledge on us, not that we might take pride in some ‘secret’ that others don’t have. But rather that we have the Holy Spirit poured out on us in our baptism so that we might live life now and forever by Jesus name.

And having that life as our own, to then humbly share that and give that away. We now live free of our past – free of our fears and our accomplishments. We are now bound by neither of those things. By grace we are set free to speak of the triune God of heaven. And we do so, so that others too might share in the repentance and life that is ours through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is what is revealed to us in the mercy of the holy Trinity, in Whose name we pray, Amen.

Sermon #1032 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Old Testament Reading          Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
8 Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?  2 At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; 3 beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud: 4 “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind…

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old;  23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. 24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; 25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, 26 before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth.  27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, 28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, 29 when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. 30 Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, 31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

 Epistle Reading                              Acts 2:14a, 22-36
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:…

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ 29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,  “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand  35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Holy Gospel                                         John 8:48-59
48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

 

Jun 9, 2019 – You can’t climb a tower to reach heaven’s Grace

Jun 9, 2019 – You can’t climb a tower to reach heaven’s Grace

I got a new app on my phone. It’s a universal language translator – it’s great because now I never have to make an effort to understand or be understood by anyone else. It’s all done for me by this gadget. I’ll never again have problems with communication. It takes care of how to make my words and thoughts clear to everyone else.

That being said I’m going to turn it on now so that you’ll perfectly understand everything that I say and every nuance of meaning that I intend. Trying to make myself understood is no longer my problem – it’s up to this device to make you understand. In fact, this’ll make it so that all that I say and speak will make all the difference in your life. This device makes my speaking the best that ever was or ever will be spoken. I’ll be able to do anything I want just by using this to speak to others. I’ll get what I want, how I want it and when I want it… you think?

You’ve got to be asking yourself, does he really believe this? Does he really think that toy thing can make him into the best speaker in the world? What a load of… tripe. What a foolish idea. He’s so full of himself with that thing. What arrogance, what pride.

Aaand there it is! We’ve finally come to it. Arrogance and pride. My arrogance and pride.

What is that? What is arrogance and pride? And what does it have to do with us here today?

Well, our pride and arrogance, is just that, it us wanting to be self-sufficient and proud of who we are in ourselves. It’s us wanting to be in the place only God should be in our lives. Today that’s revealed in the Old Testament lesson – that pride and arrogance is what God showed us at Babel.

Babel was us being proud and arrogant, not humble and receptive. It’s us standing before heaven shaking our tightly-closed fists in the face of God, rather than standing, or better yet kneeling, in quietness and reverence with our palms opened and receptive. Such a humble posture before the God of heaven is different than trying to climb up to heaven and take from Him what belongs only to Him. That’s what Babel was about. That’s us trying to put ourselves in the place of God.

It’s one thing to receive humbly and with thanks, what God offers / and it’s a different thing to try and take it away from God. The tower was man’s arrogant and prideful attempt to reach into heaven by ourselves and on our own. But we as Christians, as we live on earth, we receive what God offers to us by the blood of Jesus from the cross and through His promise of the Holy Spirit. He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to unite us, which is the opposite of what happened at Babel.

Actually, what God did at Babel is a merciful thing. It helps us to confront our need for the gospel; of our need for a savoir, a savior who in fact brings us to heaven with Him, out of His love for us! (X2)What happened at Babel can be seen as the reverse of what happened at Pentecost in today’s New Testament reading. The pride we displayed at Babel is the root of our human faults and failures. Pride is the bottom-line reason we can’t communicate well, and we struggle to understand one another. Our arrogance is why something like a fictional universal translator toy seems so attractive.

Like all of God’s law, the purpose of confusing our speech at Babel is to make us see our need for our Savior and His cross. We are prideful and willful, and we want to make a name for ourselves. Look at verse 4, of the Old Testament reading today. Read that verse with me out loud. “Then they said, ‘Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the whole earth.”

To make a name for ourselves means that we want to be in charge and answer to no one else. The power of a name, the power to name something is an enormous thing. The name that something or someone has is its signifier. The name helps to define and understand the thing or person.

Do you remember what Adam’s first job was in the Garden of Eden? It was to name the creatures as God brought them all before him. To give something its name is to define it. You’re in control when you put a name to something or someone. That’s why when we name our children it’s a serious thing. We instinctively know that. We know that whatever name, whatever signifier, we give our child will have an impact on their future.

The classic example of that in our culture is the old Johnny Cash song, a boy named Sue. That song, in a fun way, makes the very serious point we’re talking about. Remember the line in the song, “So I give ya that name and I said goodbye; I knew you’d have to get tough or die; And it’s that name that helped to make you strong.” The name, the dad knew, would define how that boy grew up. And Sue knew it too, the last line in the song goes; “And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him… Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!”

The point for us is what the people said when they were deciding to build the tower; let us make a name / for / our / selves. We were so proud that we wanted to claim the power to make our own name by our own effort and strength. We wanted to possess the power of God. So, we decided to make a tower so large that we would make to heaven on our own.

However, God, it turns out, is rather clever. Rather than attack the tower, which was just the symptom of our pride, God took away the common language that gave us the ability to join together to build it. He took away our common speech, the source of our arrogant power. Speech is what we use to name things and speech is what we were using to confront God with. The tower was a symptom of our lust for God’s power and for His rightful place in our lives. To have a common language is to have a common power.

God knew this, since speech was His idea in the first place. Look what He says in verse 6, “The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

Language, speech, is power, true power. And to be able to speak a common language is to have power in common. That’s also what makes Pentecost so important. The languages expressed at Pentecost weren’t changed into one language, but Pentecost is what gave the power of speech to the one unifying message of God … the gospel.

Our one language at Pentecost became, not a common tongue but a common message. Pentecost shows us that what’s important is the language God the Holy Spirit gives us in the message of the gospel. The unifying message, the common thing we have to speak about now, is only to be found through the Holy Spirit as He was given on Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit was promised to us by Jesus in today’s gospel lesson before He went to the cross to die for the sin of the world. He went there to die for all our sin, including our pride and arrogance that caused God to confuse our language at Babel. Jesus in verse 26 of the lesson, promised to send to us the Holy Spirit who truly would make clear all things that Jesus taught. We ARE not self-made nor are we self-sufficient. We were created by God… to need God.

At Babel we tried to replace God with ourselves. We did so because we are full of pride. Our giving in to Satan’s temptation and bringing sin into God’s creation was because we wanted to be like God! We wanted the pride of God to be ours instead. And God, our creator God, in His mercy showed us just how dependent we are on Him. By confusing our language, we were shown that He alone has all power, even the power of speech.

Without the power of speech, we’re alone and lost. We can’t even speak to God or hear from Him without His gift of speech. Jesus died on the cross to make it possible for God to again speak with us. Our sin, pride, and arrogance had cut Him off from us. In sin, we silenced Him in our lives: and so, left ourselves in deathly silence.

But through His promise and through the work of Jesus, on the cross and by His resurrection, God restored us to ‘speaking terms’ with Him again. And beyond that, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to guide us in our speaking with God. The Holy Spirit lives in us… granted to us in our baptisms and by faith, and He makes us understood to God. He is truly the translator for us when we don’t even know how to make ourselves understood.

All our sin, all our deathly silence, all our inability to communicate with God are resolved… in /Christ’s /cross. On Pentecost we were given the ‘common tongue’ the common language of the Holy Spirit.  And there are times when we can’t even understand how to use Him in our own minds. We must humbly rely on the Spirit to speak for us and in us. Sometimes when we’re confused or at a loss to understand our circumstances, we simply must rely on the language that is the Holy Spirit living within us.

We’re reminded of that in Romans 8 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

What Jesus did on the cross is too deep, in many ways, for my mind and heart to understand. I can only sigh in the Spirit in the face of such an act of love that brings heaven to me. I’m left truly speechless before the cross. Only the Holy Spirit can create faith in me and so direct my thoughts, my heart and my mind to receive such a wonderful gift. This faith, my faith, receives the gift of the redemption of my soul from the silence of hell. Jesus has overcome the sin, arrogance, and pride that are in my nature and bring me back to a ‘speaking relationship’ with God.

God promised, throughout His holy written word, through His power of speech, that He would do this. And in Jesus’ death and resurrection God’s word, His promised word, is fulfilled. What He speaks happens. We can only speak back what He has first given us and poured into us by the Holy Spirit to speak. That is truly His gift of peace and joy for us. God comes to us in His word and in His sacraments and He gives us the words we need. He gives us the power of language to speak; to speak His unifying message of the gospel to others. And His message is that we don’t need to build a tower to heaven to grab God’s grace from Him. In Christ coming to us, His grace is His gift, to you.

In Jesus name, amen!

Sermon #1031 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading                                     Genesis 11:1-9

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

 

Second Reading                                       Acts 2:1-21

2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.                                                                                                                              5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:                                                                                                 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

 

Holy Gospel                                         John 14:23-31

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

Jun 2, 2019 – Given not sold! (Ascension Sunday)

Jun 2, 2019 – Given not sold!(Ascension Sunday)

You’ve heard James Bond order his drink ‘shaken not stirred’. We’ll today we’re going to be talking about something parallel to that phrase. But rather than ‘shaken not stirred’ it’s about what’s ‘given, not sold’. And it has nothing to with liquid spirits, but rather the Spirit of God who brings us His free gift salvation.

We can’t put a price on the priceless love of God. And we can’t sell what He’s already purchased. The hymn we just sang starts out with On Christ’s ascension I now build.

That ascension of Jesus isn’t something we came up with and it isn’t our idea to sell or trade. The gospel is confirmed in Christ’s ascension. That is, the ascension tells us that God has accepted the life, death, and resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ as the one single foundation for eternal life for the world.

That it is by the grace of Jesus Christ alone that grants life with God to anyone through Christ’s offer of love. The blessing of Christ has been given to us; not sold to us. We can’t put a price, on the priceless love of God. We can’t purchase what’s already been paid for… for us.

We can’t ‘trade’ the gospel of God like stocks, bonds or commodities. It isn’t a doodad to put ‘on sale now!’ so people will buy it. When Jesus told His disciples in the gospel lesson today that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations”, He didn’t add – ‘only if you market it right’. He’s given us the gospel, all 100% of it. He’s given to us so we too can give it away. We’re not trying to sell the gospel by carefully using ‘slick’ sales methods. No! The gospel is freely given to us and only Christians can freely give it away to others.

Growing the kingdom of God is not like the movie Field of Dreams; it’s not a matter of ‘if you build it, they will come’. Of course, the world won’t come… the world, because of our sinful flesh, the world, put Jesus on the cross to die. So, the world won’t beat a path to our door if we just put the gospel out there with the right gimmick.

We can’t confuse the message with the medium or method either. In other words, the methods we use to share the gospel speak as much about the regard we hold the gospel in as anything.  The manner and fashion by which we share the gospel tells others what we truly think of the gospel.

It’s fine to be innovative, creative and inspired. The gospel is all of those things in and of itself. Listen, there is no other religion where the deity comes to you and offers you mercy and grace. No, you have to try and entice the deity, you have to pay, and you have to sacrifice to the deity and then blindly hope that you’ve done enough to please the deity. NOT SO with the true God of heaven. He sent His Son to us, to earth, like we talked about last week when Jesus came to the lame man by the pool of Bethsaida, God, in His love for you, sent and sacrificed His Son for you. – NOW that is innovation, that is creative, like nothing else this world has ever seen. So yes, when it comes to sharing the gospel it can be fine to use creativity and innovation, but again it needs to not confuse the message of salvation by using an inconsistent or offensive method.

Also, it’s fine to use traditions and ancient practices in sharing the gospel that tie us to the history of God’s gospel. So, innovation and tradition have their place. What doesn’t have a place is using the law to ‘sell’ the gospel. I’ve seen it used so often and there’ve been times I’ve been guilty of that.

I’ve also seen churches do a bait and switch routine. ‘Come and we’ll help you with fixing your finances’, or ‘come and we’ll mend your marriage’, or ‘come we’ll build up your broken-down children’, ‘and oh by the way you need to join the church to get all these discounts and benefits’. And ‘oh by the way your salvation is up to you so make a ‘decision for Christ’ otherwise all these things we promised you are null and void!

That isn’t what Jesus said the disciples were to do before He ascended to heaven in the gospel lesson today. They weren’t to try and con people into taking something they didn’t want. They were to give away what all people need; restoration with God through repentance in the blood of Jesus Christ – alone. What He did say the disciples were to do regarding repentance and forgiveness being preached to all nations is that they were to be   His witnesses.

46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. That is ‘You are the ones who’ve been given, at the cost of my life, this message to bear witness too’. That and only that is what we, as Christ’s followers, bring to the world of people with failing finances, messed up marriages and crude kids.

Those things that are broken or messed-up in our lives are indeed changed as Christ comes to us through His  word and sacraments. But our  broken things aren’t what bring the love of God to us. Only the cross of Christ proclaimed openly, freely from friend to friend is that witness of repentance and forgiveness of sins that individual people need as Jesus said as He rose up to heaven.

Now does that mean that we don’t do outreach things or have marriage seminars or youth and preschool programs? Of course, it doesn’t mean that, but we do those things to help people grow and mature as stewards of the gospel that Christ has freely given to all. And we don’t put our hope or our confidence in those earthly things that we do. Those things are not the gospel. And the gospel, freely given by Jesus, is what the world rejects and yet so desperately needs.

It is good to do things that help people be wise with their money and so reflect the wisdom of God given to them by grace. It is good to provide resources for Christians to help their marriages and families grow together in the love of Christ and so grow in repentance and love toward each other. Youth and preschool programs are beneficial for individuals to grow in the experience and knowledge of the love God. But again, those programs and things are not what Jesus called His followers to be witnesses to.

In this world we witness to others of the mercy and grace of God given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit alone. Grace alone, Faith alone, Word alone, that is at the bedrock of what we as Lutherans believe, teach and? confess. Right, Confess! We confess and in confessing with our mouths the love of God, we each, individually, bear witness to the forgiveness and repentance that is to be preached in His name as Christ called us to do.

Now I do ‘preaching’ here in the pulpit and if you bring someone here, I do all I can to give the law and the gospel rightly. I’m not perfect at it. But the Word of God remains perfect and accomplishes what God wants in people’s lives despite however imperfectly I may preach. Witnessing, imperfect or otherwise, is also what God has given you to do.

Perhaps not to preach in a pulpit – unless you believe God wants you to do that. And if so, I encourage you to go get training and follow that call. God may be calling you to this work, or to mission work, or to deaconess work, and if so – follow where He leads you. If you’d’ve asked me 25 years ago where I’d be today it wouldn’t have been here doing this – so never doubt that if God calls you to this type of witnessing, He can and will prepare you for it.

But being His witnesses is something each of us and all of us have been already prepared by God’s word to do. Because you have been given forgiveness, you’ve been called to bear fruits in keeping with repentance. That’s for you to do. It’s not for the paid staff of any congregation. You are the only witness to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. (x2) You aren’t called to sell what’s been freely given to you. You can only give it away.

And only you can do that. Like Smokey the Bear says, ‘only you can prevent forest fires.’ And to an even greater extent perhaps it’s only you that can prevent your friends, family and neighbors from being condemned to the fire of hell. Now don’t take that out of the context of the Bible – of course it’s the Holy Spirit and only the Holy Spirit who calls, sanctifies and makes a person righteous in the blood of Jesus Christ. But Jesus tells us we are all to be His witnesses to others of that which the Holy Spirit does in us.

We’ve been given freely what Christ purchased with His blood and sacrifice. We can only give that away. Each of us, and all of us, bear His mark, the mark of the cross put on us in baptism. And wherever you go you are a witness for Christ; whether you’re a good witness or not, that’s in your hands alone. You can’t give that responsibility away to anyone else, not to me, or any other pastor, teacher or church worker. You alone have been given God’s grace for your life and only you can testify to that grace to others in your circle of family and friends.

That, by the way is a joy, not a burden. You don’t need a script or power-point presentation or a memorized set of lines in order to ‘get it right’. What you know and hold fast is that Jesus Christ came into this world, lived the only perfect life and then gave that life up as a sacrifice for our sin, so that by His death, His resurrection and now by His ascension which we celebrate today, we have the guarantee that God has accepted Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. That truth, that love, is what we’re all witnesses to and that is ours… to give away.
In Jesus Name, amen.

Sermon #1030 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading                                         Acts 1:1-11
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 Second Reading                                            Ephesians 1:15-23
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

 Holy Gospel                                         Luke 24:44-53
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

 

 

 

May 26, 2019 – Completely Healed!

May 26, 2019 – Completely Healed!
In a Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown is hanging his head low, looking sad and dejected. He groans to Lucy, “I think if I would disappear tomorrow, no one would miss me!” Lucy puts her hand on his shoulder and says: “No, Charlie Brown, that’s not true!” His spirits began to rise, then she crushed him completely: “Charlie Brown, if you were to disappear today, no one would miss you!

The lame man in the gospel lesson today could be Charlie Brown. He seems to have no friends or family who miss him. And yet Jesus meets this man’s need the same way He meets all of our needs as well. He does so completely.

Surely in his 38 years this man had some relationships. But now he was apparently alone, indicated by his statement that he had no one to help him. No family, no friends, no one left to care for him.

This text raises a few other points to consider. Why did Jesus choose to help this man and not the others? Also, what was it about his trying to get in the water and failing for 38 years that had kept this man there? The man wasn’t cured until Jesus spoke the word of healing to him. It says in the lesson, When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well? When it says, ‘Jesus learned that he had been in this condition a long time’, that indicates Jesus had a conversation about the man’s condition with him or someone else. So, Jesus understands this man’s long-suffering, with no one; not a friend, not a relative – to help him.

In response to Jesus’ question, all the man did was explain his condition of not being able to get in the water fast enough – that the blessing of healing was given to others before him… for 38 years! What had his life been like before he was invalid? Where did he sleep at night for those 38 years? Who fed him? Where did he go when Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk? What do you suppose the man’s life was like after Jesus healed him?

We’re told none of those details. We’re not given any insight into this man except that He had suffered long; very, very long. Then this rabbi, Jesus, comes and after learning of his condition asks one question, ‘do you want to be healed’? Jesus, the first person in 38 years to do so, makes an offer of help. But not help in the form the man had hoped for those 38 long years. It was an offer of help to a man who was in a desperate situation. I can imagine that Jesus came to him and offered him complete healing because he was the least of these around the pool who where hoping for a healing – that never came.

How many before this man had gotten into the water and yet remained unhealed? This man, along with everyone else has no prospect of being healed without help. And in this man’s situation we see our own situation. His plight is our plight, with one difference. This man knew his situation was one of helplessness and hopelessness.

So often we don’t recognize that, confronted with sin, sickness, sorrow or disease, we are without help. We think that our friends, family, insurance or the government will be there to meet our needs. We think we live in a Disneyland where nothing can ever really hurt us. But this man’s hopeless situation points out to us that when we recognize that death and sin keep us ‘out of the pool’ then we too are in our own hopeless situation. Unless, some comes to us and helps us completely, the way this man was helped when Jesus asked, do you want to be healed?

Take note that Jesus is the one who comes to the man, Jesus initiates this man’s recovery. No one comes to intercede on behalf of the man to Jesus. The man doesn’t even seem to know who Jesus is, which is, in itself, a revelation. This man lives in Jerusalem and it would seem from other readings that many if not most of Jerusalem knew of Jesus and His miracle working power. Yet not this man.

This man had no help, and no knowledge of Jesus – who could in fact help him. And he was in a situation that held no prospect for change, improvement or relief. There was no hope or help for this man… until Jesus came to this man.

We too, as the people of this planet, had no hope until Jesus came to us; until He initiated our help. We too are in a desperate situation, a deadly sinful situation with no prospect for change, improvement or relief. Without Jesus, we only imagine that we can do something for ourselves.

I’ve said it for a long time now; that the automobile, our cars, are among the greatest obstacles to the preaching of the gospel. Our cars give us a false sense of independence and autonomy. We think we can go any direction we want, any speed we can reasonably get away with, any time we want, for as long as we want. Our cars give us the illusion that we’re in complete control of our lives. When folks get older, giving up their driver’s licenses is among the most difficult things to do because of the sense of power we invest in those licenses. And yet for all that cars do for us they cannot give us the relief, the help, the deliverance that we truly need. And that’s what the man in the gospel lesson today reminds us of, that we are in desperate need of help.

This man knew and understood his condition and simply explained to Jesus what it was. He had nothing to offer and nothing to bargain with… And yet Jesus comes to him. Jesus brings complete healing to this man and this man is no longer the same after this encounter. So too with us.

We are no longer the same when Jesus comes to us. We have capacities and abilities given to us in Christ that we did not have before. Jesus was born into this world and in so doing, He comes to us. And then He died and rose again for our healing. Jesus comes and by His coming, by His life-giving word and in the waters of baptism we are now different than before.

Remember two weeks ago I gave you 6 things to do that would help get the word of God into us? Remember we said that as we read, mark and inwardly digest the word of God that Christ is revealed to us? So, the question today again is how is that going for you? As we take in God’s word and feed on it, we do receive the help He came to give.

In all of God’s word, we are granted what we need. In Christ, and His work, we now have the complete restoration and healing of our relationship with God that by our sin had ‘crippled’ us in fear.

Now here’s another thing about his man that he can teach us about ourselves and the world around us. He was right to hope in something other than himself for healing. But, unfortunately, he was looking to the wrong waters for healing. He was looking for the water of this world to restore him, to heal him and make him whole again. The true healing water of the Living Water, Jesus Christ, come down from heaven, was standing before this man and He makes the offer to cure him.

This makes me think of old-time meetings that used to take place down by creeks and riverbanks where people would gather to be baptized in the flowing water there. But in all Christian baptism the same thing happens whether in creek, river, baptistery or font. The same life-giving, restoring water of Jesus’ righteousness is poured out in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In those waters we receive the complete healing that Jesus has come to give.

By his own admission, the man wanted to be healed but also by his own admission he needed help to be healed. The problem was he didn’t know who Jesus was otherwise he would have asked Him for help as so many others had done.

Finally, for us this man is a good illustration of the world around us today. We all presume everyone has heard of Jesus and what Jesus has done for them in the cross and His resurrection. But, those around us are like this man – hurt, crippled and looking for help. The world simply doesn’t see Jesus for who He really and truly is. Just as this man, though living in the world of Jerusalem, didn’t seem to know what most of Jerusalem knew, that Jesus was a healer, sent from God.

Today some people say Jesus was a healer, or that He was a good man, a good teacher, some even acknowledge He was a prophet of the living God of heaven. But all of those things people say, count as nothing when we learn, through God’s word, that Jesus is, the living water of heaven come to bring healing, wholeness and total restoration with God.

Yes, a friend or a family’s love on this earth is a wonderful thing to be cherished and not to be taken for granted. But greater by far is the love of Jesus, come down from heaven for each person in this world who sees their own hurt and fear or their anger and crippled-ness. For these – for you and me – Jesus comes and asks, do you want to be healed? And Jesus then delivers completely that healing into us by His word of wholeness to us.

In Jesus’ name that restores us, amen.

Sermon #1029 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading                                       Acts 16:9-15

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

 Second Reading                   Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27

9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb…

21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Holy Gospel                                              John 5:1-9

5 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4]  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.  The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,

 

Feb 24, 2019 – Promises, Promises

Feb 24, 2019 – Promises, Promises

A couple weeks ago was valentine’s day and there were cards, gifts, and candies exchanged among folks to celebrate. And we don’t want to overlook that, after all St Valentine, a Christian saint, is who the day is named for. There are accounts of three different guys all referred to as Saint Valentine.

Only two of these have roots in actual history and they both have to do with being martyred for faithful Christian action. One is reported to have been a physician, named Valentine, who gave aid to Christians under persecution. He was said to have done this in

imitation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The other account speaks of a Christian bishop named Valentine who secretly performed Christian’s marriages when marriage was forbidden by the wicked roman emperor Claudius II and he was imprisoned for trying to help these couples through Christian matrimony.

As both stories go each of these men, the doctor and the bishop, were killed for their faith-based actions on Feb 14th. And from this history has developed the practice we now have of celebrating the promises made by lovers to one another. After all, many of the valentines we send and receive speak of being faithful and true. They promise love and loyalty.

But; how many of those promises that are made on the 14th, or any other day, are promises that are kept? Sad to say, more marriages will break up this year than remain faithful to their vows and promises.

I’ve heard of a formula – of 3 ingredients – that show that love is actually at work in a marriage. These three ingredients are: passion, partnership and promise.

It’s the 3rd thing in this formula is what we’re focusing on today and that is, promise: A promise is a vow of loyalty. We’re all looking for loyalty. That’s part of what drives people to give and receive valentines’ greetings. Promises; that is our words declaring faithfulness to one another, our promises carry us through in a marriage when either passion dims or partnership falters. Our promise, that “I do” – at the altar is our bond to remain loyal and faithful, even when other things would tell us to give up.

This year over 2 million people will say “I do” … and they won’t. Marriages start out with promises, and partnership and passion. And that’s as it should be.

Marriage, like our salvation in Christ, is based on a promise. Marriage is a promise to love – salvation is God’s promise to redeem us. As Christians we live day-to-day in the hope of God’s promise to us of redemption. As married people, we live day-to-day trusting in the hope of our beloved’s wedding promise.

I’ve known folks whose wedding promise has lasted over 50 years. That’s a commitment to be admired for demonstrating such devotion and dedication. Has it always been easy for them? I’m quite sure it’s not.

A marriage is only as strong as the ones making the promise. Salvation also is only as strong as the One making that promise. Our hope of salvation is rock solid because the One who makes that promise is the ‘rock of our salvation’. His promise does not fail, therefore our hope is not in vain, and it cannot fail, because God does not fail.

Do our marriages all have that same guarantee? Unfortunately, no. That’s because we are not as reliable as God is. We will make mistakes and we will foul up and we don’t always live up to our promises even in the best of marriages. And yet marriage, through all the attacks it has suffered, still seems the smart thing to do. For us humans, however, keeping promises is not a matter of intellect or brains.

Keeping promises is about keeping your word. It’s not enough to simply say “I do.” You have to do the “I do.” Being knowledgeable – being smart – is no guarantee of a person keeping their promise. We all know smart people who do foolish things, especially in the area of marriage.

Some years back one of our shuttle astronauts, Lisa Nowak, an expert in robotics, was arrested and faced attempted murder charges for her actions regarding her ‘affection’ for another astronaut. She personally threatened another woman that this man, whom she claims to love, was seeing, and so she was arrested. And at the time of her arrest, she was a married mother of three holding advanced degrees and was a graduate of the naval academy.

Being smart, having smarts, does not guarantee that we’re good promise keepers. Nor is there any measure we can use as a guarantee of our ability to keep our promises. That’s what makes marriage such a risky thing.

It’s based on the promise of one person to another. I’m starting to make this sound like marriage is a bad idea… and that’s not the case at all. In fact, scripture calls us to be faithful in our marriage vows and urges us to uphold as sacred that which we promise to one another before the eye of God.

That’s why forgiveness in marriage is absolutely necessary. One of the cardinal rules I’ve learned to pass along from my training in marriage counseling is this: Forgiveness is the glue that holds a marriage together. Period. Because we all fail, we all need forgiveness.

And all true forgiveness is based on what God Himself promised us when He sent Jesus Christ to the tree of salvation, to the cross. Jesus died on that cross to show us how great is God’s passion for us. And in His dying and then rising again to new life, we have the guarantee of God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation to the world that can be found in no one else.

Just so in our marriages, as in all our relationships, forgiveness is needed because we are not the best of promise keepers. I think understanding that is at the heart of the Old Testament lesson from today. Jeremiah tells us in verse 5 “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength, and, He will be like a bush in the wastelands; He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

To trust in people as your source of hope and strength is to set yourself up for disappointment and dryness. To put trust that rightfully belongs in God, to put that in a person instead, will lead, according to Jeremiah, to living in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land; in other words a place of desolation.

I remember some years back driving along the Great Salt Lake between Salt Lake City and the Nevada border. That’s truly a desolate place that’s uninhabitable. It’s dry and wind-blown and the salty ground is white to the point of being painful to the eyes. There is nothing there that supports life as we would want to live it.

And that’s what happens when we put the trust in people that we should be putting in God for our hope. When we do that, we’re left with nothing, because people fail one another.

Then Jeremiah goes on to say, read verses 7 & 8 with me… “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

In these words, along with what’s in the gospel lesson we get a picture of the redeeming promises of God. To trust in the Lord and His promises is put down roots where the stream gives life to the tree. It is, in the prophet’s words, it is / to / be / blessed.

Turning to the gospel lesson today, before we close, we have more of God’s promises there. Jesus 4 times uses the same word as Jeremiah to speak of God’s promises, He uses the word ‘blessed’. When you look into that word and see its meaning in the Greek and Hebrew from which it’s derived, that meaning speaks of being fortunate or happy in the sense of being a privileged recipient of divine or godly favor. Listen to that again, to be called blessed to be in the position of one who is a privileged recipient of godly favor.

Listen to what applying that sounds like to what Jesus says in vss 20-22  , “you are a privileged recipient of godly favor you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 you are a privileged recipient of godly favor you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. You are a privileged recipient of godly favor you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22 you are a privileged recipient of godly favor when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. So, for the result of those who Jesus said are blessed, who are the privileged recipients of godly favor, read the 1st sentence from verse 23 with me please Jesus there says, Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.

We have the promise of heavenly reward from God Himself to put our trust in. He is our true lover in whose promise we trust and whose promise will never fail.

His promise is sure because His word is sure. Of all the promises ever made to you, the promise of God for your salvation in Jesus Christ is the promise that never fails.

In the name of the promise-keeper who came to grant us the sure hope of heaven, Jesus Christ, we pray, amen.

[Sermon #1003 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO]

First Reading                                                      Jeremiah 17:5-8

5 Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man     and makes flesh his strength,     whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert,     and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,     in an uninhabited salt land.

7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,     whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water,     that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes,     for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought,     for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 Epistle Reading                                           1 Corinthians 15:1-20

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

 Holy Gospel                                                                 Luke 6:17-26

17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

 

 

Feb 10, 2019 – Experience Perfection

Feb 10, 2019 –  Experience Perfection

I used to work for a wonderful guy, Norm Baggs in a bookshop in north Seattle.  We’d sometimes go to movies or out to eat and a few times to the Seattle symphony.

We had a regular customer who played violin in the symphony and she would sometimes bring in complimentary tickets. One Saturday she brought in tickets for Beethoven’s 9th for that night. So, we went. The seats were about as far back and high up as you could be in the concert hall. It’d been a long day of work, I was tired, and it was warm up there.

Now, the Ninth is very long! At one point about half-way through, when I was leaning back in my chair trying not to nod off, I happened to glance over at Norm. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, leaning far forward… with tears rolling down his face. Now, I don’t know if Norm was experiencing perfection or not, but for sure I knew he was experiencing something I wasn’t. And it was far closer to perfection than what I felt.

The idea of experiencing perfection sounds wonderful doesn’t it – I’d like to experience perfection wouldn’t you? Perfection seems as though it carries no worries, or anxiety – no dismay or fears. I think it might be an experience of bliss and joy, such as I saw in Norm. The idea of perfection conjures up in us a hunger for it.

We desire it because we perceive that perfection would mean that we lack nothing, need nothing and nothing would be a bother. Perfection, and the ability to experience it, would seem to be all about my personal freedom and peace… And yet.

And yet in the scripture readings for today we have two people who have been in the presence of perfection, and their    descriptions do not include any of the things we’ve talked about. Their experience of perfection was terrifying, humiliating, shameful, fearful and yet at the same time, gave them an experience of God’s grace.

It’s paradoxical that the idea we have of perfection is in sharp contrast with the actual terrifying experience of being in the presence of Perfection related to us in the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah. Try to imagine and sense what Isaiah saw and experienced in that vision of heaven:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth

With fear and trembling Isaiah labeled himself a ‘woeful’ man by seeing the Lord’s perfect presence. And yet there came also to Isaiah a sense of great relief and peace when the angel, doing God’s will, touched Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal followed by his sin being declared atoned for.  He now experienced the freedom of God’s action of cleansing atonement for him. Realizing what God’s grace to him meant, it was now right for him to be there, to be in the presence of the perfect, holy, living God.

And then God, from His throne makes a request. He asks for a volunteer to go and speak His words to the world. At this, Isaiah steps forward and knows that he can do this because of where he is and what he has experienced, by the grace of God.

By the declaration of forgiveness, in the presence of God Himself, Isaiah had been made acceptable to God. And, when God asks, Isaiah is prepared by God’s mercy and able to go and do as God prepared for him to do.

But the point for us today is that Isaiah feared to be in the presence of the living God because he understood himself to not be worthy to be there. He was sinful. And he was in the presence of sinlessness.  And so, there was an immediate recognition of his own unworthiness.

Think about a time when you recognized your own unworthiness. How does it feel to know you are wrong and you are guilty for it?  Perhaps it’s like this letter sent to the White House by a boy back in 1895. He wrote …

To His Majesty, President Cleveland: Dear President: I’m in a dreadful state of mind; and I thought I would write and tell you. About two years ago—as near as I can remember—I used two postage stamps that had been used before on letters, perhaps more than twice. I did not realize what I had done until lately. My mind is constantly turning on that subject, and I think of it night and day. Now, dear President, will you please forgive me? And I promise I will never do it again. Enclosed find the cost of three stamps, and please forgive me, for I was then but thirteen years old, and I am heartily sorry for what I have done. Signed; From one of your subjects.

We know the kind of dread that young man felt that made him write such a letter. And we’d be foolish to dismiss that sense of dread as being something childish that we all grow out of. Of course, the deed and the dimension in this story may be child size, but that feeling –the grip of fear and dismay – is something we can all relate to. Dismay is what I felt when I realized Norm was experiencing something I was missing at the concert.

Or consider this. To be exposed and without any cover of any kind is what Isaiah felt when he stood in God’s presence. That, Woe is me, that Isaiah said is our human reaction to the penetrating scrutiny of being in God’s presence.

The French general Lafayette tells us that he was once shut up in a little room in a gloomy prison. In the door of his little cell a very small hole was cut. At that hole, a soldier was placed day and night to watch him. All he could see was the soldier’s eye; but that eye was always there. Day and night, every moment when he looked up, he always saw – that eye. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘it was dreadful! There was no escape; no hiding’. When he lay down or rose up, that eye was watching him

The awareness of being ever-watched and seen for what we truly are is bound up in the dread that both the boy in the letter, and Lafayette felt. Such as what Isiah also felt and, what happened in the gospel lesson today, when Peter recognized Jesus as holy and  divine. Peter in his recognition of who Jesus is speaks of what Lafayette and the boy expressed.    Read with me please verse 8 of the gospel lesson. “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

When we think of being in the presence of the divine God we’re always brought to our knees in shame and fear. It’s our natural guilty reaction to the power and perfection of God. It’s like when Adam hid from God in the garden. When anyone is confronted with God’s divine perfection, we have no choice but to see our own guilty filth, our own sinful shame, our own utter poverty of purity; just like Peter.

Jesus is nothing but purity, light and peace. We are nothing but turmoil, angst, and darkness. And yet when we see Him as He is, we desire and crave more of Him … or we reject Him and loath Him.

And here’s the thing that overwhelms our fears like it did Peter’s; God, despite His perfection and holiness, still / wants / us. Though we see our shame and we know He knows it, yet still He desires us. His love reaches out to us through our dark and awful sinful condition and in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ alone, draws us to Himself.

Then Jesus said to Simon,

“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

Peter understood that Jesus was giving him absolution in the words Don’t be afraid. Peter experienced what Isaiah experienced: forgiveness from the Perfect One.

Jesus, the Perfect One – now in the flesh – granted to Peter the grace to follow Him, because Jesus loved Peter. Like Peter, we know that it isn’t because of any loveliness in us but because of the loveliness of Jesus that He grants us that same forgiveness also.

Though He is righteous and holy, and we are only vile and unrighteous yet, of His grace and mercy and His desire for us, He was willing to do whatever it takes to make us righteous. This His did so that He can bring us to Himself and we can be with Him in His Father’s mansion. It took the reality of the all-atoning death on the cross for Jesus for us to be made righteous and worthy, and like Isaiah, to stand now in the presence of God’s perfection.

Peter knew himself to be unworthy of the presence of the holiness that is embodied in Jesus Christ. Jesus had just brought to Peter great wealth, in terms of this world, through the large catch of fish. And this miraculous act made Peter aware of his own sinfulness. Such perfect wealth Peter knew came not from his own hand or work, but such a thing could only come from the work of God alone. This was a power that was not in Peter’s control and Peter had to bow down before it, to bow before Jesus. His is the power of perfection.

The experience of perfection is what Isaiah and Peter both had, and for both it was a matter of the power of the grace of God alone that allowed them to live. This perfection and power is what Jesus calls His followers to tell others of. Like the first disciples were to take the good news of the kingdom of God to others, so we also are given that same joy.

Others we love and know, need and desire the perfection that comes through the cross of Jesus bringing us the grace of God that enables us to be in the presence of God and live. By the blood of Jesus Christ, we are made perfect. It took the gruesome experience of suffering on the cross by Jesus to bring His perfection, His holy righteousness, to all people.

His experience of the cross we needed, in order that we can, through the grace of Jesus Christ alone, experience the perfection of God’s presence. In Jesus holy and perfect name we pray, amen.

[Sermon #1002 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO]

First Reading                                                             Isaiah 6:1-13

6 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:  “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’  10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

And he said:  “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the Lord  removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.  13 And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.”  The holy seed is its stump.

 Epistle Reading                                         1 Corinthians 14:12b-20

12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say  “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

 Holy Gospel                                                                    Luke 5:1-11

5 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

 

Feb 3, 2019 The Echo of the Gospel

Feb 3, 2019  The Echo of the Gospel

Once when I went for a haircut, I was quietly waiting for my turn when the youngest of three little girls, playing near their mom and dad, came over and sat down right next to me. She was followed by 5-year-old Madison. I know her name was Madison because she introduced herself to me, said she was 5, her little sister, whose name I didn’t get was 2 and what was my name?

When I told her my name was Tom she said, oh, like Thomas the Tank Engine. Knowing something of Thomas, myself, we talked about the various characters in the stories and I learned the older sister was 8. In the meantime, little 2-year-old got down to play and Madison then sat down right next to me and we talked some more. Then they all started getting called to haircuts and things quieted down. The girls were all very delightful and sweet and the parents engaging.

When it came time for them to go, they all gathered around mom and dad to leave except Madison. She came over to my seat reached up and gave me hug and said goodbye. It was just a normal thing. For her when you make a new friend and its time to go, you give them a hug and say goodbye before you leave. It was just the most easy and natural thing for her, and a delightful surprise for me.

I tell you this story because, it meant something to me, and I wanted you to hear it. I’m doing for you with this story what happened in the gospel lesson today with Jesus. I’m echoing back to you what has happened to me.

An echo is a natural thing. Like for Madison, when the conditions are right, she gives you a hug to say goodbye; and when the right conditions exist in the landscape or certain buildings, an echo results. Given the proper surroundings, an echo will happen naturally. It’s also a natural condition for a Christian. A Christian “echo’s” the news about Jesus Christ.

Look at the gospel lesson please. Notice that from verses 31-36 there’s an account of Jesus teaching, apparently in the synagogue since that’s where He also healed a man possessed by a demon. Then we come to verse 37. Please read that verse with me. And the news about Him spread throughout the surrounding area.

The news about Him spread… we get our English word echo from the Greek word behind that phrase. So, what this tells us is, that like me telling you about Madison, what Jesus did was told over and over or echoed around that region.

As a result of that echo more and more people came to Him to be healed. Even the demons, whom Jesus forced out of people, were echoing the truth about who Jesus is – the holy one of God. Again, our word echo comes from the Greek in verse 37 where it says the news about Him spread. When you look at the next verses, especially verse 42 you see that people came to him as a result of what they’d heard. And what they heard was an echo, not a rumor. An echo repeats faithfully what starts it. Like this, repeat after me – Jesus is Lord. That’s an echo.

The point is faithful repetition gets the message across. That’s what we’re about; we’re about echoing the news of who Jesus is, faithfully. Just like the prophet in the Old Testament lesson today. We’re to tell others what God has told us.

God said to Jeremiah in the second half of verse 7 today You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Jeremiah was to say what God gave him to say. He wasn’t to make something up on his own. He was to faithfully repeat to others what God gave him to say.

We can’t be like the prophet if we shut our ears to what God speaks to us. We listen to God as the prophets did, and that means hearing and taking in His Holy Word of scripture. The message we’re given to echo comes from the written word of God.

Remember these prophets didn’t just wait around sitting on their hands! They’re not simple one-dimensional characters, they’re people just like you and me. And like you and I they trusted and hoped in the promise of God’s word to them. They were people who listened to God and then told others what He gave them to tell. We actually have it easier than they did.

We have God’s word before us, if we want, every day; no waiting! It’s been gifted to us through holy scripture, so that we can listen to it, and as Luther has said ‘study it and inwardly digest it’. We can hold it in our hands, as well as in our hearts. We can do this by studying it carefully. If we’re not reading the bible, how can we hear God’s word to us to echo to others?

God’s word gives us the source of what we echo. Remember an echo doesn’t produce itself. An echo can only repeat exactly what the initial sound gives it. An echo is faithful in every detail to the original.

Now back in the gospel lesson today we see a good example of an echo. Jesus in verse 43 says ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent.’ He was echoing the word of God. Jesus echoed His Father’s word just as He echoed His Father’s will.

It was the will of the Father that Jesus be obedient to what He was sent to do. And St Paul tells us that Jesus was obedient even to death, death on a cross. Jesus’ obedience to His Father’s will, leading to His death on a cross, is what brought about the fulfillment of redemption that was the promise that God had echoed down the ages through His prophets. And in Jesus’ crucifixion, that promise was fulfilled; as was the promise of life again that was made known in Jesus rising from the dead. He is the first-born from the dead scripture tells us. This is the news we have to echo to the world around us. We have this good news of the kingdom of God, granted to us by grace, that Jesus preached that is ours to echo.

We’re to seek to give that message out, not keep it in. We’re not to be jealously keeping this to ourselves. An echo seeks to go out from its source. Yes, it bounces back, but when it does return back to its source, it’s not any different due to its journey. It comes back unchanged.

An echo must have a source, not of its own making. For us to be echoes of Christ we are, as we said, often in His word, on a regular basis. After all an echo must be renewed otherwise it can fade away. Again, we are regularly in God’s word so that the source of what we echo remains both fresh and true to that source.

I started out today by telling you my story about Madison, let me give another story to illustrate how important it is to echo good news.

A commuter on a suburban railroad was known to every regular rider on the 5:15 local. He was a well-dressed, quiet young man. As the train pulled out of the station, he would go to the front of the car in which he was riding and walk down the aisle, speaking to each seat load of passengers as he went. “Excuse me, but if any of your family or friends are blind or threatened with blindness, tell them to consult Dr. Carl. He restored my sight.” It was a courteous, confident, and courageous testimony, repeated faithfully. The man had good news and he echoed it over and over.

Before I close, he reminds me of Peter and John in the book of Acts when they were brought before the rulers, scribes and elders in Jerusalem for preaching and healing in Jesus name. In chapter 4 it says in part,

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus… 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

It was the good news of Jesus Christ that Peter and John were echoing. And that echo was disturbing. It should be disturbing, even today to those around us. What the name of Jesus brings is an affront to what Satan began in the Garden with his temptation. And people don’t want to hear the echo of Christ’s call to repentance. People want to be left alone in their sin and rebellion.

That’s why echoing the word of Jesus is disturbing. The sound of salvation that’s found in Jesus name is also the sound of the death of sin and sin doesn’t die easily. In fact, sin had to be nailed down in order to die.

Jesus took our sin onto Himself and nailed it to the cross in His body for the salvation of the world, after which He rose victorious. We echo the news of His victory when we, like Peter and John speak of Jesus and the good news of God’s kingdom. We echo the words of hope and life, which God has given us through His Living word, Jesus Christ, our redeemer and the Savior of the world! In whose name we pray, amen.

 

[Sermon #1001 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO]

First Reading                                                         Jeremiah 1:4-10

4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.

8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.

10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Epistle Reading                                         1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

31…And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 Holy Gospel                                                                 Luke 4:31-44

31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. 32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.

33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” 37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

38 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

40 At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

42 At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

 

Jan 27, 2019 – Jesus’ DNA

Jan 27, 2019 – Jesus’ DNA

One of the signs of aging is that many body parts no longer work the way they once did. I’ve experienced this with broken and worn-out bits in the last few months!

Last week, from the epistle lesson, we talked about tools – this week we start off again in the epistle lesson talking now about the body and the various parts of the body and how the body needs all of its parts.

Paul in Corinthians today calls the Christian Church the “Body” of Christ. The Body of Christ is made up of many individual members, each having their own unique gifts, abilities and functions within the Body.

Again, like we mentioned last week, each of us here can contribute to the ‘common good’ of this place and those we seek to serve in some way. Christ has called us to be part of His body in this place. But there’re dangers as we step into those roles. And among those is that we can become so inward focused, so focused on our part in the body, that we fail to take into account that Jesus, the light of life from God, is head of the Whole entire body, everywhere.

In my devotions the other day I read the following story. A group of animals decided to improve themselves by starting a school. The classes included swimming, running, climbing and flying. The duck, an excellent swimmer, was not so good in other areas, so he majored in climbing and running. As a result, his swimming suffered. The rabbit, the swiftest runner was forced to spend so much time in other classes that he soon lost much of his famous speed. The squirrel, who had gotten an ‘A’ on the first test in climbing, dropped to a ‘C’ because his teachers spent hours trying to teach him to fly. And lastly the eagle soon found he could no longer soar to the highest treetops because he’d had spent so much time learning to run. The point according to the devotional is:

If God made you a teacher – be a teacher. If He’s given you the gift of mercy, serve cheerfully. And don’t expect others to do what you do. Accept your spiritual gifts. Stop comparing. Enjoy being you.’

There are 2 lines there to point out. – ‘don’t expect others to do what you do… and … ‘stop comparing.’

I know both those things sound like law – however in the light of God’s Holy Spirit those things are actually freedom for us. We no longer need to feel we have to make everyone else jump on our personal bandwagon. And, we bear no burden for what God does with the spiritual gifts of the other parts of His Body, the Church.

Further we’re set free from comparing what we do to what others do. We no longer envy other, perhaps. ‘better-known’ body parts that have some measure of fame.

Very often when I’m getting a sermon ready, the law is found in the Old Testament lesson. But today the law is found in the gospel lesson. The law is seen in the way the people rejected Jesus inclusion of the Gentiles as people God loves. This inclusion they immediately understood when Jesus spoke of the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, both gentiles and outsiders in the eyes of the Jews. The danger of law for us is when we too, like those in the synagogue think we control the grace and mercy of God. I’ll come back to that in a bit.

But for now, let me say that when we get so focused on getting blessed for ourselves, we can forget that we have been given God’s grace in order to be a blessing. We’ve been given the Light of Life in order to share His good news, heard in the proclamation that Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah.

Those words that Jesus read are the first recorded words of His public ministry after being baptized. And Jesus goes home to Nazareth to begin that ministry. In the reading from Isaiah He did in the synagogue, He declares that its prophecy is fulfilled in Himself. These words from the scroll form the outline, the building blocks, for all that Jesus will do in the coming three years of His public ministry. Listen to those words again, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In these words, are the DNA, if you will, of all the words and all the actions that Jesus will do. From here forward, Jesus will do or say nothing that contradicts these words. The DNA of Jesus life is revealed in these words. God’s Savoir / Son was sent to accomplish His Father’s will in His all His speaking and doing; including His crucifixion and resurrection. That’s because from His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave comes our release from the ‘oppression’ of sin and also provides our access to the ‘favor’ of the Lord.

So, the DNA of Christ’s work, in His body on earth, is found in these words from Isaiah. Now since we’ve read in epistle about the metaphor of the Body of Christ, look at all the references to ‘the body’ in the gospel and the Old Testament lessons today.

As He speaks, using His mouth, the eyes of all are on Jesus as He reads the scroll. And in the Old Testament all the people there listened with their ears attentively to the reading from the book of the law. And in that reading we’re told that the people responded with praise and joyful shouts from their mouths of ‘amen’ meaning they were eager to put their hands and feet into service for God.

We also are given eyes and ears in our bodies to listen and receive God’s word and we too have tongues, hands, and feet to do His will just as they were so eager to do. At the feast that followed the reading of God’s law in the Old Testament, those who were unprepared were taken care of by those who had prepared. Is that fair? No, but it is merciful and right and important for us today. It’s important as it shows the body cares for all its members.

Now, back in the gospel lesson, the people who heard Jesus got upset and angry with Him when His words, after reading the scroll, revealed that His ministry and ultimately salvation were going to be for more than just themselves. It was going to also be for those who wereunprepared’ and living in the darkness of their sin. That meant it was for the Gentiles, such as Naaman and the widow, as well as the Jews. And this angered those who heard Jesus words.

They’d originally been pleased with Jesus words from Isaiah, but that’s when they thought they controlled him because they thought they knew Him. These same people got upset when He started speaking about times in the Old Testament when God showed his mercy to those not of the house of Israel. They wanted to keep Jesus, and the mercy of God, to themselves. They didn’t want God showing his mercy to anyone else. They resented Jesus for proclaiming that it was to be for all the world.

Remember that Jesus came to do His Father’s will, not the will of the Jews or the gentiles of this world for that matter, and The Father’s will was heard in the reading from the scroll where He was to preach good news to the poor and set the prisoners free. In this doing and saying these things Jesus’ as Messiah was to be revealed to the whole world, which sat in the darkness of sin.

There’s a lesson for us in the people’s reaction to Jesus wanting to take that good news beyond the confines of His heritage and hometown. We need to be cautious that when we’re talking about being part of the body of Christ, that we don’t become like they did, seeing themselves as the whole thing – as the only ones that God’s grace is intended for. Remember the devotional don’t expect others to do what you do’ … and … ‘stop comparing.’

Rather let’s be like the people in the Old Testament lesson, seeking to take care of those unprepared for the darkness and captivity under sin in our world. Christ, by His death and resurrection, has made us a part of His body so that we too proclaim His release and light from captivity and darkness; His hope, wholeness and healing to all who like us had been unprepared because of sin.

Like the Jew’s of the Old Testament lesson, we receive with our ears, the Word of the Lord with gladness and then, with our mouths, share its Good News with all. That Good News is what was in Jesus’ DNA. He came to proclaim that good news, and that is what He has revealed to us in these days of Epiphany, to we who are His Body. We also, then, may share the Light of Life with others, who, like ourselves, are in need of the healing that comes from being a part of Christ.

In the name of Jesus, the Head of our body, the Light of our life and our Redeemer, amen.

[Sermon #1000 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO]

First Reading                                          Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

8 All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…

5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground…

8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

 Epistle Reading                                     1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.  15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

 Holy Gospel                                                            Luke 4:16-30

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

 

Jan 20, 2019 – God’s Tool Box

Jan 20, 2019 – God’s Tool Box

A toolbox full of tools. Point out one box, many tools. Each tool has its own unique use. I wouldn’t use a hammer to fix my glasses and I wouldn’t use a screwdriver to pound a nail into a wall. Sometimes I do use a tool for something other than what it was made for and that usually has disastrous results. The main point is that there is one tool box and many tools. We are one church and we are all here in God’s love, which is His power in us. But we are all different and God uses us according to what He has made us for.

This illustration helps with understanding the epistle lesson for today. The verses in the middle of this lesson are the key here. They read: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

The point is that the Spirit is the one who empowers us all. And it is only the Holy Spirit of God that does that. We don’t get ‘energy’ from crystals, mantras or pyramids. It’s the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, who comes to us through our baptism and by faith, which empowers, enables and enlightens us with His gifts. Of course His greatest gift is that of salvation. Salvation by grace through faith isn’t something we achieve by our effort. That too is gift, pure gift. Faith is something that we’d never have thought up on our own. It’s something far distant from our lost human nature.

“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,” goes the line from the hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ implying, correctly, that – faith, trust in God’s grace, is not a human discovery but a divine disclosure (-X2). Faith is something taught to us by God. Moreover, faith is not ‘faith that’ something is true; but ‘faith in’  IN Someone who is Truth… Truth in human flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re in the season of epiphany, the time when we celebrate the revelation to the world that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

And in the gospel lesson today we see the God/Man, Jesus performing His first miracle which begins to show His followers His divine, Godly power. And in this miracle even Jesus uses tools. As Jesus turns the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, He uses the jars for purification. And that’s interesting as you can bet, from what the steward of the feast said, that this wine Jesus miraculously provides, was the best. I think there’s a connection of some sort between the rite of purification in the wedding ceremony and the fact that Jesus uses those jars to put the best wine in. Jesus, the Bridegroom is the one who purifies His church, His bride, by giving us the best wine there is, His own blood that cleanses us. Then of course the best wine that Jesus gives us is the wine that we partake of on communion Sundays. In His flesh and blood that we partake of in, with and under the forms of bread and wine in Holy Communion, Jesus delivers to us His gifts of purity, righteousness, holiness, and forgiveness.

He took on human flesh to win for us that gift of forgiveness by dying on the cross and rising again to life – in the flesh. He gave His flesh as a ransom for the price of our sin. God’s wrath and vengeance, that we deserved because of our refusal to obey His loving commands, required justice. And Jesus took that payment on in our place and then freely grants His forgiveness to all who trust in Him.

Forgiveness is not a natural, universal, inborn human virtue; forgiveness not something native to our sinful human natures. Revenge is natural and inborn. It’s normal for a human being to strike back when struck. Forgiveness is the peculiar attribute of a people who know that they first have been forgiven all, each and every one of their sins, through the gift of Jesus Christ. Having been forgiven, we are empowered to be forgiving.

In a hospital emergency room, an injured little boy holds out his arms for his father and cries, “Daddy, Daddy!” His father cries too, but he lets them take away his son because he knows it’s necessary. Our heavenly Father let His Son enter this world in human flesh to be our Savior, the sacrificial lamb who would die on the cross for the sins of the world. The Father let His Son go because He knew it was necessary – not for Jesus, but for us, for our salvation, for our cleansing. His Son went willingly because He too knew it was necessary for our eternal benefit.

Before we can bring any offering to our Lord, before we can receive any other of His gifts and put them to work for Him, before we can ask anything of Christ, before all that, we first trust Him as the One who takes away the sin of the world – the One who has completely accomplished the forgiveness of all of our sins. It’s that supreme gift of forgiveness that we have received from Christ that opens the door to heaven and frees us so that we can bring our gifts to our loving God and use them for His glory by His power!

So we don’t put any effort of our own into salvation in any way. But we do put effort into using the gifts of the Spirit He has empowered us with. We put forth our efforts together here to do what our mission statement says we do together; Hearing, Sharing, and Living the Gospel.

That doesn’t happen by keeping our tools in the box. That doesn’t happen by withholding the use of the tools – the gifts – God has given each of us here. As Paul says in the lesson today, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” and that ‘good’ is for each of us and for the good of others beyond our walls.

Let me point out some of the things that go on here ‘for the common good’ the things that it takes just to have worship each week. Now I’m not going to include myself or Sonya. She and I have our parts and you generously support us in what we do.

But to have worship each week someone has to – fill the candles with oil, light the candles, fill the flower vases, hand out the bulletins, change the paraments, change the banners, collect the offerings, count the offerings, deposit the offerings in the bank, turn on the sound board, run the organ and projectors and open and close the building. All of that is done by you, by people who have responded to God’s call to serve in these ways.

And we have communion 4 times a month. Luther has said, “Also the people are to be taught that this sign has been instituted not only to awaken faith but also to instruct us in love… We are not to harbor envy and hatred, but each is to care for the other, to help the other with alms and every kind of service which God has commanded us.”

It’s takes people who have volunteered to do the work of setting up and cleaning up the vessels, the host and the wine for taking communion. That task, though it may seem a simple matter, like turning on the heat and taking up the offering, it too needs only someone to exercise the gift of service to have happen. I’m grateful for those who’ve stepped up in this important service to the congregation.

Exercising the gifts, using the tools we’ve been given by the Holy Spirit is up to us. We’re not in charge of handing out the gifts we’ve been given, the Holy Spirit does that, but it is up to us to actually put those gifts to use. The doing of those gifts is in our control and so the question becomes, what have we done with what we’ve been given?

I’d like to quote something from The Hand Tools Institute (HTI). HTI is an association of North American hand tool manufacturers. They say, “Be certain that the hand tools you use are the correct ones to do the job. For example, many people are surprised to learn that there are at least 10 different types of wrenches, over 125 types of pliers, 12 types of screwdrivers, 15 types of hammers and many other tools that can save hours of labor.”

God may have many of us here who can do similar things, like those 125 types of pliers or 15 types of hammers, but that is God’s choice for this toolbox called Zion Lutheran Church. Our choice is about being faithful and responsive to what God would have each of do here and now.

Then HTI says something that fits so well with our scripture today, they say, “Remember one tool is not enough; there are many types of wrenches, pliers, hammers, etc., each suitable for a specific job.” God knows what you are suitable for, that’s why He’s given you the talents, skills, abilities, empathies and compassions that you have.

Luciano Pavarotti was once praised by an interviewer for his marvelous voice, to which Pavarotti replied: “Don’t praise me for the instrument. God made it. All I did was to have the discipline to learn how to play it!” May God give all of us the discipline to learn to use the tools He’s given us so that the world might be blessed through them.

We have been given the gift of salvation free and clear with no strings attached. This isn’t about showing God that He made a ‘good deal’ when He got you. Heavens, He knows what He got in the bargain with you and I so we know this isn’t about showing Him our goodness. No, this about responding to His grace and mercy. How do you put into action the Spirit’s gifts, the tools, that in Jesus Christ, He has freely given you?

In Jesus name, amen.

[Sermon #999 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO]

First Reading                                                              Isaiah 62:1-5

62 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.  2 The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  4 No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. 5 As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

 Epistle Reading                                             1 Corinthians 12:1-11

12 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Holy Gospel                                                                   John 2:1-11

2 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

Jan 13, 2019 – I, Too, Sent My Son To Israel

Jan 13, 2019 – I, Too, Sent My Son To Israel

A Jewish father was concerned about his son who was about a year away from his Bar Mitzvah but was sorely lacking in his knowledge of the Jewish faith. To remedy this, he sent his son to Israel. A year later the young man returned home. “Father, thank you for sending me to the land of our Fathers,” the son said. “It was wonderful and enlightening, however, I must confess that while in Israel I converted to Christianity.”

Oi vey,” replied the father, “what have I done?” So, in the tradition of the patriarchs he went to his best friend and sought his advice. “It’s amazing that you should come to me,” his friend stated, “I too sent my son to Israel and he returned a Christian.” So, in the tradition of the Patriarchs, they went to the Rabbi.

It’s amazing that you should come to me,” stated the Rabbi, “I too sent my son to Israel and he returned a Christian. What’s happening to our sons? Brothers, we must take this to God,” said the Rabbi. So, they fell to their knees and began to wail and pour out their hearts to the Almighty. As they prayed the clouds above opened and a mighty voice said, “Amazing that you should come to Me. I, too, sent My Son to Israel.”

Now I started with this story because of Who spoke last in our gospel lesson. How do we know that God, too, sent His Son to Israel?

Because, God the Father spoke from the heavens when Jesus was baptized. And when God spoke all those gathered around Jesus knew then that God had sent His son to Israel. There was no denying that God spoke from heaven and made it clear that this, His own son, was the One He’d promised to send to the people of Israel.

Look at verse 15 what does it say there about the people? Right, the people were waiting ex-pec-tantly; they were looking for the Christ, the promised one of God! The people had the expectation that God would fulfill His promise. They were seeking God to keep His word to them.

That word of promise is echoed in the Old Testament lesson today. In verses 5 -7 it says in part, Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

And the people in the gospel lesson today were wondering if John the Baptist was the fulfillment of that promise of God. They wanted God to ‘gather them’ and keep them separated from others in this world so they could glorify God. Of course, some just wanted the hated Romans to be gone, but still, such a desire was rooted in God’s promise to be called together in the name of God.

They were looking for the certainty of who John was and they were seeking certainty from God that He was keeping His word to them. This wasn’t something they did only on the Sabbath, this wasn’t just some religious observance they occasionally thought about or practiced, this was in the people’s hearts and minds. This was something they talked about among themselves.

That’s significant for us. In our coming together to worship we’re doing the same thing, we’re talking about God keeping His word and His promises. We come here to receive His gifts of word and sacrament that deliver God’s promise to us. We come and hear God’s call that we are His sons and daughters that He has created. We gather to talk, not about the hope of God’s promises but of His fulfillment of His promises.

So, we’re not that different than those people who were wondering if John was the Christ. And we are now able to see clearly the fulfillment of their hope, not in John, but in Jesus, revealed by His baptism! He, Jesus and not John the Baptist is the One in whom the longing of the people is made complete. Jesus is the One who relieves all the wondering (and wandering) of the hearts of the people in Luke and all people of all time.

Also note verse 21. Read that out loud with me, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened.” Jesus was baptized along with ‘all the people’ but at His baptism it says in verse 22, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. It also says that the voice of God from heaven spoke of Jesus and made clear to all people that this One, not John the Baptist, but that Jesus, was the fulfillment of God’s promise. This was God’s own Son whom ‘He too, sent to Israel’.

In His baptism Jesus has been revealed as the Christ as the promised one; and not only by His baptism but also by His birth and the events surrounding His birth. God used Gabriel and the angels and the shepherds and the wise men to demonstrate that His ‘ordinary human birth’ was for an Extraordinary Child.

The wise men are significant because last week was Epiphany, the day we celebrate the coming of the wise men. Christmas is our celebration of the appearance of Jesus Christ in human flesh – His appearance as true man. Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Jesus Christ as true God, the eternal and almighty Son of God in heaven. Again, in the Old Testament lesson God says of Jesus, I have summoned you by name, you are mine. During our Christmas celebration, we marvel that Jesus is truly human. During our Epiphany celebration, we marvel that Jesus is truly the Son of God.

And today, in His baptism, we see the beginning of His work on earth as an adult. In His baptism we see that the child born in Bethlehem is indeed the holy one of Israel and the hope of the world. He is God’s own Son sent to bring the forgiveness of sin and restoration to God that God promised long ago. What gives our baptism its power is what God does with it, not what we do.

That certainty of God’s work in us, comes to us in our own baptism according to what St. Paul said in the epistle lesson today. 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

That promise of resurrection is ours. It’s what’s poured out on us in our baptism. God does that! We don’t! God has chosen to give us that certain hope, that assurance of life new and life eternal, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We’re united with Him in death and in life through our baptism!

Let me ask, what do you want to be doing this year so that others can have the hope you have in Jesus Christ? If you had the permission what would you do so that others could share in the gift of God that is yours through your baptism?  I’m not asking you what ‘committee’ or board you want to be on, though that’s a good thing to do, but what do you want to be doing to enable us all to reach out in some way to Bolivar through Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel?.

The wise men brought gifts with which to worship Christ, what gifts do you bring? I’ll tell what gifts you bring, you bring the gifts that God, by His grace has equipped you with. But how will you use them? There are some things in life you can control and some things you can’t. But of those things you can control, you alone have the power to use your gifts or not use them. I think that God has given us great gifts and wonderful abilities in the people in this place.

There was a man in New York City some years back they called the subway superman. This guy, Wesley Autrey, jumped on the tracks in a New York subway and held another man still who was having a seizure and in doing so saved his life. When asked about why he did it he said that he had a choice to let his two little daughters see a man die or he could try and do something about it. He chose to do something about it.

Christ chose to do something about our ‘certain death’ situation and His salvation of us does not depend on what we do or what we know. We thank God for that. But that’s what Jesus coming to earth is all about. Because God, too, sent His Son to Israel we leave here today knowing we are Christians by His work. We know that our hope is in Jesus’ name and the work He has done. And we know that others need to hear that.

We are called to be faithful in telling the truth of Jesus, the Christ of God, for whom the world had waited. Jesus is the One who, by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, delivers us from our sin and from the shame of our rebellion against God. Jesus is the promised deliverer who, as we read today, the people were looking for at His baptism. We leave here today refreshed and restored by His work through our baptism and through the gifts He gives us – His word and His very life.

In Jesus Holy and life-giving name, amen.

[Sermon #998 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO]

First Reading                                                                Isaiah 43:1-7

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob,

he who formed you, Israel:  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;  the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’  Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed an made.”

 Epistle Reading                                                         Romans 6:1-11

6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 Holy Gospel                                                                 Luke 3:15-22

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”