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July 14, 2019 – “In-between, Do Mercy”

July 14, 2019 – “In-between, Do Mercy”

Psychologists performed an experiment on the power of peer pressure. They had groups of ten teens in a room with a chart on the wall that had three lines of different lengths. They were asked to raise their hand when the instructor pointed to the longest line. In each group, one person didn’t know the other nine had been coached to raise their hands when the instructor pointed to the second-longest line. The one single teen usually looked confused at first as the others raised their hand, but then went ahead and cast a wrong vote because they didn’t want to stand out. More than 75% allowed peer pressure to override their own better judgment. It’s hard to be stuck in-between what you know to be true and the wrong opinion of others that want to draw us away from the truth, isn’t it?

God, in the Old Testament lesson, says that the Israelites are to live in the ‘in-between’. They’re not to be like the people in Egypt that they’d left behind and they’re not to be like the people in Canaan, where they were crossing into. They’re told by God not to act like the people in their past and they’re not to do as the people in their present/future do.

So the Israelites, like that one lone teenager, are a people who stand out. Beyond the Jordan, they’re going to be different from the rest of the world and so they’re marked. God tells them, to live ‘in-between’ and not like those either in their past or present.

In verse 4 God says to them: “You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God.” The Israelites are to do what God has said they are to do. And not to do things like those they’ve left behind or like those where they’re going. Sound simple enough?

Well yes, it is a simple idea, but it’s not easy to do, that’s for sure. How the Israelite people act, what it is they do, is what God is telling them is important. They’re to do according to God’s word. They are to act according to His word. Now, that sounds like what we, as Christians are to do. What we do is supposed to be in accord with God’s word.

Why? Because like He did with the Israelites, bringing them out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, so He has done with us, in the cross of Christ. God has taken us out of our bondage in sin like He took the Israelites out of Egypt and made us His own. Like St. Paul tells us in the epistle lesson, For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We’re the people that God has, by the blood of Jesus, brought out from slavery to sin.

That’s what happens when we’re baptized in the name of the triune God, when we enter a life of faith. We’re marked with the sign of the cross that’s freed us from our sin. And we’ve been given new spiritual life in Christ through baptism by faith. We’ve been freed from the tyranny of sin by being forgiven, as St Paul told us. And that’s like what God did for the Israelites when He set them free from their bondage in Egypt.

And we, like these now freed Israelites, also live in the ‘in-between’. Remember they weren’t to live like those in their past and they weren’t to live like those around them do. They were to live in the in-between; in between their lives of slavery to the past and to the temptations of the present. That is us also. We are different than those around us because of what God has done for us. By the death of Jesus of on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the dead, we have been set free.

Again, in the epistle it says, live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work. So, we do things and live life differently because God has made us different by freeing us from sin. And in the gospel lesson, Jesus tells us about what the ‘doing of life’ is like for us. Now this illustrative story that Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan is a favorite one.

We have an underdog who turns out to be the hero. He comes along and upstages the ‘bad guys’, the guys, who in fact, are supposed to be good guys. And in so doing the underdog saves the day for the ordinary guy who’s been beat up. Samaritans were not trusted by Jewish society just because of who they are. That’s what makes this Samaritan the hero-underdog.

At any rate he gives aid, comfort, and care to our injured ordinary guy. The Samaritan takes care of him, as a hero should… by the effort of his own hands and with the money from his own pocket.

Then after telling this story Jesus turns to the expert in the law and asks him in verse 36 this question. Read it with me, please, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” And the expert in the law correctly answers, “The one who had mercy on him”. The one who had mercy; that is the neighbor. Notice that ‘the neighbor’ in this story is defined by his actions – by what he does. The neighbor’s not the one in need; the neighbor’s the hero who does the acts of mercy.

The neighbor does what’s needed for the other person. Now I’m not saying the priest and the Levite – the ‘bad guys’ – didn’t have good hearts or that they didn’t have sympathy for the man. But they simply did not do what was needed. They proved, by their lack of action, to not be the neighbor to the ordinary man in trouble.

Jesus makes the point that the neighbor is not the man who was beat up, but it’s the man who did what the fellow in trouble needed done for him. Then to really drive home the point, after the expert says that the neighbor was the man ‘who had mercy’, Jesus says what? Right, “Go and do likewise.”

Go… and… do. After all that is what this ‘expert in the law’ had asked Jesus about in the first place. To ‘love your neighbor’ is to show mercy to those in need. And that is exactly what Jesus has done for you and me.

He’s come and He’s done what we needed. He is our neighbor. He is our hero. He has shown us mercy. We’ve been beaten up and robbed by sin and Jesus takes us in and cares for us. God in Jesus has, as the epistle lesson says, he has ‘rescued’ us. Jesus is that Outsider who comes and has pity on us and acts on the need that we have. He does, from His heart of love, what needed to be done for all sinners. He took action on behalf of those who needed it.

We are that guy left for dead on the side of the road. In fact, we’ve beat ourselves up by our sinful ways. We aren’t just victims, we’re also the perpetrators of our problem. We’re the ones who chose to sin and in so doing we beat ourselves up.

But Jesus has ‘bound up’ our self-inflicted wounds by His wounds. And He’s paid for our healing from His own treasury. He provided us a place of rest and healing, in Himself,  when He carried our sins to the cross. And on that cross, He’s taken away the guilt of our sin. He did that. And because He did that, we are now different, and we act differently.

Jesus didn’t say to the lawyer, ‘go and feel like that Samaritan’. What Jesus told the lawyer is what He tells us – ‘go and do likewise.’ Mercy is not something felt, it’s something done. That’s what Jesus is driving at today. The Samaritan acted, the Samaritan did mercy. It was the priest and the Levite, the so-called ‘good guys’ of the day that went out of their way to avoid helping. They literally crossed the street so as to not have to do mercy.

And what does doing mercy look like? Look again in the Old Testament lesson. Mercy is shown there by how you harvest your crops. It’s shown by acting differently than those around us who seek only their own comforts and conveniences. Listen again to what God said, ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

God makes it very plain with these words that the practices of selfishness, greed, and idolatry are not to be the practices, the doings of God’s people. He’s saying; don’t do what you see around you. Don’t fall into the ways that seems easy, just to ‘get along’ in this world.

That’s what that experiment about peer pressure drawing us away from what we know to be true shows us. The way of the world is not the way of mercy. It is the way of self and selfishness. It’s the way of greed. It’s difficult to go against the pressure of this world and instead do what God asks us to do as He did with the Israelites. To be different and to live in the in-between is to be marked for death in this world.

But that’s what Jesus tells the expert in the law today – to be differentby showing mercy. We’re to be a good neighbor and do what those who are hurting and beat up by life need. Rather than pass by, through indifference or neglect those who need our help, let us act with one heart on the call to be different and live ‘in-between’.

We as God’s people act differently. Christ tells us when He speaks to the law expert today, ‘to go and do likewise’. Find someone in your life who the rest of the crowd ignores, someone who’s being neglected and beaten up by life and shoved aside.

Be aware of those in your world who’re avoided by others, maybe for a good reason or not. But that’s the person that needs a neighbor. That’s the person who needs mercy shown to them. That’s the one who needs a hero to tell them what Christ, the worlds true hero and neighbor has done for us all. And subsequently what He’s called us and redeemed us to do. Remember St Paul’s words, bearing fruit in every good work. We are to do for others what needs done for them, as that Samaritan did. We are to ‘go and do likewise’. Go and Do mercy.

And here’s just one way to do mercy, invite them to church to hear the same good news you hear. You are the neighbor who’s received mercy from Jesus and so you can pass that mercy on to those who are wounded, hurting, and overlooked. Invite them to live with you in the ‘in-between’ so they too can know, that God has done mercy for them, as He’s done for you – by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.

In His name amen.

 

Sermon #1035 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading        Leviticus (18:1-5) 19:9-18

1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. 4 You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. 5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. …

9 ” ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.

11 ” ‘Do not steal.  ” ‘Do not lie.  ” ‘Do not deceive one another. 12 ” ‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. 13 ” ‘Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. ” ‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight. 14 ” ‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. 15 ” ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16 ” ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. ” ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. 17 ” ‘Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. 18 ” ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Second Reading                Colossians 1:1-14

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 Holy Gospel                             Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”  27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

July 7, 2019 – “The Declaration of Independence”

July 7, 2019 – “The Declaration of Independence”

I love the 4th of July, don’t you? There’re some things about the 4th of July that are fun to know like; in 1778, General George Washington marked July 4 with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute. Also, every year since 1785, 1785, Bristol, Rhode Island has held a 4th of July parade, the oldest continual 4th of July celebration in the US. And that in 1916 the, now annual, 4th of July Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, Brooklyn in New York supposedly started as a way to settle a dispute among four immigrants as to who was the most patriotic.

Well those are some of the fun things about the 4th, but for me, what I really love about the 4th is what it’s really about – celebrating the signing of the document that declares our nation free and independent. The words, the words on that parchment that I’ve seen in Wash DC, those words are what get me. To be in the presence of that document along with the other Charters of our freedom is a very moving experience. These are the words that have set our course as a nation for the last 240+ years.

That’s why I wanted you to have a copy of that Declaration to take home and read. It’s two sided so you can have a look at the engraving that was made in 1823 by a man named Stone at the direction of John Quincy Adams, and then a transcription of it in plain type on the other side. Listen to just a portion of the words from the last section We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States;

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

If you’ve not read the whole thing since jr. high social studies, look it over again. It has some of the most powerful words in the English language. So powerful in fact that they set us free. They give to us a legal change of status.

To ‘declare’ is to assert something as being different than before the declaration. So our Declaration of Independence means that before we were dependent, and after the Declaration we are changed, we are now independent. So, what gave the signers that authority, what gave them the right to make such a declaration?

In the words presented in this document it is under the authority given to them, given to them by others, by those who chose them to govern them. That is to say, the signers were not acting out of selfish or personal motivation or authority. The basis of that Declaration is that ‘the people’ who put them into office have done so with the intention that these ‘in general congress, assembled’ act for them, act in their place and do what they have sent them there to do.

That idea of authority given and not taken is also at the heart of the gospel lesson today. The disciples were sent out by Jesus to act based on the authority He gave to them. And in that authority they acted. They declared people free from their ills and ailments, and also set them free from being captive to demons. But along with those actions Jesus also gave them the charge to say the words, “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” The disciples’ authority to act did not come from themselves but from the King of the kingdom.

Jesus, The King, acted on the authority of His Father but also on His own authority. For in fact He and the Father, in ways we cannot fathom, are one essence. We see Jesus’ authority verified when He tells His disciples in the 10th chapter of John’s gospel

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

And then He does just that. Jesus goes willingly to death on the cross and, based on His authority from the Father and His own authority as God; He takes up His life again. He thus gains the victory over the tyranny of death and sin that the world was held under. In this week that we have celebrated our national Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of the despotic king of England, we can only marvel at what Christ, the gracious King of Heaven has done for us.

The cost of our freedom in this country was borne by those who pledged their lives, their fortune and their scared honor to each other – and to you and me. We couldn’t be here today as we are, had they not fought and died. They did that for you and I, they carried that burden, for us.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. In the epistle lesson today, we hear these words. Our national forbears carried the burden for us of sacrifice and for us they demonstrated to us what St. Paul said about fulfilling the law of Christ. As we spoke of last week, that is sacrificial living. That’s what they did for us. They sacrificed for us; they bore the burden so we can be free to learn the law and love of Christ.

The war for our national freedom was waged with terrible consequences. Friends died in the arms of friends. There were those who died without being sure that the cause was going to be won. They gave their lives for the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence – not knowing for certain that its promise of freedom would come to pass.

And yet the death of those willing to give their lives for our freedom in the War of Independence reminds us of the greater death that Jesus died for our eternal independence. Jesus gained the victory of our eternal independence from the guilt of our sin and the condemnation of endless death. The war that Jesus fought and won for us, for our true freedom, was of a greater scale than that suffered even in the war for our national freedom.

Sitting here today, we can barely grasp what our forefathers suffered to backup the claims made in the Declaration of Independence. And yet we have in our heart the knowledge that most every generation in our country has had to put forth its own blood in order to maintain that Declaration. And make no mistake that still goes on today.

But can we grasp, along with that, the terrible cost that Jesus paid for our eternal freedom? This Son of Liberty who died, was the only Son of the Living God of heaven. And He took on His shoulders the sin of the world, so that the world could be free of sin.

Jesus gave His life for our freedom. And yet as we said before, it was by His authority that He chose to die, to willingly give Himself in our place. He lived the perfect life of innocence and righteousness and then died the death of sinners, so that sinners could have His righteousness. In being granted His righteousness, we are declared free. Just as the disciples in the gospel lesson today could declare people free from their bondage to demons and illness, so we hear our declaration of freedom from bondage to sin in Jesus’ words to the disciples today for them to ‘rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

That joy is what you and I experience each time we have confession and absolution. We come with repentant hearts and minds to hear and receive the Divine true pardon that is ours through the declaration, the proclamation of forgiveness to each of us.

As we said earlier; there is power in such a declaration. There is a change of being, a complete break with what came before the forgiveness that Jesus told us to declare. Through His blood our forgiveness has been established and each week, your total forgiveness is made clear in the words of absolution. And in those words, you are changed, you are set free, you have been cut off from the guilt of your sins and you are no longer the same. And like the disciples in the gospel lesson today freeing people by Jesus’ word, it isn’t my authority that gives that announcement of forgiveness its power. It’s by the power and promise, by the words and works of Jesus that I speak those words.

Now, one final note about the 4th of July. You may know this but it still gives me chills to think about. 50 years to the day after the Declaration was signed, two of its signers, one of them its major author, died. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within exactly 50 years after being together to sign the declaration.

Reportedly John Adam’s last words were ‘Jefferson lives’, though sadly he was already dead. However, we can say ‘Jesus lives’ and know it’s true. We know it’s true by His authority, which raised Him to new life and by which we are declared free.

In His name, amen.

Sermon #1035 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading                                                                                       Isaiah 66:10-14

10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. 11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”

12 For this is what the Lord says:

“I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. 13 As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;     and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

14 When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.

 Epistle                                                                                    Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18

6 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load. 6 Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Holy Gospel                                                                                               Luke 10:1-20

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

 

June 30, 2019 – “Bumper Sticker Theology”

June 30, 2019 – “Bumper Sticker Theology”

I’m not usually a fan of bumper sticker theology, cause it’s often so very bad, but here’s one that’s pretty close to today’s gospel lesson. It goes, He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.

In the gospel lesson we see three people that Jesus encounters. The last two of which have a ‘good excuse’ for not following Jesus. With these two there’s the idea of “I’ll follow you, but first…” That ‘but first’ is where things fall apart. Like in that bumper sticker, He who is good at ‘making excuses’ is seldom good for anything else.

Now, that jumps us over to the epistle lesson for a moment. There St. Paul talks about the sinful nature in us, the nature that’s at war with the spirit of God that lives in us through baptism into Jesus. We too know, because of our warring sinful nature, we too know what it is to tell God, “but first…”

When we put anything before following after Christ, when we tell God, “but first…” we’re elevating those ‘things’ to the status of being ‘god’ in our lives and so we break the first commandment to have no other gods, before the God of heaven. And, as seen in the gospel lesson today, that other ‘god-thing’ can be our family or friends. Or it can be the desire to promote a ‘cause of the month’ or a political agenda.  It can also be the things we crave or indulge, like money or gossip, or fill-in-the-blank for yourself.

And again, that puts us back in the epistle lesson. Because what does St. Paul say is the sum of all the commandments – love your neighbor as yourself.

So, we don’t use our freedom in the Holy Spirit selfishly. Here’s more good bumper sticker theology to go with that: Don’t be so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good. St. Paul speaks of loving your neighbor, not just tolerating him and not trying to ‘hoodwink’ him into heaven. Love them, as Christ has first loved you. Sacrificially.

Christ gave up His life to death on the cross so you and I and the whole world would know that by God’s love we have been forgiven: totally and freely forgiven. That sacrifice shows us what love is. There’s no greater intimacy with God than the love that He has shown us by the death of Christ for our sins. We have ‘intimacy issues’ with God when we make any other relationship more intimate or personal than our relationship with God in heaven.

When we use words like the 2 men in the gospel lesson, “I’ll follow you ‘but first’” that’s a telltale sign for us. And that’s because we can’t follow Jesus on our own. Satan uses our sinfulness to try and keep us from Christ. We, on our own strength or will, can’t choose to follow Jesus without a ‘but first’.

Jesus shows us in the gospel lesson, by means of these negative examples, that following Him is only good – so long as it’s perfect. And we can’t do that because we cannot keep the law perfectly! Only He’s been perfectly obedient. Only He has not ever said to God The Father, ‘but first’. Instead, He accomplished His Father’s holy will per-fec-tly. Without Jesus being that perfect follower of God’s will, we are utterly lost. But since He has accomplished that, He then gifts that perfect obedience to us. And now we’re right back to the epistle.

When Paul speaks of our human nature being in conflict with the nature of the Holy Spirit in us, we clearly see that we cannot be obedient in our flesh or by our own will or choice. No, it’s only in the free gift of living ‘by the Spirit’ that we’re free of the law. Again, that’s not by choice but by gift. That gift of God is what makes us, not just children of God, but also perfectly obedient children of God. Now, you may object to that idea.

Well, that’s because you know yourself and your sins. But you also know as well that you are perfectly forgiven of sin by the blood of Jesus from the cross! You are perfectly forgiven of sins and, and of your sinful nature. Your natural sinful state has been covered and clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone. That’s what comes to you by the gift of the Holy Spirit alone. You are set free and you now walk in The Spirit. Again, not by your choice but by His gift.

That’s why Paul says, keep in step with the Spirit. We do that. Not in our own strength or will, but by the power of the same Holy Spirit within us.  He makes that clear when he writes, in vs 16, So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

In the Greek that St. Paul uses, that last phrase can be understood as, we do not allow our sinful nature to be completed. That’s another way, another angle, of thinking about the indulging of our sinful nature. Yes, we can indulge ourselves and let ourselves ‘complete’ sin in us, but doing that goes against why Christ died. And completing the work of Christ is what we are called to do.

So, know the truth that we’ve been set free from the binding power of sin that rises naturally from our disobedience to the law from our birth. The result of that freedom in Christ for us is that the law does not bind us any longer, but rather, now, it guides us. That’s because we no longer live under the fear of punishment. We’re free from that by Jesus’ bloody crucifixion and resurrection. So, what’re we to do with our freedom?

Yes, we can indulge ourselves, but not without danger to ourselves, and besides that’s not what we’re called in Christ to do is it? Nor is it worthy of what Christ has done for us. He would then simply become our cosmic ‘get out jail free card’ wouldn’t He? St Paul is telling us that Christ died so that we may be free to serve Jesus and one another in love. It’s in that way that we ‘keep in step with the Holy Spirit.

Let me ask, was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross for you? Are you worth the sacrifice of the life of Jesus? / He thought so. So, you should see yourself that way too! And here’s more bumper sticker theology. Jesus loves you this much – then there’s a picture of Jesus on the cross with His arms spread wide. And in that love, He sets us free.

We are now set free in Him from bondage to sin. Sin grips us tightly and we oftentimes grip sin pretty tightly ourselves. But Christ breaks the grip of sin and He covers us with the robe of His righteousness, freeing us from being slaves to our indulgences.

In the Old Testament lesson, Elijah threw his mantle, his coat, over Elisha and so gave him permission to follow him. That covering gave Elisha the right to take up the call of being a prophet for God. Elisha did not make that happen for himself. That was freely done for him and that gift gave him all the authority he needed. He was given the covering of the mantle of Elijah as his own.

That’s what Christ has done for us as well. We’ve been given the covering of His robe of righteousness… asourown. And by His righteousness, we are set free to complete His work in our lives on earth.

That sounds bold doesn’t it? Being free to complete the work of Christ on earth.

But that is what we’re called to. We’re called to live the Gospel and we’re granted the authority and power, as Elisha was, to do the will of God. We did not take that on ourselves nor did we make some sort of ‘decision’ for ourselves that we’re now good enough to do that. No, completing the work of Christ, walking in the Spirit, is the gift of God to all.

Our salvation, our righteousness is given to us by the blood of Christ from the cross, again, just as Elisha received the mantle from Elijah. That gift of righteousness is what sets us free and that is what releases us from the grip self-indulgence.

I once found the ruins of a latticed window. A strong vine several inches thick had completely wrecked the once beautiful window and still held a bit of the latticework in a viselike grip. At some time, when the window still had its original beauty, a tiny, tender vine worked its way into the latticework. Had it been removed at that time; the window could have been saved. But it wasn’t. It was allowed to stay, and to grow, and to bind itself to the lattice. How well this describes the binding of our old sinful nature that day in the garden of Eden!

The point is that that ‘binding grip’ of sin has been released for us by the freedom God provides through His Word alone. By His word, sin has lost its deadly hold.  However, if we choose to use our freedom only for self-indulgence, we block the authority of the words and works for God us.

It’s remaining in the ‘cloak of the righteousness of Christ’ that sets us free as St. Paul spoke of today. And in that freedom is how we sacrificially live the gospel for the sake of our neighbor.

We are set free – to show Christ’s love to neighbor, friend, and relative alike so that they too can know the righteousness of Christ that’s theirs by the same gift you’ve received. Let us not be ‘so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good’ to our neighbor. Let the righteousness of Christ set us free to be Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel. In that way we live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. This for the sake of our neighbor, in the love of Jesus. In His name, amen.

Sermon #1034 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Old Testament Reading                 1 Kings 19:9b-21

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”

“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”

21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.

 Epistle Reading                          Galatians 5:1, 13-25

5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

 Holy Gospel                                          Luke 9:51-62

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

 

June 23, 2019 – “Stay and Tell”

June 23, 2019 – “Stay and Tell”

I don’t know if this only happens to me but there’re times that God, it seems, is toying with me or confusing me. I sometimes feel like I’m just left to wonder what God is up to in my life.

I know of a comedian named Steven Wright. He does a bit where he talks about naming a puppy. His idea is to name the puppy “Stay” just to confuse the poor animal. That way when he calls him, he says, “come here, Stay; come here, Stay; come here, Stay!” Well I’m guessing that such confusion is, perhaps, what

the demon-possessed man in the gospel lesson today must’ve felt. When Jesus had healed him, he wanted to go with Jesus, maybe thought it was only natural or even expected of him. But, no, Jesus told him to – stay! And that wasn’t the only thing Jesus said to the man.

He told him to stay… and tell. Stay and tell. He was to stay in that town and tell what it was that God had done for him. That idea of telling, sounds familiar to us as our mission is Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel. We’re also to stay / in our town and, share the gospel. And, like this demoniac who was healed, we’re to tell what God has done for us though sharing the gospel of Christ.

In this story, the man is demon possessed and is released from his demons by the word of Jesus. When Jesus goes to leave the town, at the request of the fearful people in that place, this man who’s been healed and has had his world totally changed, naturally wants to go with Jesus who healed him. But Jesus’ comment to the man was that he was to ‘stay and tell of what God’, what God (!) had done for the man! Notice the hugely important point from these few words… Jesus’ work is God’s work!

Jesus knows His own identity and with this bold statement makes it clear that He understands, and does not hide the fact, that He is God – in the flesh. When Jesus heals this man with His word of deliverance, Jesus does what only God can do; He restores this man.  Jesus gives him a right mind and sets him free from the power of sin, Satan, and death. Jesus is God in the flesh and here Jesus makes that clear, in His words and His works.

Jesus, in showing His power over Satan and his demons in this way, also shows us that we’re in the same condition as either this man or the fearful townspeople. That is, we either live in the abject fear of God and His power – just as the pig herders and people of that town expressed – or we’re like this poor fellow, bound under the power of Satan and sin, and needing the deliverance that Jesus grants by His Word alone.

And did you notice how the townspeople came to fear Jesus? It was by the witness of the pig farmers to what Jesus had done. The town was told! That’s the power of a witness. But in this case rather than rejoice at the work of God by the power of Jesus’ word, they reacted in fear.

We know that we, and all the world, need the ‘work of God’, need the deliverance He declares in the words and works of Jesus. And some people do receive God’s help with thankfulness and joy, relief and praise.

But some, some want Jesus just to leave them alone. They really don’t want to live free of sin and its power that both surrounds us and lives in us. And in so choosing to turn from Jesus, we can be condemned to the fires of hell reserved for Satan and all who reject Christ.

There are those who’ve said, or perhaps even we’ve said at one time or another, that we really don’t need God to get along in our daily life. We all know people who think that ‘religion’ is not for them. And many people are religious about believing that. In one sense they are right about religion. But we do need Jesus.

Everyone needs deliverance and healing through Jesus’ words and works alone. His works, His death on the cross and victorious resurrection to life, are what He promises in His word that give us life eternal in heaven with Him.

But for many people, they’re just too proud or seemingly self-sufficient to ‘need’ God. Sad to say, Andrew Carnegie once said: “I don’t want a free ticket into heaven!”  To such people  salvation by grace through faith alone is a very hard – difficult teaching.

It’s amazing to me that since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, we’ve found ways to reject God that – at their core – continue to be the same. But, God always, always (!) seeks after us. He comes to us. We’re in a world that, on the whole, rejects God. And yet we need not be fearful of what will happen as our future is in God’s hands. We simply receive what He has for us.

No, the world we live in still finds ways to spurn God as it has since Eden. Think for a moment, what have you seen in the news recently or heard in a conversation that confirms this for you? How many times have you seen others, or you yourself, cover up sin and call it something else, like ‘it’s just a quirk – it’s only a small failing I have – it’s my choice – it’s not really hurting anyone? We say those things because no one likes the idea that they sin! To admit to sin would mean there’s a Judge who is greater than we are. No one likes that idea. We like to be the center of the world. So, it’s no different today than even in Isaiah’s day as we read in the Old Testament lesson. Isaiah outlines ways that people offend God.

And in the townspeople in the gospel lesson we see what Isaiah describes. In verse 1 Isaiah tells us that God ‘reveals Himself to a people who did not ask for Him’. Isaiah also points out that there are people who, in verse 4 sit among the tombs. It’s uncanny how this passage from Isaiah has elements in it from the gospel lesson. It even speaks of pigs! The condition of our world, as Isaiah describes it, has not changed.

The question is… will we recognize the condition we’re in? Will we receive the healing that God brings to us in Jesus’ words and works and be set free like the demoniac? Or will we, like the townspeople and like Isaiah said, reject God – out of fear? That’s an important question to consider.

We need to recognize that fear is what those around us live in. Fear, whether they realize it or not, is at the root of why they reject God and His love in Jesus Christ. And, if we’re honest, we too have done that in our own lives in various ways.

As we live mindful and aware that we are living in the grace and mercy of God, we see more clearly that God is in control and not us. It’s a Hebrew way of thinking – it’s both/and – we are both totally free and at the same time totally in the will of God, by /His /grace.

I know that for me fear of not doing the right thing is often what I let prevent me from living in the freedom Christ has died to give me. Fear is that thing that can paralyze me into inaction just because I’d rather not do anything rather than do the wrong thing. Wayne Gretzky, the hockey star, once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

Well, not ‘taking shots’ is wrong for me since I claim to be free in Christ. In believing the truth that I profess to be found in scripture, then I need not fear. I am free to try and do the right thing and if I make a mistake in trying to do what I believe God wants me to do, then I trust in Him to both forgive me and to correct me.

God does correct us when we do the wrong thing, but that’s done out of His love for us, not as punishment. I need not fear His punishment in that way. Jesus has taken the wrath of God on the cross. Christ has taken away all divine punishment for all my wrongs, all my sins…all my fear. Jesus didn’t punish the demoniac for doing wrong; rather Jesus took away what it was that caused him to live as he did. Jesus removed the source of his torment.

Jesus, by His cross and through the Holy Spirit in His Word and Sacraments does that for us. He removes fear by His grace to us. There’s a parody of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers that goes: “Onward Christian soldiers, running from the war With the cross of Jesus hid behind the door.”

Well, that is not us. We don’t hide the Cross of Jesus behind the door and we don’t run from the war we’re in. We gather together here in faith, faith in the power of God’s words and works to deliver us. We know we have been delivered from our fear, and from being the possession of Satan. The blood of Jesus from the cross has accomplished that and He has delivered faith to us. The epistle lesson today says, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed”.

We’re reminded in these words what it is to have been locked up, being fearful and rejecting God just like those we seek share the gospel with. But by faith coming to us, coming to us through the declaration of God’s word, we are set free. We have been released.

We’re not confused about who we are unlike that puppy named ‘Stay’. We are not held in bondage like the townspeople in the gospel. And we’re not like Andrew Carnegie!

We embrace the ‘free ticket’ to heaven that’s God’s gift to us through the costly sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His victorious resurrection to life again. We are now soldiers of that cross and we’ve been given our right mind and been clothed; like the demoniac.

Now don’t miss this! We’ve been clothed in the righteousness of Christ and we’ve been given the mind of Christ. So, for us, we hear Jesus’ words to the demoniac now for ourselves. Jesus says for us to stay and tell. We get to tell what God has done for us.

And that brings us back to the subtle power of the statement that Jesus made. What Jesus’ work has done for us He’s done because He is God in the flesh. His power and work have been revealed to us, as Isaiah said, even though we were once a people who didn’t ask for God to reveal Himself to us. Yet in love He has done just that. Reveals Himself.

I love that He’s sent our demons to drown in the baptismal waters we’ve been washed with. We have been freed of that deadly fear that once possessed us. We’re now in our right minds, because we have the mind of Christ. And Jesus wants us also to stay and tell by Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel. What form will that take for you this week? How will you be intentional about sharing; about telling the gospel?  In Jesus name, Amen.

Sermon #1033 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading                                                                                    1 Kings 19:9b-21

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”

“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”

21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.

 Epistle                                                                                            Galatians 5:1, 13-25

5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Holy Gospel                                                                                                Luke 9:51-62

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

 

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.