Category Archives: Sermons

Jan 10, 2016 – I, Too, Sent My Son To Israel

Jan 10, 2016 – I, Too, Sent My Son To Israel

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

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

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

Now I started this sermon with this story because of Who said what’s on the front of the bulletin cover. How do we know that God, too, sent His Son to Israel?

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

Look at verse 15 what does it say there about the people? Right, the people were waiting expectantly; they were looking for the Christ, the promised one of God! The people had the expectation that God would fulfill His promise. They were seeking God to keep His word to them. That word of promise is echoed in the Old Testament lesson today. In verses 5 -7 it says in part,

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

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

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

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

We’re not that different than those people who were wondering if John was the Christ. Notice that here, in the baptism of Jesus, is found and revealed the answer that the people were looking for. Jesus, not John the Baptist is the One in whom the longing of the people is fulfilled. Jesus is the One who relieves all the wondering (and wandering) of the hearts of the people that Luke mentions in verse 15.

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

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

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

The Wise Men presented to Jesus special gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These special gifts pointed out Jesus’ kingship, in the gold; His divine nature, in the incense; and His necessary death, in the myrrh. If you could have joined those Wise Men to visit the Christ Child, what gift would you have brought for this King?

Well, we can bring gifts to our King and Savior. He’s with us even today. Our worship services are a gathering of Wise people; wise men, women and children, who come to worship our King and Savior. Every time we worship we can bow before him and offer Him the gift of our lives, of all that we are and all that we have, our precious time, talents, and worldly treasures.

The wise men came and gave to the Christ child gifts that have meaning for His life and death. What they brought spoke of their comprehension of who Jesus was and what His work would be.

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

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

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

Let me ask, what do you want to be doing this year so that others can have the hope you have in Jesus Christ?

If you had the ‘permission’ what would you do so that others could share in the gift of God that is yours through your baptism?  I’m not asking you what ‘committee’ or board you want to be on, though that’s a good thing to do, but what do you want to be doing to enable us all to reach out in some way to Bolivar through word, worship, outreach and service.

The wise men brought gifts with which to worship Christ, what gifts do you bring? I’ll tell what gifts you bring, you bring the gifts that God, by His grace has equipped you with. But how will you use them?

There are some things in life you can control and some things you can’t. But of those things you can control, you alone have the choice to use your gifts or not use them. I think that God has given us great gifts and wonderful abilities in the people in this place.

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

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

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

In His name, amen.

 

Sermon #805 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

 

Old Testament Reading                                                                                               Isaiah 43:1-7

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—     he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;     the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;     I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”Isaiah 42:1 : S Isa 20:3; S Mt 20:28

  1. Isaiah 42:1 : S Isa 14:1; Lk 9:35; 23:35; 1Pe 2:4, 6
  2. Isaiah 42:1 : Mt 3:17
  3. Isaiah 42:1 : S Isa 11:2; S 44:3; Mt 3:16-17; S Jn 3:34
  4. Isaiah 42:1 : S Isa 9:7
  5. Isaiah 42:1 : S Ge 49:10
  6. Isaiah 42:2 : Pr 8:1-4
  7. Isaiah 42:3 : S Isa 36:6
  8. Isaiah 42:3 : S Job 30:24
  9. Isaiah 42:3 : S Job 13:25
  10. Isaiah 42:3 : Ps 72:2; 96:13
  11. Isaiah 42:4 : S Isa 2:4
  12. Isaiah 42:4 : ver 21; Ex 34:29; Isa 51:4
  13. Isaiah 42:4 : S Isa 11:11
  14. Isaiah 42:4 : S Ge 49:10; Mt 12:18-21*
  15. Isaiah 42:5 : S Ge 1:6; Ps 102:25; Isa 48:13
  16. Isaiah 42:5 : S Ge 1:1
  17. Isaiah 42:5 : Ps 24:2; Ac 17:24
  18. Isaiah 42:5 : S Ge 2:7; Ac 17:25
  19. Isaiah 42:6 : Ex 31:2; S Jdg 4:10; Isa 41:9-10; 43:1
  20. Isaiah 42:6 : Isa 45:24; Jer 23:6; Da 9:7
  21. Isaiah 42:6 : Isa 41:13; 45:1
  22. Isaiah 42:6 : Isa 26:3; 27:3
  23. Isaiah 42:6 : Isa 49:8; 54:10; 59:21; 61:8; Jer 31:31; 32:40; Mal 3:1; S Lk 22:20
  24. Isaiah 42:6 : S Isa 9:2
  25. Isaiah 42:6 : S Isa 26:18; S Lk 2:32
  26. Isaiah 42:7 : S Ps 146:8; S Isa 32:3; Mt 11:5
  27. Isaiah 42:7 : Isa 49:9; 51:14; 52:2; Zec 2:7
  28. Isaiah 42:7 : S Ps 66:11; S Isa 24:22; 48:20; Zec 9:11; S Lk 4:19; 2Ti 2:26; Heb 2:14-15
  29. Isaiah 42:7 : S Ps 107:10, 14; Ac 26:18
  30. Isaiah 42:8 : Ps 81:10; Isa 43:3, 11, 15; 46:9; 49:23
  31. Isaiah 42:8 : S Ex 3:15; S 6:3
  32. Isaiah 42:8 : Isa 48:11
  33. Isaiah 42:8 : S Ex 8:10; S 20:4
  34. Isaiah 42:9 : S Isa 41:22
  35. Isaiah 42:9 : S Isa 40:21; Eze 2:4

 

 

Epistle Reading                                                                                                           Romans 6:1-11

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

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

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

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Holy Gospel                                                                                                                   Luke 3:15-22

 

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

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

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

 

Jan 6, 2016 – Epiphany – Iguanas Fall from Trees

Jan 6, 2016 – Epiphany – Iguanas Fall from Trees
I remember some years back, seeing unusual headlines one week in January that talked about snow falling on Daytona Beach. And the other headline said ‘Iguanas fall from trees with the cold snap in Florida’. Do you remember that? Those are the types of headline that makes you wonder what’s going on in the world. Snow on Daytona Beach isn’t usual is it? And ‘iguanas falling from trees’ sounds like something Rod Serling or Stephen King cooked up. It’s the sort of thing that makes you stop and think.
That’s sort of what epiphany is – something that makes you stop and think. Let me tell you, when someone says they’ve had an “epiphany”, sadly I think of the movie “Hook”…But that aside, when you talk about what having an epiphany means … it’s a revelation, a moment of clarity or some call it an ‘a-ha’ moment. That’s what we get in the gospel lesson today, an ‘a-ha’ moment.
This is a moment of revelation to the world, this moment when the magi come to Herod and ask about the place where “The King” was born. The king’s coming wasn’t some small private matter, as today’s gospel lesson makes clear. His coming as a baby to Judea, to the town of Bethlehem, this was something the whole world took note of. The universe responded to it. This Baby’s birth was no small matter.
Look at the nouns, the people, mentioned in this gospel passage. There’s Herod, magi from the east, all of Jerusalem, the chief priests and teachers of the law and Mary. This coming into the world by God in this infant Jesus was NOT an unknown event in some backwater town! In looking at the list of people involved the ones that stand out for us, this Epiphany evening, are the wise men or magi.
Looking into research on the Magi we find they belonged to a group of gifted sages, well known in the history of the Persian Empire, who specialized in everything from astronomy to religion. Magi living in Babylon doubtless came into contact with the descendants of the Jewish leaders and rabbis exiled by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.
A large Jewish community stayed in Babylon for the next 1,000 years. So, these Magi would have been familiar both with Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament as well as the star as the symbol of the Messiah. Numbers 24:17 says “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob, so their famous question upon reaching Jerusalem; “Where is the newborn King of the Jews, for we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” was not asked out of a vacuum.
We actually know very little about these particular Wise Men. We don’t even know how many there were, the Bible doesn’t say. Though 3 is a good number, imagine having 40 Wise Men in your nativity scene. We say 3 because only 3 gifts are mentioned (gold, incense and myrrh). The early church spoke of 3 Wise Men, even coming up with names for them: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. One of the greatest scholars of the Early Middle Ages, The Venerable Bede, wrote this about the Wise Men of our lesson:
“The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and a long beard . . . who offered gold to the Lord as to a king. The second, named Caspar, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned . . . honored Him as God by his gift of incense, an offering worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned and heavily bearded, called Balthasar . . . by his gift of myrrh testified that the Son of Man was to die.”
So God coming into the world was not a small thing. And take note that Jesus was marked for death from His very birth by both the gift of myrrh and the actions that took place after today’s gospel reading. Remember the story that Herod had all the babies in and around Bethlehem killed in an attempt to murder Jesus as a child. So death is what the world wanted for Jesus from the time it was known that He was born.
Again, Jesus’ birth was no small event. And now, with the coming of these non-Jewish wise men from the east, because of a star in the heavens, the whole world was aroused and / “a-ha” / was made aware that things were now different… because God has come to earth.
And in typically rebellious human fashion, we sought to destroy Him. Jesus came, and He came to bring us the gift of life. But it was death that greeted His arrival. The gift of life is Christ’s offering to us. We are changed and our view of our world is changed by this gift from Jesus.
But remember this applies only to Christians. We see the world as different because of what Jesus has done by coming and dying on the cross and rising again to give us eternal life. But most people in our world today don’t realize that’s the real truth about Jesus. And that truth is what we get to come alongside them to help them to see and hear. We get to share with them the gift of life we’ve been given, a gift most of them don’t even recognize they need. But we know and we are responsible to live in this world and share what we know so others too may have Life eternal in Jesus.
We need to spend ourselves, to spend our lives, as gifts to those around us, telling them what’s been told to us. Jesus spent His life for us; He did that so that we would know His gifts of freedom, peace, and love. We’re given this gospel so that we can be spent in giving that away to others. That’s the thing with gifts; they’re only gifts when they’re given away. Look again at the gifts given to Jesus in the gospel lesson today.
The gifts of the wise men, as we said, pointed out Jesus’ kingship, in gold; His divine nature, in incense; and His necessary death, in the myrrh. But it was through His singular death that His gift of life for us was accomplished. Knowing what gifts, the so-called, Caspar, Melchoir and Balthasar brought leads me to ask you to think about this, what gift would you like to have given the newborn king? Now, consider what gift do you bring to Him in your daily life? Give that some thought.
It is our faith to believe that this Child the magi bring their gifts to, is both fully God and fully man, at the same time. This isn’t just some kid who later was elevated to the status of being God because He earned by His good works. NO! He was from infancy, from within Mary’s womb, He was God; He was God in the clothing of human flesh and blood.
The magi coming and giving their gifts was putting the world on notice that God had now come to us. This epiphany, this revealing of who Jesus was, was bigger than merely a simple, ‘a-ha’ moment.
The magi, these men from the east, these were not Jews (!) just as we are not Jews. But their coming was evidence that the whole earth was being awakened to a new paradigm, a new way of seeing things, it was a new thing, a heavenly thing, and something such as had never had happened before, but… it will happen again, so we’re promised. It will happen when Jesus returns.
But today, in scripture we see the epiphany, the revealing of Jesus, as a shift in the world. It’s a sea change like we would never have understood before the coming of Christ. We’ve been granted through Jesus, the gift of God’s grace to know and understand that this Child comes to give us God’s grace and mercy through His own sacrifice. The result is eternal life for us, instead of eternal death. This change, this “a-ha” moment is not about snow falling on some beach or iguanas falling from trees. This is not about the changes that happen in a family, a school, a workplace or a congregation, no; this change moves us beyond this world and out of ourselves.
This change comes to us because this Baby has come to us. GOD HAS COME and has not left us alone. It is His gift of life to us that we take and share freely with others. We are who we are today because Jesus is who He is today and always; He is the revealed Holy Son of God in the flesh.
In His name we pray, amen.
Sermon #804 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading Isaiah 60:1-6
60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.

Epistle Ephesians 13:1-12
3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Holy Gospel Matthew 1:1-12
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Jan 3, 2016 – the infinite God in a finite Child

Jan 3, 2016 – the infinite God in a finite Child

This first week of the New Year I’ve been filing away sermons from the last several weeks and as I did so it occurred to me just how many hundreds of sermons I’ve preached. And though my sermon style has changed over the years, the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ dying on the cross and rising again for our justification, hasn’t changed. And hopefully that message has gotten clearer and more sharply in focus as I’ve preached. Every day when I put on my seminary ring I’m reminded by the inscription on the inside, of the words of the Greeks to Philip in John 12: 21,“We would see Jesus”.

Those words remind me that, like those Greeks asked of Phillip, it’s important that I remember that it’s Jesus that needs to be heard from through what I say, and not me. It wasn’t Phillip that the Greeks wanted to hear from, and it’s not me that you need to hear from. It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus and His words are what we all need to hear and learn from. “We would see Jesus” are words that help us all to remember to ‘get out of the way’ so that Jesus can be seen through us by how we all speak and live. We want to point others to Him and not to ourselves. We want His light to shine, not our own.

On the Irish Sea coast I understand there’re twin lighthouses, set about 500 feet apart on opposite sides of an estuary. There’s a powerful light in one of the lighthouses, but the other only has prisms and mirrors that reflect the light from the first lighthouse. Yet from a distance, both seem to shine the same. In a similar way, God’s great love in Jesus Christ can be reflected through our lives, to others because His great love has first been poured into us.

And in the coming year our pointing to Jesus, our reflecting His light and love, is going to be important for those that we meet in our day-to-day lives. In the year to come, others need to see in us, by how we live, act and speak; they need to understand the hope that God gives to them through Jesus and His love for them. They’ll only be able to see that light of Christ through the hope in Jesus that you express through the words and actions of your life.

Also in the coming year there are some words from the gospel reading today and from the Christmas Eve gospel lesson to bear in mind. I’ve got a friend who’s said that today’s gospel reading is like a soap opera in one way. Just a few days ago we were seeing Jesus as the newborn infant and now we’re talking about Him as a 12 year old boy. That kind of time compression is something we see in stories and tv shows.

But the words about Mary from today’s lesson are ‘and His mother treasured up all these things in her heart’ and from Christmas Eve we were told, ‘Mary pondered all these things in her heart.’ How those words are important for the coming year for us is, that we will be spending much time in the gospel of Luke and such words as these have led many understand that Mary herself was the source of much of Luke’s information in writing portions of his gospel account. And his gospel account is written from the perspective of someone speaking to a Greek thinking audience. That’s you and I; we’re Greek type thinkers, not so much Hebrew. So our time in this gospel account can only help to aid us as we seek to, as we said before, to reflect the light of Christ into the lives of our fellow Greek thinking friends, neighbors and families much like Phillip and his Greek friends.

Like I said, my sermons have changed; but the word of God has not changed. God’s word will change you, but It never changes! I bring this up today because, in the gospel lesson, we hear the boy Jesus speaking the word of God in the temple. We hear Jesus, at 12 years old, confounding the elders, the wise, grey heads sitting there with Him. His words, even at that age, carried with them the authority and truth that was recognized by those old heads, as words that reflected the true light of scripture.

Again, though my sermons have changed – Jesus’ word has never changed. And the world around you and I needs to hear His word today as clearly as they did in the temple on that day. This Boy that they see is the infinite God in the form of this finite Child. And His word alone is what purifies, renews and makes whole that which was broken down and rotted through thoroughly by sin. In other words, His word alone cleanses us.

Michael W. Smith, a Christian musician has a song with these lyrics: is there a way to unlearn, that carnal knowledge that keeps chipping away at my soul. That “carnal knowledge” that Smitty speaks of is what works to break us, to soil and dirty us; from the day we’re born. We have carnal knowledge, knowledge that tries to limit us to only what our bodies desire or need; to confine us to the sensual, which chips away and grinds us down, and pummels us under its unrelenting attack. But in our spirits, made alive through the new birth in our baptisms, in our spirits, we desire for there to be purity where we’ve not had it before.

We want think that we were once so innocent. We want to think that we were like Jesus as we see Him standing there before the wise men of the temple in the gospel lesson today. But we were never that pure, innocent or clean. Unlike Him, we’ve always had the sinful nature of defiled carnality within us. Even from birth. We’ve just grown more sophisticated in how we use it, hide it and adapt to it. We’re lost in sin.

We’re like the village idiot who people kept stopping on the street and asking to pick between a nickel and dime to see which is worth more. He would always pick the larger coin, the nickel, and the people would walk away saying, see what an idiot, he took the nickel. But later in life the ‘idiot’ said that if he’d starting picking out the dimes, people would stop giving him money. He’d found a way to adapt, to hide. And that’s what we’ve done; we’ve found ways to hide our sin, to adapt our carnal knowledge to our surroundings so we think we can et away with what we think we want in this dark world we live in.

It’s only the purity of Jesus Christ that can cleanse us of that. We can never scrub away the rot and filth that our carnal knowledge has attached to us through its unrelenting attacks and our giving in to it. We can never bring ourselves to the light and the purity we long for. That purity is what we see in the gospel today, in Jesus giving His answers full of wisdom and understanding.

And notice that it isn’t only to the elders that he speaks. In fact Jesus’ first recorded words are found here in today’s lesson and those are to His parents. And notice that His questions to His parents make a reference to the God of heaven being His father.

These first words from Jesus’ lips are a testament to His being the Son of God! These words are an affirmation of Jesus as the incarnation, of His being fully man and fully God. Of the many false teachings and heresy’s surrounding Jesus from the earliest days down to today is that Jesus was a man who was somehow specially blessed by God. That heresy is defeated by these words from Jesus. Again Jesus is speaking words of purity and light to both His parents and to the elders and teachers.

And we long for that light and purity for ourselves. Again, it is not, nor has it ever been, within us to do or accomplish that on our own. And that’s what drives us to need what Jesus offers.

He gives us that purity, as a gift, through His willing and chosen sacrifice for us. I can’t imagine what it was like for Jesus to live in human flesh as He did. He gave up His divine prerogatives and His holy place in heaven to live among us who struggle in the dark with the carnal knowledge we live with. He was surrounded by us here on earth and yet He remained free of sin’s stain. Though He bore the weight of all our sin He did so without ever sinning Himself. He never succumbed to the temptation of sin and its power that chips away at our souls.

To live as He did, bound up in human flesh, and yet be pure God and wholly divine is not something we can fully grasp. He lived and was worshipped in heaven as the eternal Son of God and yet… He set all that aside to live with us inside time and space. He was the infinite God in a finite Child. He who created time and space now lived as this son of Joseph and Mary, within the confines of flesh and blood, the very flesh and blood He designed and brought into being. This Boy we see standing in the temple this morning was the God of the universe who had to live within the constraints of the day-by-day and moment-by-moment lives we all live. He was the limitless power that created and sustains the world Who now lived in the mundane and limited confines of time.

And so He patiently… patiently beyond our knowing, He patiently answered the elders’ questions. He who appeared as a child was in fact answering questions that to Him would have been childlike from these elders. These ‘wise sages’ were asking the God of the universe things that to them were profound. And yet Jesus in His divinely infinite patience answered them all and appeared to their old eyes, only as a precocious child. They couldn’t grasp that this Child standing before them was indeed older than all of them, infinitely more so because it was He that created the time in which we all live.

He created time, life and light. And as we said it’s His light that we desire to have shine through our lives in our time. God chose to confine Himself to live as we do in the child Jesus and to give us His new life won by the work of the man Jesus on the cross. Remember what it was the condemned Jesus to death before the religious leaders of His day.

It was very much like the words He speaks to His parents today. He makes it known; He makes it clear that He is the Son of God. His words, His first recorded words as well as the words that condemn Him form a sort of frame or bookends, if you will; for all that we’ll be reading about in the life and ministry of Jesus this year. The words today, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my father’s house” and the words later in Luke 22:70-71 “They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’ He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’ Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from His own lips.

Those lips that spoke both things, which condemned Him to death, are the lips that speak life and peace to us. They speak His holy light and life into our lives. Our baptismal life that we have is His new life in us by His word alone. And that’s what we long for others to know as well. His word never changes nor does He ever leave us in the dark.

We have, in His Word, the life and light living in us through His power poured out on us in our baptism. Let us live this New Year shining out His light to others so they too can stand in wonder with the elders at Jesus, the infinite God, in a finite child.

In His name Who is our Light, life and Peace, amen.

 

Sermon #803 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

 

First Reading                                                                                                               1 Kings 3:4-15

4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

 

Epistle                                                                                                                      Ephesians 1:3-14

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

 

Holy Gospel                                                                                                                  Luke 2:40-52

40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

 

May 3, 2015 Vine & Branches

This is the audio for this sermon

I have 2 good sayings to share with you. The first from C.S. Lewis is – A person cannot remain ‘a good egg’ forever. One must either hatch or rot. And the 2ndGod loves you the way you are! But He loves you too much to leave you that way.

These sayings help us see that growth and maturity in the Christian’s life is something that’s unavoidable. In the gospel lesson today Jesus talks about that. He speaks of maturity and growth for His followers by first being connected to Him and – important word here – remaining connected to Him.

Jesus uses the image of vine and branches and how it is that the branches produce fruit. That image reminds us of something we instinctively know; that only as branches mature, after being grafted into the vine and remaining in the vine will they then, inevitably, produce fruit.

In verses 2-3 Jesus said, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” 

Do you notice that there is cutting, the use of a sharp tool, that’s involved in both these things? One form of cutting leads to growth while the other leads to permanent separation. Also notice that it’s the Gardner who does the cutting and no one else. He does it as He sees best for His garden and the health of the vines.

The point is that the fruit, which is the good works we as Christians do, that fruit, doesn’t make a Christian ‘better’ or ‘cleaner’ in Jesus words. Christians are already clean, that is, justified and pure, because of the Word of the Gospel. Being grafted into Jesus, the vine, makes us clean. And we are clean because, Christ is risen…

Good works, our fruit, isn’t optional but neither is our fruit the cause of our salvation. Good works will surely follow from true faith, as surely as fruit grows from a vine that has mature branches that’ve been pruned for growth by the Gardner.

When we’re baptized, we’re grafted into Christ. And through confirmation, private devotions, bible study here at church and your own bible reading, we mature in Christ. In this way we – using that important word today – we remain in Him. Remain is a key word in this gospel reading.

Some form of this word in the Greek is used 10 times in the reading today. 9 times the form of the words that Jesus uses applies to the disciples and His call for them to remain in Jesus and abide in His words or commands. The single very last use of the word is to describe how Jesus lives; as one who remains in the love of the Father. That’s a nine to one ratio.

This ratio points out two things. First and most obvious is, that Jesus strongly desires to have this abidingly close connection with His followers. But perhaps as equally important is the one time Jesus applies it to Himself. He does so as an example to the disciples of what He’s meant those nine other times. That it’s in His Father’s love that He Himself does remain. This one use emphasizes that as Jesus remains and abides in the love of the Father so also are all of Jesus’ followers to remain and abide in His love.

This word also carries a sense of long duration; duration that never ends in fact. When we live and abide in the love of Christ, our state of existence has forever been and remains changed from before. We’re now living the duration of our life in His love. There’s a never-ending quality that comes with remaining. And that sense of never-ending comes from the source of that love. That source is God, our Heavenly Father.

Remaining and abiding in the love of the Father happens only because He calls us to that and He gives that to us as His gift. Look back at the first reading from today, there the eunuch is called and given a place in the kingdom of God. The eunuch, though a believer in Yahweh, would’ve been unqualified to enter the dwelling place of God on earth, the temple, due to his status as a eunuch. The Jewish ceremonial laws would have forbidden that. However God didn’t count that against him as demonstrated by having Philip present to him the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Though the eunuch was separated by his physical condition from the earthly house of worship for Jews, God didn’t consider him removed from His grace. God sent Phillip to him with the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ and the eunuch, through the gift of faith in Jesus, was grafted into the vine of Christ.

The gospel is what binds us to the vine, to Christ. But if we’re separated or cut off from that vine then we’re without hope. Read with me please the 6th verse of today’s gospel lesson. “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” That’s a truly hopeless and lost state – to be useless to God. That’s what it means to be withered and dried up and then gathered up and thrown into the fire. That indeed is to be left in despair. And that is what we were before the coming of the gospel. But God has called and invites all people to be grafted into Jesus, the Vine, and through that same gospel to remain in Him, as He did with the eunuch today.

Then if you’re without hope, it’s because you’ve chosen to cut yourself off – to cut yourself off – from the grace of God. This eunuch received the mercy of God by having the word of God opened to him and his receiving that word.

And Phillip did a good job of explaining doctrine to him. We know that because of the question the man asked Phillip when Phillip was done with the explanation of the Old Testament in light of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. His question was; here is water is to prevent me from being baptized?

This man understood from the clarity of what Phillip said that God’s gift of new life can be received by hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. And so this eunuch right now, today, is in heaven with God by the grace of Jesus Christ. And when we get there we can ask him about what it was like to have Phillip simply appear on the road and share with him the gospel message from the Old Testament and then disappear. We also, like this eunuch and by the same message of grace, have been grafted into Christ.

As we remain in Jesus and mature in the Vine we, naturally, produce fruit for God. We’re not grafted into the vine to simply feed off it and never grow or produce fruit. Remember what C.S. Lewis said about the egg, you either rot or hatch. We also either grow or are cut off from the Vine.

Remember the words from John’s epistle today, verses 9-11, This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We’re called to continual maturity in the love of Christ. And so we produce fruit reflecting the life we’ve been given by Jesus and His death on the cross and resurrection. Our fruit has His goodness in it.

We’ve given our pledge, through confirmation, and the many times we’ve renewed our baptismal promises, to remain in the vine and so to live fruitful lives of holiness before the eyes of God.  By faith we remain, by the gift of faith we’re attached and grafted into Christ. And that alone is what gives us the power to mature and produce fruit. Remember the other saying from our opening; God loves you the way you are! But He loves you too much to leave you that way.

Take a moment right now and reflect on the power of the Vine that you have been grafted into. Take a moment and ponder the nature of Christ that flows through your veins and producing through you the fruit of His love. Remember that God’s love will not leave you unchanged, like the saying says, He loves you too much to leave you that way.

How will you now live that each day? How will you show that love with one another here, with each other in your homes, with friends, co-workers and schoolmates? Remember it’s the fruit of Christ that you exhibit in your life.

It’s the blood of Christ that has come to us from outside ourselves and now flows through our veins, and so makes us new and gives us the Vine to remain in. Will we fail to keep His commands perfectly, to remain in His words? Yes, but there is a cure for that failure and it is the same cure that never fails. It’s His righteousness; His righteousness that comes upon us by faith through our baptism, through the sacrament of the altar and through the hearing of His Word. In these things He delivers to us in fact, His forgiveness for our failures.

And it’s in that forgiveness and love that we remain forever. Do we need to obey? Certainly. Again, will we fail, of course. Will God forgive? Always. We can never fail beyond His ability to forgive. That’s what the cross and resurrection proves to us. We live and love and remain in His word of forgiveness and love.

As we go today, be mindful as we started out, that God loves you the way you are! But He loves you too much to leave you that way. In Jesus Name, amen.

Sermon #766 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

First Reading                                                                                                                  Acts 8:26-40
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Epistle                                                                                                                            1 John 4:1-11
4 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Holy Gospel                                                                                                                   John 15:1-10
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.                                                                                                        5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

 

April 3, 2015 Good Friday

Tonight in midst of this beautiful music that tells us of Christ on the cross, telling us what it is that Christ suffered and endured on the cross to satisfy the divine holy wrath of God the Father, we hear the words of Jesus from Matthew 27:46 which frame our final question in our series of 7. This, our last question in the journey of Christ from Gethsemane to now at Golgotha is from Jesus to the Father and reads. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As we ponder the deep, deep message through the music and readings tonight, this question of Jesus brings into sharp relief the cause of Jesus going to the cross. This of course is our wretched, vile, shame filled, lives of sin. It’s we; we’re the ones who’ve put Jesus on this cross of which we sing about tonight. And this question of Jesus to the Father is, for Christ the fulfillment of the curse that man has brought under the law. This is the death we should be dying.

Though we brought death into the world, it’s God, through Jesus Christ, that has now brought life. But He’s done so in a way so unexpected, He’s brought us life only through the death of His only Son. It’s His death that brings us life. It’s we who’ve brought death through our sin; it’s He who’s brought life through His sinless life and perfect death of atonement. Hymn 452 vs 4

But even if we had died the death we owe, our death would not bring about our atonement, only the just and right punishment we owe for our sin. In Jesus quoting Psalm 22, in this question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we hear that the debt for all sin has been paid – on the cross – in that very time and place for all eternity.

We often forget that when Jesus spoke these words, this was not the first time they had been said. King David spoke these words before in the psalm and I would encourage you to look them up on your own tonight and ponder them till Easter morning. But tonight we look at these words in the sense that Jesus spoke them to His Father so that we could hear them and know that our debt for sin is eternally paid.

Focus for a few moments on what it means for Jesus, God in the flesh, to say the words my God my God why have you forsaken me? Do not miss that Jesus does not address God here as ‘Father’ as He almost always does without fail in the rest of the gospel of Matthew. No, He says my God; not my Father. Also notice that the words of Jesus indicate a condition of current distress, as in, ‘why have you gone away and left me alone now, why is it that you have now turned your back on me?’

The time of silence that preceded this question is the time in which the Eternal Father had turned away from the Eternal Son and abandoned Him. Jesus, as we’re told elsewhere, has on the cross, become sin for us. And the holiness of God could not look upon the blackness of sin that Christ became. Therefore God did something that had never happened in eternity, the Father turned away, turned His back on Him and left His Son alone.

Remember in the story of the prodigal son, that son leaves and goes off to the far country, but here in the reality of the cross, God the Father turns and leaves the Son alone on the cross in those three hours from the 6th to the 9th hour as our text tells us. Now we might be tempted to think that that isn’t so bad, only three hours. You’ve sat through ball games that have lasted that long, and that’s no big deal. But remember we’re talking about the eternal here. This abandonment is not limited by time and space, as we know it.

For us we see only the three hours that passed. Yet there must be some eternal aspect to this suffering of Christ, which we cannot grasp, as He is an eternal being. And as we cannot fathom such depth we must learn from His words, is finished that He spoke on that cross in time. And so the payment for our sins is now and forever, eternally, full and complete. That ‘eternal’ separation from God, which is punishment for sin, is what completed that payment in our place.

Jesus had become sin for us that we might have His righteousness. For that to be so, God has to turn away from our sin and sin can never enter into the presence of God. Think of it this way; for the eternal to be separated from the eternal for even a moment is an eternity. This is the great cost of each of our sins. The Father cannot see sin; so Christ became our sin and was therefore abandoned by God the Father. Christ has forever taken that separation of God from sin on Himself for each of us.

So our last question tonight tells us that in time and space, the judgment of God upon sin has been forever and eternally answered and paid. There can be no other further or additional elements of atonement for sin because in Jesus’ death all sin has been forever paid for. There is nothing you can offer, do, or exchange for what Christ has done on the cross for you. You cannot affect the atonement because it is the gift of God in Christ reconciling to the world Himself, for you.

Remember that in Holy Communion Jesus established that rite for us by saying those words. We hear Him say, given and shed ‘for you’. That is what God has done for each person. That is how the atonement touches our lives.

And in the question from Jesus tonight my God my God why have you forsaken me we hear that our punishment has been taken. Our separation from God is no longer what we fear, only because Jesus has endured that.

You cannot alter, add to or contribute anything to affect the atonement of Christ, and you need not do so. I will close out our 7 questions with one more question for you to think on as you read Psalm 22 in the hours ahead; as you cannot change the atonement of Christ, will you resist what His atonement has done for you? Or rather, will you let the cross of Christ change you?

Sermon #761 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Fourth Reading (The suffering leads to death.)

It was about noon when darkness came over the whole land, lasting until three in the afternoon, because the sun stopped shining. About three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why did You forsake Me?” When they heard Him say that, some of those standing nearby said, “Listen! He calls Elijah.”

After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to have the words of the Scripture come true, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”A jar full of sour wine was standing there. Immediately one of the men ran, took a sponge, soaked it in sour wine, put it on a hyssop stem, held it to His mouth, and offered Him a drink. The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.” When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, “It is finished!” And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.” After He said this, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. Just then the inner curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and the bodies of many believers (saints) who had been sleeping were brought back to life. They came out of the tombs after He     had risen and went into the Holy City where they appeared to many people.

 

April 2, 2015 Maundy Thursday

‘Stripped for Work’

I’m a sucker for insurance, that’s why I don’t talk to too many insurance people. I like the idea of a guarantee. I like the feeling of assurance that things won’t be stripped away from me without any backup or help. When I think of a guarantee I sometimes picture it like a seal on a document from ancient times. When someone wanted to be sure that what they sent in a letter was guaranteed to reach the other person, unaltered in any way, they would seal the letter with a wax seal and their own signet ring or mark. That was the guarantee of security that the message would arrive as designed.

That’s what we have in the words of Paul that we read from Corinthians tonight. Those words are what Christ used to seal and guarantee that we would truly receive His body and blood in the Holy Supper. His death on the cross, stripped of all earthly dignity, is a guarantee not only of our salvation here and now, but the promise that heaven also would be ours.

And that comes from the words For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. It’s the work of the Lord’s death that seals and guarantees His words of promise to be present in Holy Communion and to return to earth again in glory and power. The work He did, of dying on that cross, was so that He could deliver in full the promise of salvation, redemption and restoration with God, the Father in heaven for all who believe Him.

His death seals that to us. And by His Holy Spirit given to us by faith and through our baptism, we’ve been marked with His ‘signet ring’, the cross. He’s made us now the bearers of His message of reconciliation and hope. Again, we’ve been marked, how? By the cross of Christ in our baptism. And, like the messages of old, sealed with the signet ring, we now bear the message of Christ to the world. We speak of His work of salvation on the cross. And that same cross upon which Jesus died, is what we proclaim as we came to Holy Communion. When the Lord gave His words of institution at the Last Supper, He was giving us the promise that He paid for when His life was stripped from Him on the cross.

We’ve had a few people die in our congregation in the last couple years. All of them left some form last will and testament. Some were more formal than others but all of them are important messages. However they only took effect, they only gained power to be enforced, after the person died. It was by their deaths that their messages acquired the power they wanted them to have.

So also with Jesus and the words He used to bequeath His promise to us. They also only took on their power through His death on the cross. After His death His words now have the power to deliver to us what He desired us to have, and that is His presence with us now and forever.

As we have come to the table tonight we heard His words instituting His holy meal. Those words have their power through the work of the cross on which He died, tomorrow. Remember that as He gave these words He was within hours of His death. He knew that and so He spoke also the words that give this night it’s meaning.

Maundy Thursday is understood to be so named because of the Latin word mandatum, from which we get the word mandate. It means ‘command’. The Lord this night, before going to the cross, doing His work there of salvation, gives a new command, a new testament. And with His death He puts into force these words, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

That is His bequest to us, to love one another as He has loved us. And how has He loved us? By serving us in going to the cross. And not only that but He gave us a real-world demonstration of what that new command to ‘love one another’ looks like as He stripped Himself of His outer clothing and took up the basin and towel to do the work of washing the feet of His beloved disciples. He stripped Himself for the work of love.

The altar we use represents Christ and by stripping the altar of its usual adornments on this night many things are symbolized: the abuse and scorn our Lord endured this night, the stripping of Jesus by his captors (both of his clothing and his dignity) as well as the abandonment by his disciples at the trial.

In earlier centuries, the altars on this night in some churches were washed with a bunch of hyssop dipped in wine and water. Augustine Joseph Schulte says that this was done “to render them in some manner worthy of the Lamb without stain, and to recall to the minds of the faithful with how great purity they should receive Holy Communion.” He adds that the ceremony was intended also as homage offered to Jesus in return for his humbly washing the feet of his disciples. When we strip the altar tonight, think of Jesus and how He laid aside His tunic and tied the towel around Himself. As we said, He stripped Himself for service, for love.

And yet later He was stripped by others, and made a mockery of before leading Him away to die. On Maundy Thursday we discover that when everything else has been taken away, something remains. When all is lost and removed, yet there still remains for us the altar in its starkness. Reminding us of what it meant for Jesus to lose everything in order to do the work His love required. He teaches us the art of losing. Jesus doesn’t offer us a way to escape losing, but rather He teaches us a better way to lose. To lose all for the sake of love.

The bare altar reminds us that Jesus never lost who He was as the Son of God. That it is the Son of God, the Lamb of God, who is stripped of everything … except love. It is His love that we see in the work of the cross. He forgives His torturers and killers from the very cross they lift Him up on. And His death seals for them and for us and for all people the forgiveness that is His dying bequest to the world.

Remember when He told Nicodemus those years ago, that the Son of Man must be lifted up and so draw all men to Himself? That’s what He leaves the upper room tonight to do. When we leave here tonight, after having seen the altar stripped we go knowing what will happen in the next few hours when Jesus is again stripped by others who will put Him to death. And we also go knowing that is not the end. We have the assurance and hope of Jesus’ resurrection to look forward too. That after all is the joyous conclusion of His work of love. It is in that hope that we endure the next 3 days of repentant sorrow and mourning for our sins and the terrible, horrible cost that was paid by the work of Jesus that He goes forward now to do, for us.
In the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, amen.

Sermon #760 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Old Testament Reading                                                                               Exodus 12:1-14, selected
12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt… 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are… 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast… 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

Second Reading                                                                                              1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Holy Gospel                                                                                                      John 13:1-17, 31b-35
13 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.       2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”                 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”                                         9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

March 29, 2015 The Threat of Jesus

Have you ever felt threatened? Driving along the west side of lake Tahoe – places in that road are threatening. Drop-offs with no guardrails, it’s a threatening place to go. And being threatened is what the Pharisees felt in today’s Palm Sunday gospel.

They saw Jesus as a threat due to His popularity. But Jesus’ popularity wasn’t based on fame but on His humility. We’re reminded in the epistle lesson today that He became humble and human so that He could take on the frailty of flesh and die the death needed to redeem everyone from sin.

But that redemption could only happen by His death. So He emptied Himself and, He became the servant of all. He said to the disciples that to be the greatest among them is to be the servant of all of them. Jesus wasn’t popular because of overwhelming the crowds with His divine splendor, glory or majesty, but, because He came and served them. He fed them, He healed them, and yes they watched Him overcame death for them when, among others, He raised Lazarus from the dead. But all of that wasn’t done with the benefit of a ‘PR’ guy. Jesus needed no such spin-doctor to color His actions.

And yet the Pharisees tried to paint Him to the people as a threat to their security. And in truth He was a threat to them, but only to the security of the people’s pride and their sinfulness. And the Pharisees painted Him as threat to Pilate by inciting the crowd against Jesus, as we’ll see later.

On Palm Sunday though what they say about the crowd is ‘Look the world has gone after Him’ when it’s the Pharisees themselves who should be following Him. After all He’s fulfilling a prophecy they would surely have known. We read that in Zechariah 9 this morning.

So why is it that they stood aloof rather than being in front lines, leading the cheering section? Could it be that they were too skeptical? We think we’re so modern and so distant from those ignorant people of bible times. And yet if you dare to watch any talk shows, you hear almost nothing but cynicism coming from many of these so-called comics. It seems they’ve been schooled at the knees of the Pharisees.

How much of what passes for humor today is nothing more that what we hear the Pharisees saying to themselves as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the waving of palms and the cheers of the world that He has, indeed, come to save. No doubt many of those cheering truly thought that they believed that Jesus was coming to redeem Israel. They’d seen Him raise Lazarus just a few days before this. How could a Man who could that, not also overcome anything else?

This man defeated death, what could the Romans do to Him? He would be king, their king, the promised holy one from long ago. Never had they seen such a display of power over death. And so they had hope, but their hope was, misguided.

Their hope was not focused on the things of heaven yet, but still on the things of earth. They were hoping for this Vanquisher of Death to vanquish the hated Roman occupiers.

Returning to the Pharisees as we close. Yes, they knew the prophecy. But to admit that Jesus was the fulfillment of that prophecy would mean more for them than that just the Romans could be overthrown. They perhaps thought that they themselves would be ‘out of a job’ as well. For they would then have to bow their knee to this true king of the Jews.

But the truth is that God sent this, His Only Son, to redeem the world of its sin, not just to take the place of the priesthood that God Himself had established. Threat and fear is what the Pharisees based their actions on. Many today do the same thing. They mock Jesus. They deride Him. They seek to make Him a threat. And in truth He is.

He is a threat, to each of us. He threatens our self-sufficiency. He threatens the imagined security in which we sin. And He’s exactly what we need. We need this Servant-King to die and rise again to rescue us from our false earthly security and to grant us the true peace of heaven. Behold our king comes to rescue us, Amen.

Sermon #759 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Old Testament Reading           Zechariah 9:9-12
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Epistle           Philippians 2:5-11
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Palm Sunday           Gospel: John 12:12-19 (Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey.)
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to
Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out,
Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O Lord!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!
And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt! His disciples did not understand these
things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been
written about Him and had been done to Him. The crowd that had been with Him when He
called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The
reason why the crowd went to meet Him was that they heard He had done this sign. So the
Pharisees said to one another,
You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him.

March 25, 2015 Lent Service 6

Tonight’s text brings us to the last question asked regarding the person of Jesus in our series of 7 questions. Next week our 7th question will be from Jesus to the Father. But tonight Jesus is the bystander, the silent subject of the question that Pilate puts to the crowd. Pilate in verse 22 asks, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?’

As we read earlier, the context for this question reveals some important details. Those details lead us to the conclusion that: Pilate asks the wrong question, to the wrong people and so he invites the condemning to death of Christ.

In verse 15 we are informed of a custom that the governor releases one Jewish prisoner at Passover as an act of mercy and compassion. The Jews are the ones who get to decide who the lucky prisoner will be.

In verse 16 we are told of Barabbas. We’re told he’s notorious, other translations say, notable or well known, all of which means everyone knows he’s a ‘bad man’. The gospels of Mark and Luke both mention that Barabbas was known for murder among other things. Mark tells us that Barabbas was one among many other prisoners held at that time. That bit is important also because in verse 17 Pilate offered the crowd only the choice of Jesus or Barabbas. And here is where Pilate’s cunning and craftiness comes out.

Pilate offered no other choice besides Barabbas for Jesus. And so it is that the government ruler over the land of Palestine acts as the world does toward Jesus Christ. Remember that this custom of releasing a prisoner was an act of ‘mercy’. Pilate is taking this act of compassion and twisting it for his own political purposes. People still try to twist mercy and compassion and get mileage out of it to make themselves look good. In it’s politics called ‘making hay’. No matter what you call it, it’s taking what’s intended as mercy and stripping that away in favor of political gain.

This question tonight is political gain for Pilate in that he’s tweaking the noses of the Jewish leaders by only offering a choice between Barabbas and Jesus. And again Pilate reveals the ways of the world in doing this. Barabbas is notorious. Barabbas is a known murderer. Barabbas is guilty and no one argues that. Barabbas is not an innocent man or a man guilty of only a minor infraction. He’s a notable felon. And Pilate, like the world, wants to trade a guilty man for the innocent man Jesus Christ. Later in our text we’re told that Pilate could find nothing to charge Jesus with that would condemn Him to death. Pilate’s own judgment is that Jesus is innocent. But again this is the way of the world; slaughter the innocent so that the guilty man goes free – No wait…

Pilate may be trying to tweak the noses of the Jews in this regard and Pilate may be trying to make political hay out of the situation, but in fact this is the way of God. God condemns the innocent man, Jesus, to death so that we, who are the guilty ones under the law, can be set free. Don’t imagine that we’re to identify with Jesus in tonight’s reading. We, in fact, are Barabbas. We’re the notoriously guilty ones here. And Jesus is about to be condemned to death so that we can go free. We are Barabbas.

And not just, Barabbas we’re also Pilate. We’re trying to get out from under the responsibility of what we know to be true. And this brings us back to our question tonight and why we said that Pilate’s asking the wrong people the wrong question and thereby inviting the condemnation of Jesus to death. Like Pilate we want to be innocent of the blood of Jesus Christ. Like Pilate we know that Jesus is not guilty, just as surely as we know Barabbas is guilty, as we know we are guilty. But Pilate has put the choice to the crowd between a guilty murderer and the innocent messiah of the Jews. He’s putting his own responsibility off on them trying to make them take the blame for his choice.

The crowd chose Barabbas and then Pilate asks our question of what shall I do with Jesus? Why is this the wrong question? Because it presumes that Jesus is in the hands of Pilate to do with as he pleases. It puts Pilate at the center of things. And here is where this question goes wrong. Remember back to just before the mount of transfiguration Jesus asks a similar question of His disciples.

He said who do people say that I am? And, who do you say that I am? That’s the right question because it puts the focus on Jesus and belief in Him. Pilate’s question puts the focus on – Pilate. And this is what the world does with Jesus; it seeks to cast Him aside but to do so without bringing guilt upon itself. The world focuses on itself so as to exclude Jesus and it wants to condemn Jesus. Thus Pilate’s question seems to accomplish its goal of condemning Jesus to death without getting blood on his own hands.

The real twist to all of this is, that the world, represented by Pilate, condemns Jesus to death, and is only saved and redeemed by Jesus dying under that declaration of condemnation. In Jesus being condemned to die, Jesus can redeem even those who condemn Him. Only in the death of Jesus does the guilt of the sin of the world get wiped clean.

Yes, tonight’s question leads to Jesus being sent to die. And for this we can only marvel in wonder at God using Pilate to accomplish the salvation of the world. God uses this haunted fragment of a political despot and his scheme to avoid guilt to bring about the redemption of all guilty people for all time. God takes the guilt of Barabbas and the guilt of Pilate and your guilt and my guilt and heaps it all on the innocent shoulders of Jesus. God condemns Jesus to death through the misguided question of Pilate so that God can redeem the world through the death of Jesus. That means you and I are under condemnation no longer. The world cannot condemn you because in Jesus Christ, God has made you innocent; as innocent as Jesus was standing before Pilate. In Jesus name we do pray, amen.

Sermon #758 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Holy Gospel                                                                                                          Matthew 27:15-22
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”

 

March 22, 2015 The Flowers

A while back I heard of a pastor who, after saying the words of institution over the elements for communion, just stepped down from the altar area, stood in front of his congregation and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I just don’t believe that all I just said is true and I can’t pretend that I trust in it. It’s just too hard to believe and trust. I can’t pretend to have a faith I don’t have, I’m leaving.”

And he walked out of the church service that morning and no one in the congregation ever heard of him after that… true story. Pretty earth shaking for that congregation. To have their pastor, their under-shepherd, the one who they trusted to lead them in the understanding of God’s word, to watch him simply divorce himself from faith, from belief and from trust right in front of their eyes. That sort of thing, that sort of unfaithfulness is what God seems to be talking about in today’s Old Testament lesson.

Listen again to verses 31-32 –“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD

That part about ‘they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.’ That’s why I said what that pastor did reminded me of this lesson. He simply walked out on the promises of God. He left the covenant God had made with him, through the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He left the God who had promised to be a spouse to him. It was as though he divorced God.

Jesus said in response to a question in Matthew 19 that Moses allowed divorce, and why? Jesus said it was because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Because of the hardness of men’s hearts God, through Moses, allowed divorce.

And that brings us back to what God is saying in today’s Old Testament lesson. The promise that God makes there, the promise of a new covenant can almost sound like a divorce of sorts with Israel because of the hardheartedness, the unfaithfulness, of the people of Israel in their not keeping the covenant with God. But it’s not a true divorce because as God said, “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”.

So unlike a final divorce decree, what we see here is the promise of… marital reconciliation. It’s reconciliation by God with the unfaithful one, Israel and Judah. But the basis of that reconciliation does not depend on the actions of Israel but on God. It’s on God alone to fulfill His promise. The basis of reconciliation is in God’s promise right in these verses.

Remember that the old covenant was a set of promises between Israel and God – God kept His part, but Israel didn’t keep her part. In fact she didn’t keep her part over and over and over and over and over again. So God let her go her own way, as He still does with everyone who reject His promises.

His promises are seen in the work of Jesus Christ who is Himself that promised new covenant. And this new covenant is based on the righteousness of Jesus’ faithfulness and His obedience, obedience even to death on the cross.

His death paid for the unfaithfulness of all mankind for all time because He was and is God. As He said in the gospel lesson today the son of man did not to come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. His death is the ransom that brought about the reconciliation with God that is not limited just to Israel, but as God promised, with all people everywhere.

God says in verse 34 in the Old Testament lesson today, they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest. God’s promise of reconciliation with His unfaithful bride, Israel, extends beyond Israel to all who trust in the name of Jesus and what He did in dying on the cross and rising to new life again. It extends even to those who, like that minister we talked about, walk away from it. God’s promise of reconciliation does not and has never changed.

Look in the lesson from Hebrews today. There it says in verse 9 “He (Jesus) became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” Jesus is the new covenant. What words of Jesus do I repeat when we have communion and I’m consecrating the wine? I say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”… that is what fulfills the promise of God in the Old Testament lesson from today.

The new promise is not about a nation of believers but about believers in every nation (X2). Before, with the covenant with Israel, they were to be the blessing of God to the nations of the world by showing faithfulness to God’s promises.

God’s promise has always been that of salvation through trust in God’s forgiveness. But with the coming of Jesus Christ that promise was made clear, plain and obvious. It’s now for each person to trust in the Son of God.

God does not love us as one big glob of humanity. He loves each one of us individually. In His eyes there will never be anyone like you, with your fingerprints, your hair and eye color, your unique personality, your voice and thoughts, your soul. We are each meant to be little individual flowers, in the great, colorful bouquet that God offers in His never ending courtship with the world.

Before, in the old covenant, God demanded that the nation trust Him and follow Him and so show the world that trust in God’s grace was sufficient to reconcile a person with God. But now, the Holy Spirit is poured out to each individual person who will trust in Him, regardless of nationality.

What was the sign of the old covenant? Circumcision, right. But circumcision did not show your individuality, rather it showed that you belonged to the group who trusted in God. It showed you were of the nation of believers. But now in the new covenant it’s the circumcision of the heart, as St Paul says in Romans 2, it’s the circumcision of the heart that’s the mark of trust in the promises of God.

What Christ did on the cross provides us that mark in each of our hearts. The cross is the way of reconciliation with God the Father for those who trust in the one who died on that cross, Jesus Christ.

He’s the ‘marriage counselor’ if you will. Jesus has brought about the needed reconciliation between God and His beloved, His creation. Remember Jesus said He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

And the ransom that is Christ’s life serves for all who trust in Him and the reconciliation He has won. Before, with the old covenant, it was the nation that God said was unfaithful. It was the nation that did not keep the covenant. Now through the blood of Christ each person becomes the ‘nation’ of Israel. Each person is called by the Holy Spirit to be a person of faith and to receive God’s promise delivered through the blood of Jesus Christ.

When God said ‘I will make a new covenant’, what changed was not His way of forgiveness; it has always been through the promise of a redeemer. In Jesus Christ and through His blood that promise is now and forever fulfilled. And the reconciliation that God promised has been won. The covenant now is with each person to trust in.

Jesus has made God’s promise an individual thing. Again, it’s not about a nation of believers, but believers in every nation. That’s you and I.

By His forgiveness and reconciliation we’re changed, we each are the flowers in the bouquet of the pure and spotless bride, the church, made so by the blood of Jesus. In Whose name we pray, amen.

Sermon #757 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Old Testament Reading                                                                                      Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 “The time is coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

Epistle                                                                                                           Hebrews 5:1-10
5 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.”
6 And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Holy Gospel                                                                                                              Mark 10:35-45
34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

March 18, 2015 Lent Service 5

I’ve a little story that folks who don’t remember the Soviet Union or know who Johnny Carson was may not get but here goes. This story is to make the point that people often use the same words but have entirely different meanings in mind, what’s called, talking past one another. On the day after Cincinnati won the World Series many many years ago, Johnny on the Tonight Show, asked band member, Tommy Newsome, ‘Well Tommy what do you think of the Cincinnati Reds now?’ Tommy answered, ‘I just don’t like communists! I don’t care where they live!’

Something like this happened in our gospel text tonight between Jesus and Pilate. Each had a different idea of what it meant to be king, especially as far as Jesus being a king was concerned. In tonight’s gospel lesson, Jesus, as king, stands before Pilate, the earthly ruler of that time and place, and opens an opportunity for him to hear the gospel of God.

Pilate and Jesus face one another in the privacy of Pilate’s palace where Pilate asks our 5th question that leads from the garden of Gethsemane to the cross of Golgotha. Tonight, Pilate asks Jesus a question that presumes a positive answer by the way Pilate asks it, in verse 37, you are a king then?

Now looking back before verse 37 we know from what we read that Pilate asked a similar question before this. But Jesus did not give a straight answer then, and instead asks Pilate to think about why he is asking that question back in verse 33, ‘Are you king of the Jews?’ Jesus’ answer was to ask a question about Pilate’s motives. It was to get Pilate thinking and perhaps get Pilate to open up to something besides the politics surrounding Pilate.

Jesus knew full well that Pilate asked his question because Pilate knew that the Jews were jealous of Jesus and His influence with the Jewish people. But Jesus wants to rock Pilate’s worldview a bit and get him to think for himself. Pilate’s reply and Jesus answer make it clear that the Jews are the ones who have put these two men face to face in this trial tonight. Listen again to Jesus reply in verse 36 – Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Jesus’ reply leads back to our opening story with Johnny and Tommy who talked past each other regarding who the ‘reds’ were. But here it’s understanding who Jesus is as king is where the break down in understanding takes place. And again we have to have some sympathy for, and even identification, with Pilate. Pilate is not by his own admission a Jew, neither are we. So this meeting is between Jewish Jesus and gentile Pilate. Last week was the Jewish religious trial of Jesus. This week it is the government, worldly or gentile trial that Jesus is facing.

And Jesus is trying to get this tyrant and political king to understand that the kingdom that Jesus rules far exceeds Pilate’s. It’s the truth of the kingdom of God. In the answer we read in verse 36 Jesus acknowledges His kingship, that is, He has a kingdom and that He has servants; servants who would fight to keep Him from the hands of the Jews and from being brought before Pilate is the implication. But Jesus’ kingdom, as He says, is not of an earthly nature. Yes it comes to earth in Jesus, but it is not confined to earth or space or time. Like Tommy didn’t get it that Johnny was talking about a sports team, Pilate doesn’t get it that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God and the truth that Jesus rules that kingdom.

That kingdom of God, which Jesus wants Pilate and us to see, is the gospel of God. And that gospel of God is, truth. The gospel of the kingdom of God comprises and embodies truth. This is what Jesus wants Pilate and us to see. It’s the good news of the kingdom of God that all who believe in Jesus as man and God, as savior and redeemer, as king and conqueror, have by the grace of God, and have been made citizens of that kingdom.

Listen again to verse 37 where Jesus gives His answer to Pilate’s question tonight. Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. It’s easy to understand how Pilate missed what Jesus was saying about His kingdom, because Pilate simply didn’t understand who Jesus was. Here in this answer Jesus is trying to lead Pilate, and us, to understand who He really is as both God and man on earth.

First Jesus says that He was born, as true man, as all humans are, Jesus was born. Jesus declares here His existence as a real flesh and blood human. But also in His answer He says that He came into the world. This is the second aspect of Jesus answer. That from outside this world Jesus came into this world. Jesus is trying to get Pilate to open up to the possibility of this man standing before him is more than a mere mortal human. But Pilate, and we can’t blame him for missing this, is not seeing this truth.

We can’t blame him because without the scriptures to open our eyes we too would miss the truth that Jesus is the Christ the messiah of God. Also Pilate has already said he’s not a Jew. He didn’t have the hope of God from the scriptures. And that is why Jesus tells Pilate that He, Jesus, is God come into the world. He tells him so that Pilate and those like him would have Jesus as the source of a witness to the truth of God. And that is the gospel; the good news of God’s salvation is for all the world, including Pilate.

Pilate in asking the political question gets a godly answer, and he misses it. We have the advantage of scripture that tells of Christ, that Pilate didn’t have, so we don’t have to limit ourselves to thinking like Pilate. Jesus gives Pilate the answer he needs not the answer he wants. And like the rest of the world Pilate, with his flippant answer of ‘what is truth’, talks right past Jesus and so condemns himself. Let’s not leave here without being motivated to take the word of God to others around us in our politically oriented world. They too are asking political questions, give them a godly answer so they too do not miss as Pilate did the thing he needed most, the truth of the gospel of God found only in Jesus Christ.

Sermon #756 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO

Holy Gospel                                                                                                                    John 18:33-37
33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”                                                                                                                                        34 Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”                                                                                                                              35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”                                                                                                                                      37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”
Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”