Sermon: Named not Ashamed

This morning in our Old Testament lesson is a big day for Abram and Sarai. This aged couple had been through a lot in the past 24 years of their marital bliss. God had called Abram up out of his father’s land, a place he knew as home to go to a place unknown. God promised to make Abram a great nation, to bless him and make his name great so that he would be a blessing. God would bless whoever blessed Abram, and he would curse whoever cursed Abram. Good deal for an older man and woman who happened to have no children.

Ten years passed and still no children had come to this family of Abram and Sarai and they decided to take God’s promise into their own hands. Sarai says to Abram, “Look, the Lord has kept me from having children, why don’t you have one with my servant Hagar.” Seems like a biblical solution, right? Well, it’s a story that’s in the Bible, but it was far from a godly solution. Sarai and Abram took the promises of God into their own hands to make their own future and it didn’t go well. Hagar conceives and with the conception of the boy Ishmael, comes contempt. Sarai couldn’t live with this course of action and with Abram’s blessing, she sent pregnant Hagar away.

God wasn’t having this so he sent Hagar back to Abram and Sarai and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Now some fourteen years later, in today’s lesson, we hear of the big day for Abram and Sarai, we hear God still wanted to make good on God’s promise. He didn’t want this part of His promise to be fulfilled through shameful manipulation. God tells Abram, Sarai will give birth because I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. You will be exceedingly fruitful and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you  and this covenant between me and you and your offspring after you will be established forever. I will be their God.

To demonstrate this covenant for future generations God instituted the sign of circumcision and God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram would no longer just be an exalted father, but he would now be Abraham, the father of a multitude. The same sort of thing happens for Sarai, no longer would she be just any Sarai, any princess, she would now be the princess Sarah, named so by the Lord.

Our reading for this morning stops but the story goes on, Abraham, with the new covenant of circumcision and the new name is still the same old sinner man laughs out loud and says to God, thanks for the promise, Sarah and I are too old to have any kids, let me tell you how you can fulfill it for me. Listen here God, I hear you saying you want to make me into a great nation, did you know about my son Ishmael through my wife’s servant Hagar? Well, Lord, there you go, we have helped you out in this promise you made some 24 years ago. Make the nations blessing promise come true through Ishmael.

Now God basically says to Abraham, I don’t need your help to keep my end of the covenant. I will give you and Sarah a son and fulfill this covenant promise through this son. And as for the son Ishmael — God doesn’t say this but we know God’s design for marriage to be between one man and one woman, so we can gather that God was implying for Abraham, As for Ishmael, the son that was born in sin and iniquity and weakness of faith in my promises, the son you have every right to be ashamed of, well as fo him, I will bless him and make him into a great nation as well. But the covenant I am making with you will be fulfilled through Isaac who you will meet as a baby about this time next year.

Abraham and Sarah heard God’s promises but thought their ways would be better than God’s yet God’s promises are not dependent upon our doing. God’s promises and their fulfillment for us are true for us today in spite of our doing, in spite of our thinking we need to make them happen. God makes his promises true for us.

God promises to you that you are justified by faith and that you have peace with him through Jesus. Yet you are often like Abraham and Sarah. You are weak in faith and think that this justification must depend on something you bring to the table and so you look to your actions and try to find someway to justify God’s justification of you. You begin to think, well God justifies me because I am really nice to the people around me. You can start to think, well if I go to church enough God will really justify me and bring me peace because I am showing up. You are convinced that you have done more good than bad so that gives you peace with God.

The real problem is here that you are part of this equation and you are not trusting that God simply does what God says he will do, regardless of your poor attempts to help. You have trouble trusting God and his ability to give you the eternal blessing he promises and works in Jesus for you without your help, so you look for a way to work it out for God.

You forget the whiles in which God works to undo your wily ways. Romans 5:6 tells us that while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were still sinners, God shows his love for us in Christ’s death for us sinners. Romans 5:10 tells us that while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. And in these descriptions of God’s greatest prescription for mankind we see the diagnosis we desperately try to avoid. We see the diagnosis of Abram and Sarai, we see the diagnosis of every person who ever lived save one, who saved all.

All of us are weak, ungodly, sinful enemies of God. We hear God’s promises and we think oh I can help, and like a two year old who wants to help clean the dishes we end up with more broken than we can even begin to repair, let alone clean on our own. We think we can work with God and we end up working against him, taking the greatest gift of his work away from him and try to do it on our own.

Yet God does not leave us alone. He comes to us and takes the shame of our self made plans and our self made messes away from us. He gives us a new identity and with the new name, a new life with Christ who justifies us and gives us peace.

Have you heard of the Mongolian peasant principle? It was developed during the time when Joseph Stalin ruled Russia. Mr Stalin was not a very nice person – he made a habit of sending his opponents off to prison. But before packing them off to the gulag he made them confess to crimes they’d never committed.

It’s rumored that Stalin had a psychologist working for him who could get a person to confess to just about any crime, regardless of whether they’d actually committed it or not. The psychologist said that the secret of his success was the Mongolian peasant principle.

It works like this. Imagine a poor, shabby and “unimportant” man is brought into a large office that obviously belongs to an important person. Everything in the office smacks of authority: the dark mahogany walls; the huge oak desk; the high leather chair; the grey-haired general with rows of medals on his chest sitting there proudly and powerfully.

The general speaks to the shabby, uncomfortable visitor. “I have a million rubles in my desk drawer. Here, take a look, they’re all yours.”

“All mine?” says the shabby, uncomfortable visitor

“Yes, all yours, on one condition.”

“What condition?”

“You must press this small red button on my desk” says the general.

“What happens when I press the button?”

“An old man in Mongolia drops dead.”

“He dies?!”

“Yes. He dies at once, without any pain.”

“But why, what did he do?”

“That’s none of your business. Trust me. It is good for the people. All you need to know is that the moment you press the button, the peasant dies. And you get a million roubles”

The poor, shabby, unimportant, uncomfortable man sits silent for a long moment. Then he slowly reaches forward and pushes the red button. He takes the money and goes home. But for the rest of his life he’s haunted by the memory of what he did. He can’t bring himself to spend a cent his ill gotten gain. He’s tormented day and night, until finally, 5 years later, he commits suicide. The million rubles are found stuffed in a sack under his bed; the State takes them back on the day of his funeral.

“You see” Stalin’s psychologist says explaining his twisted method of tormenting people into confessing things they have never done, “everybody has a Mongolian peasant in his life. Everyone has done something for which they feel deep shame. I hunt around in their memory until I find it. Then once I’ve found the peasant I dangle him in front of their eyes until the person is writhing in shame for being such a wretched human being. He will confess to anything to atone for his shame.” (source)

While this twisted method used by Stalin and his psychologist is awful, it was awfully effective because it hits on the awful truth that all of us share. We are all ashamed of something and we have a hard time letting the things we are ashamed of go.

These things in our past unfortunately become things that define our living. We work really really hard to do the right thing, to be the nice person, to stay in church, to make things right on our own. Yet the thing we find is that no matter how much we do, the shame that haunts us still is there to taunt us. Telling us we haven’t yet made it go away. The shame taunts us telling us we still have more to do if we ever want to make it right.

Abram and Sarai had their shame in the misguided manipulated birth story of Ishmael. You have your shame in all sorts of corners. Yet guess what. We don’t get to save ourselves. On the eternal stage of utmost importance, we don’t get to undo what’s been done to us or what we’ve done. No, this self saving and self guided living is shameful behavior God delivers us from.

Shame is not ours to deal with and we have much to be ashamed of. But God claims our shame as his own so that we will not be put to shame. Through Christ our shame is taken from us. Our shame is taken to the cross where the suffering it deserves is dealt once and for all. It is buried ingloriously and left never to rise again so that Christ’s glorious resurrection becomes ours. And because of this new life we receive with the new name as a child of God we stand Justified by Christ at peace with God standing in the grace no longer cowering and striving in shame.

We stand in Christ as God’s children called so through the waters of baptism where we are daily renamed and renewed. And with this new name we find our new life and we find God’s perfect way of fulfilling all things as we take up his cross and follow him.

This cross taking is at the heart of being a follower of Jesus. We cannot follow Jesus without taking the cross he has went to for us. The cross taking is done when we remember our new name given to us in baptism. The remembering of our new identity is powerful and necessary for us. Abram and Sarai did not remain the old manipulative couple they thought they were. No God changed their names to Abraham and Sarah, and when they heard these new names they were reminded of God’s gift to them. Sure they would slip back into their Abram and Sarai ways but in their new names, God gave them a reminder of their new relationship he was giving them.

They were no longer people marked by shame, but rather they became a people of hope named not ashamed. May God work the same in us as we recall all his promises and hit the streets of this world with a joy that this world needs.

We stand Justified and at peace no longer ashamed. In Jesus name.


Sermon: Remaining Steadfast in the Wilderness

It later became the place where sacrifices were regularly offered. Some 1100 years later the mountain of Moriah would be the mountain where Solomon was guided by God to build the Jerusalem temple. It would be the place where people confidently offered the sacrifices commanded by God to cover their sins. That was later. In Genesis 22 it’s just wilderness. It’s a wilderness full of uncertainty and testing.

Abraham is given a strange instruction from God. Go sacrifice your only son. Simple enough right? No, very strange. Very weird. This is the son that God gave Abraham and Sarah in their old age. The son they never should have had because of the biological limitations of old age. The son at whose birth announcement Sarah laughed because of the absurdity of it. Isaac was named laughter because of the laughability of his birth. Now the father of the laughable son is told to do something quite unfunny. Go sacrifice your only son. What a test.

God provides testings of our faith. Things He leads us to and asks of us that are quite serious and quite often unfunny. Forgive the people who have harmed you the most. Not funny, God. Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you. Not funny, God. Live in this world, be loving to the people in this world, but do not give into the things of this world. Not an easy ask, God. Believe that the words of your pastor deliver eternal life. Seems impossible, God. Take heart because you have been washed with a simple sprinkle of water combined with the name of the triune God. Seems that would not cut it, God. Enjoy the meal of immortality found in a bland wafer of unleavened bread and in the small sip of wine. Really, God?

God provides testings of our faith. He leads us through trials in this world, but he does not tempt us. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, lead us not into temptation, and as we find in the beautiful prayer the Lord has given us, we know God’s answer is yes to each and every petition. We know that God tempts no one. Yet, we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray in this petition that we may finally overcome them and win the victory. And God says, yes. Yes, my beloved child, I will not lead you into temptation.

Yet here we are alongside Abraham in the wilderness. Abraham found himself following the unimaginable instructions from God. Early in the morning, he saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. A three day journey to the future site of the place of temple sacrifice, yet Abraham did not know this. For him it was just the place where God was asking him to do the unthinkable.

Yet God is all about doing the unthinkable. Who could imagine God dwelling among humanity. For us it seems old hat. Of course God becomes man in Christ Jesus. This is the story we have always heard. We love Christmas because of the joy of knowing Jesus dwells among us. But think for a moment about how unthinkable this is. This is just straight up unreasonable. Almighty God taking a place among sinful, hurtful, hateful humanity in order to save all. All the people who fight against God. All the people who deny God. All the people who hate God and love themselves more than anything else. God came to take up residency among his greatest enemies. And He didn’t do it with a sword or with the vengeance you might expect and all would deserve, no he came to endure trials and testings and temptations, just like every other person.

God may certainly lead us into trials and testings, but these things are for our good. Not for evil. Temptations come, many temptations come in the midst of the wilderness, in the midst of trials and testings. Yet temptations are not from God, they come from the brokenness that sin brought into the world. The devil, the things of this world, and the twisted state of our sinful human flesh all tempt us. Temptation is the lure to do something we are not supposed to do. Temptations are the easy way out of difficult uncomfortable situations. We don’t get a specific mention of it in the text, but knowing the kind of man Abraham was, I am sure Abraham was tempted to ignore God’s audacious ask.

We are tempted in the midst of our many testing and trials from God to give into the easy path. Lured to do the things we are not supposed to do. It is easy to say, someone who hurts us is undeserving of forgiveness from us. It is easy to let enemies be enemies rather than people we place before the throne of God in our prayers. It is easier to do good to our friends and the ones we love rather than to do good to those who would do us harm. It is easy to find happiness and pleasure in the things of this world which really don’t seem that bad, really especially since EVERYONE else is doing these things. It is easier to go through the motions of being a church member without dwelling on what it means that someone has stood before me in the place of God and said my sins are forgiven. It is easy to forget the gifts given to me in baptism. It is much easier and reasonable to say that the meal we will receive today at this altar is just a remembrance meal of a day when Jesus did something great rather than realizing that today Jesus is still doing something amazing through it. It is so easy to give into temptations that hound us.

Yet here we are alongside Jesus in the wilderness. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. Forty days, Jesus filled with Holy Spirit does what God’s people had the chance to do for forty years but could not. For forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and for forty years they were continually giving into temptation. There was no happy dwelling with the beasts for them. Rather they were bitten by snakes because of the sinful disobedience of their obstinate hearts. Yet Jesus, taking His place among mankind, demonstrates what God always intends and God always enables by His Spirit. He withstood the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh. And he was with wild animals showing us what God will bring for us when all the perfection will be unfurled in the new world. The angels were ministering to Jesus.

We see Jesus in the wilderness and we see what Jesus came to make us be. In Christ, we are perfectly able to do the incredible. Looking at all the gospel lesson we can see some clues as to how this can be. Looking at Jesus baptism, we see God the Father, speaking of His Son as the Spirit descends and God says of Jesus His Son, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This pronouncement is key for you to be able to withstand and overcome temptation too. God says of you, “You are my beloved Child; with you I am well pleased.”

God is saying this to you today, and with this pronouncement all the schemes of the devil, all the lures of the world, and all the falsehoods of the flesh become undone. And God is perfectly able to say this to you today because Jesus road did not end in the wilderness temptations. And Jesus’ temptations did not end in the wilderness. All the way to the cross he was tempted as he faced the biggest trial any human could ever endure. Abandoned by friends. Tormented by enemies. Taunted by the devil all the way. Persecuted by leaders. Spit on. Beaten. Tortured. Nailed to a cross. All the way there the temptation to tap into His divine get out of dodge card never was played. And there it got even worse as the shame you feel for the times you gave into temptation became his shame. He who knew no sin became sin for you, by taking your sin from you. He hung there on the cross guilty of all you have done so that your guilt could be undone. He died a miserable embarrassing death in your place, the death you deserve for all the miserable embarrassing things you have done and have had done to you. And this is good news because those things are no longer yours. The shame and embarrassment that sin brings, the shame and embarrassment that Satan would love you to dwell on and to keep and to draw on for motivation for revenge and more are not yours to use anymore.

Jesus has owned these things and has left them in the tomb buried where they cannot rise again. And while your sin is gone, Jesus is not. He is risen again, showing you the way that he is bringing you. He is risen again and just as his death was supposed to be yours, now today, his new life is supposed to be yours and God makes that happen. It seems unbelievable, I know. It seems unreasonable and ridiculous, I know. But Christ has taken your place, just as the ram caught in the thicket took the place of bound up Isaac in the place that would become the temple. Christ has become the sacrifice that made good all the sacrifices of that temple. Jesus has become the one to make you good and good you are. God is able to look at you and say, “You are my beloved Child, with you I am well pleased.” And what God says God does. You are made his child in Christ. You are pleasing to God because you have Christ on you from baptism, and you have Christ in you from the holiest meal we receive here together.

All this is yous are you are driven and filled by the Spirit in the midst of this wilderness world we walk in. You’re able to withstand temptation and make it through the trials that God leads you through because you are different. You are a Christian, that is literally you are a little Christ. You do the unthinkable in the midst of the wilderness because you are kept steadfast in the wilderness by the spirit of God that fills you with and through the word of God.

Christians who pray “lead us not into temptation” do the unthinkable. We allow God to make our broken marriages work. We allow God to heal the awfullest of relationships. We allow God to work on the lives of those who have wandered far and hurt us in the process. We ask God for patience and we allow His peace to fill us. We allow God to lead us away from temptations of the flesh and the alluring perversions of the world. We ask God to lead us and allow him to drive us into the lives of others around us with the love he has given us to share with the world.

You are blessed by God with faith to believe and do the unimaginable. You are blessed to remain steadfast under trial. You will receive the crown of life because it is given to you in Jesus. It is promised to you because you love Him, having been loved first by Him. He has brought you forth by the Word of Truth, you are one of the first fruits of His creatures because you are in Christ who is THE first fruit of the perfection that God is restoring through us.

In Jesus’ name.


The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603)


Sermon: Funeral of Robert Stainbrook

It was February 15th and the Stainbrook family gathered the night before for Ash Wednesday services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio. The year was 1945 and it just so happens that was the last time our Lenten calendar ran from February 14- April 1st as it does this year. Ash Wednesday to Easter. So it was 1945 yet, four and a half years earlier Oscar and Anna Stainbrook had brought their two sons, Robert and Richard to the baptismal font found at Trinity Lutheran Church on the corner of Vance and Ewing streets. There nine year old Robert entered into the kingdom of God through the waters of baptism. But in the year 1945, 14 year old Robert Stainbrook was in the midst of his confirmation studies. Robert was 38 days away from standing before God’s congregation and answering the following questions:

Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? Do you believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic scriptures to be the inspired Word of God? Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true? Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? (LSB 272-273)

Standing before God’s people gathered around God’s gifts of immortality, Robert answered, “I do so intend by the grace of God.” And by the grace of God the Lord who always knew Robert held him tight in his God given faith for the next 72 years, 10 months, and 15 days. Last Friday was that last day Robert’s faith was needed because in the afternoon one week ago tomorrow, the time for Robert’s confession of faith to be realized had come. In Christ he had fought the good fight, in Christ he finished the race, in Christ he kept the faith. Now in place of his God given faith, he has received the crown of righteousness which the Lord will award to all who allow the Lord to carry them on that Day.

At Robert’s confirmation almost 73 years ago, his confirmation verse was John 10:27-28, in those verses we have heard again today, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” For the last 73 years, filled with the Holy Spirit, Robert never stopped listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. He never stopped being known by the Good Shepherd, as if anyone can hide themselves from the all knowing one. He never stopped following his Good Shepherd, as if anyone who listens could ever stop following the only one that could lead them to green pastures and still waters with a restored soul in paths of righteousness.

Many many many things could have dissuaded Robert from listening to his shepherd. Many things could have led him astray: the temptations of youth, the delusions of greatness in this world, and the lies of the deceiver who tempts us to believe that God doesn’t care about us let alone know us or meet our needs. Yet God never stopped knowing what Robert needed. When his regiment was deployed to serve in the front line theater of the Korean War, Robert was spared a likely death. Many of his fellow soldiers died in battle as his regiment was decimated, yet he was spared death by the death of his mother. Anna Stainbrook had died and her Christian Burial on May 21, 1952 was arranged by our Lord and Master keeping Robert from the front lines. Robert could have despaired of his Savior’s voice at that time, listening instead to the voice of guilt that speaks to us all when we unexpectedly avoid what befalls others. Instead that  day at that funeral of his mother he heard the voice of God’s undershepherd, Pastor Mueller point to the Good Shepherd in the Words of Psalm 23

Years later Robert could have despaired of his Savior’s voice when his wife of 35 years fell ill and spent months in a coma before her death. While many would say, “where is your God? He must not care. He doesn’t know.” in the face of such tragedy, Robert knew he was being held. Years later again Robert could have despaired when his legs despaired him of their good use. “Where is your God in the face of such weakness?” Many could ask. Yet Robert knew that he would never perish of being known by the One who’s voice he was given to treasure. And yet again, years later, Robert became a statistical anomaly. In an age where women regularly outlive the men Robert once again became a widower. And instead of saying “God, who is good and gracious and loving must not be real if he continues to take those close to me.” Instead of this Robert was held by the Spirit in his faith. And the lies of the devil would not snatch him out of the hand of God.

What a good fight this man’s life was. Yet he never fought alone. The good fight is never fought alone. Following the Savior who knew him fully, Robert heard the voice of his Shepherd speaking to him from the pages of sacred scripture and through the voices of God’s undershepherds in the midst of the fight. And what he heard there might surprise you. In listening to the Shepherd, he didn’t just hear this and this and this is what you should do, dear child. No he heard something much more important, something that we all need to hear daily. In reading scripture as a faithful follower of the Good Shepherd, Robert heard, “here is what you are supposed to do, but you fail at.” He heard, “here is what I call you to be but you cannot be.” He heard God say “be perfect as I am perfect” and Robert knew the thing that we all know on some level. He knew he was not perfect, that he was as weak as grass. We all know this truth because the voice of the world, the voice of our flesh, and the voice of the deceiver all come close to proclaiming the truth. The lies come close to the truth when we hear what we cannot do well enough. When we hear the false shepherds telling us all the things we “should have” but can never have enough of. Grass that withers when the breath of the Lord blows on it. And hearing the voice of his Shepherd, he withered. Robert withered because Robert was a sinner. From birth he was broken, defiled, impure, and imperfect. Yet this sinner did not despair this sinner did what sinners following their shepherd do. He withered in the hand of a gracious and loving God. He was held from snatching in the Hand of God. Robert the sinner continued listening to God’s word, he continued listening to the only word that provides the hope that the hopeless world and the hopeless entirety of humanity in it needs.

Robert heard that God in His mercy has sent His son Jesus to die for you, and for His sake forgives you of all your sin. Robert was received by Jesus as a sinner but he was not left a sinner, he was made over and over again to be the saint God wanted him to be.

Jesus knows His sheep. He knows your suffering, he knows your grief and pain. He knows your needs, he knows your wants. He knows what tempts you and he knows what comes close to choking you out and leaving you separated from Him forever. He knows this because He endured this for you. Jesus walked this earth and faced what you face and faced what Bob faced. Yet he faced it perfectly for you, so that you may have hope. Not in what you do, but in what God has done in giving you the Word of a better life.

Roughly 75 years ago, the seeds were being sown in the heart of Bob. The seed has not been choked out by the cares of the world that seek to offer shiney solutions to our biggest problem. The seed has not been snatched away to never be heard or listened to again. The seed did not grow quickly with shallow roots only to be withered and die when the winds of this world blew on it. No the seed took root and the seed was nourished as it was watered by a daily remembrance of a baptism that continually works to save. The seed took root and was fertilized by the meal of immortality that gives strength in the midst of this trying time we lie. The seed has born fruit and the seed of faith planted so long ago in the seats of this school and the pews of this church has delivered Robert to his eternal home with the one who has kept him from snatching all the way.

Today is February 15th, seeds continue to be planted in the seats of the school going on even right now down the hall and in the pews of this church. Last night many members of the Stainbrook family gathered for Ash Wednesday service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio. Yet, before and after the service yesterday, many were found across Glendale paying respects to a child of God who has followed his Savior through the grave to eternity. Bob’s life of confession is a life you are called to live too. A life of listening, a life of being known, a life of following. All of this living is given to you today, as it has been given to Bob. Here we feebly struggle to know the holding of our Lord as we listen to the voice. Rober no longer just hears and knows by faith, no, now he hears and knows by sight that which he long ago confessed, you have confessed today as well.

You have said it: I believe in God the Father almighty maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his perfect son who died to deliver you from death. You believe in the Holy Spirit who calls you by the gospel and keeps you in the hand of God.

May we continue to listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd, known by Him, following Him, held by Him. Unto life everlasting.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon: Not Our Making — Jesus’ Only

Jesus is the Son of God, in the flesh. Jesus is the Son of God, dwelling among mankind to save the world. The past few weeks of Epiphany we have seen His glory revealed in the gifts from magi from the east, the calling of disciples, the teaching with authority, the healings, and the exorcisms of demons. All these things reveal to us, epiphany for us, that Jesus is the Son of God. Today in the Transfiguration, we reach the pinnacle of his glory revealing earthly ministry as He goes up a high mountain with Peter, James, and John.

Mountains are not peculiar places for God’s prophets. But mountains are certainly places where peculiar things have happened with God’s prophets. Moses for example went up on the familiar to him Mount Sinai while the children of God, freed from egyptian slavery waited at the base of the mountain. Moses went up and met with God. This time here, he didn’t receive a message from God in a burning bush, but rather the 10 Commandments from God. In Exodus 34, after coming down, we learn Moses had to veil his face to shield it from the gaze of the Israelites. Moses’ face was fading from the Godly glow it received in the sanctified sunburn on the mountain top. Peculiar indeed. Moses found himself in the presence of God on the top of Mount Sinai.

Elijah was familiar with mountain tops as well. Remember his peculiar mountain top experience where he threw down against the prophets of Baal? Remember, the “God contest” of olympic proportions? The people of God were limping between faithfully standing with the one true God and lamely chasing after the false gods of the false prophets of Baal. So Elijah on the top of Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18 sets up a come to Jesus moment offering a contest. The sacrifices are laid on the altar and the false prophets are given the first attempt to have their god light a fire in answer to their prayers. No answer. Their false god was not just indisposed, he was non existent and the fire did not come. Then on the mountain top, Elijah raised the stakes and said saturate the sacrifice. Cover it with water, and water and more water. And with a simple prayer Elijah prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God.” And after his prayer, the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and the water in the trench around the Altar. Peculiar indeed. Elijah led God’s people back to the one true God on top of Mount Carmel.

Well wouldn’t you know it these two mountain men make their appearance to the disciples on the top of the mountain with Jesus. But we are getting ahead of ourselves with that. So, Jesus miracle man, teacher, healer, demon defeater takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain alone. And there Jesus is transfigured. He isn’t changed, he is transfigured. It’s not like Jesus on the top of this high mountain becomes something he had never been before. No, when Jesus is transfigured before them, that which he has always been from eternity is now revealed. The Son of God in the flesh allows the veil of humanity to be slightly lifted to demonstrate that which was always there as he is fully God and fully man.

Right before the disciples’ eyes the purity and power and glory of God flow forth into their field of vision as his clothing becomes intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. No, this is not a Tide Ad, but now we are ready for Elijah with Moses to enter the scene and they do. They just appear. No chariot taxi from heaven, just a simple appearance and a simple conversation with Jesus. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the fulfillment of the promises prophesied from of old is now talking with the old prophets who were for all other intents and purposes long gone. Yet these who pointed to Christ’s coming now come and speak with the one they longed for.

Peter, never at a lack for words, is now terrified along with James and John and doesn’t know what to say. And not knowing what to say, he is not quite scared speechless and isn’t at a lack for words as he says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Terrified Peter offers to do what terrified sinners find themselves doing over and over again when faced with uncertainties. When we are afraid we want to make things. We make excuses. We make assumptions. We make plans. We make mistakes. We make messes. As sinners when faced with uncertainties, we stop listening and start making.

Think about it. What is the last thing that really scarred you? And what was your response? Now, I am not talking about the sudden unexpected event that causes your survival instincts of fight or flight to kick in but the sinful response of making for ourselves is not far off these instinctive reactions. But, what is it that really frightens you? Is it fear of finances? Not being able to make ends meet for yourself or for your family? Is it fear of failing health? Is the diagnosis going to be the death of me? Is the cancer going to take it all out of them? Is it fear of being hurt by others? Is it fear of being found out as a fraud? Fear that people will know you are not as good as you let on to be on the outside? Are you afraid of being a disappointment to those around you? Is it a fear of the loss of those closest to you through death? What really frightens you, and how do you react?

Well, chances are you are like Peter. Chances are you are a sinner like him, a sinner like me. When you are terrified, you really don’t know what to say. You may not even realize you don’t know what to say, because you are quick to make plans, you are quick to make excuses. You are quick to make assumptions. You are quick to make mistakes.  Not knowing what to say you make your plans saying I can do this. This diagnosis is something I can manage one step at a time. I can get through this. I can make this work. Not knowing what to say you make excuses saying, well if the bills stopped coming for a month, if the rates stopped going up, if I was paid what I was worth, I would be able to make ends meet. Not knowing what to say, you make assumptions saying things like, God loves me too much to let me hurt so I can leave this person who will not change. Or maybe you make assumptions, saying this person who mistreats me will change if I am nicer to them. You make assumptions saying to yourself, if I keep up appearances enough, if I do enough good, the people I am worried about disappointing will not know how bad I am. You make many things, many mistakes, to avoid the reality of the terrifying things in this world.

We all want to make things. Peter wanted to make tents. He was terrified by the unknown. Terrified that His rabbi Jesus was talking about dying. He was terrified about the whispers of the plots against Jesus. He was terrified to leave the mountain and go back to the murky path they were on. He wanted to make a different path by making tents, so they could just stay with shiney Jesus, resurrected Moses, and reappeared Elijah on the mountain.

Well, here’s the truth, anything we make is never going to last. Anything we make will leave us worse off than the uncertain, terrifying thing we are afraid to face. Yet we are never left to face the uncertain terrifying things alone. It may be cloudy and unclear but the thing we need when terrified, the thing we need when we cannot see continues to be there for us. The voice is there for us.

Right after Peter said what he said about it being good to be there, about building three tents. Right after Peter said these things when he didn’t know what to say, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice comes out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” God the father in heaven breaks the silence of uncertainty and speaks the certain word the disciples needed to hear. God breaks the silence and speaks the certain word we need to hear, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.”

Looking around, they no longer saw Moses and Elijah — Moses and Elijah were not gone, they were just returned to the pages of scripture that contains their Spirit inspired words. The disciples were left to see only the word made flesh and they were left with nothing they could make, but the only thing they needed — they were left with Jesus the beloved Son of God, the one they were to listen to.

When we listen to Jesus we find the only thing we need in the face of terrifying things. Peter wanted to avoid the death of his teacher. He wanted to avoid the persecution of the leaders of the day. He wanted to avoid the future that Jesus was laying out for them, but God spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” And in hearing Christ, Peter was made new again and again and again.

So too in hearing Christ you are made new again and again and again. To borrow words from St. PAul in 2 Corinthians 3-4 We have this hope and this hope makes us bold. Not fearing or uncertain of the end, but with hearts made new in Christ we do not lose heart. We renounce the disgraceful — that is things we make apart from the grace of God, we renounce the disgraceful, the underhanded ways in which we would seek to make our own way away from sin. We are led by the Spirit to repent of our own making in order to be made new by the one who was made sin in our place. Jesus did not continue shining but returned to His humble appearance and humbled Himself even further to the depths of death and the grave in order to make things right between you and the Father. In Christ we have all things made for us. This is what Jesus says to you. Behold I am making all things new. He speaks it to you today through the words of Moses, when Moses says with his face veiled, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Behold I am making all things new, he speaks to you through the words of Elijah who says, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

Christ continues to do what Christ came to do. He stops your making. He keeps you from making excuses. He keeps you from making assumptions. He keeps you from making plans. He keeps you from making mistakes. He keeps you from making messes. He keeps you from all these misguided makings by making them His own. He takes all of your makings as His own and makes all things new so that you are no longer left listening to your own disgraceful, underhanded words. He keeps you from proclaiming not yourself, but rather now makes you to confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Jesus alone makes you to be God’s servant. His light shines in your heart to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

So we keep on listening and we keep on being made to be disciples. And now in Christ Jesus we are not left with nothing to make, but we are now filled with the voice of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and in Him we make disciples of all nations. We recall in our baptisms that we are made to be children of God we are made brand spanking new. Something we have never been before. It is different than Jesus’ transfiguration where what He always has been is simply revealed in his glorious appearance. No God’s remaking of us makes us to be something we have never been before, something we could never make ourselves to be on our own. He makes us to be like Christ. Transforming us again, and again, and again, day by day until that last day when the glory we hear in Christ is revealed for all the world to see.

May we listen as Jesus alone makes it so for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon: Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:3-9

What do you hope in and what are you hoping for? For many of us we have a list of things we hope would happen. From the mundane out of our control things like hoping the weather will be nice; all the way to important things mostly within our control such as hoping we will be able to support our families. We hope for all sorts of things. Somethings we hope for are fairly necessary, such as hoping to be able to support those around us but somethings we hope for are unnecessary pleasures in life and threaten to become idols for us. Hoping to win the lottery. Hoping to take a dream vacation. Hoping for that new car. Hoping for fame and friends. Hoping for retweets and likes. Hoping for vain things can quickly turn to hopelessness.

But, hope is a good motivator. Without hope, what point is there in going on? Many who suffer from depression are found to describe their situation as feeling hopeless. Hope provides meaning and hope is a helpful thing towards success. God gives us hope but not just any hope, He gives us LIVING HOPE! And in it we have ultimate success — in living hope we have Christ’s victory.

When St. Peter writes about living hope, he is writing to a people who are likely feeling close to hopeless. In our text for today we learn that the people he is writing to are experiencing “all kinds of trials” (6) a quick scan through the rest f the letter gives us some insight into what these kinds of trials may be. In 1:14 and 17 we learn that the believers are being spoken against maliciously. In 4:12 and following we learn that the readers of Peter’s letter are undergoing a fiery ordeal seemingly for bearing the name Christian.

We get the impression from the book that the first recipients of the letter are undergoing trials of various kinds that go beyond the trials of ordinary life, such as illness, poverty and death. They are undergoing persecution and suffering for the sake of the name of Jesus.

Right out the gate of the letter then, it makes sense that Peter would seek to ground his readers in the fact that they are not hopeless, in fact they are beyond not hopeless. They not only have hope but their hope is a living hope.

Dear friends in Christ, it may seem hopeless for you today. It may seem hopeless for us today. There are so many things that could cause us to despair, but do not surrender. Do not fear. You will not be abandoned, you have something better than hope, you have a living hope.

The world around us is is filled with people and institutions who ridicule our faith in Christ. Thankfully we are fairly safe from flat out persecution but it is becoming harder and riskier to live with a Christian worldview. Raising our children toward God’s design for marriage and God’s intentions for men and women is becoming more difficult. Headlines each week point out the unraveling of the threads that hold humanity in a fashion approaching God’s intentions. The sexual revolution continues to revolutionize that which God called good into something self serving and centered on the individual rather than the good of all. We could easily despair in the face of such things and more but we will not be abandoned. We have a living hope.

The devil is waging war against us. Attacking the church of God, the people of God. Temptations fly at us from the deceiver leading us to believe the worst about each other and to abandon one another. We are called to walk together in Christ but Satan loves to get in the cracks between us leading us to walk away from one another. The church is the only place on earth where we promise to forgive each other no matter what, but Satan wars against us seeking to separate us from one another and ultimately from Christ. We could easily despair in the face of such a things and more but we will not be abandoned. We have a living hope.

And you don’t even need to blame the world and the devil. You yourself are wandering. You are lacking motivation to do the will of God. You are self serving and self focused. You want what you have earned and you want to enjoy it by yourself. Okay maybe there’s one or two you will let in to enjoy with you, but only if you enjoy them. You may even want to do better but find yourself turning back to the vomit of sin that you want so hard to avoid. Your sinful flesh is constantly warring against the new born living hope that is within you, and yes, this too could easily lead you to despair, but you will not be abandoned. You have a LIVING hope.

Okay, maybe you’re sitting there thinking I am painting the extreme picture. Really, Pastor do you think we are on the verge of despair? Do you really think I am going to give up? Well here’s where the rubber meets the road and where the despair shows up in your life. It shows up when you find more hope in something other than the death and resurrection of your savior for you. Jesus for you is where the living hope is found. All other hopes will leave you hopeless.

The living hope we have been born into comes through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The one risen from the dead who will never die again is your hope because in Him you are given this lasting victory. It is an inheritance that is being kept in heaven for you. It is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. You have such a great thing kept for you in heaven that human words and analogies fail to convey what it is. Listen to this from the Lutheran commentator, Lenski, “The glory of our heavenly inheritance is so far beyond direct human conception that the Scriptures must often resort to figures of speech instead of to literal terms or to weak comparisons with earth and thus to such negatives which tell us what will not be in heaven. The realities themselves transcend human language.”

What do you hope for apart from your eternal inheritance that is so good it fails to have words to fully describe it? Many of us hope for electronics and we can list the very specific features and qualities that they come with. Many of us hope for vehicles and we can tell you the exact make and model and all the details of what’s under the hood. Many of us hope for healthy relationships and we can tell you exactly how people should act in those relationships. Many of us hope for a relaxing life and we can tell you exactly how our perfect days will go. We hope for world peace and a safe planet and we can tell you exactly how that would look. Yet that which we hope for with this living hope given to us is so great that human words fail to convey its greatness. When we hope for something and we can fully describe it so as to know exactly what it is, it is not the living hope by which we have life worth living.

The disciples and the followers of Christ hoped for a savior and they could describe exactly what that savior looked like. Political power and military might. Enemies falling under their feet. Yet their hopes were dashed when their savior died. They scattered as he was arrested. They denied as he was tried. They wept as he hung and they hid when he died. Even after his resurrection, they hid in fear and they doubted not seeing. Yet the living hope that was for them, as it is for you, did not leave them to fear and despair.

They were guarded in the faith given to them by God’s power. Jesus did not leave them quivering and doubting. He came to them and overcame all that was giving them alternative hopes. He came and gave to them the truth that they rejoiced in. And rejoice they did, through trials and testings they went forth from their fear and proclaimed the name above all other names. They went forth and proclaimed this living hope that God secures and gives to the entire world.

And through the ages, this living hope has been sustained through the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The world has not stopped it, the devil has not defeated it, and the sinful people along the way have been born again, over and over again from generation to generation, all the way to today.

What we have will not perish, be defiled, spoil or fade. It is being refined so that the indescribable greatness that is to be revealed is kept front and center of your life as your only hope worth having. It is a living hope sustained by the word and God’s gifts of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation that he gives to you where He has promised to act for you. Baptised into Christ’s death you are raised in His life. Fed on His flesh you are sustained for eternity.

This is yours. You haven’t seen, you have only heard. But in hearing you believe and in faith you know that which will endure forever. You are being guarded by Him for salvation that will be revealed, but in that guarding you have what is promised already.

Though you do not see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. You today are obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. This is what the Word does for you.

Keep on listening with your living hope.

In Jesus name.


Alleluia, Christ is risen.

He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Now may this peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.

Funeral Sermon: Romans 1:16

Miriam Meyer was a dear saint of the Lord and member of Trinity who passed in her Savior’s arms on February 3, 2016.

God’s grace, His mercy and His peace be with you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

As a pastor it’s sometimes difficult to learn who members are, what their names are and connecting them with faces. Miriam was one of those people who made it easy for me to learn her name. First of all she was at church more than I was! Every Sunday and a bunch of days in between Sundays, I would show up and there she’d be. She also enjoyed talking after the services so I came to know her quickly because she would always be waiting on her lunch buddies. Talking with Berniece as they waited on Bill to finish locking up so they could head to lunch. I thank God for this gift of a woman and I am very aware that the ways I knew her from brief visits and a few longer conversations pale in comparison to the great stories and love that you have for her. God gave a great woman in Miriam and God has taken a great woman in her. A wife to one, a mother to five, a grandmother to thirteen and a great grandmother to sixteen! Her joy, strength and sense of humor were infectious and ever present.

For all these great things we knew about her and as well as we knew her, there was one who knew her even better than we did. There is one who knew things about her that none of us will ever know. There is one who knew things about her that would shock us all. God knew Miriam to be a sinner. He knew all of her flaws and faults and the fallenness she carried. Her feistiness would spring up at the wrong time. Her stubbornness would hurt feelings. Her particularity would get in the way of relationships. So many things she did that God knew to be wrong. So much she could have done better. God knew these things and more about her; and you know what? Miriam knew these things and more about herself. There were many things she was ashamed of. She knew she was a sinner.

She also knew that because she was a sinner, she was deserving death and hell. She knew that sin meant separation from God and that apart from God there is no good thing. I know she knew this because I talked with her about it. We not only talked about it, but I heard her confess it: “I have sinned against you in thought word in deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone, I have not loved you with my whole heart, I have not loved my neighbor as myself, I justly deserve your present and eternal punishment.” This was Miriam.

But God was not satisfied having Miriam like this. God doesn’t desire the death of a sinner and God didn’t want to leave Miriam in her sins. So God did something about it. God in His infinite wisdom and ways beyond our ways made a way for Miriam to be joined to Him once again. The sinful imperfections of Miriam could not be tolerated in the presence of the eternal perfect God, so He made a way for these faults, flaws, and this fallenness to be taken from her. The imperfect cannot approach the perfect but our perfect God perfectly approached us to make a way for us to be with Him.

In Jesus we see this way. He is the truth, He is the life. He is true because in him is no deceit. There is no self serving-ness about Jesus. There is no sinful motivations. There is no fault or flaw to be found in Him as He lived the perfect life here on earth doing what Miriam could never do. He did that for Miriam. He, the way truth and life is the life because in Him is the life and the light of men. He was without sin and because death is the wages of sin, he didn’t need to die, yet He did. He died when He didn’t need to, He died for Miriam.

He died because the sins Miriam committed demanded death as a wage. He died in Her place. It was through His death that Jesus made the way for Miriam to be right with God. She is not held to account for the things that would cause her embarrassment because they were taken by Jesus. In God’s sending His Son to earth for Miriam, He sent His son to become the bearer of Miriam’s shame. He humbled himself to lift the burden of sin, pain and death from Miriam and all of that he took to the cross. And on that cross God was too embarrassed to look upon His Son. God’s Son became everything that embarrassed God all the imperfections about Miriam belonged to Jesus and as Jesus hung there God left Him to die guilty of all of Miriam’s sins.

For all this that Miriam knew herself to be, all that God knew her to be, and yes all that even we sometimes observed her to be in our life with her, because of Jesus Miriam the sinner is not the name we know her to bear. For all she was ashamed of there is one thing that brought her no shame. There is one thing that God gave her a pride in beyond all sin and pain. One thing that means everything for Miriam is what she found great joy and delight in and that is the Gospel. It is this news that Jesus has come and taken everything God did not intend her to do, Jesus came and became everything God did not intend His daughter Miriam to be. And because of this, she is no longer separated from God, she is His forever.

She loved this message. She loved this news. She loved this reality. She loved this power of the Gospel. She was so proud of this message, this was all she could boast in. This was the only thing that brought her no shame, Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” This power of God is not merely something that might sometimes be present when the Gospel is preached, but this power of God is found in the Gospel. The good news that Jesus has become for us everything that would keep her from God so that with Him through His resurrection she could be with God in a newness of life that is eternal, unchanging, and untarnishable.

God granted Miriam through Baptism to be brought this salvation work. He granted her through the hearing of forgiveness and proclamation that she was saved by Jesus. He sustained her through the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood given for her for the forgiveness of sins. As Jesus promises whoever hears my word and believed him who sent me has eternal life. He doesn’t come into judgement but has passed from death to life.

Jesus didn’t stay dead. He was judged for all that was wrong but by Him we are deemed righteous. Nothing wrong with Miriam is left to be seen as it is covered in the blood of Jesus. The power of God that is for Miriam gives her life. Jesus in His perfect payment of death conquered sin and death. There is nothing that separates Miriam from God now. She is in Him and she is with Him in paradise and she is no longer tempted or taunted or pained or prodded by the things of this world that would seek to convince her otherwise. She now rests in the savior because the savior has won rest for Her.

I have spent a lot of time talking about Miriam and about what she did and what Jesus did for her, but she would probably want me to talk a bit about you all today. Because as Miriam was, so are you. Sinners. But that’s not the last word, because As Miriam is, so are you, saved saints of God granted an eternity a place with him forever because of Jesus work for you. Nothing can keep you from God, nothing will keep you from being with Him in eternity, and as we rejoice God has delivered Miriam to himself we rejoice knowing that someday we will see her again along with her dear George in the joys of paradise.

But until then, we have work to do. Just as Miriam was blessed to be a servant of our Lord bearing this gospel this love of God in the world. Just as God prepared so many good works for her to do as She lived in Christ, so too, God has work for us to do, hearing this word and, sharing this powerful message, and loving through His powerful love. Today the works are works of hearing this and receiving from God our life in Him and in our life in him our works prepared by Him come in consoling one another with this hope that is within us. These works prepared for us may look like crying and weeping at the momentary affliction we feel at the loss of a loved one. These works are as mundane as hugging and holding and walking and talking and listening together to the words we need to hear and and the words we get to speak but in these things as we are in Christ, God is working for us, He is working through us.

It is a joy to have known Miriam but as she would agree, the greater joy is found in knowing her savior who has the final word. This Jesus would not let Miriam do it on her own and so too, he will not let you do it on your own. He has done it all for you and through the trials and afflictions that will continue to come our way, He provides the way for us. The way through the world of being loved by him so that we can love him and all around us. And the way to eternity through being ashamed of our sins but proud of his salvation’s work for us. May we all with joy this day be able to say, I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone.

In Jesus’ name.


Now may the peace which passes all understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Sermon: Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

You can listen to the audio of this sermon here.

God’s grace, mercy and peace be with you from Him our heavenly Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why is there suffering in the world? Why do good people suffer? Is suffering a punishment on those who are guilty? Questions like these beg to be answered and are often in the front of minds and find their way into conversations on life and God. The bad things that take place in the world and in our lives leave us asking the question what did they do to deserve that!?

Jesus faced similar questions and it may seem that he skirted the issue with His answer but in reality, Jesus puts the questions into perspective that shows us there’s more going on than just the obviously tragic events and unwelcomed accidents that leave people dead and scarred.

Everyone is going to die. It is one of the things like breathing that all humans have in common. Whether it’s expected as in the case of an elderly person who has lived a “good, long” life. Or if it’s in the case of an unexpected accident, a tragic inappropriate action of another, or an unwelcome diagnosis of health failure that brings it about, everyone is going to die.

The only real question that matters for eternity is not the why of death or the how of death or even the when of death but the question that matters is who we die with. Dying with Jesus is the only thing that can save us and in the lesson today, Jesus is warning the people around him against the danger of dying alone. There’s more going on than tragedies and accidents, Jesus reminds the people questioning Him today that eternity is on the line — every day.

Jesus was told about some Galileans who were killed by Pilate while they were bringing sacrifices. There’s no question given by the text of our Gospel from the people, but it is as if they have told Jesus this news along with the question of why did this happen? Did they have it coming to them? They must have been worse than us for God to allow this to happen to them, right Jesus? We don’t know what question the people may or may not have asked but we don’t have to speculate too much because the text of the Gospel of Luke does give us Jesus’ answer to their unrecorded question.

Jesus says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Jesus asks the question for them and then answers the question. Simply put he used a common word many learn early in their life, He told them, “No.” No, they did not suffer in this way because they were worse sinners than all the other Galileans. No. Jesus doesn’t give them the why. God doesn’t have to tell us the why, but more important than why they died, more important than how they died, more important than when they died, Jesus doesn’t even get into who they died with.

He wasn’t as concerned about those who were dead and the circumstances around their deaths as He was about those who were alive. Let the dead bury their own dead. We don’t pray for the dead because they are out of our hands. Jesus wasn’t concerned about those who were dead because there time of struggle was over. It was either won for them by Jesus or lost by them because of unrepentance. You couldn’t sweet talk the dead to life, you can only leave them to God. Jesus was concerned about the ones who were alive and listening to Him, Jesus is concerned about you, so He turns the question around to have those around Him think about who they would die with. Would they die alone, with their life and works to save them or would they repent and die with the savior who defeats death?

“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” He told them. Jesus wasn’t looking to teach the people around him about the problem of evil in the world. The people were familiar with that from at least one direct account they were familiar with. Jesus wasn’t worried about defending God’s name against the notion that He caused the spilling of the blood as a punishment on the people. No, Jesus wasn’t worried about those things. Jesus was worried about the salvation of those standing around Him. Jesus is all about saving people from dying alone.

Jesus makes the point even louder to them, that they have an opportunity to repent now, and He makes this point by beating the crowds to the next question. Knowing the people were likely unsatisfied with the “you can repent today answer” He heads them off by bringing up another tragedy. He says, what about the 18 on whom the tower in Siloam fell? They died. Were they worse sinners than all the others who lived in Jerusalem and that’s why they died?

We could apply Jesus statements to any number of tragedies that we are familiar with, were the ones who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks deserving of it because of what they’d done or not done with their lives? Were the inhabitants of Louisiana who died in the Katrina hurricane deserving of it because of their many sins? Are those being slaughtered at the hands of ISIS getting what they deserve? And the children who never see the light of day and die to make a family planning goal, they must have some evil streak deserving death in them right? The individuals shot in Kalamazoo last weekend and in Kansas this past week must have had it coming right? We can insert any number of situations into this reasoning. You know those who have cancer have it coming to them because of the filthy people they are. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Jesus simply says, “No!” but unless you repent you too will likewise perish.

We don’t know the status of the souls, the salvation of those who were killed in the mingling blood incident, nor do we know the eternity in store for those who had the tower fall on them. But we do know that they perished. What did they perish from? Well, they perished from the opportunity to repent. No longer would they have the opportunity to turn from their sin to the God who saves them from everlasting condemnation. So Jesus wants the people around him, and He wants you to realize, that the day is coming the day when your struggle is over is coming and He wants to win the struggle for you. He wants you to die with Him.

We often fall into the trap of speculating, why do bad things happen to good people. Well. There’s a flaw in that question that we should be familiar with, there’s no such thing as good people. There is a good person, though and that person has the power over death and that person desires to make things good for all people.  And He makes things good by letting his blood become the sacrifice, He makes things good by letting the tower of the law fall on him. He makes things good for all people by taking the punishment for all sins in the one place that the punishment for sin is given by God once and for all.

Jesus goes to the cross. And on that cross the evil of the world is paid for once and for all. All the things that are done that deserve everlasting condemnation are dealt with by God as He pours out His wrath against the one who hung in your place. The church ceiling doesn’t cave in when filthy sinners walk into church. We had that proved to us once again today when we all sat safely in our pews. The lightning bolts don’t fall from the sky against the wicked ones of the world, we may wish it in one breath and thank God for it in the next. God’s wrath is not a sin seeking missile targeting sinners all over the world but finds its target as the cross hairs level in on the one place where every sin is gathered and claimed by the only one who could atone for everyone. Jesus died so that we do not have to die alone.

Following the response of Jesus to two tragedies, Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a fig tree. A fig tree is planted in a vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found nne. And the owner of the vineyard says to his vinedresser, “Look, it’s been three years and there’s stil no fruit. Cut it down and use the ground for something not so evil, not so wicked, something that does what it is supposed to do.” The vinedresser buys some time for this tree and says, let it live this year, let me fertilize it with manure and aerate the soil around it , then if it bears fruit, it has done what it is supposed to do. If not, then cut it down.

In this parable we see that judgment is leveled against the non-fruit bearing ones. John the Baptizer spoke this way of trees as well in Luke 3:9 he said, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” In Matthew 3:8 John is recorded as telling the brood of vipers around him, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Every day we have is a day given to us to bear fruit and before you start thinking of your abilities and opportunities for bearing fruit alone: think about your track record. How has it gone for you? Have you had enough years to be bearing fruit worthy of giving you life? I will caution you lest you think too highly of yourself. Consider yourself according to the ten commandments. Have you loved God perfectly with all your heart putting Him before yourself and everything else in this world? Have you loved your neighbor perfectly, better than you love yourself? Have you done everything you can for everyone out of love? I know you haven’t. God knows you haven’t and if this frightens you, good it should because the ax is lying at the root of the tree and it’s only a matter of time before the time to bear fruit is gone. Repent.

So how can we be fruitful with the Lord? It’s by His grace, by His mercy, by His life that we live and move and have our being. It’s by us living not in ourselves but in Him that anything good can come at the end of these days the Lord has granted us. And God grants us everything we need to have a life in Him. He calls us to repent. He moves us to repent. He gives us the fruit of repentance and with that the evil we are is no longer ours to take care of. By the repentance God grants to us, we have a place with Jesus who takes care of everything that would keep us from God. He takes care of everything that would have us die alone. He takes care of our death so that eternity with Him is ours.

Realizing who we are what we are, we are left to wonder, Why do good things happen to bad people? And the answer is a love that doesn’t quit. The Lord God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that the wicked turn from his way and live. Each day of life we have is a demonstration of the Lord’s patience. By His love, through His power He moves us to Himself. By the Spirit’s it is given to us that we would repent, that we would live because of Jesus’ death. And with this truth even when disaster may strike us we need not fear because we do not belong to the world and it’s disasters. We belong to the one who overcomes it all. He is here to save us. God loves you through Jesus to overcome anything that would keep you from Him. And as He loves you, He loves the world through you so that many may come to repent and know His goodness.

He doesn’t want us to die alone. He wants us to turn from sin to Him and live. And as He turns us to Himself, we have life that lasts beyond the grave.

In Jesus’ name.


Sermon: Jesus Overcomes Temptation

Temptation is something that we all face. Temptation is something that we all fall to. Temptation is something that we all give in to. Temptation is something that God has done something about. Jesus overcomes temptation — for us.

Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days followed on the heels of His baptism. His baptism and the subsequent fasting and temptation was the beginning of His public ministry as the Father in heaven audibly spoke of His Son and who He was. “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” These were the words spoken for all to hear at Jesus baptism as the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove. These words of commendation were heard by John the Baptist, and all the other witnesses to Jesus’ baptism. These words were also heard by the devil and all the demons who seek to do the will of the deceiver. In these words, game on was called in the cosmic battle between the all powerful good and the ever nagging evil.

Certainly Satan is aware of God’s pleasure with His only begotten Son. Satan wants to see if he can cause some displeasure to the father and comes to Jesus in the midst of his 40 day fast and we have recorded for us three times he tempts Him. In the first temptation we find a likely hold for satan to wedge into. This man Jesus has been 40 days without food and He is hungry. Here is a clue about Jesus humanity we do well to lay hold of. Jesus was not using His divinity to overcome temptation. If this were the case, Jesus would not hunger but in Luke 4:2 it tells us that at the end of 40 days, Jesus was hungry. Jesus was not using his divine nature attributes to fast or to overcome temptation, he did it for us as a human.

So the first temptation is towards this empty human stomach. Satan comes to Jesus and says, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” This is an obvious temptation to fill the stomach that is growling for food but it is so much more that is being poked at here. The devil is tempting Jesus to doubt that God will provide for His physical needs.

The devil tried to plant doubt in Jesus’ mind.  God has forgotten you.  He is willing to let you die of hunger.  Back when you were baptized, He said that you were His beloved son, but did He really mean it? After all, what loving father would allow his son to wander around hungry in the wilderness? His promises mean nothing to you. Your concern is for bread; forget about God’s Word. Take matters into your own hands.  Don’t rely on God. If you really are the Son of God, God would want you to have bread, wouldn’t He? The devil hoped that thoughts like these would win out in Jesus’ mind when he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3) Our perfect Jesus would not be undone.

This temptation is still around today. The devil would love us to be convinced that the world has everything we need. That bread and money and status and relationships provide all we need and if we have them in the way we want we will find full and final fulfillment. And we give in to this temptation. We give up trust in God to trust in ourselves to do whatever we can to get whatever we feel we need. We abandon our vows in marriage to satisfy lusts. We fudge the numbers a bit to make the bottom line better for us. We fib in our relationships to make ourselves seem better for others in our lives. The temptation to turn from God’s provision is ever in front of us and we flee from our faith and fall into believing that we can get what we really need on our own. This we do, but not Jesus – Jesus overcomes temptation.

In the next temptation the devil takes and shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment and says, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory for it has been delivered to me, and  I will give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Here a clue that we would do well to pay attention to is given. The devil says “it has been delivered to me” and in this we are reminded of the wretched result of the fall into sin. Adam and Eve turned from God to find what they felt they needed and in doing so the world fell into Satan’s lap. Satan would love Jesus to believe that because the world has fallen it is no longer within the care and concern of the creator. This is false. And Jesus knows it. Satan wants Jesus to turn His back on the father’s plan to save the world and to instead take a place in Satan’s limited reign. Hey Jesus, let’s make peace now, you don’t have to go through the shame and suffering of the cross, I will make peace with you now if you just worship me just once. Can’t we just get along to make this happen?

This temptation is still around today. The devil readily tells us that we can be at peace with all people. All we need do is surrender our faithfulness to God’s Word.  So what if not everyone agrees with the Bible one hundred per cent. The important thing is that we all get along, right? As long as we make this a better world where everyone is happy, we’re all good, right?  That’s the important thing … worshipping the true god is not really that important. The temptation to abandon God’s word for an idea of momentary peace is ever in front of us and we turn from God seeking a limited love that really isn’t a love of others or of God but a love of self. This we do, but not Jesus – Jesus overcomes temptation.

Finally, the devil comes to Jesus quoting scripture. He took Jesus to Jerusalem and put him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” The devil quotes scripture but only part of scripture. He takes a psalm which proclaims God’s promise of protection and makes it into a psalm of permission – permission to do whatever you want. That’s not what God was saying in Psalm 91. But this is what Satan wanted Jesus to buy into.

This temptation is still around today, we pick and choose what words of God we will listen to and which words we will throw away. Even though Jesus told the disciples to teach all that He commanded, we can only learn so much … and we decide what is enough.  In doing this we forget that telling God that we don’t need any more of His word is the same as telling Him that we don’t need any more of Him. We make ourselves god by editing God’s word of life by finding words that support our way of life or words that make the most sense and leave the rest of His words in a grey area.  This we do, but not Jesus – Jesus overcomes temptation.

The young and young at heart among us are tempted by the flesh – tempted to satisfy the earthly urges we carry whether for filling our stomachs or for satisfying our lusts or by finding earthly comfort, as age causes the novelty of fleshly fulfillment to fall away we are tempted to believe that our standing in the world is of utmost importance and greed and deception seem likely means to deliver us to safety. Those granted a strength of faith by God to rise above and to withstand some of the temptations of the world may be tempted to believe that it is because of their strength of will and resolve that temptation is overcome. We can be tempted to believe that we are able on our own to deliver ourselves from evil. However these attacks may come, we know without a doubt that we all face temptations and we know from experience and from scriptures light, that we cannot face them faithfully alone.

Dear friends in Christ, we are not led into temptation alone. We pray in the Lord’s prayer, lead us not into temptation, and we know that this prayer is being answered. We may sometimes despair feeling the Lord has led us into temptation, but the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray is a prayer that we would not be led to temptation alone and left to deal with it on our own.

Thanks be to God he does not leave us unarmed for the battle. The first step toward winning in any battle is to realize the reality and the scope of the war that is being waged. To deny temptations exist is to give in to them. We cannot live as if the devil is far away from us leaving us to only wrestle with our minds and by our own strength to overcome temptations. Saying they are not real or not powerful does not make temptations go away or help us overcome them. Overcoming one temptation can leave us to be tempted to believe that it is by our own reason or strength that we have overcome them. Then the tempters attack is no longer to draw us to pervert the world around us but rather to pervertedly believe that we have overcome on our own. The foothold of the temptor becomes even stronger and the attack becomes even more nuanced and dangerous when our faith is placed on our doing rather than in all that is done for us.

Jesus faces temptation perfectly for us. The temptation to doubt God’s provision. The temptation to get along to feel strong. The temptation to pick and choose from God’s word to meet our ends. All these temptations and more, Jesus faced perfectly for us and overcame for us.

We regularly fall to the devil’s lies, but Jesus never did.  Jesus fought back with a strategy that is available to all of us.  He quoted from the Word of God.  Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” (Luke 4:4) from Deuteronomy 8.  Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:8) from Deuteronomy 6.  Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12) also from Deuteronomy 6.  God’s Word is the weapon Jesus used to stop the devil.  It is the weapon God has given us.  How sad it is that we often doubt this weapon and fail to use it as we should. Jesus used a strategy for fighting temptation that is available to us. But in perfectly overcoming temptation, Jesus gives us more than just a strategy. He gives us Himself.

Today’s Gospel tells us that when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:13) This means that the devil did not depart forever, but only until an opportune time.  The devil tempted Jesus over and over again.  He did not quit until Jesus was dead.

Even while Jesus was on the cross, we hear the devil speak through his servants saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40) There is that phrase of doubt once again: “If you are the Son of God …” Even at the cross, the devil still tried to sow seeds of doubt.  Even as Jesus died, He fought off the temptation with the word of God.  His last words were a psalm: “Into your hand I commit my spirit. (Psalm 31:5)

Even on the cross Jesus did not and had not given into temptation. We so often fall to the devil’s lies, but Jesus never did.  Jesus withstood the devil’s temptation for us, in our place.  He is our champion.  He never sinned.  He stayed on the hard road to the cross. And on that cross he took everything from us.

Eventually, the World was given to Jesus again, but not through compromise.  Jesus fulfilled every promise God made.  Jesus withstood the devil himself in the wilderness of hunger.  He endured temptation even to the cross.  Jesus never wavered.  In the end, Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil.  He rose from the dead. He bought us back with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that we might be His own and live under Him in His Eternal Kingdom.

In Him is the strength to overcome temptation because He has done it perfectly, so too in the eyes of God have we perfectly overcome temptation. We have more than a strategy. We have a new life. We have Jesus. There is no record of our failures to withstand temptation as we are in Christ. On the cross, Jesus took every sin of yours — every time you have abandoned you marriage vows, every number fudged, every relationship fibbed, every false peace sought by compromising God’s word, every ignoring of God’s word — has been taken by the perfect one to the grave. And now His perfection is ours and there is nothing that can keep us from the Father because He has given us everything we need to be with Him.

With His victory on the cross, Jesus earned forgiveness for us. And on the cross he gives us everything he did. His perfect withstanding temptation becomes ours as if we perfectly always overcame temptation. … And because of the cross we have everything that Jesus was. The Holy Spirit brings forgiveness to us and along with it a perfect record in the eyes of God as He works faith in us through Word and Sacrament. And moving forward we have the perfect one with us so that we do not have to use our own thoughts and resources to overcome temptation. No, Jesus overcomes temptation. Every temptation He faced and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, every temptation we face will be overcome by Jesus.

Until we live in eternity with Jesus free from temptation, Jesus overcomes temptation.

In His name. Amen


Sermon: Who knows whom? – Luke 7:18-28

You don’t always get what you expect with God. John the Baptizer had been preaching and teaching a message or repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand, he proclaimed in the wilderness many came to him. The threshing floor is the world and the winnowing fork is in the hand of the one who will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Repent! Turn to God! Turn away from wickedness. The unrighteous will be burned up with fire! Unquenchable fire!

This was John’s message he was preparing the way for the one who would come after him. The one coming was better and bigger and more powerful than John! John couldn’t even untie this one’s sandals! John’s message caught on many came to him and many heard him. Including Herod who put him in pon after he called him to repentance for his adultery. Luke leaves out this detail of imprisonment, but we get it in Matthew 11. John is locked up by the ruler of the earthly kingdom for the preaching a message preparing the way for the king of heaven and earth. This wasn’t what we would expect. But we don’t always get what we expect with God. We wouldn’t expect the confident prophet of God to be questioning the ministry of the one he was proclaiming, but he asked, “Are you the one to come or should we expect another?”

John was looking for some light in the darkness of his days. What was the point of this message of preparation? Was his life’s work for nothing? According to our earthly measures we would consider him a failure on some levels. He is restrained for preaching repentance. We don’t see what we would expect for someone who so clearly proclaimed the Good news of the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

We don’t always get what we expect with God. If it was up to us to write the history of the world we would probably put the good John, greater than others born of woman, in a place of power, not in a position of weak powerlessness. We wouldn’t expect someone with such a strong convicting and true message to be questioning the place of the great one he was called to prepare. But that’s what John did, he questioned Jesus’ work and standing sending his disciples to ask, “Are you the one to come or should we expect another?”

The great one doesn’t always look that great. Jesus calls John great. “I tell you, among those born of women, none is greater than John.” This is understandable in light of the great message and deeds that John did. I mean, after all, John even baptized Jesus. The man who prepared the way has gone a difficult and dangerous way. Granted Herod was afraid of executing John. He was amazed by John’s preaching. But in spite of his amazement toward John, the man herod needed to save face so he exercised his power putting great John in a place of great weakness. Yet this great one doesn’t seem that great, I mean great people aren’t often behind bars.

You can understand why John may have had his doubts at this time. He expected the messiah to bring judgment and to rule with power, putting the corrupt in their place and ridding the world of the unrepentant unrighteous. But that is not what Jesus did. He simply went about teaching goodness and giving mercy to the weak and weary.

Why wasn’t Jesus bringing judgment against people like Herod? Why was John’s righteous ministry being slammed into the slammer? This wasn’t the greatest place for someone as great as John to be in! You can understand why the question of “are you really the one?” would be going through John’s head. John was a man just like you and me, prone to bitterness coming through present situations.

We don’t always get what we expect with God. We expect that faith in Jesus, the ruler of the universe who was there when the foundations of the world was laid would led us to a life free from suffering and illness. Our jobs and families should be secure and we should be free from unemployment and underemployment. Our families should be understanding and supportive of a life following Jesus. Our families should be healthy and happy. Why would we need to endure difficult relationship difficulties when we are walking in the way of the righteous one? Why should we have to feel lonely and alienated in the midst of a relationship with the one who gives all? These are not things that we would expect and not things that seem that great but yet these things come our way and cause us to doubt.

We lose jobs. We endure unfair bosses. We are afflicted with illnesses. People mistreat us. We lose loved ones to untimely deaths. We have people who won’t trust us and we have people we cannot trust placed close to us. We are betrayed and slandered wrongly by the ones we are called to care for and support. The world around us is filled with headlines of persecution and killings of undeserving and even faithful people. Wickedness seems to thrive while righteousness seems to wither. The things that happen to us and things around us can cause us to doubt what a faith in Christ is really doing for us. Is faith in Christ really that great when our lives don’t feel great? Doubt creeps in and can overwhelm us.

John doesn’t stew in his despair. He turns to the one who is capable of repair. Sending his disciples John wants to know “what gives?” The disciples go with the question and arrive in the midst of the answer. Jesus in that hour is healing people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits. He is giving sight to the bling he is doing great things in a great way that great John was forgetting. The great deeds of compassion and mercy and healing by Jesus weren’t the great things John was looking for. He had forgotten the way of the one he was preparing.

In such a situation John’s message of repentance is needed all the more. Repentance is turning to Jesus. And in the midst of doubt, turning to Jesus is repenting of doubt. John looks to Jesus to resolve his doubts. Jesus resolution for John is to point John to the works he was doing. He tells the disciples of John (after demonstrating it in their midst), He says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard, the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus points John to his great deeds and in doing so also points the great prophet John to another great prophet. Isaiah in 35:5-6 and 61:1-2 pointed to one coming who would do exactly these things. Jesus answers his question not with empty words but with the fulfillment of the full word of God.

There are many things that we would want God to do in our life. We would want him to give us job security and safety and health and perfect relationships, but in the midst of these broken things, Jesus keeps doing what He came to do. He preaches good news to us healing us in our spirits and giving us something much more lasting than earthly comforts. He gives in the midst of things that don’t seem great, the greatest thing we need, saving faith in Him. He gives it to us and to us and John he gives the word, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Things that are offensive plague us. Imprisonments for John and many broken things in our lives. But in the midst of these broken things and messes, Jesus is still the Jesus we need.

Jesus is without a doubt the one we need in a way we would never ask Him to be for us. We would never expect that God would work in the midst of messes to cleanse us perfectly forever, but that is exactly what He does. We look around at our situations and we say, who is this God? We have a resume in our minds that we expect God to fill but God knows Himself and His ways better than we ever will and along with this, God also knows us better than we ever will.

He knows our broken situations and difficult trials and He knows what we’ve contributed to make these situations the messes they are. But He doesn’t leave us to deal with it on our own. He gives us everything we need that we would never ask for. With God you always get what He promises. God has not promised us an unshaken existence, He has promised to be with us through the shaking. God has not promised us soft splendid clothing and luxurious lives in palaces but he has promised robes of righteousness and a place with Him in the manions of the world to come. With God you always get what He promises. And for Him to deliver on these promises He had to be delivered over to death. Like John, Jesus was wrongly accused and the trials of the days put Jesus on the cross in a place he didn’t deserve. Jesus didn’t spend time in the dungeon but He spend time in the tomb. And like we will, Jesus has risen from the dead.

All of this he has done to deliver on His promises. He knows who we are better than we ever will and He knows what we need even better than we ever will. The answer that Jesus sent to John was a “make no doubt about it” reality check. In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And He told John’s disciples to go tell John what they saw and heard. The healings and miracles he brought bring peace and wholeness to a world that is in pieces. In Him the fullness of God dwelled so that He could make a way for John and for you to dwell with Him forever.

Jesus commended John to the hearers around Him, saying he was a prophet beyond prophets. He was the one preparing the way. He commended John to the crowds saying there is none greater born of women. And he commends you as well. Jesus commends you to the father saying that there is no one greater in the kingdom than you. By becoming the least in the world by taking on the sin of the world, Jesus has made it so that you can be commended as never having sinned. Never having failed. Never having contributed to the brokenness around you. Even though you are deserving of all the blame and all the doubts you carry are founded, God the father finds you without a doubt deserving of all the glories of heaven.

In the midst of the darkness of these days this light continues to shine. The light overcomes the darkness of unemployment and underemployment. The light of the world gives you cause to rejoice in the midst of broken relationships and broken promises and broken homes. In the midst of slander and slams from those closest to you, Jesus clings even closer giving you all goodness and righteousness that you could never have on your own. In the midst of failing health our unfailing savior stands ready to restore even better than before the perfection of all that God intended for us.

In advent we light four candles and three of these four candles are blue like the blues of this world. But this week we lit the pink candle representing the joy that comes into this world of blues. The truth remains even though everything around us would tell us the one who we know is not living up to His end when in all reality it is who he is that makes us live up to everything worth living for.

May God continue to be with us in the midst of our missed expectations. When our experiences cry out with doubt may we be given strength by the spirit to bring these to the Lord. Are you the one or should we expect another. And Jesus answers us with word and action. Go and tell what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed are you who is not offended by Jesus.

In His name.


Sermon: Prepare(d) for Christ – Luke 3:1-14

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If John the Baptizer had a favorite Christmas Carol it would perhaps be Joy to the Word. John doesn’t always seem like a joyful character with all of His repentance, root cutting ax, unquenchable fire and brimstone, threshing floor preaching that he did in the wilderness. For as cutting as John’s message of repentance was, it was all about preparing the way for the savior and in Joy to the World, we sing: Joy to the world, The Lord is come, Let Earth receive her king, Let every heart Prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing…

At this time this perfect time in history determined by God, John was singing. Into the midst of a quieted time where expectant waiting was not exactly on the front of everyone’s mind. Sre some were in expectation and were questioning in their hearts whether John was the Christ, but John’s message of Advent (Coming) was not about himself but about the one greater than him, whose sandals he was unworthy to untie.

Let every heart prepare him room was John’s message. He proclaimed this word given to Him by God with words from God that had also been given to the prophet Isaiah (40:3-4). John was the voice literally crying in the wilderness, crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6)

This message was preached to a brood of vipers who somehow came within earshot of Jesus. This was a group whose fruit bearing was suspect and who leaned heavily on their ancestry as their assurance of salvation. This was a crowd looking for something, this was a crowd who needed to know how to live and through the mouthpiece of John God gave them not only directions for living but the source of life.

Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was the message from John that echoes through the ages and this sin bearing lamb was the joy to the world that prepares hearts prepares room in hearts, this lamb is the one who went the way to prepare the way for us all.

We too have a brooding tendency toward sin. We have hearts weary and heavy laden. Sometimes admittedly, sometimes comfortably burdened with all sorts of things that keep the lamb from making a home within. We too have been given to flee from the wrath to come and we too have suspect fruit being borne in every moment of our lives.

Our crooked living is crying out to God to be made straight. We are bent away from the intent of our creator who made us in His image. Marred by sin we struggle to be anything close to straight. Our crooked ways devise to get more, to achieve better, to accomplish for our benefit and to straight up ignore the needs and pains of others around us. We put on our Sunday best and gather here. We go forth from here feeling better not acknowledging the source of all is outside of us. We beat around the bush with one another not cutting to the quick our need and the one who fills it. We live confident in ourselves thinking our paths are being forged by our innate powers and self identified purposes. Our crooked paths keep us from walking in the way we are called to live and into this life of ours, the message still comes, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make His paths straight.”

Our hearts are filled with pits and valleys. Pits of pain and despair from a longing for acceptance and belonging. Our sorrows overwhelming and real become prohibitive potholes keeping to ourselves our burdens and pains keeping others out and precluding the savior from having a comfortable home within us. Valleys in our lives can be anything from things that have been done to us by abusive others in our lives to regrets and feelings of filth from failures and follies from days gone by that have hurt our God and others. These low places in our life need filling and we often try to gloss over them with seasonal asphalt that temporarily fills the potholes only for a  moment. But like the valleys — the pot holes filled around us, as soon as the distracting season passes and the weather changes we are beating ourselves up again. Yet the message from John still comes, “Every valley shall be filled”

Yet as low as parts of us are other parts within us are stronger than mountains. These lofty mountains of our lives would have us believe that we are able, we are strong enough. We are unbreakable and no one is going to cause us harm. Anything that could or should hurt us will just be ignored and deflected because we are in this fight and we are strong enough to overcome. Yet these mountains in our life of self will not stand the wrath to come. The one word that can move the mountain into the sea is waiting to be spoken and when it is our foundation of pride and self saving confidence will crumble. To these foothills and peaks, the word of John still comes, “every mountain and hill shall be made low.”

In the midst of our valleys and mountains we continue living as if we have not been given a command of how to live. We pretend that if it is not hurting anyone else, it cannot hurt us. We lust in secret believing a cleared browser history is the same as a clean slate. With all our might we seek after the riches and comforts of this world, believing that with enough stuff and enough saved we will be kept from demise. We foolishly wag our tongues about the foolishness of others around us. Not satisfied with helping and defending our neighbors, we delight in the demise of the ones we are called to save. This crooked living we have leaves us labeled as crooks and to the crooks of his day and to the crooks of today, John’s message cries out, “the crooked shall become straight.”

So much is uneven in our rough living. We would rather have a rough go at it than an even keeled existence. Our conversations rather than patient and bearing with one another in love become defense contests to save ourselves from mistakes we may have made or may have seemingly made, but all this self saving keeps us embittered toward one another rather than loving one another. These rough places of our lives need to become level ways.

If all this seems like too much for us to overcome, then you are correct in assessing the situation. The valleys and mountains, the crooked, rough roads of our lives are leading to destruction. These Valleys and mountains and crooked rough roads will be burned up. This sort of living will be cut off and thrown into the fire. Yet to hearts like this John preaches, prepare.

Prepare the way of the Lord. The hearers of John heard the preaching and they heard the cry that the Lamb of God had come to take the sin of the world. These confident in their own living and standing and ancestry saw the lamb of God and believed him to be the enemy of everything they held important. They prepared the way for him alright. The way the sinless spotless one was given by those who were to receive him was to put Him to death on a cross among crooks. So too our response in the face of truth is to hide. We want to fill our own valleys, we want to keep our mountains strong, we want to straighten ourselves out we want to smooth out our rough ways to say we have done it.

God isn’t leaving it to be done by you though. God has seen the track record of humanity and he knows that prayer will be belittled and thoughts of deliverance will be laughed at. If you want things to be better, you have to make it better on your own. If you want the broken to be fixed, you better research and reach out in action to make it happen other wise things are never going to get better.

Yet if things were able to be made better by we who mess them up, we would have no need to greet the savior. But God knows best and God knows how. His salvation has been revealed for all to see.

At just the right time, God sent His son to be born of a woman to be born under the law and he perfectly held to the law. Perfectly loved and perfectly lives so that we too can live. “All flesh will see the salvation of God.” Confronted with salvation God does one more thing for us he makes us straight. By the work of the Spirit within us we who would be crooked become straight with God. We tell him how low we are how big we try to be how crooked we have behaved and how rough it is. God hears our prayers. He hears our needs and he tells us the good news.

John’s message wasn’t only fire and brimstone. God’s message isn’t just fire and brimstone. Like 3:18 tells us that with many other exhortations John preached good news to the people. This is the good news God has for you today. Jesus Christ the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. God sent His son Jesus to be Immanuel, God with us, God with us in the valleys of our lives. In the midst of abuse the spotless lamb is along side us receiving blows and beatings. He is in the low points of our lives not abandoning us to the shame of things done to us and things the things we have done. God has sent His son Jesus the cornerstone to provide the foundation for us to build on when our mountains fall. All the things that are too tall for us to climb or take down on our own, he has owned. He has moved our mountains of pride into the depths of the baptismal sea, drowning all that would fall down on us that we may rise with him. The crooked places of your lives — the divergent behaviors and detestable moments you wish or delete away have been pinned to the back of the one who could do something about it. Everything rough about us has been made right as the Lord Jesus walked the rough road for us not leaving us to watch but bearing us through the hard moments and the unfairly fought fights.

Through all this the Lord has gone for us. Jesus went to the cross, He went to the place prepared for Him not by the crowds but by the divine foresight of the Father who desires not the death of you. He wants us so badly to be prepared for forever with Him that he devised to punish His perfect son in our place. And His perfect son was not left to death and so too we are not left to die but instead have life forever with Him. The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has prepared the way for you. And now as we approach the celebration of his first coming we eagerly prepare by turning to the Lord who can and has made us ready for Him.

So ready we can say come quickly Lord, Jesus! And while we wait we live as God’s good soldiers of the cross. We give to those in need around us. We take no more than we are authorized to take We don’t extort as we fight for the Lord we are content with our earthly entrusting from the father, even as we are content with our eternity with Him.

For all this our savior has come and our savior is with us until he comes again delivering us to forever with Him in His home prepared for us. Let every heart prepare Him room. He has done it.