Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 9)


Luke 16:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:6-13; 2 Samuel 22:26-34


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

One of the over-arching stories of the Holy Scriptures goes something like this: Once you were free in the LORD, but you rebelled and sinned and, in so doing, sold yourself into slavery. However, in boundless mercy and grace, the LORD did what was necessary to set you free once again: He became a man, obediently fulfilling the demands of the Law, suffering and dying bearing the penalty for your transgression, setting you free through faith in Him. But, what will you do with your freedom? Will you fear, and love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, will you put your fear, your love, and your trust in other things, or in other people, or in your self? These are all creaturely, created by the LORD Himself, and yet you fear not having or losing them, you love and treasure them more than the LORD who created them, yourself, and all things, and you trust in them that, by possessing them, you will be independent and free. That is idolatry, for you have made of them to be gods, and you have made yourself a god, a god unto yourself.

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Now, what is mammon? Mammon is all manner of material and worldly wealth and possessions. Mammon is stuff – all the stuff that you think you have to have, all the stuff you’ve got that you don’t know what to do with anymore, all the stuff that has taken your money, wasted your time, and crowded you out of your house and home. And, mammon is a master that you serve, and a false god that you worship. To live in service and worship of mammon is to be a slave. Moreover, if mammon is master and a god, then you cannot serve and worship the true and only God who made you, your stuff, the world, and everything in it.

However, it is not that mammon is evil. Money isn’t evil, and neither are material things and worldly possessions. God created them, and He looked at all that He made and declared it to be very good. No, mammon isn’t the problem. You are. For, what do you do with mammon? Do you not crave and desire to have it, fear to lose it, covet what is not yours, and greedily hoard what is? Mammon didn’t make you do it. You do it because of your fallen, sinful nature. You continually make idols and false gods out of the stuff the True God has made and has given you to be a steward of.

You see, the so-called “unrighteous steward” of Jesus’ parable wasn’t really unrighteous, was he? I mean, there’s no indication that he was greedy for money and covetous of earthly goods and possessions. His chief concern was that he was soon going to be out of a job and that he wouldn’t be able to provide for himself. Likewise, when he hatched his great scheme to make friends for himself with his master’s money, he didn’t keep a cut for himself. All he was seeking to do was gain the favor of others for that inevitable day when he would be out on the streets without food, clothing, and shelter.

Now, we can speculate on what the steward was thinking as he hurriedly reduced the debts owed his master by fifty and twenty percent, but one thing is clear – the steward was not beholden to mammon, to money. On the contrary, the steward cared so little about money that spent it, not on himself, but on others in order to help them, and to bring them, relief and joy. True, the steward did have in mind his own welfare when he would be out of a job, but that all the more goes to show that he was not materialistic, or a slave to money. He did not serve mammon. Indeed, he made mammon to serve him!

I know this doesn’t sit well with you. It doesn’t sit well with me either. “That’s not fair,” we protest. “That’s illegal,” we shout. And, that’s why Jesus’ conclusion to this parable confounds us so very much. For, when the master finds out what his steward has done with his money, he is not angry with him, he does not punish him, he does not fire him, he does not have him thrown in jail, but, instead, he commends him for his shrewdness. How can Jesus hold up a dishonest crook as a commendable steward? What does he mean to teach us in this way?

Well, suffice it to say, the parable is much less about shrewdness in the ways and means of the world as it is about fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Jesus ends the parable with a proverb saying, “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Here, Jesus is making a distinction between the unbelieving masses and His own believing children whom He calls “the sons of light.” To put it plainly, Jesus is saying that the unbelieving “sons of this world” know how to use money and possessions to get what they want and need. The problem is that they do not recognize that these things belong to, and are given them, by the LORD, and that they are stewards of His providence that they might use it to benefit themselves and others to the glory of His Name. Because they do not recognize God’s providence, they credit themselves for their wealth and possessions, and they are greedy and selfish and manipulative, because they are ruled by the fear of losing or not having enough. They are slaves to mammon, therefore they cannot serve God.

Not so, you sons of light. Your Lord Jesus teaches you to “make friends for yourselves by means off unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Now, Jesus says a lot in a few words here. First of all, it is key that he calls wealth “unrighteous.” This does not mean that money is evil, but that it is not holy or sacred. It has no lasting value, and any value it has at all is only what men ascribe to it. In the eyes of the Lord, money and material possessions are nothing and are worthless. Moreover, they will not last. They will pass away. You know that the saying is true, “You can’t take it with you.” No, money and possessions are not evil, but men use them for evil purposes. Therefore, Jesus exhorts you to receive these gifts for what they are, temporal gifts to help you and others in this life. Don’t make them into masters! Don’t make them into gods! Instead, receive them in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD and use them in fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Use them for yourself and for your family, and use them for the benefit of others, not expecting anything in return, but because you know that all belongs to the LORD and the LORD loves and provides for all.

Jesus concludes His teaching saying, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to the true riches.” Here it becomes clear that how we manage (steward) the LORD’s possessions over which He has given us stewardship here on earth is connected to the spiritual gifts the LORD has given us both now, and in life eternal. Again, the message is actually quite simple, “Don’t enslave yourself to wealth and possessions. Do not put your fear, your love, and your trust in them.” As I said in the beginning, one of the over-arching stories of the Holy Scriptures goes something like this: Once you were free in the LORD, but you rebelled and sinned and, in so doing, sold yourself into slavery. However, in boundless mercy and grace, the LORD did what was necessary to set you free once again. But, what will you do with your freedom? Will you fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things? Or, will you put your fear, love, and trust in other things, other people, and in your self? “You cannot serve God and money.”

St. Paul writes in our Epistle today, “these things took place as examples for us that we might not desire evil as they did.” Thus, Paul exhorts you saying, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were.” Likewise, the prophet Samuel teaches that the service and worship of mammon produces pride, whereas the LORD values humility saying, “You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” How you view and understand unrighteous mammon – wealth and material possessions – is directly connected to what you believe about God. If God is your master, then you will receive these worldly and material things as the gifts they are. You will be good stewards of them, not fearfully and greedily amassing them and hoarding them, nor covetously desiring to have those things that belong to others, but using them, as the good gifts that they are, for your benefit and for the benefit of your family, but also for the benefit of your neighbors to the glory of God. These are the little things in which you must be faithful now so that you may be entrusted with the true riches of the kingdom of God.

For, you also have stewardship of spiritual things now, things like grace, mercy, love, charity, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. The LORD so lavishly pours them upon you, and into you, that you simply overflow with His goodness. Of the sheer abundance of these riches you are blessed to be a blessing to others, to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, come, now, and receive of these spiritual gifts that you may be strengthened and filled to overflowing. And, do not hesitate to share them with all you encounter, whoever the LORD causes to cross your path. For, in serving them, you serve Christ, your true master, and you demonstrate that mammon is a gift of the LORD, and not your god.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Christian Funeral for Alfred M. Janssen



Ephesians 2:8-10; John 3:1-8, 16-18; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 40:26-31


Dear Kathy, Marcia, Laura, Dan, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Al asked that his funeral sermon focus upon these words from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” - Ephesians 2:8-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Justification – how sinners are restored to a right relationship with God – that is what St. Paul is proclaiming in the verses quoted above: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – not by works...”. Grace means salvation is a free and perfect gift, no strings attached. Faith simply means trust, that you believe God when He says that you are forgiven and saved in Jesus. Both grace and faith are gifts from God. They are not earned or merited by works, they are not deserved, but they are 100% pure gift. That is what Al wanted you to focus upon and to remember this day. That is what drove Al and made him the son, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, mentor, and friend that he was. As he said in his own words, “By the grace of God I have been saved! Not by works or by any merit on my part. It was by faith that was placed in my heart by the Holy Spirit.”

Al received that grace of God, the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit, on May 13, 1931 when he was baptized into Jesus Christ. Dan recounted to me his last conversation with his father. Dan asked him, “What is the secret of faith?” Al answered with one word, “Baptism.” Baptism is 100% pure gift, 100% pure grace. That is what Jesus taught Nicodemus saying, “You must be born again.” Jesus wanted Nicodemus to think about what it was like when he was born the first time, what it was like when you were born. Did you choose to be born? Did you choose who your parents would be? Did you choose to be male or female, black or white, American, French, or Chinese, rich or poor, short or tall, or anything at all? Of course not. That, Jesus teaches, is what it is like to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. Just as birth is not something that you choose, earn, merit, or deserve, so being born again in Holy Baptism is not something that you choose, earn, merit, or deserve, but it is something that is done to you and for you, something that happens to you by grace alone, a free, pure, and perfect gift. This truth was incredibly important and life-defining for Al, and he wanted it to ring out loud and clear on the day of his funeral: “I leave those who survive me the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith and have now joined my Lord in eternal glory. I urge my heirs not to set their hopes on uncertain riches and earthly success but to take hold of the life which is life indeed through faith in Jesus Christ.”

As he confessed, Al was saved by grace through faith, and not by works. Still, Al’s faith and long life were marked by numerous, countless, undisputed good works. Al served sixteen years in the Iowa National Guard. He was a member of the Waverly Exchange Club. He served on the Waverly City Council, the Bartels Board of Trustees, and he served as a Hospice volunteer for twenty years. In the church, Al sang in the choir for forty-five years and taught Sunday School for forty years. And anyone who knew Al also knew his fervor for evangelism. Al took seriously St. Peter’s exhortation, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” When I visited Al, he often told me stories about people he would meet at dinner at Bartels or elsewhere who weren’t Christian. Al always shared with them the reason for the hope he had in Christ Jesus, but he did it with gentleness and with respect, as St. Peter also exhorts us.

Al was a salesman. He spent his career in sales and marketing with Midland Cooperative, Supersweet Feeds, and thirty-two years with United Suppliers. He was a salesman, and he was darn good at it too. Sales was but one of Al’s many vocations – a God-given calling in which he served his Lord by serving others. Combined with his zeal for sharing the Gospel, Al’s talent for sales made him an influential and effective evangelist. Through Al, God shaped and mentored countless people, young and old, helping to establish, grow, shape, and mature their faith.

However, more than anything else, Al was a devoted and beloved husband and father. Kathy, you shared with me that Al always made you happy. He always knew how to make you smile. After sixty-five years, you always had something to talk about. He was your best friend and a good and faithful husband. Thanks be to God. Laura, you recounted your childhood days on the farm with your Dad, how he was patient with you and always got you involved and made you feel like you were an important part of the work. Marcia, you recounted how Dad always brimmed with positive energy, how he was nurturing and encouraging and always made you feel loved and valued. And Dan, you recounted how Dad showed you unconditional love and support during the most challenging times of your life. That is grace, a free, perfect, and unconditional gift.

Al wanted this day to be about God’s free and perfect gift of grace in Christ Jesus. I think we have honored that – in fact, it was quite easy to do, for that is what it means to be a Lutheran Christian: To confess that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone – period. And yet, there is a role for good works and fruits. While they do not contribute in any way to our justification before God, good works and fruits must accompany faith. The thing is that these good works and fruits are the works and fruit of Jesus that are lived in and borne through those who have been grafted into Him as a branch into a vine. It is the life of Jesus that flowed through Al, that enlivened him and made him fruitful with good works. Those good works, the fruit of Al’s faith, served you and glorified God. Al wasn’t saved by his works, but Al produced good works and fruit, because he had been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This was true for Al, it is true for you, even as it is true for all the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I think this truth, more than anything else, drove Al in his evangelistic fervor. Since Jesus died for everyone, Al wanted more than anything else for everyone to know this truth and to believe it. Al did what he could, what he was given to do. We could do nothing more to honor his faith and life than to continue his work in our ours. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead you will grieve and you will weep, but you will grieve in hope. For though Al has died, he is not gone, and you will see him again. Al’s soul rests in Jesus for now as his body will rest here on earth. But we look forward to the glorious day of Christ’s return when the dead will be raised and reunited with their immortal souls and we will see our loved ones who have died in faith in glorified flesh and blood bodies forevermore in the presence of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Until then, we can be with them in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, where we join with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven,” including Al, in praise of the Lord until we meet in the flesh once again. Then, we will have joy, and no one will take our joy from us.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 8)


Matthew 7:15-23; Romans 8:12-17; Jeremiah 23:16-29


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“You will recognize them by their fruits.” Why does this statement of our Lord trouble you? It’s merely common sense, isn’t it? How do you know that you are looking at an apple tree? Is it not because the tree produces apples and not pears? How do you know that you are looking at a grape vine? Is it not because the vine produces grapes and not figs? And, how do you know if the tree or the vine that you are looking at is good or bad? Is it not because the good tree produces good fruit and the bad vine produces bad fruit? And, so, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”

Still, I know that this saying troubles you. This saying troubles you because, when you hear it, you hear it according to the Law. You think that you now have to do something - you have to produce good fruit. And, so, you fret and you worry if you are doing it, and if you are doing it right, and if you are doing it enough. You see, the Law directs you to yourself and to your works, so that you either take comfort in your works, which is self-righteousness, or you find your works wanting, which leads to hopelessness and despair.

However, that is not what our Lord teaches, is it? Jesus does not teach that you must work in order to bear good fruit, but Jesus teaches you simply that you must produce good fruit. Now, producing good fruit is not a work for a tree or for a vine, but it is simply what a tree or a vine does: An apple tree produces apples. A grape vine produces grapes. Whether the fruit is good or bad does not depend upon how hard the tree or the vine tried, but it depends upon the nature of the tree or the vine itself: is the tree itself good or bad? Is the vine itself good or bad?

Now, when it comes to you, living, animate, sentient creatures of God, made in His image, you are something quite different from trees and vines, aren’t you. You have wills, and you make good and bad choices. However, the goodness or the badness of the fruit that you produce doesn’t depend upon your will or your choice at all, but it depends upon your nature. And, now you should be troubled! For, what does the Lord have to say about your nature after man’s fall into sin? Nothing good, I assure you. In fact, our Lord Jesus teaches that, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Therefore, if it is by your nature, and the fruits produced by your nature, that you will be judged, what hope is there for you? There is none. Best prepare yourself for the chopping, and for the fire that is to come. For, if you are to stand alone, naked, in your fallen nature, with your fallen production of fallen fruits, then you are cut-off, condemned, and damned. The Lord will not recognize you, because He will not recognize your fruits. You will be like a thorn bush or a thistle, producing no grapes or figs, fit only for the fire. For, apart from the LORD, you cannot produce anything that is good.

And, that is why you must not, you cannot, stand alone, naked, before the LORD. And, that is why you must not, you cannot, offer the produce of your fallen nature, naked and alone, to the LORD. For, the fruits produced by your naked nature alone are no fruit at all. But, take heart, your Lord Jesus has died and has risen that you may be fruitful once again! He who makes “waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” can make fruitless thorn bushes and thistles to be fruit bearing vines and trees! But, you must be grafted into Him. You must be grafted into Jesus so that you draw your life from Him, so that His life flows through you, His branches. Then, as He has promised, you will bear much fruit, and good fruit – fruit, not from your fallen nature, but fruit from the holy, innocent, obedient, and faithful nature of Jesus. Then you need not be troubled at the Lord’s words, “You will recognize them by their fruits,” for your fruits will be seen as only good in the eyes of the LORD, for they are the fruits produced through faith in the True Vine, Jesus Christ.

Still, there is another problem; your flesh likes to take credit for its fruits. And, worse still, there are plenty of folks out there who will play on this fact, and who will encourage your flesh, and your fleshly reason, to trust in your works and in your fruits, to just try harder and be a better person. Jesus calls them false prophets, and wolves in sheep’s clothing. And, the LORD warned Israel through His prophet Jeremiah centuries before Jesus, saying, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’.” Who are such false prophets? How will you recognize them? The Lord says also that, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”

So, what are the recognizable fruits of a false prophet? Well, your Lord teaches that they will be as recognizable as fruitless thorn bushes and thistles. That is to say, their fruits – or, fruitlessness, really – will be contrary to the fruits of the LORD’s Word. For example, if someone calls evil good, and good evil, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet. If someone bends, twists, annuls, repudiates, or directly contradicts the Word and the commandments of the LORD, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet. And, if someone directs you to your works, to your trying harder, to your manifesting spiritual gifts, or even simply to thinking positively, in place of, or above, the Word of the LORD, that is the recognizable fruit of a false prophet.

However, false prophets do not think of themselves as false. Moreover, they do not want you to think of them as false. Therefore, they wear disguises. They attempt to pose as faithful prophets. They will offer you enough of the LORD’s Word to make themselves sound credible, but they will combine it with false teaching, or they will offer you only part of the LORD’s Word on any given matter, withholding His full counsel. You know who was really good at doing this? Satan. Satan knows the Word of the LORD better than you do, and he knows how to bend it and twist and distort it just enough so that, if you are not paying attention, or if you do not know the LORD’s Word well yourself, you will take the distortion at face value as truth. Consequently, many false prophets arose who filled the people with “vain hopes” that they could justify themselves by their works of sacrifices, prayers, and praise. This was demonstrated well when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest between the LORD and their false god. When Baal did not respond to the prophet’s prayers, they began to cut themselves and to thrash about wildly – they believed that they had to do something to merit their god’s attention. Likewise, the Pharisees were exceedingly well versed at the same. They minimized the Law of God and lowered the bar of its expectations and demands, they bent its truth in order to make it more palatable and more do-able, and they taught others to do the same.

Thus, your Lord warns you to beware of them. But, how will you know? “You will recognize them by their fruits.” This means that you must know the Word of the LORD well yourself. No, you don’t have to have every verse and word memorized, but you need to keep His Word and commandments at all times; they must be precious and holy to you. You must meditate upon them and draw from them wisdom and truth. The chief way that you do that is not by doing, but by receiving – by being here in Church, and by receiving the LORD’s words and sacraments with the community of the faithful. You do this by exhorting and being exhorted by your brothers and sisters in Christ, your family of faith, and your pastor and teachers of the Lord’s Word. And, you do this by keeping the Word and the commandments of the LORD in your homes, father and mother teaching them to your children, and the whole family praying together and studying and sharing the Word and the commandments of the LORD. For, you are all of one family, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, children of our heavenly Father, heirs with Christ of a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

But, you must bear good fruit. No, I am not saying that you must try harder, or behave a certain way, or think more positively – that’s what the false prophet’s will preach to you – but, I am saying that your fruit must be good, always. And, the only way that you can produce good fruit is if you are grafted into the True Vine, Jesus Christ. He is the Vine, and you are His branches; if you remain in Him, He has promised to remain in you, and you will bear – not just a little, but much, and good, fruit. For, “a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit,” and you are a healthy tree, because you are in Christ, and Christ is in you, and the fruit that you bear is Christ’s fruit – fruit that can only, and always, be good.

Jesus said to His Church, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that day is now! Our resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus offers you the fruit of His tree, His precious body and His holy blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life and salvation evermore. By eating and drinking of the fruits of the True Vine Jesus, you remain in Him, and He remains in you, and you will bear much fruit. And, because you bear the fruits of Jesus, His Father recognizes you by these fruits, and He loves you, and He calls you His children, even His Son.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 7)


Mark 8:1-9; Romans 6:19-23; Genesis 2:7-17


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Food. Now there’s something we can all agree upon. Everybody likes food; everybody needs food. Today, culinary programs pepper our television screens teaching us how to prepare food, evaluating restaurants and chefs that prepare and serve food to us, and taking us to exotic locations where we can enjoy unique and unusual food. We’re concerned about low fat food, high fiber food, food that’s organic, food that’s all natural and not processed. Everybody enjoys food and everybody needs food to survive, thus food appeals to us both on an emotional and sensory level and also on a fundamental basic needs level.

Moments after birth, the newborn infant’s reflex action to suck, to eat, is activated. The infant’s need for food is natural and moms are equipped with a natural supply of food. And, without food, natural, formula, or otherwise, the infant will get weak, then sick, and will soon die.

Moments after His creation of man, God created a lush garden filled with fruit bearing plants and trees that the man may eat and live. All that Adam needed to support his body and life were supplied by his Creator and Lord. The Lord gave Adam to eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden, even of the Tree of Life, save the one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In connection with that particular species God gave His Word, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Life and death, that’s what food and eating is all about. In the Garden, food literally rained from the trees and fell into the mouths of God’s creatures; Adam and Eve didn’t have to break a sweat to eat and live, all was provided by the grace of their loving Father.

Now, let us consider the catechetical question:  How can bodily eating […] do such great things? It is here that we get to the crux: It is not the eating, or the drinking, or even the food itself that gives life, but it is the Word of God connected to it that gives life. Consider the two specifically named trees in the Garden of Eden: The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we suppose that these trees and their fruit were good and evil in and of themselves, we are incorrect and we entirely miss the point. There were many different trees, plants, and other flora in the Garden; the only thing that made these two different and special is the Word that God gave concerning them: The Tree of Life gave life because the Word of God said so. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil brought death because the Word of God said so. And so, Moses rightly warned the Israelites not to forget God in times of prosperity saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” And you will remember that our Lord Jesus replied with this same Word of God when tempted by the devil in the desert to eat and satisfy the hunger of His flesh.

Our First Parents succumbed to the devil’s tempting; they rationalized away God’s Word concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “It looks good to eat.” “It’s good for making one wise.” “What harm could there be in it?” And so they ate, and they died; no, they didn’t die physically, not immediately, although that process began at that moment, but they died spiritually in that they lost the image of their Creator and were separated from His holy presence. The substance of their eating, the fruit of the tree, really had nothing to do with their fall; it is disregarding and disobeying the Lord’s Word that leads to death.

There are many lessons for us in the Fall of our First Parents, but for now let us consider only the temptation to subtly twist and misinterpret the Word of the Lord. The devil did not speak unfamiliar words to Eve. She undoubtedly knew these Words well, having learned them from her husband and pastor Adam. But the devil tempted Eve by causing her to question and doubt how she understood God’s Word. “Did God really say…?” the devil tempted, and, as the tempting began to work its way into her heart, Eve reinterpreted and rationalized God’s Word to make the eating of the forbidden fruit permissible, even approved by God! Pastor Adam, who was with her, heard the same beguiling words and he ate too. Their actual sin was merely the fruit of their unbelief.

After the Fall, food does not come so easily. One of the fruits of sin and unbelief is that we are cut off from God’s direct holy presence. Nevertheless, God is gracious and merciful, allowing us to receive the blessing of His presence through means. No longer does the earth readily supply us daily bread, but by the sweat of our brows and hard toil we must till and weed the fields, battle insects, drought, and blight to put food upon our tables and into our hungry mouths. And, still we die; for, no earthly food, no bread alone, can feed our spiritual starvation or nourish our souls; still, only the Word of God can do that.

So God did the unimaginable, He veiled His holy Word in human flesh in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead and His glorious presence, hidden, so that God and man might once again walk and talk together. Jesus is food sent from heaven for all hungry hearts that a man may eat and live and may drink and never thirst again.

Jesus has compassion upon the multitudes in this desolate place where there can be found no food that truly fulfills or truly gives life. The disciples despaired of their meager providence, seven loaves of bread and a few small fish, that there would not be enough for everyone. But, it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about the bread and the fish, it’s about the Word of God. Jesus took the loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. They ate and were satisfied, because the Word of God attached to those humble elements is what gave them sustenance and life. There were more than four thousand present that day, more than five thousand on another occasion, and in both meals, basketfuls of leftovers were gathered after all had eaten and were satisfied.

Those hungry souls had been with Jesus three days. They had listened to His teaching, observed His works and miracles, and followed Him wherever He went. They were hungry and in a desolate place with no food for them to eat. But on that third day, Jesus renewed the bounty of Eden, there in that most unlikely of places, freely granting an abundance of bread to the four thousand.

So also, our Lord Jesus, having endured the burden of our sin, was raised on the third day to bring us back to Paradise. He now miraculously turns the bread of death into the Bread of Life in this holy Sacrament, giving you His very body and His very blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)


Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The law of God is not an afterthought, nor is it something that God gave to men later to test them or to set them on the right path, but the law of God is God’s eternal will. The law of God is true and good and the only standard and measure of truth and goodness. In other words, the law of God would be true and good even if there were no creation and no men to hear it, know it, or do it.

Therefore, the law of God will not pass away. It cannot be abolished. And that’s a serious problem for you and me, and all people. For, we do not keep it. We do not do it, at least, not perfectly, as it necessarily demands. That is why the first transgression of the law in the garden lead to death. God’s law is life. Anything else is death. Why do we die? We die because we do not keep God’s law. The wages of sin is always, and only, death.

We cannot keep the law perfectly as it demands. That is why the Son of God became a man. “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus fulfilled the law of God for us. He suffered and died on the cross for us, taking the death we earned upon Himself, and giving us in exchange His righteousness and life. The law of God has been fulfilled.

By no means, however, has God’s law been abolished. Rather, our relationship to God’s law has changed. While the law of God still demands perfection, it has been perfectly fulfilled and satisfied by Jesus. Death, the penalty we earned for our sins, has been placed upon Jesus. Yet still, the law remains. Though it has been fulfilled, it cannot be abolished. The law still demands that you be righteous. Jesus teaches that your righteousness must exceed that of the exceedingly righteous scribes and Pharisees. What is a Christian to do?

You cannot bend the law. You cannot lower its expectations and demands. It is absolute and eternal. Nevertheless, the scribes and the Pharisees tried by interpreting the law narrowly. For example, the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder” -- the scribes and the Pharisees maintained that, so long as you haven’t physically murdered someone, you can rightly claim that you have kept the commandment and have earned God’s favor. However, the law is not so narrow as that. Indeed, the law of God, as I stated earlier, is not an afterthought, but the law of God is God’s good, perfect, holy, and eternal will. Not only shall you not murder your neighbor, Jesus teaches, but you shall not be angry with your neighbor or mock them or hold them in derision. Luther built upon this in the Small Catechism adding, “but help and befriend him in every bodily need.”

It may seem that Jesus expanded the meaning of the law, but that is not the case at all, for the law of God is fulfilled in love: Perfect love for God, bearing the fruit of perfect love for the neighbor. The scribes and the Pharisees feared and hated the law of God, they feared and hated God, and so they bent and lowered the bar on the law to make it more doable so that they could pretend to be righteous and justify themselves. We are tempted to do the same, but we must not. Rather, we must let the law of God convict us, crush us, and condemn us. We must humble ourselves and repent trusting that God will forgive us for Jesus’ sake, who has indeed perfectly loved both God and neighbor.

How can your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? The answer is not that you try harder, or that you do better at keeping the law. The truth is that no matter how well you keep the commandments you will always fall short. In truth, because of original sin, you were damned before you started. What is a Christian to do? Believe in Jesus. Trust in Jesus. Have faith in Jesus, that He has fulfilled the law for you. You have been baptized into Jesus. That means all that belongs to Jesus belongs also to you: Innocence, faithfulness, obedience, righteousness, life, sonship with the Father, and more. How can your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? When your righteousness is not your righteousness but Christ’s righteousness. That is the righteousness Jesus teaches that you must have if you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The law of God is good and true. That will never change. Because of sin, our first parent’s sin, our neighbor’s sin, our sin, our world, our culture, our flesh, our desires, and even our thoughts are corrupted, and we must die. How then can we live? We cannot hope to fulfill the law’s demands and expectations on our own. Bending God’s law or attempting to lower its demands and expectations will not work. There is only one hope, and that is Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled the law’s demands and expectations for us, who has died in our place, who lives, and who now sits at God’s right hand in glory. He died to share His righteousness with you, and He died for all so that all may live.

Christ’s death is our death. Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection. Christ’s life is our life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)



Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You come to church. You say your prayers and read your Bible. You try to keep the Ten Commandments in your day to day lives. You strive to be patient, kind, compassionate, charitable, and forgiving with others, even those who treat you poorly. And what do you get for it all but grief, thanklessness, and suffering, while countless others who have no regard for the Word of the Lord seemingly prosper and have a great time? I think we can all relate to Elijah’s desperation when he cried out, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” I think we can relate to Peter’s frustration when he cried out, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

“At your word.” There is the key. Left to our own devices, reason, wisdom, and strength, there is good reason for despair and hopelessness. But we have the word and the promises of God which can never fail. The word of God and His promises remain true no matter what we should experience or suffer in our lives and in our world.

The disciples had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Fishing was their livelihood, and they were frustrated, exhausted, hopeless, and despairing. It must have seemed as if the fish were swimming away from them and that their work was both futile and foolish. In contrast to that, however, a crowd was pressing in upon Jesus to hear the word of God. While the fish were fleeing the disciples’ nets, the crowds were flocking to Jesus to hear the word of God. The disciples’ experience, reason, and wisdom considered it foolishness to go out and fish again. However, it would not be experience, reason, and wisdom, or even boats and nets, that would win for the fisherman a great catch of fish, but it would be the word of God and their faith and trust in it. This was a transformative moment for the disciples, as Jesus Himself indicated by saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Those men were the crowd pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. They were out there, hungry, ready to be caught. In this case, they were not fleeing from Jesus, but they were coming to Him. Jesus’ command to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” was instruction for ministry. The deep is the world. The nets are the Gospel. The catch are men and women hungering and thirsting for the Word of God, ready to be caught in the Gospel net and brought into the boat of Christ’s Church. Fishers of men are first and foremost the called and sent pastors of Christ’s Church, but you are also fishers of men through your callings, your vocations, in which you are the hands, heart, and voice of Jesus in service of those whom God causes to cross your path.

Now, let’s be honest, the fishing can be a daunting task much of the time. From the perspective of human experience, reason, and wisdom, not to mention business and marketing models that are very successful in other fields, the ministry often seems ineffectual, hopeless, and an utter failure. Pastors, church leaders, and laity in their vocations are tempted to despair and hopelessness, to throw in the towel and give up. Or, and just as bad, if not worse, they are tempted to acquiesce to worldly values and methods and “give the customer what they want” in a desperate desire to grow the church by their own reason, wisdom, and devised methods. While this might seem the sensible, wise, and reasonable thing to do, and the result might produce numbers and wealth and resources in the short term, this is not the way of the Lord and it will bear bad fruit in time to come. Faithfulness cannot be measured in numbers. The goal of the Church and her Ministry is not to count the fish, but to let down her nets for a catch, and let the Lord go to work. The counting and sorting will be done at the Judgment. For now, we preach Christ crucified, a message that is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, the power of God.

As Queen Jezebel had set herself to destroy the prophets of Israel, Elijah had even more reason to despair and hopelessness in his ministry than did the fishermen apostles. Hiding in a cave, the LORD spoke to Elijah, not in mighty wind, not in a powerful earthquake, not in a consuming fire, but in a low whisper. Once again, means that would impress human experience, reason, and wisdom are eschewed by the LORD and that which is humble and unimpressive, a whisper, is the means through which the LORD comforts Elijah and promises him success. There will be a new king in place of wicked Ahab, and a new prophet to succeed Elijah. And there will be seven thousand faithful preserved, a remnant. Now, the population of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time was approximately two and a half million. Seven thousand was a very small group, relatively speaking. However, that group consisted of those who had never worshiped Baal, and so it was undoubtedly more than Elijah would have imagined. Once again we are reminded that God’s ways are not our ways, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.

God has prepared for we who love Him good things that surpass all understanding and that exceed all that we can desire through Jesus Christ. What are we to do? That is the wrong question. Rather, we should consider, what is the Lord doing? We are to trust in the Lord and in His word and promises as we let down the Gospel net for a catch, not considering the numbers or the apparent foolishness of the means, but trusting in His word as the Lord does the work in and through us, drawing men, women, and children through the waters of Holy Baptism into the boat of His Church. And, in the safety of the Church the Lord binds up the wounds of the faithful applying His word of forgiveness. He nourishes and strengthens our faith through His word. He feeds us with His body and blood. And He equips and sends us, making us fishers of men, to the glory of His holy Name.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.