Sermons, Uncategorized

Not Peace, but a Sword

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Our text for today, Matthew 10:34-37, is a terribly difficult passage of Scripture. Not so difficult to understand, but difficult to accept. These words are even more disturbing because they come from the One whom Scripture calls the Prince of Peace. Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  

Most Christians want to think of our home as a place of refuge and peace, our family as a source of strength and comfort—especially in times of difficulty and tumult. Heaven help anyone who would try to drive a wedge between your dearest loved ones and you! So we have to ask, “What kind of God would come to this earth with the expressed purpose to “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”?

Jesus. Jesus is that God. Your Jesus—the one whom you love and the One to whom you pray—He is that God. “I have not come to bring peace,” He says, “but a sword… And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

What’s going on here? Well, there are a couple of clues. The first clue is a matter of Law. When Jesus speaks of turning families against each other, He is echoing the Old Testament prophet Micah, who is commenting on his day. Rejection of God and His Word has led to many terrible consequences in society. Rulers are corrupt and judges are easily bribed; there is no justice for anyone. Friends and neighbors are not to be trusted; sin has turned people to selfishness and greed. The family structure has broken down. Micah writes: “The son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Micah 7:6). In contrast to this breakdown of human relationships, Micah places faith in God and reliance upon His Word: “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7).

This is the first clue in understanding what Jesus is saying according to the Law in today’s text. When all share the same faith in the Lord, there will be harmony. When some in the family are believers and some are not, there will be strife because some hold to the truth of God’s Word and some reject it, some worship the one true God and others turn to idols of their own making. Such a family will find peace in only one of two ways: Either all will come to believe in the Lord and abide by His Word, or all will decide that family is more important.

The second clue to understanding Jesus’ harsh words is Gospel. Jesus comes to undo the wages and consequences of sin. All deserve eternal death, because all are sinful, and the wages of sin is death. But Jesus comes to die for the sins of the world. He has won peace for us between man and God. He is Lord and God, truly worthy to receive glory and honor and power.

So, given all of this, the question you face is this: Are you worthy? Do you really want Jesus to be your Lord and God? Do you really want to trust in the Lord and abide by His Word?

“Of course, I do, Pastor?” you say. “What a silly question for you to ask! Do you think I would be here if I didn’t?”

But I ask you again: Are you worthy? Do you really “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”? All the time? In every way?

Part of you certainly does. That baptized, sanctified, fully cleansed part of each Christian wants nothing more than for Jesus to be Lord and God. This is the part of you that Paul calls “a new creation.” This is what Luther’s Small Catechism describes as the new person who emerges and arises from Baptism “to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

But here in this life, that new creation is not the only part of you. Another part of you doesn’t want Jesus to be Lord and God. That part is the old evil flesh, “the body of sin” still living and working within you. The Old Adam wants nothing to do with Christ crucified and seeks to worship other gods! No, you do not want Jesus to be your Lord and God. Not all the time. You are an idolater!

Knowing who you are—your natural tendencies and inescapable desires—Jesus says to you: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34, 37).

With these terrible-sounding words, Jesus is lovingly cutting away objects of your idolatry. Remember: “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress… Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (LC, Part I, 2,3). Jesus does not want you to have any illusions about what shall be most important to you. He’s not even asking you to choose between Him and your gods. Jesus is making the choice for you because He knows you don’t have the ability to choose correctly for yourself.

Perhaps you have one of your idols sitting with you today. Go ahead and take a look. Maybe your favorite gods live somewhere across the state or the country. Inventory your memories. Assess your fondest hopes for the future. Consider your happiest moments of your life along with the people who were with you in those times. Think about how secure and comforted those loved ones have made you feel. Have you turned them into an idol?

Consider this in regard to a few common family situations faced today.  Suppose your son decided he was going to live with his fiancé before getting married. Would you call that sin or remain silent in order to keep peace? What if your daughter’s team were scheduled to play on Sunday morning? Would you let her miss worship just this once so that she wouldn’t lose her spot on the starting lineup? What if your boyfriend was pressuring you to do things God’s Word has clearly saved for marriage? Would you give in, rather than risk losing him?

Jesus’ says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And the sword of Jesus’ Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrew 4:12-13).

That Word terrifies the Old Adam, but it brings great comfort to the baptized new man. Jesus wields the razor-sharp sword of His Word to bring you true peace. This is not a half-hearted peace. This is not a comfortable peace brought by calculated compromise and careful negotiation. This is not a “peace” maintained by silence or at the cost of truth. This is peace through strength, the power of God’s Word. The Word is the Law that kills and destroys sin in the death of Christ; but the Word is also the Gospel, which raises you to life and heals you in Christ’s resurrection. This is the Word that declares you righteous and holy for Jesus’ sake.

So, don’t fear the Lord’s sword or flee from it. For the One who wields this sword is the same Christ who gave His life into death for you on His cross. He knows the killing edge of that sword. For you, He has experienced it firsthand, in His own body. And on the way to Calvary, He experienced the rejection and scorn of even His own family members. He wields this sword—not as an instrument of destruction—but as a skilled surgeon, slicing out sin and death, carving out the cancer of idolatry, reviving and restoring you with His breath and His blood.

But the sword of Christ also brings earthly conflict and division. The cross of Christ always precipitates a crisis when it confronts us. We either deny it in unbelief or we confess it in faith. And the line between faith and unbelief is always up close and personal. It cuts through family ties. It severs every human connection, whether by blood or marriage.

Why would Jesus do that? Why would God tear down the bonds He has joined, the ties of family that you know are so essential to this life?

Jesus must tear down, before He builds up. He must wound before He heals. Christ must cut into your relationships, so He can get into the thick of it all. For Christ must get between a person and the members of his household, so that each will deal with the other, and receive the other, in and through Christ Himself. Without Christ every relationship is in danger of becoming idolatrous.

Jesus says, “Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” To love anyone over Christ is to make them into an idol. And no one can be God and Lord for us but the One who hung on the cross, who was broken by our death, and in His dying and rising brought us life.

Think about your dear loved ones that God has given to you for a time here on earth. They are certainly wonderful gifts from God, among His very best gifts, but do they make a good god? Are they going to save you?

Can your Dad defy death for himself, much less you? Jesus can and Jesus has. It is on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection that you now shall rise from the dead, fully forgiven of every sin, including your idolatry.

Can your Mom truly comfort you as you face the harsh realities and consequences of your sin? Can anyone? Then why do they go away? How dare they die and leave you to face life alone! Jesus does not and will not leave you to face life alone. Risen from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven so that He may fill all things—so that there is no place you can ever go where Jesus is not with you.

Can your spouse completely fulfill you? Does he or she know you, your innermost thoughts, and darkest secrets yet still love you perfectly and unconditionally? Jesus is your High Priest, who is able to sympathize with you in your weaknesses, One who in every respect has been tempted as you are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He is the Bridegroom who loves you and gave Himself up for you, that He might sanctify you, having cleansed you by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present you to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Can your child be the source of your eternal joy? Your hope for the future? Your shot at immortality? Only God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can! According to His great mercy, He has caused you to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Though you have not seen Christ, you love Him. Though you do not know see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3 ff.).

Has anyone in your family ever treated you selfishly? Has anyone ever put himself or herself first, rather than keeping you first and foremost in all things? Jesus has never done that, and He never will! Everything Jesus does from His incarnation and perfect life to His atoning death, resurrection, and ascension, even His harsh-sounding words to you—everything Jesus does is for you!

“Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” With these words, Jesus is keeping your perspective clear. Love your family, yes! Cherish them as precious gifts of God. Hold them and care for them and pour your life into them. You have nothing better to do than to devote yourself to those whom God has lovingly placed into your life. But don’t turn them into your idols!

With one and only one exception, every human relationship will eventually loosen and end. Death will see to it. One and only one connection remains eternal. God the Son has made you His brother in Baptism. In that water with the Word, God the Father has adopted you to be His child and heir forever. God the Holy Spirit has created for you an everlasting family, which extends far beyond the walls of your house and is now as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore. You shall live and remain in this house with this dear family forever.

There, with Christ—Your Brother, Lord, and King—you will find perfect peace, eternal peace. Peace with your fellow man. Peace with God the Father. Peace which declares He no longer holds your transgressions against you. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Guest Preacher, Rev. Doug Minton: Dread Warrior

“Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers” by Gustave Dore

You can find more of Pastor Minton’s work at https://www.wrestlingwiththeology.org/

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten” (Jeremiah 20:11).

“The LORD is with me as a dread warrior.” What a frightening image! The LORD being some great warrior king, fighting the battles for His people. No wonder Jesus was crucified. He looks ”’nothing”’ like that in the Gospels! Right?

The Gospels show Jesus as kind and compassionate. Helpful to friends and enemies alike. Not some valiant warrior looking to reclaim His throne. When we think of dread warriors, we look to guys like Goliath or Hercules. Guys who look like they’ve just come out of a wrestling ring with muscles bulging out of places we’re not even sure we have. But Jesus isn’t shown like that.

But we can only say that if we skip His Passion. How does the Passion paint Jesus? A very dread warrior fighting the most epic battle ever fought. The battle with sin, death and the devil for the souls of all the people on earth.

He is a dread warrior whose enemies made Him a laughingstock and mocked His battle. Roman soldiers stripped Him of His own clothing. Clothed Him with a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns. They mockingly hailed Him as the King of the Jews. Other soldiers gambled for His clothing. The bystanders, egged on by the chief priests and elders, taunted Him from the foot of the cross: “You who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.” The mockery continued from the thieves hanging on either side: “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” Does He look more like a dread warrior or a laughable fool?

The battle raged on and reached its full height as the sky darkened. For three dread hours of darkness, sin, death and the devil did their worst. Then, Jesus gave up His spirit. Everyone thought He was done. Jesus had gone the way of all flesh. He had died. The battle was over. He had lost. No one had to worry about Him anymore. He was not the dread warrior people had hoped He would be.

But then the victory march began: “The veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened.” Jesus’ victory march began with the tearing away of the barrier between God and man. When God revealed the plan for the Tabernacle to Moses, He said: “You shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy.” He further commanded, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die,” except on the Day of Atonement. But now, the veil is gone! Torn from the top! ”’God”’ tore the veil! God declared no more separation between Him and His creatures since His Son, the dread warrior, had won the war.

Nature itself announced the next phase of the victory march. The earth quaked. The rocks were split. The tombs were opened! Recently dead saints were resurrected! They proclaimed the glory of the dread warrior who would soon be resurrected Himself. The earth could not stand still as its Creator had died. It could not keep quiet. It rejoiced that the firstfruits of salvation had begun. There was an end in sight for its constant groanings under the plague of sin.

Jesus Himself rose from the dead. The dread warrior would not stay dead! His own resurrection brings the victory march to a fevered pitch. His appearances to His disciples from Easter morning until He ascended into Heaven were to declare what the resurrection truly means. The battle is over. The LORD, the dread warrior, has won. What happens now? Six centuries before, Jeremiah proclaimed the results: “Therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.”

After the Good Friday portion of the victory march, “the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.” The chief priests and elders, who had handed Jesus over to the Romans because of envy, stumbled when they saw all the miraculous events that surrounded Jesus’ death. This “impostor” revealed Himself as the dread warrior, and they didn’t know what to do about it. Their religious world had been rocked, just like the earth quaked.

When Jesus rose from the dead, they stumbled further in order to discredit Jesus. When the soldiers guarding the tomb came back with the report of the resurrection, the chief priests and elders paid off the guards to give a phony report of what had happened. The news that Jesus had ”’actually”’ risen from the dead made them have to backpedal and rethink everything. Now, their entire religious structure and system would have to switch to a complete and total rebuttal of Jesus of Nazareth being the resurrected Messiah. Their entire religion, which would become modern Judaism, walks away from God’s Word to focus completely on disproving Jesus, the Word of God incarnate.

Most of them would not–could not–bring themselves to acceptance of the fact nor to repentance over having killed the Messiah. Some did believe in Jesus as the Messiah and join the ranks of the disciples, but the majority remained steadfast in their arrogant defiance of what they knew to be true. Their arrogant defiance would lead them to great shame which will never be forgotten.

The chief priests and scribes gave themselves eternal dishonor in their arrogant refusal to accept that Jesus is the Messiah. This will never be forgotten because the Holy Spirit caused it to be recorded in the Scriptures. I’ve already mentioned the cover-up with the guards at the tomb. The fallout that would continue to shape the way of Jewish apologetics forever. They would not see Jesus as the dread warrior that He was promised to be throughout the Scriptures. The dread warrior who would crush the serpent’s head. The dread warrior who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities … with His wounds we are healed. … The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus Himself said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but ”’whoever does not believe”’ will be condemned.” The unbeliever’s dishonor does not end with their earthly death. Just as Jesus’ death began the slow victory march to be completed on the Last Day, the unbeliever’s death begins the slow march of the condemned. They wait for the Last Day so that they will be reunited body and soul in order to continue their eternal dishonor in the fires of Hell. The final dishonor that cannot and will not be undone or forgotten.

This has all been great, but what does it have to do with us who believe in Jesus? Where is this dread warrior now? “The LORD is ”’with me”’ as a dread warrior.” This dread warrior is beside you in all your trials, tribulations and troubles. He fights ”’for you”’! Giving you the great spoils of His battle. What He won, He gives to you! ”’Your”’ persecutors stumble! ”’They”’ will be ashamed! ”’Their”’ dishonor will never be forgotten!

The dread warrior is no longer frightening. In fact, He is very comforting. He is your refuge and fortress. You stand in the shelter of His wings, as they are stretched out on the cross. His war brings you the victory through faith. He has overcome the world. Since we are in Him, we too will overcome the world. He “will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.” That means, though, that you sometimes find yourself ”’in”’ the fowler’s snare or surrounded by the deadly pestilence. Even through all this, He guards and keeps you as His own. The evils of this life will overtake you, but you will overcome them! Because you stand on the foundation of the dread warrior’s “excellent Word.”

Your persecutors will stumble. Those who revile and rebuke you. Who might even be from your own house: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” Why do we have this division among people? Jesus. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And your persecutors ”’love”’ to point this out. ”’Love”’ to stress the division.

But your division is not from the LORD. As we heard last week from the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.” You are not divided from your Lord. You are forever bound with Him through the engraving of the nail prints in His hands. “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge.” Under His wings, you “have been brought from death to life.”

All who try to divide you from Him will stumble and be ashamed. He forgives sin. He has overcome death and the devil. Who can stand against Him? He is the dread warrior who has won the greatest victory ever. He is the refuge that allows you to “depart this life confiding in [your] Savior.” You can confide in Him because He has given you His life. He has saved you so that you may rejoice in Him for all eternity. Rejoicing because your persecutors can only kill your body. They cannot destroy your soul. Their power is limited and fading. His is ever overflowing.

His eternal and ever overflowing power gives you honor that will never be forgotten. It is His free gift to you. You have committed your cause to Him. He is committed to you and your salvation. Otherwise, He would have turned away from the cross and let you wallow in your sin. But He came down and pick you up out of the muck and mire that surrounds you. He calls you His own. For now, you might be mocked by the world. You might become a laughingstock to unbelievers. But this is all momentary. The problems of this world are fleeting. His love and salvation are forever. His love wells up inside you like “a burning fire shut up in [your] bones.” You cannot help but confess your faith in Him as your dread warrior. We do this with our words and our actions. We show the world that the battle has been won. Jesus the dread warrior has emerged victorious from ”’everything”’ His persecutors put up against Him. He brings you along so that you may share in His eternal honor and glory.

You are part of the dread warrior’s victory march. “His faithfulness is a shield and buckler” against all attacks. He is your refuge in the ongoing battles of this life. He is the fortress that stands firm forever. His dread warfare is your great glory. “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” You will endure because the dread warrior has fought for you and won the war. Amen.

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Jesus Sees; Jesus Calls; Jesus Sends

“Ordaining of the Apostles” by James Tissot

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“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Matthew 9:35–38).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Seeing. Calling. Sending. That is the movement in the Gospel reading for today. It is also the movement of Jesus’ response to those who are harassed and helpless, of God’s interaction with His fractured and fallen creation, and of the sanctified Christian life as it lives by the Spirit of Jesus.

Jesus sees. Jesus calls. Jesus sends.

As He goes throughout the cities and villages, Jesus sees. This is not a minor detail. Many people go through life wondering if anyone sees, anyone notices. If you listen closely, that is at the heart of many of our current social conflicts. A significant number of people are wondering: Does anyone see? Does anyone notice? Does anyone care? Will anyone do anything to help?

The crowds Jesus sees are “helpless and harassed.” The first word literally means “thrown down and helpless,” like exhausted spent, sheep. It is often used with reference to corpses lying scattered on the ground. The second word means “having been flayed,” or somewhat milder, “having skin torn,” as this happens to sheep wandering among brambles or sharp rocks. Both words are made vivid by the comparison: “like sheep without a shepherd.” Having neither protector nor provider, they soon look miserable, torn, and exhausted, a sight to break the heart of any shepherd with even an ounce of compassion.

Jesus does not name the source of the peoples’ harassment, but it is not hard to imagine. Simply look around today. Some are tossed about by injustice, grief, or the abuse of authority. Others are flayed by disease, economic strain, or isolation. Everyone is harassed by a sinful inclination to respond with unrighteous anger, fear, and self-righteousness.

Jesus seems to be thinking particularly of the spiritual condition of the people and the neglect of their supposed spiritual leaders. With the coming of Jesus and the initial course of His ministry, the people’s need for a shepherd has become even more apparent. Israel’s leaders should be nurturing the people and guiding them to follow Jesus, but instead those leaders are blaspheming Jesus, declaring Him to be in league with Satan (Matthew 9:3, 34). At the hands of such false shepherds, the people are helpless and in great need. The souls entrusted to their care receive no wholesome spiritual food and care, for, as far as that is concerned, they are left to fend for themselves.

Material and physical destitution moves our humanitarian age deeply. We organize food banks and disaster relief agencies to help in times of physical distress. But who cares for or even sees spiritual distress? The problem, in part, is many people do not see. Perhaps they cannot, having never put themselves in the position to see. Maybe they don’t know how, having never been taught to see. Perhaps they will not, refusing to look outside their own lives and their own bubbles. Maybe they are just too tired of all the conflict and it’s just easier to pretend it doesn’t exist rather than putting forth the physical and emotional energy it takes for actually dealing with it.

Contrast them (us) with Jesus. Jesus sees. He sees the crowds in the text. He sees their helplessness. He sees those who are harassing them, and He does not look away. This is not surprising, for He is the Son of the One who sees all things—good, bad, and ugly.

Truly seeing others and their plight is a necessary beginning. But if being seen is not accompanied by being helped, it doesn’t do much good. Having seen the crowds, Jesus has compassion. The verb splagcnizomai means to have the viscera moved, lungs, heart, and liver, which were considered to be the seat of emotions, such as love, pity, etc. We might say, “His heart was stirred.” Of the three words translated “being compassionate,” this is the strongest, for it indicates not only a pained feeling at the sight of suffering, but in addition a strong desire to relieve and remove the suffering.

Jesus has compassion on these people, that is, He suffers with them. In this sense, the suffering of Jesus is not limited to the events of Holy Week. It encompasses His entire ministry (even His entire incarnation). Jesus comes among us to suffer with us before He suffers on Golgotha for us.   

Jesus has compassion. Jesus suffers with us. We, on the other hand, are not good at suffering with others. Luther’s explanations to the fifth and eighth commandments come to mind. We are to fear and love God by helping and supporting our neighbors in every bodily need. We are to defend them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything they do. We often fall short, which must not be excused even though it is true. But Jesus does not. He protects and provides for His people as the Good Shepherd they have been missing.

We see how the compassion of Jesus at once manifests itself in action. Jesus speaks to the larger group of His disciples and bids them to pray to the Father. Jesus uses the metaphor of a great harvest that is approaching. In the fields where the crop is growing ready for harvest, there is urgent need for workers to help gather the harvest. With this figurative language, Jesus communicates to His disciples the urgency of the times, an urgency that continues for the Church to this day. The harvest is ripe! Pray for God to send laborers!

Immediately, the prayer that the disciples are to offer to the Father is answered by Jesus Himself. From the unnamed larger circle of His “disciples,” Jesus now chooses a small number of “apostles,” literally, “sent ones,” whom Jesus will send out to extend His gracious kingdom. They are named individually and given His authority, demonstrating Jesus’ personal care for each of them.

These twelve are hardly men who could normally be expected to change the world. For the most part, they are uneducated, unsophisticated, weak in faith, and slow to learn. They can accomplish their mission only through the authority and power of their Lord. It is the Gospel message, which the Holy Spirit will use to produce saving faith in the hearts of people who hear it.

Jesus sends the apostles to do what He came to do. Through them, Jesus sees, Jesus calls, Jesus sends. Seeing, calling, sending. That is the continuing movement. Jesus continues to send His people to see others (especially the widow, the orphan, and all who suffer injustice) as human beings and fellow creatures of a loving God. Jesus sends His people to have compassion on those who are helpless and harassed; to suffer with them and help them bear their burdens. He continues to send His people to speak words of life and forgiveness that not only create saving faith in the hearts of individuals, but also gather them together for life as His Body. And He continues to send His people to others until all have heard and believed and come together in His name (See Romans 10:14-17).

Jesus asks His disciples, and He also asks us, to share in His compassion, and He tells us the first thing He wants us to do to show such compassion. “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” It is the Lord’s harvest field, and He will see to it that the necessary workers bring the harvest in. He assures us that none of His elect will perish. All His sheep will be gathered into His fold.

Jesus will accomplish this either with us or without us. He doesn’t need us, but He wants to use us. He graciously wants to give us the privilege of being involved in this all-important work, work with blessed results that will last into eternity. And the first thing He asks us to do is exceedingly simple and will cost us nothing but a little of our time. He tells us to pray for laborers for His harvest field. In response to our prayers, He will provide them.

As we sincerely offer such prayers to our heavenly Father, we surely are willing to let Him make us the answers to our own prayers as well. Our Lord will use us in some way or other in this most blessed work, for this work is the privilege of all believers in Christ. Satan wants us to regard it as a grievous burden that we ought to avoid. But it is not a burden, rather a blessing. It is a privilege to pray for this work, to support this work, and to do this work personally.

When we pray for the heathen, for the suffering, for the afflicted, and for our enemies, we want the Lord to use us to alleviate suffering, to spread the Good News of the kingdom of God, and to win over our enemies through kindness. When we pray for missions, we are not only asking the Lord to open the hearts and the hands of others Christians to support mission work; we are also expressing our own willingness to bring our generous offerings for the work of Christ’s Church. Otherwise our prayers are hypocritical and better left unspoken.

Last week, the Gospel reading came from Matthew 28. We call it the Great Commission or Sending. In a sense, this week’s reading gives us the background, the motivation, method, and means for that Sending.

Jesus sees. Jesus calls. Jesus sends.

Even before creation, the Lord looked with compassion and saw our need for His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Christ died for the sins of the world—every single sin of thought, word, and deed. Every sin of commission and omission. Risen and ascended, Christ rules heaven and earth for the good of His Body, the Church. In love and mercy, He continues to call men to serve in the Office of  Holy Ministry. In answer to prayers, the Lord of the Harvest sends laborers into the harvest of souls. In His Church, through the means of grace, Christ continues His work of salvation and brings forgiveness and life.

Through the waters of Holy Baptism, God has called you by name and made you one of His dear children. In His Holy Supper, He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through His powerful Word, He delivers forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Fully forgiven and equipped for service, He sends you out with the message of God’s love and compassion for a world of lost sinners, Shepherdless sheep.

Go in the peace of the Lord. Serve your neighbor with joy. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Authority Issues

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And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

In 1981, Jeffrey Stout, a professor of religion and philosophy at Princeton University, published a book called The Flight from Authority. In it, he described a social and philosophical trend in western society. Collectively, he argued, we have been on a “flight from authority” for several centuries. In the Reformation, we fled the authority of the church. Under rationalism, we ran from the authority of Scripture. With Kant, we turned our backs on the authority of reason and then morality. The flight continues in our own times as we resist conformity to governments, social norms, and institutions in general. Obedience is out. Autonomy is in. Simply put, we like to be in charge. We have authority issues.

This is nothing new, of course. Shortly after this week’s Old Testament reading from Genesis, the first humans exerted their autonomy against the will of their Father and Creator to their own detriment (and ours). Among other things, the continuing result is we all have authority issues. Just watch the news; you see it play out every day. Someone tells someone else what they should do. Someone else tells someone to go jump in a lake. Someone pushes back with even harsher orders. Someone else ignores the orders and just does what they want to do.

It’s so easy to notice when other people have authority issues; isn’t it? Look at them! They’re not social distancing! Look over there! There’s no respect for private property or the rule of law. Look! Those guys are infringing on my rights!  

But you and I don’t have to look out there in the world to see someone with authority issues. All we need to do is to look in the mirror. None of us are immune. From the cute little two year-old-girl, who, upon being told what she is supposed to do, puts her hand on her hip, scrunches up her face, points a finger at you and animatedly tells you what you’re going to do. Or the stubborn little man who melts like a skeletonless puddle when it’s time to go and he doesn’t want to. Or their Papa who seeks to find ways in which he can appear to at least minimally comply with executive orders and suggested protocols, even as he is rebelling inside. We all have authority issues.   

We like to be in control. I think that’s probably one of the things that makes pandemics and stay-at-home orders and social distancing so distressing. We like to be in control. We want to know exactly what’s coming next. And times like this show us that is impossible. Our desire for control is a pipe dream.

Just look what has happened in the last few months. The stock market took a dive. People are out of work in record numbers. There’s a worldwide pandemic of infectious disease the likes of which we have never seen during our lifetimes. Millions have contracted the virus. Many have grown gravely ill, and hundreds of thousands have died. Governments all over the world have responded by restricting our travel and limiting human contact to slow the contagion. Some would say they are doing too much, others not enough. Rumors swirl. Media fan the flames of public fear to near-panic proportions, while some dismiss it as fake news. Seemingly overnight, the world as we knew it is turned upside down.

Some of you are thought to be especially vulnerable. Your grown children may have enforced their own private quarantine. Perhaps they’ve distanced themselves to avoid inadvertently infecting you if they are asymptomatic carriers of the virus. You haven’t been able to see your grandkids. Some of you haven’t even been able to see your own spouse for months.

Things have been changing rapidly, almost daily. Businesses, governmental agencies, and churches have embraced new technology and implemented digital connections, but not everyone is comfortable learning new technology; the learning curve can be quite high and frustrating, and pixels on a screen can never replace in-person, flesh-and-blood interaction. Perhaps worst of all, no one can tell us when it’s going to end. No one really expects “normal” to return anytime soon, if ever.

We despair because there doesn’t seem to be anybody in charge who can help us. And we rage at the ones who get too heavy-handed to suit our tastes. Depending on who’s in charge in our jurisdiction and based upon our own individual experiences and political leanings, we don’t trust the government or legal system. We hear so many conflicting opinions we don’t know who to believe. Yes, even we men, women, and children who have studied the Catechism and understand that the 4th Commandment means “we should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents or other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them,” even we, have authority issues.

What’s even worse is that at the heart of all our authority issues is, actually, rebellion against God, for He is the one who puts in place all earthly authorities. St. Paul exhorts and warns: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1–2).

These authority issues came to my mind as I pondered Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18, “All authority,” He says, “has been given to Me.” This is a striking claim. “All authority in heaven and on earth,” after all, leaves out nothing. Who can fathom this brief utterance of Jesus? The kingly authority of Jesus embraces heaven, all that lives and has its being there, angels and archangels, powers, principalities, might, dominion, thrones, and the saints in glory. This authority is exercised also over the evil spirit world, whose prince is conquered and despoiled, and whose hosts lie in abject submission beneath Jesus’ feet. All the powers of heaven are in Jesus’ hands to do His bidding without question or pause. This, the disciples are to realize as He sends them forth. Never did a human army have such resources behind it. All the earth is also subject to Him, its inhabitants, both friend and foe, and all the powers that are in the earth.

During the period of His self-humbling, in ways that we cannot really understand, Christ set aside authorities and powers intrinsic to His divine nature. He did not lose them; He set them aside, emptying Himself. Included in this category of emptying Himself is the very fact that He was a mortal man, subject to weakness and death. Now, however, since His resurrection to immortality, because of which He cannot die again, something new has happened in the history of the world and in God’s plan of salvation—death has been conquered.

And now that this climactic action has taken place, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

It is to the risen Son that all authority that is in heaven and on earth has been given. It is in the name of the Father and of the risen Son and of the Holy Spirit that the disciples are to be baptized, even as they are taught to guard all the teaching of Jesus, which has now been validated because He is risen from the dead.

Crucified and risen, Jesus puts all His power and His authority behind the commission to evangelize the world. What would otherwise be absolutely impossible now becomes gloriously possible, yes, an assured reality. Now, the authority that has been delegated to Jesus by the Father, He, in turn, delegates to His disciples. He gives them the authority and responsibility to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the triune God and by teaching them to obey everything He has commanded.

With His command, Jesus adds a promise. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” There is grace in this promise. Jesus promises to be with His disciples to forgive and renew them, and to lead them to delight in His will and walk in His ways. Jesus promises to be with His Church as it continues His ministry here on earth—baptizing and teaching. Jesus promises to be with you to forgive and renew you, and to lead you to delight in His will and walk in His ways!

But there is also accountability in this promise. The Lord, who is with us, retains authority over us. His promise calls for trust and obedience, to remember Who is really in charge. Jesus has all authority. Despite appearances to the contrary and our thirst for autonomy, the risen Christ is Lord over all. Try as we might, we cannot escape His rule. If we had our heads on straight, we would never want to, for He exercises authority with wisdom, mercy, and grace.

We have authority issues, and for these we must repent. We must confess our sins and trust in God’s grace! For the unfaithful ways in which we have fled the authority of God and sought to live our own way, we need to repent. For the unfruitful ways in which we have operated autonomously, we need to repent and follow the commands of Jesus. For the fearful ways in which we have fretted over our loss of control, we need to hear the promise of the One who makes Himself graciously present with His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

What we could not do, what we would not do, Christ has done on our behalf. For your authority issues, for mine, Jesus humbled Himself and placed Himself under the authority of sinful men. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way, and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:6-7).

Christ did not demand authority, He submitted to the will of His heavenly Father. “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

May Christ’s holy, bitter suffering and death not be lost on us, but at all times may it be our comfort, and may we boast in it; and as we ponder it, may all evil desire in us be snuffed out and subdued, and all virtue implanted and increased, so that we, having died to sin, may live in righteousness, following the example Christ has left us, walking in His footsteps, enduring evil with patience, and suffering injustice with a good conscience.

For Jesus’ sake, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, may we submit to will of our heavenly Father and the authority of His holy Word. May we honor and obey the earthly authorities that God has so graciously provided and receive and recognize them as His earthly representatives. May we daily pray for all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Come to the Living Water

Winnewissa Falls, Pipestone National Monument

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On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Today is the Day of Pentecost, which commemorates Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit to His Church. The Church lives and moves and has her being through the gracious inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Without God’s Spirit, no one could come to Christ or believe in Him. No one would be saved. The fifty-day celebration of Easter ends with this joyous festival. The risen and ascended Savior has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Sanctifier, entering our hearts at Holy Baptism, nurturing us through the Word, and enabling us to understand the Gospel and to live a life that honors God and serves our neighbor.

The Day of Pentecost traditionally turns our eyes outward. We see God gather many nations in Jerusalem, speaking the message of salvation in many languages, and sending out disciples to the end of the earth. This Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit turns our eyes outward as we celebrate the mission of God.

There is another dimension to Pentecost, however, and it is a dynamic we may not always celebrate as it turns our eyes inward. It asks us to meditate on the depth of the Spirit before we celebrate the breadth. This is the dynamic mentioned in the Gospel reading. The Holy Spirit is the gift of living water that flows from within (John 7:38). I invite you, this day, to “Come to the Living Water” and to consider how Jesus emphasizes the depths of the Holy Spirit.

Crowds have gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths. It is the last and greatest day of the feast, where each year Israel gathers to remember God’s provision. After gathering the harvest, God’s people come together and dwell in booths, often made from the branches of fruit and palm trees. They recall how God provided for them during the forty years of wilderness wanderings and anticipated how God would continue to provide for them in a land flowing with milk and honey. They were encouraged to remember that whether wandering in the wilderness or living in the land, God provides for His people.

By the time of Jesus’ ministry, a ritual had developed that each morning during the seven days of the feast, at the time of sacrifice, a priest proceeded to the fountain of Siloam with a golden pitcher. He filled it with water, and, accompanied by a solemn procession, carried it to the altar of burnt sacrifice. There, he poured  the water, together with the contents of a pitcher of wine from the drink offering, into two perforated bowls. The trumpets sounded, and the people sang Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” This ceremony commemorated the water that miraculously gushed out of the rock at Meribah and that was intended to quench the thirst of the multitude in the wilderness, a foreshadowing of the spiritual Rock, Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). 

All faithful Jews were expected to be in Jerusalem for this third of the annual feasts proscribed by God. At first, it looks like Jesus won’t make it, because the Jews are seeking to kill Him. His unbelieving brothers taunt Him: “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing…If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” Jesus does not go with His brothers, but goes later, not publicly but in private. About the middle of the festival He begins teaching in the temple. Many people believe in Him, some seek to arrest Him and kill Him, but no one lays a hand on Him, because His hour has not yet come.

On the last day of this feast, the great day, Jesus stands up and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Interestingly, this is not the first time Jesus has spoken about living water. Earlier, when Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well, He offered her living water (John 4:10). What was then said in private is now being proclaimed publicly. What was said in Samaria is now uttered in Jerusalem. In both cases, however, there is a future harvest in view.

With the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus opens the eyes of His disciples to the field ready for harvest as the Samaritans from the town come to the well to greet them. With the people of Israel in Jerusalem, Jesus opens their eyes to a future harvest that will come when the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost.

In either case, there is a stress on the living water of the Spirit. Yes, Pentecost celebrates the outreach of the Spirit among those who believe. Whether they are in public or in private, whether they are an Israelite or a Samaritan, whether they are included or excluded from community, Jesus gives them living water, the gift of the Spirit, from whom divine life will continue to flow.

God’s love is not bound by our experiences of separation. Christ has borne our sin in crucified isolation so He might be our salvation in all places of life. He promises us the living water of His Spirit. His is an internal resource which never fails. He does not leave us as orphans. He does not leave us alone. He promises to be with us always. And where two or three are gathered in His name there He is in the midst of them.

This is certainly good news for us as we have just started gathering once again in the Lord’s house. For though the Church has been scattered and forced to go underground at times during its history, the Christian faith was never intended to be a private matter, but a shared faith. Yes, the Lord still comes to us even in isolation, but the Church was intended to be a gathering of God’s people around the means of grace—God’s Word and Sacrament. While I thank God that we have so many ways of communicating so easily at our disposal—social media, Facetime, and Zoom are poor substitutes for actually gathering with your family, friends, and fellow believers for worship. Much less is live streaming or services on television fully satisfactory substitutes for the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in His means of grace and the fellowship of our brothers and sister in Christ who are gathered with us. The Lord has made us members of His body.

I pray that we will celebrate this Day of Pentecost with a new-found sense of community. I pray that the physical presence of others, gathered around Word and Sacrament, so often done but so seldom noted in the past, will now be appreciated in a deeper way. May our physical presence together today help us to celebrate the Holy Spirit, His gathering of God’s people together from all nations to form the body of Christ, even as we long for the day when we may all gather together again.

Whether you are sheltering at home on Pentecost or gathering together with your fellow Christians in Church today, you and I have reason for praise. Jesus Christ is the source of the Spirit and that Spirit will never fail. Jesus offers to everyone His promise of living water, the life of the Spirit, and that life flows from the heart of all who believe.

Come to the living water! Through the proclamation of the Word of God, the Spirit is at work to bring Christ to you, that He might forgive your sins and dwell within you. The Holy Spirit brings your risen Savior to you this day, that Christ might cleanse you of sin and satisfy your thirst with living water, that you might be His people forever.

The Holy Spirit works through the spoken Word of God. Moses spoke the Word of God to the rock in Horeb, and water flowed. We proclaim to you the Word of God and living water flows; for by the work of the Spirit, Christ is here to take away your sins. Furthermore, as you speak the Psalm and chant the liturgy, and as you sing the hymns this day, living waters flow from you as you proclaim the Gospel to one another—just as they flow when you share the Gospel with those whom you encounter in your daily vocation. Thus we rejoice in the Word of God and its proclamation today.

Come to the living water! In Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the youngest infant or the oldest man or woman, to deliver Christ by water and the Word. There at the font, He washes our sins away. There the only-begotten Son of God makes us sons of God and heirs of His kingdom. By water and the Word, the Spirit delivers Christ; and Christ delivers His living waters of salvation to you, that you might be His forever.

Come to the living water! In Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit delivers Christ to you. Jesus, who turned water into wine at Cana and who multiplied bread for the 5,000, now gives you His body and blood in with and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. There, at His altar, He grants forgiveness and nurtures faith; there He strengthens and preserves you, body and soul, unto life everlasting.

Dear hearers, rejoice! The Lord is truly among you. He was with His people at Massah and Meribah, giving them water from the rock to sustain their lives. He was among His people, in the flesh, in Jerusalem to proclaim His Word and to promise living water. And because He sent His Holy Spirit at Pentecost, He is here among you by His means of grace. You are delivered from your wilderness of sin. Your thirst is quenched. Your sins are forgiven.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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