Sermon for October 17, 2021, Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 (Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 24—Series B)

“Grace in the Hurt of Life”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 17, 2021

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

Our text is the Old Testament Reading from Ecclesiastes 5:

10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. 13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger. 18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

            I’m going to be bold and break one of the rules of sermons by starting with this. There was once a man who had everything except the fog. One day he tried to catch the fog, but mist! M-i-s-t. Get it? Fog, mist? Yeah, and that’s why jokes in a sermon are a bad idea. But let that bad joke springboard you into Ecclesiastes 5:16, “Now what profit was there for him who toiled for the wind?” You can’t grab onto the wind any more than you can catch the fog. Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, sums up all the work that is done on the earth and all the gathering and collecting of possessions and wealth as a “striving after the wind” (Eccl. 2:11; 4:4, 6). In fact, he begins the book saying, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14 ESV). It’s a lot like trying to catch fog.

          In our Old Testament text this morning Solomon focuses his readers yet again on the vanity of riches. “Vanity” means emptiness, futility, and uselessness. Wealth and possessions—let’s call them “stuff”—are not the end all, be all of life. Note well that wealth and prosperity are not evil things. They are, in fact, gifts from God. In verse 19 Solomon writes, “Every person to whom God gives wealth and possessions and empowers him to partake of them and to carry his lot and to rejoice in his toil—this is a gift of God.” But when wealth, money, and things are not properly viewed as the gifts of God that they are, wealth and riches are simply vanity, a striving after the wind. And then there is trouble and hurt.

          Chapter 5:10, “A lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver and whoever loves wealth will not be satisfied with his proceeds. This also is vanity.” When your goal in life is “stuff,” material goods will never satisfy. There’s no sense of fulfillment. She makes her first million. She then likely shrugs her shoulders at that and blindly presses on in pursuit of her second million. Her work becomes only a means to an end defined in terms of “how much?”. How much does someone deserve and how much does somebody get in terms of pay? How much you make, the pay, becomes the measure of your relative worth. So, when is enough ever enough for such an individual? How often this leads to joyless work because what you do is secondary to what really counts: making money. And does the pay satisfy? No, discontentment with the pay is what started this cycle. I’m not satisfied with what I have and with what I earn, therefore, I’m going to work more to get what I’m worth. And around and around the cycle goes. Will you ever get enough to be satisfied or will this always be a source of hurt in life because you are unsatisfied?

          Oh, the vanity of riches! Our “stuff” requires constant maintenance. You get the big house. But you’ve got to clean it. The landscaping has to be done. The car needs an oil change every 3000 miles. Needs new brakes now and then. A car wash is always nice to get the bugs off. Checking and credit card accounts have to be maintained. Loans and mortgages have to be paid along with the bills. Is it any wonder that Solomon writes, “Sweet is the sleep of the worker, whether he eats a little or a lot. But the plenty of the rich will not allow him to sleep” (5:12). There’s just too much to take care of, too much to be worried about. No time for rest and leisure. And when you’re not getting rest, it hurts you physically, mentally, and emotionally.

          Do you want to talk about more hurt in life? Verse 13: “This is a sick evil I have seen under the sun: wealth being kept by its owner to his detriment.” People don’t control goods. Their goods control them. For example, “Acquiring a second car places the owner at the beck and call of two maintenance-hungry machines. A young couple moves from a house with only adequate space into a much bigger house, one that is forever empty, because the ‘occupants’ are otherwise occupied, out in the business world paying for the house.”[1] Life’s riches can hurt the owner while he hangs on to them, but when he loses his “stuff” and has nothing, that hurts too. The scene in verse 14 is too horrible to even think about: “He lost that wealth through a bad business, and when he fathered a son, there was nothing to offer him.” A baby cries in hunger, and his father cannot help him! Life’s riches and possessions can hurt.

Life itself just hurts and often brings us to our knees crying to God for mercy. It is a bit like asking, “Who can be saved? It seems so impossible.” From Mark 10, our Gospel lesson, “But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God’” (Mark 10:24–27 ESV).

           Rather than placing our hope, trust, and confidence in the things that are rightly to be understood as gifts of God—wealth and possessions—the Book of Ecclesiastes shows us the only place for the human heart to be—to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, for He listens to our cries for mercy and grants us grace. Living for wealth and possessions is a stiving after the wind, a vanity, a trying to catch the fog. Life simply hurts too much, and riches cannot provide love and care for us. That’s what God alone gives to us. Our Triune God is the God who cares. He cared enough to alert us through His Word to the problems of life, especially in regard to wealth and possessions. He shows us how these things can hurt us and how life in a fallen world hurts us.

          And the most concrete expression of God’s care for humanity is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. Food, drink, riches, our work, our play, joy in vocations, satisfaction with our lot in life are all evidence of the grace and goodness and kindness of God to us. Again, verse 19, “Every person to whom God gives wealth and possessions and empowers him to partake of them and to carry his lot and to rejoice in his toil—this is a gift of God.” But the climactic, ultimate expression of the goodness and kindness of God is found in Jesus. Life hurts because of our failures to fear and love God above all things—because of sins and our sinfulness. Even our wealth and possessions get in the way. They cause us problems and troubles when we don’t use them and when they are suddenly gone. So many times in this life we are hurt because we are uselessly striving for the wind. But it was into life in this fallen, hurting world to which God the Son took on human flesh. He experienced the “vanity of vanities” firsthand. He loved the rich young man who went away shocked, dismayed, and grieving because he had many possessions, prompting Jesus to respond, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the reign and rule of God.” And out of His grace, God gifted us the joy and blessing of His Kingdom in Christ.

          Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8 ESV). Your salvation from sin and death is God’s gift to you in Jesus. Your forgiveness and eternal life are God’s gift to you in Jesus. Jesus endured the hurt of this life and then walked to Calvary’s hill in order to bear the hurt of crucifixion, the suffering of hell, and the pangs of death for you. By His wounds you have been healed. You have the forgiveness of sins covering over your sins of greed. You have the blood of Christ washing away your failures to always fear and love God when your “stuff” took the first place in life.

          What’s more, you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). In that peace, through the saving work of Jesus for you, God takes away the sting of the hurts of this life. Not all the hurts and troubles here and now go away, but God in Christ cares for you by enabling you to endure, to make it through, with your eyes not on the hurt, but on the rest that awaits you. Ecclesiastes 5:20, “For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” That joy is the eternal rest, the everlasting salvation, that is yours in Christ. From our Epistle, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:9–11 ESV).

          If ever there was a literary character who illustrated both the uselessness of pursuing wealth as one’s ultimate aim and the joy that flows from generous grace that leads to peace and rest, it would be Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens introduces Scrooge to us as a stingy, harsh miser who values money over people and profit over generosity. His reckoning comes in a nightmare that exposes his lack of compassion and reveals his ultimate fate: he will die all alone, remembered and mourned by virtually no one. How true are the words of Solomon! At death, one “shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (Eccl 5:15). When a panicking Scrooge finds himself awake and alive the next morning, he receives the new day as a gift of undeserved grace, a grace that transforms him into an instrument of generosity and joy for his community, especially the Cratchit family.

God, in his grace, has given us more than a wake-up call and a second chance for our clinging to money and the things of this world. He’s given us a substitute, one who has come to stand in the place of the deceived misers, to enter into the tomb we deserve, and to rise again to be our lavishly generous king. Every day gives us another opportunity to place our fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We repent of our sins and receive Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness and the new life of faith that heals the hurt of life and that looks forward to the promised rest of life everlasting. Amen.

     [1] James Bollhagen, Ecclesiastes, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 204.

Sermon for October 10, 2021, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10:17-22 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 23—Series B)

“Inheriting Eternal Life”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 10, 2021

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

Our text for our time together this morning is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 10:

17And as He was going out to the road, one man, upon running up to Him and kneeling before Him, began to ask Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do in order that I may inherit eternal life?18And Jesus said to Him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one—God. 19You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” 20And he said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, as many things as you have, sell, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22But he was shocked and dismayed at the statement and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

             He had it all together. From his youth. He was a “bar mitzvah,” a son of the commandments. Not only did he know them, but he had also kept them—do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother—all of them done since he was a young man.

          He had it all together. Or did he? Did he feel like he was missing something and that is what prompted his question to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what shall I do in order that I may inherit eternal life?” Or was he looking for confirmation that he had already done what he should do, thus earning the everlasting life he sought? I think it was probably that reason. In the man’s mind, goodness was defined by achievement. “I have done what is good, therefore I am good.” And so he questioned Jesus, whom the man perceives as someone who like himself is also good, in order to be to be confirmed in his understanding that because he had kept “all these” commandments that he had indeed inherited eternal life because of his good actions. But Jesus shows him where his thinking had gone all wrong.

          The man understands eternal life as something that he must earn by “being good,” keeping God’s commandments. Jesus points Him to the only One who is good, God. The man lacks one thing, says Jesus, and Jesus shows Him that the thing He lacks is actually God! All the commandments that the man says he has done are from the Second Table of the Law, Commandments 4-10, which deal with showing love to your neighbor. What was missing in this man’s life is fear and love for God alone. He apparently had not kept the First Commandment because he loved possessions more than God. He loved “being good,” relying on His own achievements, more than trusting in God’s grace to provide eternal life to him in his helplessness. Remember Jesus’ words last week about being like a child? “Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the reign and rule of God like a little child shall surely not enter into it.” (Mark 10:15) 

          Inheriting the reign and rule of God means receiving, not earning. Inheriting eternal life means receiving from God what is His, what He wants to give to us who know our helplessness. Our only hope of salvation and life is not by “being good,” but a complete reliance on God who alone is good and who alone can give eternal life to sinners. You can see that the question, “What shall I do in order that I may inherit eternal life?” indicates the level of confusion. You can’t “do” something in order to “inherit” or “receive” a gift. If you earn it, it’s not inheritance or gift, that which you receive by the gracious will of the one giving it to you!

          In a Peanuts coming strip, Lucy told her brother Linus how she was intending to grow up one day and be a queen and live in a big house and even wear a crown while swimming! Linus shatters her daydream with the sad news that you have to be born into a royal family to be a queen; it is inherited. Lucy gets very angry and announces that she intends to work very, very hard and make lots of money, so that she can buy herself a queendom and kick out the old queen, so she can live in a very big house and wear her crown while swimming. Like Lucy, and like the man who came to Jesus, our temptation is to think that by working very hard we might finally be able to take the reign and rule from God. But the Lord teaches us that His reign cannot be taken, earned, or deserved by any of our efforts. It cannot be bought with money. It is a gift that He alone delights to give.

          As strange as it may sound, even Lutheran Christians who know that it is by grace alone through faith alone that we are saved still fall into the trap of seeking to be “good enough” for God. How sad it is when I hear Christians say, “I hope I’ve been good enough to go to heaven.” It’s like they are saying, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And they run through the list of the Commandments and quickly realize that God alone is good and they are not and so they despair. None of us are good. I’m not good; you’re not good. We daily sin much, breaking the commandments, especially the First. We do not always fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We love our possessions, our pleasures, and our lives more than God’s Word. We love our own so-called “achievements” and seek to glorify ourselves and not the Lord who is truly good.

          Our consciences become troubled and concerned over the judgment of God’s Law that declares us “guilty as charged.” The devil steps in to lead us into further doubt and despair, “You haven’t lived up to God’s good standards. You are not good enough for Him. You didn’t earn it; you don’t get into His reign and rule.” We hear and listen to and believe his lies. Then we try even harder to be good and fail again and again leading to more despair and worry over our salvation. What shall I do to be saved? Martin Luther reached this point. He tried to be good enough, but it was never good enough. He wrote, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction.”[1]

          The man who came to Jesus went away “shocked and dismayed” because he had many possessions. Did Luther also go away from the Lord like that man, shocked and dismayed? Do we go away from Jesus like that man, shocked and dismayed? No, because we by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit receive the Gospel which that man walked away from. Luther wrote, “The righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, . . . Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”[2] The Gospel is God’s gift to us. It is God’s mercy toward us who are helpless in our sins to keep all of His commandments perfectly. In Baptism, God adopts us into His family and freely gives us the inheritance He wants us to have—forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

          That inheritance, your inheritance, was purchased and won by God the Son, Jesus. He alone is God and is Good. Yet, He took our sins upon Himself as if they were His. Jesus went to the cross willingly, in our place, to suffer the death we deserve because of our sins. He suffered our punishment of hell on the cross for our breaking God’s commandments. His shed blood merited our forgiveness for our failure to keep any of the commandments. His death won for us life eternal because our sins are forgiven. We confess in the Explanation of the Second Article of the Creed, “Jesus Christ . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.”

Our salvation from sin and death, the eternal life that Jesus won for us that brings us into His kingdom, He gives to us as the gift of our inheritance. God’s Word to us in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time had come, 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. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:4-7).

          Because of Jesus, unlike the man in our text, you actually do have it all together. You don’t ever have to walk away from Jesus shocked and dismayed because you are not “good enough.” Jesus’ righteousness, His goodness, is counted as your own. His keeping the Commandments perfectly is credited to you as if you have done so. Before God the Father, in Christ, you stand holy and perfect. Your sins are forgiven, and where there is forgiveness, there is eternal life and salvation. It’s not earned; it’s freely given. It’s not merited but inherited as God’s complete gift to you in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ your Lord! Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 336.

     [2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 337.

Sermon for October 3, 2021, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10:13-16 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 22—Series B)

“Receiving the Reign”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 3, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel reading in Mark 10:

13And they were bringing little children to Him so that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and He said to them, “Let the little children come to me. Stop preventing them. For to such as these is the reign and rule of God. 15Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the reign of God like a little child shall surely not enter into it.” 16And taking them into His arms, He blessed them, putting His hands on them.

          When you and I hear the word “kingdom” we tend to think of an area of land with borders and boundaries over which a queen or a king rules. For example, the English Kingdom—“the sun never sets on the British Empire.” There were the kingdoms of Rome and Greece and the Byzantine Empire, too. In fact, you can consider every nation-state a “kingdom” that is governed and ruled within its boundaries.

          But that’s not how it is with “the Kingdom of God.” It is not defined by the boundaries and borders of physical land. The Kingdom of God is God’s reign and rule. It is not primarily a place. In fact, the reign of God is not static. It “comes” among people. For the King, the God of heaven, has come down in the person of the divine Son to reign and perform His kingly deeds among people. The Kingdom of God, or better, the reign and rule of God, is a divine action that happens where Jesus is, through His words and deeds. The reign of God is God’s action in Jesus to restore the world, overcoming Satan and sin completely.

          The Kingdom of God, then, is that which God alone gives, and people receive. All people are completely helpless in their relationship to God’s reign and rule. We cannot claim it. We cannot take it by force to make it ours. We cannot usurp it. Nor can you and I earn it, but it, bribe God for it, or any other such things. By nature, we humans are in rebellion against the reign of God because of our fallen condition, because of our sins.

As people who fail to always fear, love, and trust in God above all things, we are God’s enemies and are not under His reign and rule. As people who fail to always love others and fail to be last of all and servant of all, we are separated from God’s reign and rule. Colossians 1:13 talks about us in our fallen, sinful condition as being under the “domain of darkness.” We are conceived and born under the power of the devil, under Satan’s rule. You and I and all people would be lost forever in eternal death if not for the grace of God in sending His One-of-a-Kind Son to bring His reign and rule among us in order to give us a place in that gracious reign “without any merit or worthiness” in us.

God came down into the world, into human flesh in Jesus, to save people from their sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. God committed Himself fully to reclaiming His creation from Satan’s kingdom and restoring it, removing the effects of satanic power and human sin. This Jesus did decisively and victoriously through His sacrificial death on a cross and His glorious resurrection from the dead.

In His perfect life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has brought the reign and rule of God breaking into and crashing in upon the reign of Satan and has already begun to put it to an end. Through the Gospel of Christ’s death on a cross for you and His rising again for you, your sins stand forgiven. By God’s grace through saving faith in Jesus Christ alone, you have been transferred from the devil’s kingdom and brought under the gracious reign and rule of God in Christ Jesus. Salvation from sin, death, and Satan is yours as a gift which was purchased and won for you by Jesus with His cross and resurrection. You have been redeemed and reconciled to God, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity” (Small Catechism).

It is Jesus the King who continues to perform His kingly deeds of salvation through His Word. The Good News of the reign and rule of God in Christ is proclaimed, announced, and shared. It is that Gospel, the gift given, that creates saving faith in the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit in those who hear the Word. It is the Gospel that delivers forgiveness of your sins and that grants eternal life. Where the Gospel is preached in its purity there is Christ among you with His reign and rule!

Like little children who are helpless to attain the basics of life, so you and I are helpless to attain forgiveness and eternal life. This must be given by Christ alone and received as the gift that it is. “Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the reign of God like a little child shall surely not enter into it.” It is through this Gospel that Christ invites all to believe in Him as King and Savior. It is Christ through the Gospel who invites you to receive the gift of His reign and rule that He has won for you. And He gives the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. This is how He accomplishes His work in bringing you into His kingdom. He brings you into His arms of mercy and places His nail-scarred hands of blessing upon you by the work of God the Holy Spirit in Word, Baptism, and Supper.

These Means of Grace are the means God has chosen to give you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that are present in the reign and rule of Christ. Like children, we have nothing. We claim nothing. In the ancient world, remember, children were pretty much considered nothing. But that’s not how God considers us. He loved us with an everlasting love and gave us His Son, born as a child, to save us from sin and death. And in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, it is Christ who claims us as His own, as a child of the heavenly Father, and welcomes us into the reign and rule of God—by grace through faith alone.

Receiving the reign and rule of God through Baptism is receiving the blessings and benefits of the Gospel—forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, eternal salvation. As James Voelz commented, “Children are, in fact, the ‘perfect’ recipients of Baptism, as it were, because they lay no claim to anything of their own.” It is our text today that is read during the administration of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The child passively receives God’s mercy in the Gospel with the water applied in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Pastor Luther preached in 1525, “It seems to me that if any Baptism is certain, the Baptism of children should be most certain, just because of the words of Christ telling us to bring them, while the adults come on their own. . . . Christ makes His blessing effective in them, as He has commanded that they be brought to Him. These very striking words are not to be disregarded, when He tells us to bring the children to Him and rebukes those who hinder it.”[1]

Like the children brought to Christ, like children brought today at Christ’s command to be Baptized, you and I continue to receive the blessings of Jesus’ cross and resurrection in the Means of Grace, without any merit or worthiness in us. We live under God’s reign and rule in Christ because Christ has brought that reign to us in the Gospel and sustains us under that rule by the Gospel and the Sacraments. Amen.

[1] Benjamin T. G. Mayes, ed., Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-39), (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018), 12.

Sermon for September 26, 2021, LBT Bible Translation Sunday

Jeremiah 36:23 (LBT Bible Translation Sunday)

“Paper Shredders”

Sermon Written by Rev. Dr. R. Reed Lessing

September 26, 2021

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The sermon for this Lutheran Bible Translators Bible Translation Sunday is written by the Rev. Dr. Reed Lessing. The text is Jeremiah 36:23: “As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.”

Paper shredders range in size and price from small and inexpensive units meant for a few pages, to large machines used by commercial shredding services that cost thousands of dollars. Regardless of size, make and model, we all probably know something about paper shredders.

Today we meet Mr. Paper Shredder himself—King Jehoiakim. “As Jehudi read three or four columns, king Jehoiakim would cut them off with a knife . . .” “J’s” are wild! Jehudi is in Judah of Jerusalem in 604 BC reading the book of Jeremiah while Jehoiakim shreds it with a knife!

Our paper shredders destroy bills, credit cards, bank statements and other sensitive documents. But Jehoiakim shreds God’s Word. Who in their right mind would cut up and shred God’s Word? Especially God’s Word in Jeremiah? It’s loaded with Gospel promises. Take a look.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6 ESV). “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV). “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13 ESV) “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV).

What got into Jehoiakim that he shredded God’s Word? You know. So do I. This is the work of the Paper Shredder. We don’t know him by that name, though. Instead, we know him by the names of liar, deceiver, destroyer, devil, serpent, and Satan. Satan doesn’t want us to have delight in God’s Word; power in God’s Word; hope in God’s Word; life in God’s Word; forgiveness in God’s Word. That’s why Satan shreds God’s Word every chance he gets. Want some proof?

A recent George Barna survey of Christians found these stunning results: 58% didn’t know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. 52% didn’t know that the book of Jonah is in the Bible. 70% didn’t know that “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible. 15% agreed that the Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luther, and John.

Question. Why does Satan shred God’s Word? Answer. So he can shred our lives! Satan meets us in the morning and says, “This day is hopeless; go back to bed.” He sees us in the bathroom and says, “You’re ugly. How could anyone love you?” At the end of the day he says, “You’re a sorry excuse for a Christian. God is finished with you!” Without God’s Word to push back against these lies, Satan chews us up and spits us out.

That’s Satan’s strategy; keep people from God’s Word. Here’s Lutheran Bible Translator’s strategy. Get people into God’s Word. Here is the mission statement of Lutheran Bible Translators—“LBT makes God’s Word accessible to those who do not yet have it in the language of their hearts.”

Every day LBT launches a frontal attack against the Paper Shredder. And why is that? Over one-billion people worldwide don’t have the full Bible in a language that touches them deeply—that is, the language of their hearts. An estimated 165 million don’t have a single verse of Scripture translated into their language. The Paper Shredder has 165 million people with no Bible!

Martin Luther knew about the Paper Shredder. He writes in A Mighty Fortress is our God, “The old evil foe, now means deadly woe! Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight. On earth is not his equal.” That’s why Luther embraced God’s Word—full throttle, especially in Romans. Romans 3:23–24, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised again for our justification.” Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased grace abounded all the more.”

The old evil foe then enlisted another paper shredder to do his destructive work. In 1517, an Archbishop named Albert of Brandenburg set out to silence Luther. Albert was selling indulgences to pay off his debt to the pope. What are indulgences? The pope taught that indulgences—pieces of paper purchased by people and signed by the church—lessened people’s time in purgatory. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses taught that indulgences were bogus. Because people began believing Luther instead of the church, Albert was out big bucks! His response? Luther’s writings about God’s Word must be shredded!

Then in July, 1519, a debate took place in Leipzig, Germany. John Eck upheld Rome’s position—that people are saved, in large part, by what they do. Luther still wouldn’t budge on salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake alone. After the debate, Pope

Leo X excommunicated the Reformer. The excommunication began with these words from Psalm 80:13, “Arise, O Lord, a wild boar has invaded your vineyard.” Who was the wild boar invading the church’s vineyard? Martin Luther! Rome’s response was that Luther must be silenced and shredded!

It all came to a head at an imperial assembly in Worms, Germany. On April 17, 1521, the Roman Catholic Church demanded that Luther recant. Luther asked for an evening to think about it. Then, on April 18, 1521, the Reformer announced, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant! Here I stand!” Luther took his cue from 1 Peter 1:25: “The word of the Lord endures forever.” Rome responded. God’s Word must be silenced, censored, and shredded.

Luther’s courage, spine, and conviction came from the central teaching in God’s Word—Christ crucified for sinners. Christ crucified means every one of God’s Gospel promises in Jeremiah are now yours. Christ is your righteousness. Christ has plans to give you hope and a future. Christ loves you with an everlasting love. Because of Christ crucified, God changes our mourning into joy and our sorrow into gladness. And because of Christ crucified, God forgives our iniquity and remembers our sin no more.

That’s because a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate gave Jesus over to professional shredders. They ripped and removed skin from the Savior’s back, preparing him for the biggest, most industrial-grade shredder of the day. And what was that called? Mors turpissima crucis—that’s Latin for what Rome called its shredder—“the utterly vile death on a cross.” Jesus was shredded—crucified, dead, and buried. The end? I think not!

Jeremiah 36:32: “Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had shred and burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.” Let me repeat the last line. “And many similar words were added to them!” Jeremiah says, “Mess with my sermon and the next time I’ll add to it!” God resurrected Jeremiah’s scroll—and then some!

Jeremiah’s resurrected scroll was the prelude to another resurrected Scroll—and then some! Christ, the Word made flesh, rose again. What do we call that? Easter! Those who saw Christ alive were beside themselves. Mary cried out, “Rabboni!” The Emmaus disciples exclaimed, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” Then Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God!”

Alive with the life of Jesus and the breath of the Holy Spirit—God’s Holy Word is the living voice of the Gospel. For you, right now, it announces forgiveness for all your sin, showers you with grace, and rekindles resurrection hope. God’s Word announces that weakness is power, loss is gain, and servanthood is greatness. And wherever God’s Word is preached, studied, memorized, and read it is victorious over every satanic force that seeks to destroy its Holy Spirit power.

That’s why Lutheran Bible Translators does more than produce Bibles. LBT’s goal is production—to be sure. But production is not an end in itself. Bible production opens doors so there can be transformation—new life in Jesus.

You see, LBT works with pre-literate and semi-literate peoples. To produce a book is only the beginning because books aren’t a part of these people’s culture. LBT missionaries, therefore, establish long-term relationships. They gain trust. Learn the language. Embrace their culture. And learn to love individuals, families, and congregations, so people not only hear and read God’s Word in their heart language, but so they also interact with Scripture so it goes down into their “insidest-inside”—deep within their minds and hearts. The result? Production leads to transformation!

And transformation leads to dedication. Luther again, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand!” The Reformer took his stand upon 1 Peter 1:25, “The word of the Lord endures forever.” The Latin is, Verbum Dei Manet In Aeternum.

VDMA. Luther and his followers sewed VDMA on their coat sleeves and cloaks. Today we place VDMA deep in our hearts and minds. To all paper shredders we boldly confess, “Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever. We will help translate, publish, and send this word to the ends of the earth. Here we stand!” Amen.

Dr. Reed Lessing

Concordia University St. Paul

St. Paul, Minnesota

Sermon for September 19, 2021, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 9:30-37 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 20—Series B)

“Your Status”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 19, 2021

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

Our text is the Gospel recorded in Mark 9:

30And after He had gone out from there, He was traveling through Galilee and He did not want anyone to know 31for He was teaching His disciples and said to them, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of people, and they will kill Him, and when He has been killed, after three days He will rise.” 32But they did not understand the saying and they were afraid to ask Him. 33And He came into Capernaum. And when they were in the house, He asked them, “What were you all discussing on the road?” 34But they were silent, for they were discussing with one another on the road who was the greatest. 35And after He sat down, He called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he will be last of all and servant of all.” 36And after He had taken a child, He stood him in their midst, and taking Him in His arms, He said to them, 37“Whoever receives one of such children for the sake of my name receives me. And whoever receives me, receives not me, but the One who sent me.”

          The teacher stops her lecture. She stares with stern eyes at the two students in the back corner. “What were you talking about? Do you have something you want to share with the rest of the class?” Silence. Embarrassed, awkward looks on the students’ faces.

          “What were you talking about with each other while we were on the road?” Jesus asked His disciples. “Do you have something you want to share?” Silence. Embarrassed, awkward looks on the students’ faces.

          What the classroom teacher cannot know is what Jesus does know—what they were talking about. In this passing moment we get a glimpse of the deity of Christ. Jesus is true Man and true God who is all-knowing. He shows His disciples, even though they are silent, that He is well-aware of what they were talking about on the road—which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew! They didn’t need to say. And so, their Lord and Master continued to teach His disciples. The topic: what greatness means in the reign and rule of God.

          The world considers greatness as being “better than.” Being first means having control so that others do you bidding, even if they have to be forced to obey. Greatness is most often reflected in power and influence over others. That’s just how it is among fallen humanity. People think too highly of themselves just as the disciples did in their discussion about who is the greatest among them (Rom. 12:3). You and I have as well. We often put ourselves ahead of others, believing that we are better than they are in one way or another. We are agitated when people get ahead based on their personality or their good looks or their gender while we work and hone skills and gain experience only to be passed over. “Nice guys finish last,” we grumble and complain, because we want to finish first, we desire to be waited on. We want the promotion, the better pay. We want to advance. We want to be first, to be the greatest. That’s just how it is among fallen humanity.

          But that is not how it is among those under the reign and rule of God. And our sinful natures chafe against the thought. The reign and rule of God comes in seemingly weak and hidden ways. It’s a reign where the first are last and servant of everybody. “Do you want to be great?” Jesus essentially asked the Twelve. “Then be last of all and servant of all like this child.” It’s counter cultural. It’s “counter-natural,” with “natural” being our fallen state in which we fear, love, and trust in ourselves and put ourselves first and seek to be better than everyone.

          But to be last of all and servant of all like a little child? That’s . . . that’s . . . humiliating. It sure is! In the ancient Near East children were the weakest, most vulnerable members of society. They were always the first to suffer from famine, war, and disease. Within the family and community, children had little status. While a minor, a child was on par with a slave. And it is a child that Jesus embraces in His arms. Given the lowly status of children in the culture, Jesus identifies with that lowliness and lack of personal status as He Himself is the Suffering Servant.

          It is Jesus, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by 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” (Phil. 2:6–8 ESV). Almighty God—truly the Greatest—took on human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. He humbled Himself to come among fallen humanity and to serve us with the very gift of Himself into the humiliating death of crucifixion. On the cross, Jesus died the death of a rebellious slave. The Romans crucified Spartacus and his rebellious slaves on the Appian Way for everyone to see from Capua to Rome (Appian, The Civil Wars 1.120). A long row of crosses with rebellious slaves fastened to them must have discouraged other slaves from similarly revolting against their masters.

          But Jesus had not revolted against His Master. Jesus had not sinned against God or people. No, Jesus took the station of a little child, assumed the vocation of a servant, so that all people might receive the forgiveness of their sins of pride and self-glorification. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). Christ put us first, chief of sinners though we be, in order that we might no longer be slaves of Satan, sin, and death. The First became last of all and servant of all for you so that your sins are forgiven. You have new life. That’s how it works in the reign and rule of God.

          Under the reign and rule of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we are called to a new life of servanthood. In that “reverse greatness” of the reign, we are greatest when we are servants of Christ as we relate not only to our fellow Christians but also to those who are not yet disciples of the Lord Jesus. Rather than competition or comparison by the standards of the world, we are empowered by the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection to look at one another with the eyes of Christ and realize that, when we see someone who is struggling or hurting or alone and in desperate need, we are able to be the hands and mouth and feet of Christ as we embrace that person with actions of love and care and support by supplying what they need physically and spiritually.

           Terri Bentley shared the following as a devotion on the LWML website. It illustrates for us an aspect of being a servant. Terri wrote, “Recently, during the children’s message at our church, a grandmother walking with a cane took two rambunctious preschoolers to the front to listen. She had her hands full, to say the least. Even though she was able to hang onto the two-year-old, the three-year-old broke loose and scampered around as little boys are wont to do. He made it to the pulpit parament and gave it a tug. The pastor quickly straightened it again, but no one deterred the youngster as he continued his exploration.

I, along with many others, I’m sure, was sitting in church thinking, “Why doesn’t somebody do something to help?” Obviously, this lady had her hands full and could have used some assistance. I wasn’t sitting close to the front nor did I know the little guy and his family well. Surely, somebody else would be more capable of helping her than I. But then it hit me. I was somebody. I couldn’t just sit here and think “somebody should do something,” while I just sat and watched.

So I brushed past my husband who was sitting on the aisle and walked to the front and sat in the first pew, behind the little guy, and scooped him into my lap. I talked to him softly and he stilled to listen to what the pastor had to say. When the sermon was finished, he took my hand and, as we walked back to where the family was sitting together, he smiled up at me all the way.

I must say, I was still disappointed that no one else made a move to assist in this situation. I didn’t want anyone congratulating me for what I did, because I was still scolding them in my mind for not offering to help. When several did say something to me after church, I could only respond, “Well somebody had to do something.” I must admit that was probably not the most Christian thing I could say. A more appropriate response would probably have been to point to God and declare it was all for His glory. But I really wasn’t feeling that way.

Why don’t we jump to help when we have the time, resources, or money to do so? I know going up there during the children’s message was a risk. What if the little guy freaked out and screamed at this relative stranger putting him on her lap? I could not even tell you his name. But when God is tugging at your heart to act, you can’t just sit there thinking “somebody should do something.” We must be the somebody that God wants to send.

In Matthew 25 . . . Jesus emphasizes the importance of extending ourselves to each other when we see a need–in instances such as hunger, thirst, being a stranger, naked, sick, or being in prison. Are we responding to the needs of our fellow human beings? . . . Look to be that somebody so others can see Jesus in you.”[1]

          Be the last of all and servant of all. One of the most enduring and beloved pictures of all time is “Jesus with the Children.” This picture clearly shows Jesus’ love for the “least of these” of His day. It illustrates His love for you and me whom He has made children of the heavenly Father by grace through faith in Jesus’ saving life, death, and resurrection. We are God’s children who have received forgiveness of sins and the new life that enables us to be servants in Jesus’ name to all people. When you see this picture of Christ and the children, see yourself, not only as a child of God in Christ, but also one who serves the “least of these,” whoever they may be in whatever need that they might have. You who, in Christ Jesus, are last of all and servant of all are indeed the greatest in showing love and mercy. Amen.

     [1]Be Somebody by Terri Bentley, Garden Valley, Idaho. Published byLutheran Women’s Missionary League, 2014,