Sermon for August 1, 2021, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

John 6:30-33 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 13—Series B)

“Don’t Forget the Giver”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 1, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson for the day recorded in John 6:

30Therefore, they said to [Jesus], “What sign do you do so that we may see and believe you? What work? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it stands written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Therefore Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, Moses has not given you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the Bread of God is [the bread] which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

          It’s been said that “an elephant never forgets.” Elephants might not forget, but I sure do. If I don’t write it down, I’m so much less likely to remember. And as I’ve said before, don’t tell me anything I have to remember as you walk out of church on a Sunday morning because I’m probably not going to remember it.

          The crowd at the feeding of the 5000 was forgetful too. When they found Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they wanted to know when He had gotten there. “You didn’t get into the boat with the disciples, so when did you sneak out? And by the way, can you feed us again?” They weren’t looking for Jesus because they saw the miracle of the feeding and were putting their trust in Him as God and Lord but because they ate their fill of the loaves and were satisfied. Jesus knew that and told them so as He directed them to a spiritual food that endures for eternal life, not just physical, earthly life. And the crowd then asked for a sign if they are to believe in the name of the One whom God the Father had sent, namely this Jesus. You see, that had already forgotten about the five loaves and two fish which Jesus used to feed more than 5000 people.

          The crowd wasn’t thinking of the sign of the miraculous feeding as pointing them to Jesus, God-made-flesh and dwelling among them. They were thinking of their physical need for bread. After all, they tried to force Jesus to become king so that He would provide for their physical needs every day. No more working for food for this bunch! “Besides,” they said, “our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness that Moses gave them. Moses took care of our peoples’ physical needs. Why won’t you? Give us more bread!”

          It became all about the gift—the loaves—and forgotten in all of it was the Giver. The fact that Jesus fed all those people in the wilderness with a few loaves and fish should have been received as a sign pointing to Him as Lord and God. Who could do such a sign if He were not true God? But the crowd couldn’t see past their noses—or more accurately, their stomachs. It was all about what they got and not about from whom they received it. If Jesus had gorged them with food and drink every day, He would have been a welcome Christ. But when they asked, “What must we do to be working the works of God?” and He told them, “Believe in Me!” they wanted to know why? “What sign do you do that we should believe in you? Moses gave us bread from heaven. What are you going to do?”

          Martin Luther, preaching on John 6, told the people of his day, “I suppose people will always be willing to let the Gospel feed them and make them wealthy, to have it serve worldly ends and bring them food, money, honor, and life’s comforts; but it is intolerable if it tries to instruct people in the service of God. They love God as lice love a [vagrant]; far from being interested in his welfare, their one concern is to feed on him and suck his blood. Our love for the Gospel is like that. We seek nothing but gluttony and our own selfish interest. The Gospel is loved on account of greed, not on account of righteousness.”[1]

Pretty strong words, aren’t they? But how often are Jesus and His Word received for what can be gotten from Him for this life? “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people” (Small Catechism). So, what will you give me, Lord? What earthly blessings can I expect from you? What sign will you do that I should believe in You? Will you always give me what I want—food, clothes, nice house, nice car, lots of money, happiness, health? Are you going to make this life worth my while? Let’s see the gifts! Let’s see the blessings pile up! You want my love? Well show me!

It becomes all about the gifts. It becomes all about the physical, earthly prosperity that God can give. And if He really loves us, that’s what He’ll do. Fill my basement and my shed. Give me grain and give me bread. Be for us the “bread king” so we don’t have to work so hard for it anymore. Moses did it for the Israelites. Why won’t You do it for me, Jesus?

Actually, Moses didn’t give the Israelites anything. The people had forgotten. God was the giver of the manna in the wilderness. You know the Biblical account. We heard it again today in our Old Testament lesson from Exodus 16. “The people had nothing to eat and resentfully deplored their departure from Egypt with its fleshpots and its onions and garlic. They forgot the servitude they had endured there. They panted after Egypt and forgot the miracles of God. In answer to Moses’ plea God gave them manna; each day the people gathered their daily ration. . . . They collected it daily from the fields in quantities sufficient for the day, bore it home, and prepared it as they chose. This miracle endured for forty consecutive years, providing these wicked, ungrateful Israelites with daily food. But they wearied of this bread from heaven and would fain have returned to Egypt with its onions and garlic.”[2] And yet, even as they complained, God gave. He gave and gave and gave. Not Moses! God, the Lord Yahweh, gave. And Moses told the children of Israel, “You shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:2–3 ESV).

And it was from the mouth of the Lord that the people in Capernaum heard that it’s not all about the gifts. It’s about the Giver. Jesus, true God and true Man said, “Truly, truly I say to you, Moses has not given you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the Bread of God is [the bread] which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Manna didn’t give eternal life. It only sustained earthly life. As Jesus Himself would point out a few verses later, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”This crowd ate the loaves and one day, they would die. But God is giving a gift better than the manna. He’s giving a gift better than a life-time supply of food. Jesus, gesturing to Himself, said, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:49–51 ESV).

The bread that God gives is His own Son. Jesus is the Bread come down from heaven. He is the Gift of God to all people. He is God the Father’s gift given into death as the Paschal Lamb in order to give life. “For the Bread of God is [the bread] which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus gives you life by His death. He dies for you sins so that you now live in His righteousness. He suffers God’s wrath and anger; He bleeds on the cross. You have peace with God and receive pure, white garments washed in the blood of the Lamb, symbols of your holiness and rightness. He wears thorns on His head. You wear the crown of everlasting life because your sins are forgiven, removed, atoned for. You have life and have it in abundance—eternally with God.

The Bread of God, Jesus Christ, has removed your sin. He has delivered you from the power of death and the devil. By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, you believe in Jesus whom the Father sent to live, suffer, die, and rise again for your forgiveness and for your eternal life. The Bread from heaven, Jesus, is the real gift. He is the Living Savior and God the Father is the real Giver of all the spiritual blessings of His Son, our Lord. These gifts you receive by faith through the Gospel, in Baptism, and in the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood where He feeds us with bread and wine, that is, His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, for eternal life, and for salvation.

In addition, the Lord also provides that which we need to support this body and life. He gives good gifts to us in food and drink, house and home. He blesses us with what we need and enables us to share with those who lack. But it’s not about these gifts. It’s about the Giver. It’s about the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Everything else flows from this blessing of eternal life and salvation.

As we learned from the Small Catechism, the Father does all this “only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” To the only true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we do give thanks and praise for the Bread of Life, Jesus, and for our daily bread that we receive from the Lord’s abundance and blessing. Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 30.

     [2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 30–31.

Sermon for July 25, 2021, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 6:45-52 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 12—Series B)

“Entrust Your Days”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

June 20, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson for the day recorded in Mark 6:

45And immediately [Jesus] made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. 46And after He had taken leave of them, He went away into the mountain to pray. 47And when it had become evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48And behold, they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea, and wanted to pass by them. 49Now when they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought that He was a ghost, and they cried out, 50for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Be courageous. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51And He climbed into the boat with them and the wind ceased and they were utterly amazed, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but were hardened in their hearts.

          They didn’t get it—the crowd, I mean. They wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him their king. And not just any old king, they wanted Him to be their “bread-king” so that they wouldn’t have to work for food any longer. Jesus told the crowd the next day, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26 ESV). They didn’t understand that in the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus was showing them His identity as true God. They didn’t understand that Jesus is Yahweh come to bring the new exodus to His people. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:31–33 ESV). That’s Jesus, true God and true Man, the Christ.

          They didn’t get it—the disciples, I mean. The disciples failed to understand who Jesus is with the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee and with the feeding of the 5000. They didn’t understand that Jesus is Yahweh come to bring the new exodus to His people. If they didn’t get this point about Jesus then, it would not be apparent to them now who Jesus is, even when He walks upon the water.

          Rather than entrusting themselves to Him who is true God and true Man, the disciples cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” They are not so much different from us. When our first thoughts ought to be directed to our God and Lord, they are instead so often turned toward fear and helplessness. The disciples: “That can’t be Jesus. We’re in the boat. He’s back on land!” You and me: “Jesus can’t be here for me now in this situation. I’m in the storm. He’s in the safety of heaven.”

          How impossible it seems that Jesus could be with us in all the changes and chances of this earthly life. Five-year old Timmy was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn’t want to go in alone. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared.” She asked again, and he persisted. Finally, she said, “It’s OK—Jesus will be in there with you.” Timmy walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?”

          How often is that our response? “Jesus, if you are there . . .” By that time, we’ve already run through many scenarios, trying our best to work out our fears and troubles and problems. As a last resort, rather than the first, we turn to the Lord, “If You are there.” In Matthew’s Gospel account of Jesus’ walking on the water, it is Peter who voices this. Perceiving their fear, Jesus called to the disciples in the boat, “Be courageous! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matthew tells us that Peter called out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matt. 14:28 ESV). Of course, Jesus told Peter to come, and he did. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30 ESV). Amid the wind and waves, Peter doubted (even when Jesus was right there). Peter couldn’t muster the trust that Jesus, true God and true Man, was really, truly present for him and for his salvation in the fullest sense. We have the same doubts and fears, even though Jesus is right here.

          We cannot see the Lord Jesus. We can’t touch His hand and pull Him into our boat of life. But Jesus is nevertheless present with us. He is, after all, Emmanuel. He is God who is with us always, even to the end of the age! He is the God-Man who has proven His faithfulness to you and me with His perfect life, death, and resurrection. If you were not of the greatest value to the Lord Jesus, He would not have given Himself up into the pains of death and hell to rescue you from Satan, sin, and everlasting death in order that you might live with Him forever in the joys of eternity!

Jesus is the new and greater Moses who has brought about the new exodus for you. Jesus death and rising again has rescued you from the land of sin’s slavery. He saved you from bondage to your sinful nature and from your captivity to Satan and the power of death. He has brought you through the Sea of the water of Baptism into the promised land of forgiveness and eternal life where He feeds you with a manna better than the Israelites ate. He feeds you with His true Body and Blood with the bread and wine. These gifts bestow upon you forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your faith so that you can entrust yourselves to the Lord Christ and depend on Him in true faith to be there for you, with you, for your blessing and benefit.

          As Jesus assured the disciples with His Word and His Presence, so He does for you. He assures you that you are His baptized son or daughter. You are children of the heavenly Father. Baptism delivered Christ to you, clothed you with Christ, and has brought Christ to dwell in you as His temple, a temple of the Holy Spirit. As Christ has come to you through water and the Word by the power of the Spirit, He delivers to you forgiveness. He rescues you from death and devil. He gives you eternal life. 

By means of Word and Sacrament, the Savior’s promise holds true—“I am with you always.” He is present by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel Word, in Baptism, and in His Holy Supper. Christ Himself comes to you through these Means in the midst of your fears and worries, your concerns and illnesses. He is present in the Word and Sacraments for you, with you, and for your forgiveness and strengthened faith, for your blessing and for the hope of glory that shall never fade away. Your life is forever preserved by the presence of Jesus. Whatever may come, you can confidently entrust yourself, your days, and your burdens to the Lord Jesus. He will never leave you. He will not forsake you, ever!

Take heart, have hope, my spirit,
    And do not be dismayed;
God helps in ev’ry trial
    And makes you unafraid.
Await His time with patience
    Through darkest hours of night
Until the sun you hoped for
    Delights your eager sight. (LSB 754:3)    Amen.

Sermon for July 18, 2021 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

From Concordia Pulpit, Vol. 31, Part 3. Written by Paul Raabe

Jeremiah 23:1-6 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 11—Series B)

“A Righteous Shepherd King”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 18, 2021

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson for the day from Jeremiah 23.

1  “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. 5 “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. 6 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.’

You need a king. You might not think so. Americans don’t like kings. We affirm government of the people, by the people, and for the people. As a worldly political policy, our American system of checks and balances is good and beneficial. It works. But before God Almighty himself, you need a king, God’s kind of human king.

You don’t need the world’s kind of king. The kings of the world can prove to be incredibly violent and murderous. One thinks of all the blood that was shed by the kings of ancient Assyria and Babylon and Greece and Rome and, in more recent days, absolute rulers such as Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao, and many others. Kings of the world are typically not righteous in God’s way of righteousness. They rule in very unrighteous ways, with wicked policies toward the people and in turn leading the people in wicked ways. As goes the king, so go the people. The root of the problem is this: kings of the world are self-serving. The adage is apt: “It’s all about power, getting it and keeping it.” Worldly kings seek their own glory and prestige. They often don’t really care about their people or their people’s plight. They’re interested only in feathering their own nest.

What results from these policies and practices? The sheep scatter. Every sinner does his own thing. Every sinner goes his own way, and that way is always away from the true God, their Creator—always. Without a righteous shepherd-king, the sheep disperse and wander aimlessly. At an archaeological dig in northeast Syria, they saw a flock of sheep daily pass the site. Each sheep would wander off in its own direction until the shepherd came and gathered them together. Sinners are like that. Without a good shepherd-king, everyone does what is right in his own eyes, instead of what is right in God’s eyes. As Isaiah confessed for us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Is 53:6).

Ancient Israel can function as a visual aid, as a model of what happens without God’s kind of human king. In ancient Israel, the king was supposed to be a good shepherd who would gather his sheep and lead them in the ways of the Lord. Jeremiah states God’s own expectations for God’s kind of king: “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer 22:3).

But a bad shepherd-king will mislead the people and serve only himself. Jeremiah, as well as Ezekiel in Ezekiel 34, condemned the last shepherd-kings of Jerusalem in his day. They attended only to themselves. They were only self-serving. They built their own magnificent palace but did not care for the people by doing what was right before God. Their eyes and heart were oriented toward only their own covetous desires. Their practices consisted of shedding innocent blood and practicing violent oppression. And the worst thing was that they led the people away from the true God toward idols. They corrupted the people, and the people themselves became corrupt and guilty as well.

They were supposed to be good shepherds, to rule the people in true righteousness, to lead the people in God’s ways, and to unite the people to serve the Lord in true unity. But in fact, the corrupt practices of the kings corrupted the people and would lead to their dispersion. Jeremiah announced the words of Yahweh, the God of Israel: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (Jer 23:1). And in fact, the sheep were scattered among the nations. In 587 BC, Babylon came, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and exiled the people.

But God did not end his message there. Through Jeremiah, God announced a wonderful promise of a different future. In the future, God will regather the remnant of his flock out of the other lands and bring them back to the sheepfold. Not only that, but

The Days Are Coming When God Will “Raise Up for David a Righteous Branch, and a King Shall Rule and Act Wisely and Do God’s Judgment and Righteousness in the Land”

(v 5). In contrast to the wicked and unrighteous kings Jerusalem was used to, this future king will be a righteous Branch, which will grow into a tree that will bear much fruit. This future king will rule wisely and do what is truly righteous. He will unite Judah and Israel in salvation and safety. No longer will they fear conquering enemies. And through the messianic King, the gift of righteousness will come to the people from God. The Messiah’s name will be “Yahweh is our righteousness.” Through the rule of the Davidic Messiah, Yahweh is the author and source of our righteousness.

Hear the good news. God fulfills his promises of old. He began to restore his exiled people back to the land of Israel in 538 BC and then more in 457 BC. And in the fullness of time, six hundred years after Jeremiah’s promise, God brought his ancient promises to fulfillment. God sent his only-begotten Son to join the human race, to become Israel’s human King from the line of David. God gave you a righteous Shepherd-King. And what did he do? During his public ministry in the land of Israel, he had compassion on Israel as sheep without a shepherd. He gathered to himself the lost sheep of Israel. He did what a righteous king was supposed to do. He had compassion on the helpless, the widow, the fatherless, the weak, the overlooked nobodies. We can read about his public ministry in the Gospel appointed for this season, the Gospel according to Mark. Jesus saw the people of Israel as sheep without a shepherd, and he gathered them to himself. He continues to do that even to this day. Remember the Day of Pentecost, how the Holy Spirit was sent by the exalted Messiah Jesus and came upon Israelites who had gathered in Jerusalem from around the world.

God gave you a righteous Shepherd-King. Jesus is the Shepherd-King who unites his people like a shepherd unites his sheep. And he adds even more to his flock, those beyond native Israel. Through holy baptism, he brought even us Gentiles into his sheepfold. He gathers his own from around the world and brings us to God his Father. Jesus is the Shepherd-King of Israel, who is better than any of the preceding kings of Israel. In fact, he does something surprising. This Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep, for you. And God raised him up on the third day and highly exalted him. Now Jesus as the Davidic King rules over you by his Holy Spirit. To live under his rule is a blessed life. He brings you to the God of ancient Israel, the true God and makes you part of his own flock. Through his sacred meal, he nourishes you with his body and blood and gives you eternal life with him. You by faith belong to his flock and enjoy salvation and safety under his rule. You need not fear anything. For your Shepherd-King is all for you, no matter what. After those woeful shepherds, “behold, the days” of “a righteous Branch [who] shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Jesus is the righteous Shepherd-King. Through him, you receive true righteousness from God himself. God laid on Jesus, the King, your iniquity and sin. And God reckoned to you the righteousness of Jesus, which he achieved by his own righteous doing and suffering. By faith, you now stand righteous before God. Yahweh, the true God, is now the source of your righteousness. His righteousness has replaced your wickedness. And by his Spirit, he promises to lead you in righteous ways. You belong to the righteous Shepherd-King of Israel. Follow his paths, the righteous paths of your righteous King. And wait with eager anticipation for when Jesus comes again in glory to gather you and all his flock together into his glorious, eternal kingdom. God has given you a righteous Shepherd-King. Enjoy by faith his rule now. Hear the Word faithfully preached and taught by his called undershepherd, your pastor. Receive the Lord’s Supper rightly administered by his called undershepherd. And look forward to the day of bodily resurrection when you will see your righteous Shepherd-King face-to-face. Amen.

Sermon for July 11, 2021, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

From Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 31, Part 3. Written by Paul Raabe.

Amos 7:7-15 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 10—Series B)

“To What the Lord Has to Say”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 11, 2021

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson for the day from Amos 7.

7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” 10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, “‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

          Know your enemy. A sports team will study the films of the other team to learn their plays and identify their strengths and weaknesses. A chess master will study the games of the other chess master to know the opponent’s strategies. In the business world, a company will study its competitors.

In a much more serious matter, you should know your ultimate enemy: “The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight” (LSB 656:1). What are the aims and goals of the old evil foe, the devil, the “ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)? What is his agenda? What are his strategies, his tactics? Know your enemy.

Well, certainly the devil wants to see all manner of violence and wickedness. The more of that, the happier he is. But the center of what he’s about is unbelief. He wants to keep unbelievers in unbelief, dead in their sins. He wants to entice and draw believers away from their Lord and Savior, away from faith to unbelief. The devil wants us to see unbelief with death, temporal and eternal death, as the only future.

But what does the Holy Spirit want? The Holy Spirit wants to create and sustain faith in the heart. The Holy Spirit wants to tighten the bonds between you and your Savior, Jesus, the Messiah, to help you become a stronger, more mature Christian, to grow in Christ. How does the Holy Spirit do that? By means of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit does not work directly or without instruments. He works through the Word of God proclaimed in its truth and purity. Through the Law of God, he leads sinners to contrition and repentance. Through the promises of God fulfilled in Christ, he creates and sustains faith and gives joy in the Lord. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God.

Therefore the devil’s simple goal is to prevent sinners from hearing the Word of God. He wants to keep you from hearing, really listening, and taking seriously what the Lord God Almighty has to say. At its core, the devil’s agenda is to prevent you and others from hearing the life-giving Word of God himself, your Maker and Redeemer.

Well, how does the old evil foe do that? We see his tactics recorded in Holy Scripture. One approach is to fill the arena with umpteen false voices in an effort to drown out or marginalize the true voice of God. Throughout the history of ancient Israel, we read of false prophets, counterfeit voices. In fact, they usually outnumbered the true prophets. The false prophets would tell sinners what they wanted to hear, and as a result, they were popular. That way sinners would basically listen only to themselves. The true Word of God is never the only voice in the arena. It was and still is a competitive environment. Which voice are you going to listen to?

Another common approach is to silence the proclaimers of God’s saving Word. Just silence them. It’s said the prophet Isaiah was sawn in half. “The mighty seer of old” executed like so much garbage! The apostle Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Very often the prophets and apostles were pursued and imprisoned. Elijah was constantly threatened. The prophet Jeremiah as well as Paul often found themselves in prison. But God has the last laugh. The writings of the prophets and apostles were preserved, and we can hear and study them to this day. God will not be silenced.

The devil, the ruler of this fallen, corrupted world, strives to prevent sinners from hearing the true Word of God. One instance is recorded in our text, Amos 7. Let’s jump in a time machine and travel back to the year 760 BC. The place is Bethel, about ten miles north of Jerusalem. When Solomon died, the northern ten tribes separated. The north “seceded from the union” you might say. But the Creator of all made ancient Israel his very own covenant people, and that included the ten northern tribes as well. So God raised up prophets like Elijah and Elisha to proclaim his Word to the people. Now God called Amos and sent him to proclaim.

Amos was there in Bethel, where throngs of people had gathered to worship. Instead of worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem, where they were supposed to go, the north set up its own sanctuaries. One was located at Dan in the far north and the other at Bethel, in the southern end of the Northern Kingdom. Amos was called and sent by the true God to proclaim what the true God had to say. Therefore, Amos would repeatedly emphasize just this point with expressions such as, “Thus spoke Yahweh, the God of Israel” or “the utterance of Yahweh.” The true God wanted his Word to be proclaimed to the people, and through that Word, the Holy Spirit works. Therefore, Amos kept saying, “Listen to What the Lord God Almighty Has to Say.”

But the authority at the false sanctuary in Bethel did not want to hear it. Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, complained about Amos to the king in Samaria. Notice how Amaziah did some spin-doctoring. Amos was announcing God’s words of judgment against rebellious Israel, but Amaziah construed it as a conspiracy by Amos: “Amos has conspired against you [O King Jeroboam II]” (v 10). Amaziah painted Amos as some kind of political subversive. Amaziah interpreted the message of the true God as mere human politics, as the Southern Kingdom trying to overthrow the Northern Kingdom.

Through his prophets, the true God spoke to sinners to give them life. But the opponents reduced the Word of God to this-worldly politics—as if everything is only about worldly politics and economics!

Amaziah considered Amos, the prophet of the true God, to be fomenting conspiracy. Amaziah discounted what Amos was proclaiming as only words from Amos, invented by Amos to serve the political goals of Amos and the Southern Kingdom. Amaziah reported to King Jeroboam, “For thus Amos has said.” Amos had been emphasizing, “Thus spoke Yahweh, the God of Israel,” but Amaziah considered it only a human message and human opinion from the man Amos.

The old evil foe tries to prevent sinners from hearing the life-giving Word of God. This is one way he does it, by leading people to discount it, trivialize it, ignore it, dismiss it as simply human speech and human opinion. Amos said, “Thus spoke God,” and the opponents say, “No, that’s only what you say, preacher man.” Then Amaziah tried to pressure Amos to leave, to go back to his home in Tekoa in Judah, about ten miles south of Jerusalem: “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah” (v 12a), flee as if your life is in danger. Amaziah feigns to be Amos’s friend who fears for Amos’s life when Amaziah was the one who reported Amos to the king in the first place. The kingdom of darkness is deceitful, conniving. Then Amaziah insulted Amos by telling him to make his living back in Judah as a prophet for hire: “Eat bread there, and prophesy there” (v 12b). As if Amos were just another self-serving religious guru, feathering his own nest.

Amaziah revealed his real thinking as he said to Amos: “But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom” (v 13). To proclaim judgment against Bethel was to oppose the government. The false government of northern Israel in Samaria and the false temple of northern Israel in Bethel were united. To proclaim against one was to proclaim against the other. The false government supported and promoted the false religion.

The kingdom of darkness does not want sinners to hear the true Word of the true God. It seeks to silence or remove the true prophets. It leads people to discount the Word of the true God as only self-serving religious talk, as only self-serving proselytizing. “Don’t impose your religion on me,” they say. “Keep your religion to yourself.” “Don’t give me all that religious mumbo jumbo.” Such an assessment is actually true about false religions. But it is not true about the authentic Word of God.

The kingdom of darkness wants to prevent sinners from hearing the Word of God. How about you? Do you want to hear the Word of God? Or do you find ways to discount and ignore it? Do you dismiss it as irrelevant and boring? Do you have more important things to do with your time? Your life is busy, swamped with daily duties and activities. And so many voices are vying for your attention—on TV, the computer, digital devices, over the radio. Because we are bombarded with so many voices, the danger faces all of us to listen only to ourselves.

Know your enemy. Your ultimate enemy, the enemy, the old evil foe, wants to prevent you from hearing the life-giving Word of God himself. The enemy wants sinners to listen only to themselves. The powers of the old age wanted Amos the prophet of God to leave. In fact, his life was in danger.

Amaziah would have agreed with the adage, “It’s all about power, getting it and keeping it.” Amaziah had no intention of listening and repenting. He was only about self-preservation, and he assumed Amos was too. But Amos was called and sent by the Lord God Almighty himself to proclaim the Lord’s words. Amos remained and kept on proclaiming the Word of God. In fact, in the next two verses, Amos responded to Amaziah’s pressure tactics by announcing God’s judgment against Amaziah himself. Then Amos repeated his message to all of Israel. The Word of God spoken by Amos was written down and preserved. To this day, now over 2,700 years later, we can still read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God spoken by the prophet Amos.

The Word of God shall still remain. God will not be silenced. God is the God who speaks. He does not hide himself in secrecy so that access is only via divination, sorcery, and astrology, or by turning inward and looking into your own soul. The true God, the almighty Creator, speaks. We see that throughout the Scriptures, beginning in Genesis 1. The true God speaks in human language so that he can be heard and understood. The true God is not deceitful but open and transparent. The true God is a straight shooter. He reveals his will and ways in clear human language.

The true God is the almighty maker of the heavens and earth. He made himself the God of ancient Israel and made ancient Israel his own people, his treasured possession. To convey his Word to them in BC time, he raised up prophets. He had taken Amos from working as a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs and called him: “Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (v 15). Why was the true God so insistent that his Word be proclaimed, even when it meant that his spokesmen would be hunted, arrested, imprisoned, and even face death for it? Why? Is all that bother worth it?

The true God, the Creator of all, the God of ancient Israel, wants his Word to be preached, proclaimed, spoken, and written. Why? Because through his Word, the Holy Spirit leads sinners to contrition and repentance. That was why God called Amos. So that ancient Israel would turn away from their evil and turn to the Lord, the true God. God’s Word of judgment and repentance leads sinners away from their idols and their crooked ways. It reveals that those false ways lead only to death. The false voices only confirm sinners in their sins. Listening only to yourself has the same effect, sinners listening to sinners. Only the Word of the true God can lead sinners out of this endless cycle of sin and death. So Amos announced God’s coming judgment against sinners, the death sentence even for Israel as an independent nation. God sent Amos to move Israel from its sinful ways.

Why does God go to such a bother to have his Word proclaimed? Because through the promises of God, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith and true hope. Only the promises given by the true God are true and trustworthy. The promises of false voices, the promises of the world, mislead. They misdirect you to believe in illusions. But the true God fulfills his own promises. Those are the promises to actually listen to, take to heart, believe, and trust in. They are true promises given by the Lord God Almighty himself.

Well, what happened? Sure enough, ancient Israel rejected the Word of God spoken by the true prophets and listened only to themselves. Thereby they brought God’s judgment down upon themselves. In the 700s BC, God raised up the ancient Assyrians, who came and destroyed the Northern Kingdom and most of the Southern Kingdom. Then a century later, God raised up the ancient Babylonians to destroy even Jerusalem. The death sentence came down on collective Israel just as Amos had announced. God does not deceive like other voices. What God says is truth.

But that was not the end of the story. God through his prophet Amos also spoke a promise, the sure and certain promise that one day, God would reverse the judgment. In Amos 9:11–15, God promised that he would raise up the Davidic kingship that was about to fall. There will be a new and greater Davidic king. God will restore his people Israel. God will incorporate the Gentiles into his future kingdom so that even Gentiles will be owned by the God of Israel. God will give his people to inherit an abundant promised land.

In the fullness of time, this prophetic promise was fulfilled by God—fulfilled big time. Jesus of Nazareth is the new and greater Davidic King, not only like David but also David’s Lord. Jesus came as the new and greater Prophet, and like the prophets of old, he was rejected. Sinners wanted to listen only to themselves, even though he proclaimed the truth and was, in fact, the truth standing before them. Jesus embodied Israel and went through death just like BC Israel. Only he died a more severe death by suffering the just punishment of God against Israel and against all sinners. The God of Israel laid upon him the iniquity of us all. Jesus, the messianic King, suffered in the place of sinners and for sinners. He suffered in your place and for you. But then God raised him up bodily, just as he promised through Amos when he said, “I will raise up the booth of David” (9:11). God raised him up and highly exalted him above all. Jesus of Nazareth is Lord over all.

Now the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God the Father and the Spirit of his Son, Jesus the Messiah, is at work through God’s Word. Listen to what the Lord God Almighty has to say. Through the ancient prophetic Word of Law and judgment, the same God still leads us daily to contrition and repentance. He still calls us all to repent, to confess the sin of listening only to ourselves and hearing only what we want to hear. Through the prophetic Word of promise, fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, he creates and sustains faith and transforms our lives—native Israelites and Gentiles. The Word of God brings us under the Davidic Messiah’s saving rule. Through Holy Baptism, Jesus, the new and greater David, puts his name upon us, even us Gentiles. We belong to him. Through his Supper, received by our mouths, he unites us with his life-giving body and blood. Moreover, he promises that one day, we, as his people both Israelite and Gentile, will inherit the new and greater promised land, the new creation, in Christ.

Only his Word can lead you to daily repentance. Only his Word can sustain faith in your heart. Only his Word can lead you to eternal life. Despite so many confusing voices (including your own), listen to what the Lord God Almighty has to say. Amen.

Sermon for July 4, 2021, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 2:1-5 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 9—Series B)

“That They Might Know”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 4, 2021

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

Our text is the Old Testament lesson for the day from Ezekiel 2:

1And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak with you.” 2And the Spirit entered into me as He spoke to me and caused me to stand on my feet. And I heard Him speaking to me. 3And He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to nations rebelling, who have rebelled against Me. They and their fathers have revolted against me to this very day. 4The sons—hard-faced and hard-hearted—I am sending you to them. And you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh.’ 5Then they, whether they listen or do not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet of Yahweh has been among them.”

          Imagine that you are looking for a job. You run across this ad for employment:

“Help Wanted—Individual needed to share information with others. Must speak exactly the words given. Most people won’t even listen to you.” Would you take that job? Probably not. But Ezekiel did when God called Him to be His mouthpiece to the rebellious and sinful sons of Israel. And whether they would listen or not—for they were a rebellious house—they would know that a prophet of the Lord Yahweh had been among them.

          Ezekiel was a member of the priestly family. Along with the king, Jehoiachin, and most of the nobility, Ezekiel was taken away into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 B.C. In the fifth year of his exile, 593 B.C., the Lord Yahweh called Ezekiel into the office of the prophetic ministry to serve God as His mouthpiece to the exiled sons of Israel. Two-thirds of the Book of Ezekiel record the prophet’s words and actions between 593 and 587 B.C. In that year, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. Ezekiel wrote, “In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has been struck down’” (Ezek. 33:21 ESV). The rest of the book looks forward to when, in God’s good time, this sad history would be reversed.

          And so it was that the Lord Yahweh chose Ezekiel to be His prophet, to speak God’s Word to the descendants of Jacob whom God renamed Israel. Perhaps you’ve heard it said, “Like father, like son.” The descendants of Israel were not a people obedient to the covenant promises God made to them and they affirmed. The Lord brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He caused them to pass safely through the Red Sea, drowning Pharoah and his army in the water. He brought them to Mt. Sinai to receive His covenant, His Words, His Promises. They built a golden calf and worshiped it as God. They grumbled and complained that life was better as slaves in Egypt because they were tired of the manna and the quail that God provided for them every day in the wilderness. God brought them into the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. They worshiped Baal and ignored God and His Word. In the words of another prophet, Amos, “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6 ESV). The sons of Israel failed to love Yahweh their God with all their heart and soul. They did not love their neighbors as themselves. They rejected and rebelled against God and His covenant Word of Promise to them—“They and their fathers have revolted against me to this very day!” (Ezk 2:3).

          Let’s not be too quick to point the finger and say, “I wouldn’t have done that if I was part of the people of Israel.” The descendants of Israel were just like us, a people who cannot not sin. And when we sin, what are we doing? We are rebelling against the Word of God that defines what is sinful. We think, act, speak, and desire that which is contrary to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture. We worship “Baal.” No, not the ancient Canaanite deity, rather whatever we fear, love, and trust in, that is our god. Whatever we place as most important in our lives is our god—hobby, job, routine, possessions, or self. So God also says to you and me through His mouthpiece Ezekiel, “They and their fathers have revolted against me to this very day!” Hereditary guilt; original sin with which we are all conceived and born.

          To the sons of Israel the Lord Yahweh sent Ezekiel with His Word as His prophet. Now a prophet did more than foretell the future. A prophet preached the full counsel of God, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh.” A prophet like Ezekiel proclaimed both Law and Gospel. Like Israel, you and I must hear God’s Word of Law that teaches us what we are to do and not to do. Through the Law, we are shown our sin and the wrath of God and our need to be saved from sin, death, and hell. And so the Law must be proclaimed to all people, but especially sinners who refuse to repent and acknowledge who they are before the Lord Yahweh.

          But the message of God’s Law cannot save. It only condemns. It reveals our fallen, hopeless condition, and our great need for God to act to save us. So the prophet Ezekiel also spoke God’s Promises, the Gospel. The Gospel teaches what God has done, and still does, in Jesus the promised Messiah-Savior for our salvation from sin, death, and hell. The Gospel not only shows our Savior, Jesus, but also personally delivers God’s grace and favor in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus alone won for the whole world with His perfect life and His sacrificial death on the cross.

          The Book of Hebrews begins, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2 ESV). God told Ezekiel that whether the people listened to His Word or not, they would know that a prophet of Yahweh had been among them. This is God’s way of saying that He means business, that once Ezekiel has delivered God’s thunderous judgments against the sinful Israelites, they will definitely be aware that God’s agent has been among them. He would make His presence vividly felt; there would be no doubt who Ezekiel is and what he stands for.

In these last days, God has sent to us a greater Prophet, His One-of-a Kind Son, Jesus. Like Ezekiel, Jesus too is called the “Son of man.” Often in the presence of Jesus’ mighty deeds, done as true God and true Man, people expressed their awareness that there had indeed been a prophet among them.    When Jesus revealed to the Samaritan woman at the well His knowledge of her shenanigans, she replied, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (John 4:19 ESV). The crowd who saw the feeding of the five thousand reacted, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV). After Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son, those who saw it exclaimed, “A great prophet has arisen among us! God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16 ESV).

          When we read and hear the Word of Christ, the Word about Christ, we too can proclaim, “God has visited His people! There has been a Prophet among us!” In His Office as our Prophet, Jesus who is truly divine and truly human, proclaims His Word to us. He announces the full counsel of the God that He is—Law and Gospel. His Word in Scripture remains His Word to us, from Genesis to Revelation. It is the Word from Christ, about Christ, pointing us to Christ, and delivering the blessing of Christ to us in the forgiveness of our sins. Through the Office of the Holy Ministry, called pastors speak in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ as they proclaim Law and Gospel, the whole counsel of God—sin and grace, command and promise, death and life—for the forgiveness of your sins.

All baptized Christians also speak the Word of God—Law and Gospel—to their families and friends and neighbors. 1 Peter 2, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9 ESV). As you live the Christian life before others, you are witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your lives testify to the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the new life of faith which you live out in your daily callings as parent or child, employer or employee, as husband, wife, or single person. In your vocation, you are given opportunities to speak for Christ and to announce the blessings of the forgiveness of sins to all in need of His grace and mercy. You have the joy of being not only His mouth, but also His hands and feet to run His errands as you show love and mercy to all people in His name.

And whether they listen or do not, they will know that Christ, through you, has been there for them with forgiveness, life, and salvation. They will know that a Christian has been among them, that a son of God, a daughter of God, baptized into the Name of Jesus, has loved them enough to share Law and Gospel with them; has loved them so much as to point them to Jesus; has cared with mercy to help and serve them in their needs.

Imagine that you are looking for a job. You run across this ad for employment:

“Help Wanted—Christians needed to share God’s Word of Law and Gospel with others. Must speak exactly the words given as you share the love and mercy of Christ. Most people won’t even listen to you. Nevertheless, you are serving Christ in love and mercy” This task has been given to you through your Baptism. The Lord Christ has called you to be His witnesses in word and deed to all nations and people as you show love and mercy in His name. And whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a servant of Christ has been among to the glory of God the Father. Amen.