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Sermon for May 24, 2020, Seventh Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 5:6-11 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Standing Firm in Christ”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

May 24, 2020

 

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

Our text is recorded in the Second Lesson from 1 Peter 5:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

         Someone asked author C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.” Looking at God’s Word in 1 Peter 5, Lewis is right. We can endure suffering of all kinds because the God of grace has promised to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.

          Human suffering can be attributed to several causes. The first is sin in general. We face suffering caused by our own sinfulness and the consequences of our sinful actions. We live with the suffering inflicted upon ourselves by the guilt of what we have said and done to others as well as the guilt of failing to say and to do to others what we should. Not only are there emotional consequences, sometimes there are physical consequences of our sins. Disobeying your teacher lands you in detention. Not obeying your parents gets you grounded. Drinking and driving can land you in the hospital, or worse, killing someone else or even yourself.

          In addition to our own sins and the consequences of them, we also suffer in this life because of the sins of others. An under-the-influence driver hits your car and you are paralyzed for life. You are bullied in school. Spouses divorce and both they and their children suffer the life-long consequences of that family separation. A coworker spreads rumors and lies about you, costing your reputation and maybe even your job. Your debit card or bank account is hacked, and you lose your savings. You become a victim of identity theft.

          Not only are we subject to the suffering caused by our own sins and the sins of others, we also face suffering because we live in a world that is also completely corrupted by sin. Cancer claims our bodies or the body of one we love. Our physical bodies are subjected to all kinds of diseases and pains; our spirits are attacked by anxiety and depression and other mental and emotional illnesses. Fires, floods, drought, tornadoes, and other natural disasters destroy lives and property.

          Unfortunately, sin is not the only cause of human suffering. There is also the devil. Peter describes him here as our adversary, our opponent. He comes stalking like a roaring lion seeking to swallow us up. He wants to drive us into gloom because of our sin. He wants to take the Word of God from us and cause us to doubt God’s love and care for us. He is constantly tempting Christians to evil. He, along with the other evil angels, is bent on destroying the works of God to counteract His gracious purposes. Satan plots to disturb and to destroy the Church by inciting persecution and the suffering that it brings upon God’s people precisely because they are God’s children in Christ.

          You and I, along with the rest of humanity, face suffering because of our sins. We suffer because of the sins of others and because of the sin in the world. We also suffer under the threats and the attacks of the devil because we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. We suffer as Christians. But the devil and the world tell us lies as we suffer. We are told that the suffering we are facing and going through must be from God. It must be that God’s mighty hand is crushing and squeezing us to death. Satan got Job’s wife to go there. She said to her suffering husband, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Job himself even gets to the point of attributing his suffering to God, “Who among these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:9-10). Job remembers God’s wisdom and power but fails to acknowledge God’s use of these attributes for his good.

          From the Lord’s own Word to us in the Scriptures, we know that God is not the cause of suffering. That cause belongs to the devil and to sin. We also know from God’s Word that He does permit suffering in our lives for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it comes as a direct result of our own sin in order to discipline us. Other times it is an effect of being God’s child in a world that wants to crush the Church. Although, like Job, we do not know God’s hidden will, we can trust that He has only the best in mind for us, as crazy as that might sound. He will strengthen, uphold, and bless us in the midst of persecution. He will use any afflictions we face for our good or for blessing others. Peter writes by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God in order that He might lift you up at the appointed time, casting your cares and anxieties on Him because you are a concern to Him.” 

          You are a care and a concern of God’s. Yes, that’s how special you are to Him. He is the God of all grace who has called you into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus. And if you want proof that God is concerned about you and cares for you, even though in His wisdom and might He allows you to suffer, look at the cross. There, on the cross, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, faced the ultimate in suffering—nails pierced His hands and feet; thorns gouged into His head. Bleeding in extreme agony and pain, Jesus suffered the consequences of your sins and mine—God the Father abandoned Him to the suffering of hell. God the Father left Christ completely alone and forsaken on the cross, removing His presence from Jesus so that He suffered damnation.

Because Christ so suffered, you will not. Because Jesus died on the cross, having suffered death and hell for you, He purchased your complete forgiveness with His blood. You are saved from suffering hell and eternal condemnation.

          Does the Lord really care for you? Oh yes! How can you doubt that when you see the gift of God that is your Savior Jesus Christ? How can you doubt God’s concern for you when you see the suffering and death of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins? You cannot. You and I who suffer according to God’s hidden will are able in faith to entrust our souls and bodies to our faithful Creator and Redeemer. Because He cares for you and me, Christ was given into death to save us from eternal suffering and death. Because He cares for you and me, Christ is risen from the dead and lives so that at the proper time He will restore, establish, strengthen, and lay the foundation for us, equipping us with all that we need for this “little while” of suffering. 

          What we suffer now from the effects of sin and Satan happens for a short time in comparison to the eternal life without suffering that is ours by grace through faith in Christ. While we are going through it, no amount of suffering seems little or short. But with trust in our Lord’s Word, He puts things into a proper perspective for us. He says, “I love you and I care for you. I am concerned about you. For reasons known only to Me, I am allowing, for your good or for the blessing of others, this time of suffering. But that doesn’t mean I love you any less. How could I love you any less when I have given you forgiveness of sins and life forever with Me through the suffering, death, and resurrection of My only Son, Jesus? I have also given you the gift of the Holy Spirit. Take hold of my Word in your heart and cling to it with faith. Take hold of My Word, which promises, gives, and seals the forgiveness of your sins, and rely on it.”

          When you and I are found in the middle of suffering, and we know that for periods of time in this life we will be, what can we do? At God’s own invitation, we cast our anxieties and worries and fears on the Lord. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I can literally throw these things on God because He is caring for us in Christ, attending to us and to all our needs. As David writes in Psalm 55:22, “Throw your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”

          In Christ, you are the righteous. You are forgiven all your sins. You have eternal life. For a time, as you face the suffering of this mortal existence, at Christ’s invitation, throw your cares on the Lord. He has proven His love and care for you in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Stand firm in your faith, for His mighty hand is lifting you up at the proper time. Take Him at His Word that, in Christ, through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the God of all grace “will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 

 

Sermon for May 21, 2020, The Ascension of Our Lord

Ephesians 1:20-23 (The Ascension of Our Lord)

“He Ascended for Your Benefit”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 21, 2020

 

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

Ephesians 1:20-22:

20 He raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.

 

           Perhaps the hymnwriter says it best:

Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious;
    See the Man of Sorrows now!
From the fight returned victorious,
    Ev’ry knee to Him shall bow. (LSB 495:1)

 

          Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, David’s Lord, was shamefully crucified. But this crucified Messiah was bodily raised from the dead and exalted above all. See the Man of Sorrows now, crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9)! Jesus, the Risen and Ascended Lord, reigns at the right hand of God. He rules over all governments, over all powers and rulers of darkness. He reigns even over death itself! Jesus of Nazareth, fully divine and fully human, is the exalted Lord. But to whose benefit? To yours! God the Son, One of the Holy Trinity, became one of us, our brother. Your brother now reigns for you.

          Jesus reigns and rules over all things for your benefit and blessing. Jesus, as true man, is over every authority. All things are under His feet. Ephesians 1:20-22, God the Father “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.”

As a result of His death and resurrection, “Christ fully trounced the enemy. The mopping up of Satan’s forces may continue throughout the age of the church, but in principle they are already defeated. . . . Christ’s ascension above the heavens, above all spiritual forces . . . means that already now we benefit from his great victory. Christ brings forward the benefits of the full-blown, without-remainder dominion over Satan’s forces that characterizes his coming in majesty on the Last Day.”[1] When Christians today face the hostilities of earthly forces that persecute or threaten us, we cannot lose sight of the real enemy behind these flesh-and-blood attacks—the spiritual forces of the devil. They seek to hurt and harm us. They seek to lead us into temptation and unbelief. They seek our life spiritually and physically. But the triumph of Christ who has ascended into heaven at the right hand of power and majesty means that these evil forces no longer rule over the Christian. Christ is now our Head. “His name is the greater power that his baptized brothers and sisters may wield in spiritual battle against the enemies he has defeated on their behalf. His name puts them to flight, strikes terror into their hearts.”[2] Philippians 2, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11 ESV).

The Risen and Ascended Jesus is Lord! He is head over all things to the benefit of the church, that is, to your benefit. Jesus is working out all things to benefit you, His people! Romans 8, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 ESV). This is indeed Gospel comfort. We need not fear earthly persecutions or any other attacks by Satan and his minions. Paul continues in Romans 8, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:34–39 ESV).

The Ascended Jesus is your Lord and mine. This means that He is the “One who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same. . . . He became man [John 1:14], was conceived and born without sin [Hebrews 4:15], from the Holy Spirit and from the virgin Mary [Luke 1:35], so that He might overcome sin. . . . He suffered, died, and was buried so that He might make satisfaction for [us] and pay what [we] owe [1 Corinthians 15:3–4], not with silver or gold, but with His own precious blood [1 Peter 1:18–19]. And He did all this in order to become [our] Lord. He did none of these things for Himself, nor did He have any need for redemption. After that He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death [1 Corinthians 15:54], and finally ascended into heaven and assumed the government at the Father’s right hand [1 Peter 3:22]. He did these things so that the devil and all powers must be subject to Him and lie at His feet [Hebrews 10:12–13] until finally, at the Last Day, He will completely divide and separate us from the wicked world, the devil, death, [and] sin. . . [Matthew 25:31–46; 13:24–30, 47–50].[3]

Christ’s ascension is good news; it is Gospel! Jesus lives and reigns to all eternity in order to defend you and protect you. Through Baptism and Gospel Word, He sends His Holy Spirit to be with you, to teach you, and to sanctify you. As you now serve your Lord Jesus, look forward to the day when sin, death, and the devil will no longer hinder you from serving Him with complete devotion in peace and joy forever. He is the exalted Lord, for your benefit, for your blessing! Amen.

 

 

[1] Thomas M. Winger, Ephesians, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2015), 268.

[2] Ibid., 269.

[3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 402.

May 17, 2020, Sixth Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 3:18-22 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Baptism Saves. Period!”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 17, 2020

 

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

Our text is from the Epistle lesson from 1 Peter 3:

18For also Christ suffered, once for sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones, so that he should bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20who formerly disobeyed when the patient endurance of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being constructed, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which also corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers being subjected to him.

 

Gene Edward Veith, Jr., writer and retired literature professor, wrote on his blog, “Some churches that work hard to get people to ‘make a decision for Christ’ never get around to baptizing them! In fact, there are some ostensibly Christian bodies that don’t baptize at all. And more that will baptize if someone asks for it, but most members don’t go to the trouble. And according to Christian scholar Roger Olson, ‘one Texas megachurch pastor reported that nearly a third of the people who receive Christ in his church are never baptized.’

Apparently, in churches that teach ‘believers baptism,’ some believers, having been taught that baptism is nothing more than a symbolic ritual, are too embarrassed to submit themselves to getting dunked in front of everybody. And those believers and the churches they are members of do not seem to believe in what the Bible says about baptism.

I realize that there are many different theologies about baptism, but surely no one can deny that Jesus commanded that it be done. The Great Commission, which so many of these non-baptized megachurches generally make a big deal of, is a commission to baptize (Matthew 28:19-20).”[1]

Baptism is a Means of Grace. It is God’s gracious way of giving people the gifts Jesus Christ purchased and won for the world through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus Christ instituted, set up, Baptism for His Church in order to make disciples of nations by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching the Gospel to all nations. Baptism is a Sacrament—a sacred act, instituted by God, where His Word is combined with a visible element, which delivers to the person the forgiveness of sins won for the world by Jesus Christ. Baptism, instituted by the Lord Christ in Matthew 28, works “forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (Small Catechism). In other words, “Baptism saves!”

Congregations that withhold Baptism from children because they rationalize that infants and children are too young to know what’s going on reject the saving power of Baptism that is intended for all people. It’s not a matter of knowing or of understanding. Did any of us know or understand the birth process? No, and yet we were all born! So why is it that humans have to assume that, in order for Baptism to be something, one has to understand it. “New birth” by water and the Spirit in Baptism doesn’t require that knowledge and understanding, just like our physical birth didn’t require our know-how.

But isn’t Baptism just a symbolic act anyway? Does it really matter if the church baptizes or not? Well, let me ask, “Did Christ institute a symbolic act that just pretends to make disciples or did His set-up a Sacrament that actually makes disciples?” Baptism isn’t just a washing of dirt from the body—a symbol to help us think about Jesus removing our sins from us. Baptism IS a divine washing away of sin as the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ is applied directly and personally to you. Baptism saves! It is “not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy.’” (Small Catechism).

Rather than rejecting Baptism, instead of calling Baptism a symbolic action that doesn’t really do anything, Peter writes the Spirit-inspired word of God that clearly says, “Baptism now saves you.” It does what God says it does. No need to rationalize it. No reason to set it aside as something not necessary. Christ commanded Baptism of all people—infants, children, adults. And Christ said that Baptism makes disciples, followers of Him by faith. And here in 1 Peter, Christ says that Baptism saves you.

The salvation from sin, death, and devil that Baptism delivers to you is illustrated for us with the picture of Noah’s ark. Noah and his wife, their three sons along with their wives, were saved from the flood in the ark. The water drowned everything that had life. But Noah and his family were saved. Baptism drowns our sinful nature and makes us spiritual people, new creations by the gift of faith in Christ through the forgiveness of sins which Baptism bestows on us. Pastor Luther wrote in 1519, “Baptism was foreshown of old in Noah’s flood, when the whole world was drowned, except for Noah with his three sons and their wives, eight souls, who were saved in the ark. That the people of the world were drowned signifies that in baptism sins are drowned. But that the eight in the ark, with animals of every sort, were preserved, signifies—as St. Peter explains in his [first] epistle—that through baptism man is saved. Now baptism is by far a greater flood than was that of Noah. For that flood drowned men during no more than one year, but baptism drowns all sorts of men throughout the world, from the birth of Christ even till the day of judgment. Moreover while that was a flood of wrath, this is a flood of grace.”[2]

Baptism is indeed a flood of grace. It is God’s gift in Christ of saving faith in Jesus who delivers in this Sacrament forgiveness of all your sins. It’s nothing you earned, nothing that you did to make it so. You simply received this holy washing at Christ’s commandment and according to His Word. God does the Baptizing, even though it is the pastor’s hands pouring the water. Since it is His Baptism, you receive what His Word promises—salvation from sin, death, and hell. You receive “a conscience that is in league with God and can say: ‘He gave me this promise. He will keep it, for He cannot lie.’ When you cling and cleave to His Word in this way, then you must be saved. Now the covenant is faith, which saves us. No external work you can do accomplishes this.”[3] Baptism is a gift of God through Christ who died, rose again, and has ascended into heaven. Because Jesus is the Living and Ascended Lord, we have His gift of Baptism and so we are saved in body and soul! Baptism saves!

The Large Catechism summarizes our text and the whole teaching of Scripture on Baptism for us: “Since we know now what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted. We must learn what it profits, gives, and works. For this also we cannot find a better resource than Christ’s words quoted above, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved’ [Mark 16:16]. Therefore, state it most simply in this way: the power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is this—to save [1 Peter 3:21]. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words say, that he ‘be saved.’ We know that to be saved is nothing other than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil [Colossians 1:13–14]. It means to enter into Christ’s kingdom [John 3:5], and to live with Him forever.

Here you see again how highly and preciously we should value Baptism, because in it we receive such an unspeakable treasure. This also proves that it cannot be ordinary, mere water. For mere water could not do such a thing. But the Word does it and, as I said above, so does the fact that God’s name is included in Baptism. Where God’s name is, there must also be life and salvation [Psalm 54:1]. So Baptism may certainly be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water. Such power is given to Baptism by the Word that it is a washing of new birth.”[4] Amen.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2014/07/churches-that-dont-baptize/#disqus_thread

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 31–32.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 30 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 116.

 

[4] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 425–426.

Vacation Bible School for 2020 is Cancelled

May 12, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer,

 

We have made the difficult decision to cancel our 2020 VBS Program for this coming summer. We believe this is in the best interest of our children and volunteers. 

Thank you for your understanding and may our Lord continue to bless you and your families in these times.

May 10, 2020, Fifth Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2:2-10 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Identity”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 10, 2020

 

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

Our text is Epistle lesson from 1 Peter 2:

2Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it, you may grow up into salvation, 3if you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4As you come to him, the living stone, rejected by people, on the one hand, but in the sight of God, chosen and precious, 5you also as living stones are being up into a spiritual house, into a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For is says in Scripture, Behold, I place in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and the one who believes in him shall surely not be put to shame. 7Therefore, the honor is for you, for those who believe, but for those who do not believe, the stone which the builders rejected, he has been made the head of the corner and a stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal. They stumble because they do not obey the Word, for which also they were appointed. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but not you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Your identity is unbelievably valuable. Identity theft protection services in America is about a $2 billion industry. Having your identity stolen or misused also costs people dearly, not only from a financial standpoint. Your identity is important. It is who you are—your reputation, your individuality. And your identity is also important to God. In fact, it is He who gives you identity.

There are numerous texts of Scripture which identify us. We begin with one of the first, where the Creator says to Adam after he has disobeyed the Lord and fell into sin: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19 ESV). We heard this on Ash Wednesday as many of you received on your foreheads the mark of the cross with the ashes of palms. We are corrupted, fallen, sinful creatures. We are subject to both physical and eternal death as the punishment for our sinfulness and for our sins—the sins that we commit in our rebelliousness and the sins of omitting the good things we are commanded to do in love.

The first part of our identity is that of being sinful, rebellious, fallen, and corrupt. Luther sums it up—I am “a lost and condemned creature” (Small Catechism). But this doesn’t mean that I (nor you) are worthless. We have unique dignity and worth (identity!) as those who were created by God and were given dominion over His creation. Because we have infinite value to our heavenly Father, He decided even before He spoke creation into existence that He would rescue us from our fallen condition and condemned status as sinners.

God would change our identity from being dust to being a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). He would raise us from the dust of eternal death and hell and make us His own children by grace through faith in His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ. In our place, Jesus, like a “living stone,” St. Peter says, was rejected by people. He was a “stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal.” Peter’s close apostolic friend John penned in the opening of his Gospel, “[The Word, Jesus,] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10–11 ESV). Jesus, God the Son made flesh, “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3 ESV).

Your grief and mine—the grief of sin, the agony of death and hell—Jesus endured on the cross in our place so that we who are but dust might rise to a new life, be a new creation, and have the identity of being children of God “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13 ESV).

Jesus purchased and won this identity for you by His suffering, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection which we celebrate every Sunday, the first day of the week! The blood of Christ cleanses you from all your sins. God declares you “not guilty”! You are saved, redeemed, made whole. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy!” And it is God’s grace and mercy given to you by the Holy Spirit through the means of the Gospel that bestows on you the identity of “child of God.”

That’s what the apostle Peter is describing in today’s reading. Peter talks about what being God’s child in Christ looks like by comparing you and me to “living stones.” First, remember Peter told us that Jesus is THE living stone. We who belong to Him by faith have been made into the likeness of Christ, and so we also are living stones. But we are not stones all by ourselves. We are “being built up into a spiritual house”—stone placed next to stone; stone put on top of stone. We’re being put together, built together, to be a spiritual house. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it, the concept of Christianity being simply a relationship “between me and Jesus” is totally foreign to the Scriptures! You and I and all our brothers and sisters with faith in Christ around this globe, including our departed sisters and brothers who have died in the faith, are one in Christ. We are united in Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” St. Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 3 that you are “God’s building.” You can’t be a “body” all by yourself. You can’t be a “spiritual house,” a “building,” all by yourself. It’s simply not your identity in Christ.

That’s why your heavenly Father sent His Son to be your Savior from sin and death. It is Christ to whom you belong. It is Christ to whom you are united by Baptism. And it is to one another that you are also joined together as a spiritual house, indeed, a holy and royal  priesthood—the “capital C” Church.

The Church is really the people who possess saving faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit. We confess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” This Church is the Body of Christ, of which you are members, along with all those whom the Spirit, by the Means of Grace in Word and Baptism, has gathered to Christ in faith throughout the world. So you are most assuredly not alone in your faith, even when physically separated from other believers. You are Christ’s Church, the children of God, whom He has made into a spiritual house of Christians who have the task of “proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

A pastor began his discussion with prospective church members with the question, “What do you think is the main task of the church?” Some of the responses included:

“The church’s main task is to tell people about God.”

“The church’s main task is to teach God’s Word.”

“The church’s main task is to show people how God wants them to live.”

“The church’s main task is to help the poor and the underprivileged people of the world.”

While the Church does do all these things, the Scriptures teach that the main mission of the Church is to proclaim the excellencies of God in Christ. The number one mission of the Church, the people of God who have been called by grace to faith in Jesus as the Savior, is to proclaim the Good News about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Every Christian—each of you who confess faith in Jesus—is a “priest” of God, a member of the “royal priesthood of believers.” As such, you serve the King! You serve Christ as you exercise the privilege of sharing the Gospel with other people who have not heard it or who have forgotten it.

In your personal lives as Christians, you are daily given opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins! As priests of God, His Church, you have all the gifts and privileges of the Gospel, and you are able to use them in your daily lives to witness to Christ. And that’s all the more important in these days. People are looking for comfort, for hope, for care. And you, dear saints, have the ultimate in comfort, care, and hope—Jesus Christ. He alone provides rescue from the power of sin and death. He alone brings true peace to hearts and minds that are afraid and anxious. You have the gift of Jesus Himself to speak to others as you share His Word, as you tell others that it is Jesus who brings us out of the darkness of sin, disease, fear, and death into the light of life everlasting.

It is the Triune God who gives you your identity as His children—living stones, a spiritual house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people who proclaim Jesus Crucified and Risen for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation of all people. At the beginning of this sermon, we recalled the cross of ashes placed upon the forehead as a reminder that we were once in the darkness of sin and death. But now we are light in the Lord for we are in the Light who is Christ. At your Baptism, you were marked on your forehead and heart with the sign of the cross. This identifies you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. The water of Baptism washed away your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are God’s child. You are His Church. You are His people who now proclaim the Good News in Jesus, giving others this message of forgiveness, new life, comfort, and hope. What an identity! Amen.

 

The Litany for National Day of Prayer

Sermon for May 3, 2020, Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:7-10 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“The Door”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 3, 2020

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in John 19:

7Therefore, Jesus said again, “Truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All those who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. Through me, if anyone should enter, he will be saved, and he will go in and will go out and will find pasture. 10The thief does not come except that he should steal and kill and destroy. I came in order that they may have life and have it in abundance.”

 

“’Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!’ [Alice] was close behind it when she turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen: she found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof.

There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.”[1]

When it comes to eternal life in heaven, the only way to enter is through the Door, Jesus Christ. There is not little golden key to open a tiny, hidden door; no bottle labeled “Drink Me” to make Alice or you shrink so that you fit through to go into the Garden. There are no windows through which one can climb in. There are no side entrances through secret passages hidden in the wall, no out-of-the-way open doors. If you want to enter into eternal life, the only way is through Jesus, the Door.

Fallen human nature doesn’t like that exclusivity. When you tell someone that Jesus Christ is the exclusive entrance into eternal life, people tend to get a little defensive. “What about the other world religions? What about other systems of belief? Don’t they open to the same God and the same heaven?” Absolutely not! Trying to get into heaven apart from faith in Jesus Christ is like being a thief who tries to break into the sheepfold or the house. People without faith in Jesus, it can be said, are trying to “break into” heaven, with no success. They refuse the Door that is Jesus Christ and therefore force themselves to seek other ways to enter into eternal life, all which fail, for all other ways are locked doors.

The religions of the world with the exception of Christianity are religions of works. The person must earn his or her salvation. The truth be told, no one will ever enter into eternal life by doing any works—good, bad, or indifferent. You cannot buy your way into heaven. You cannot earn your way into heaven. To put it another way, a person cannot “break into” heaven and “steal” eternal life for himself by his actions or his system of belief. God’s Word in Galatians 3 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Gal. 3:10–11 ESV). And in Ephesians 2, God says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9 ESV). The only Door to heaven that the Lord provides is out of His grace and not by our merit: He is Jesus Christ, who said to Thomas on the night in which He was betrayed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “He is the Way, because he leads us through himself. He is the Door who lets us in, the Shepherd who makes us dwell in green pastures, bringing us up by waters of rest and leading us there” (Gregory of Nazianzus).

We cannot listen to those who tell us that there are alternative paths to heavenly glory. We cannot heed the words of those who would turn us away from the voice of Jesus. Jesus said in our Gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Dear friends in Christ, do not listen to the voice of strangers—the voice of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh—who try to convince us that we can enter heaven by our own merits. It is the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, who’s voice calls us as His own sheep, who leads us into eternal life. He alone is the Door to that leads to real, abundant life Listen only to His voice and His Words of Promise: “I am the door. Through me, if anyone should enter, he will be saved, and he will go in and will go out and will find pasture. The thief does not come except that he should steal and kill and destroy. I came in order that they may have life and have it in abundance.” It is by this faith that we enter the fold so that we may live and have full life. “For as true believers [we] die, and [we] will have life more abundantly when [we] come to place where the Shepherd has preceded [us]—a place where [we] will die no more. . . . This is the pasture that was found by the one who heard, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’” (Augustine).

The devil, the world, and our flesh, however, tempt us to find other ways into this abundant life by causing us to doubt God’s Word. Those ways will not lead to eternal life but only everlasting death. They offer no guarantee of salvation as they leave too many unanswered questions: “When have I done enough works to merit eternal life? Have I been good enough? What about the things I have done wrong, won’t they be held against me? How can I be sure that I have earned eternal life?” Apart from Jesus Christ, you can never be sure that you have abundant life. Apart from Jesus Christ, all of your sins and wrongdoing will be held against you because you can never do enough or be good enough.

But Jesus came as the Door, through which you and I may enter and be saved, having the absolute guarantee of eternal life. Because we are sinners, we cannot earn salvation. We can’t do enough good works because we must be perfect. And we’re not. But Jesus, God the Son, became fully human and lived a completely perfect life for you and for me. He did everything exactly the way God wanted it to be done. And then Jesus went and took our place under God’s punishment for our wrongdoings and sins. He who had no sin became sin for us so that in Christ Jesus we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus cancelled out our debt of sin when He died on the cross. He died for all the times we disobeyed God’s Commandments. Jesus gave up His life into death for all the times we failed to do the good we should have done.

In exchange for our sins, Jesus gave us His perfect obedience. We are credited with having kept God’s Commandments perfectly because our Substitute, Jesus, gave us that credit. We are completely forgiven for all our sins because our Substitute, Jesus, suffered the full punishment for them by dying on the cross in our place. Through His perfect life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has opened to us to door of everlasting life through the very forgiveness of all our sins. We didn’t earn it—Jesus did! We didn’t work for it—Jesus did! Jesus gives us that abundant, eternal life with Him entirely free of charge. It is a gift of God’s grace to us because of what Jesus did through His cross and resurrection.

Listen again to the voice of your Good Shepherd, the Door to everlasting life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “This is the promise that He has made to us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25). And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13) because you have faith in Jesus. Hear His voice, the voice of your Good Shepherd, and follow Him into life everlasting according to His grace. Amen.

 

 

 

 

[1] Lewis Carroll, Allice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004), 16-17.

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