Author: pastormjc

Sermon for November 14, 2021, Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Daniel 12:1-3 (Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 28—Series B)

“I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 14, 2021

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

Our text is the Old Testament Reading from Daniel 12:

1And at that time, Michael, the great prince who has charge over the sons of your people, will arise, and there will be a time of distress which has not been since there was a nation until that time. But at that time your people will be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2Many of those who sleep in the dusty earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to contempt, to everlasting abhorrence. 3And those who have insight will shine like the brightness of the sky and those who bring many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.

          In the Third Article of the Creed Christians confess, “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” With those simple words, Christians acknowledge that there is much more to the Christian faith than the goal of simply “dying and going to heaven.” The goal of the Christian faith is resurrection and life everlasting, an eternal life lived in a whole new creation that the Lord will make, a new heaven and earth where God’s people in Christ will “shine like the brightness of the sky . . . and like the stars forever and ever.”

What a thrilling promise we confess of resurrection from the grave and its sequel, everlasting life. But alongside that Gospel promise is also the acknowledgment of the terrible consequence of sin—death. In order to confess the resurrection from the dead we must first confess the doctrine of death. The Bible’s teaching about death is usually studied under the topic of eschatology, the study of Last Things. Seems a natural topic as death is the last thing of this mortal life. When we breathe our last, we die. That is our physical death.

Physical death is not a total destruction or annihilation of a person. It is the loss of physical life caused by the separation of the soul from the body. Consider Matthew’s record of the death of Jesus, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matt. 27:50 ESV). All people, unless the Lord Jesus comes again beforehand, will die. Their breath will cease; their heart will stop. Soul and body will be separated. In the moment of death, the souls of the believers in Christ enter the joy of heaven. Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 ESV). This separate existence of the soul continues in heaven with the Lord, in the case of believers, or in hell without the Lord, in the case of unbelievers.

But this is not forever. Soul and body were not created to be separated. The punishment of death because of sin is what undoes God’s creation. Should death, then, have the final word? Is that the hope of the Christian faith, to “die and go to heaven”? No! Our hope as Christians is the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting! Believers dying and their souls going to heaven is good, to be sure. They are with the Lord in Paradise. It is a place of joy and blessing without the sins and troubles of this mortal life. But as good as it is, God said that it is not good enough. He could not let death have its way and have the last word.

As we know from Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. It’s what we deserve as humans who have fallen short of the glory of God. It’s the just and right punishment for people who have failed to love God and their neighbors, for people who are not perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). But our perfect heavenly Father sent His beloved Son in order to save the whole world from sin and from death. Jesus took to Himself a true human body and soul in His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. He shared in our flesh and blood. We read in Hebrews 2 that “he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15 ESV). Jesus, true God and true Man, suffered on the cross and died to pay the penalty for our sin. He breathed His last and gave up His soul into death, experiencing physical death after having suffered the pangs of hell itself while He hung on the cross.

Just as Jesus promised the unnamed thief, Jesus’ soul was on that very Good Friday with that man’s soul in the paradise of God. Jesus died and His soul went to heaven. Good? Yes! He died to pay for our sins. We have forgiveness by grace through the gift of saving faith in Jesus’ blood poured out for us on the tree of the cross. But there’s more that’s needed. Death must meet its defeat, and it has. “Christ Jesus . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10 ESV). On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. Soul and body were reunited in the God-Man Jesus, just as they will be united in the resurrection of our bodies. 1 Corinthians 15, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20 ESV).

If Christ is the firstfruits risen from the dead, there must be second fruits. That’s us, believers in Jesus who have received by God’s grace the forgiveness of sins through the Gospel of our Lord Christ who suffered, died, and rose for us. He has defeated sin. He has conquered death. Since we believe and confess that Jesus has defeated sin and death, this faith carries with it the hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. The promise of Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26 ESV).

How can we be certain of this? Our faith is directed by the Holy Spirit to the words of Scripture in Daniel 12: “But at that time your people will be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dusty earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to contempt, to everlasting abhorrence. And those who have insight will shine like the brightness of the sky and those who bring many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” This is the clearest Old Testament teaching on the resurrection. Daniel has the assurance that those who believe in God and are heirs of His kingdom through faith “will be delivered.” The promise is extended to “everyone who is found written in the book.” This refers to God’s book of life. Jesus, speaking to the seventy-two who returned from their mission trip, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20 ESV). God has a record of His people. You can be certain that you will not be eternally lost. Your names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. They are inscribed in the blood Jesus shed for you on the cross, the blood that purchased your forgiveness from sin and your rescue from the power of death. Through Holy Baptism and the gift of saving faith in Christ, the Lamb slain for the forgiveness of sins, your name is written in this book. Jesus promises that the name of everyone who conquers will remain written in this book of life and that He will give us this resurrection victory. 1 Corinthians 15, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54–57 ESV).

On the Last Day, at the return of the Lord Christ in power and great glory, all the dead will rise—believers in Christ by grace alone through faith alone will rise in body and soul to everlasting life and non-believers will rise in body and soul to everlasting contempt. On that day, death will meet its final defeat and be swallowed up forever in the resurrection victory of the Risen Christ. Then, in a new creation, you will shine like the brightness of the sky and like the stars as you reflect the divine glory of God with whom you will live in body and soul forever and ever. St. John describes it this way, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. . . . The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 21:22–26; 22:3–5 ESV).

In the Third Article of the Creed we confess, “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” With those simple words, you and I acknowledge that there is much more to the Christian faith than the goal of simply “dying and going to heaven.” Our goal in faith is resurrection and life everlasting, an eternal life lived in the new creation, the new heaven and earth, where you and I will live in body and soul. Reflecting the glory of the Triune God, we will “shine like the brightness of the sky . . . and like the stars forever and ever.” As we ever look forward to that day we pray with the whole Church, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.” Amen.

Sermon for November 7, 2021, 24th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 17:8-16 (Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 27—Series B)

“Uncertain Life with Our Certain God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 7, 2021

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

Our text is the Old Testament Reading from 1 Kings 17:

8And the word of Yahweh came to [Elijah] saying, 9Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a woman there, a widow, to provide for you.” 10And he arose and went to Zarephath. And he came to the gate of the city, and behold, a woman, a widow, was there gathering firewood. And he called to her and said, “Fetch me, please, a little water in a jar that I may drink.” 11So she went to get it, and he called to her and said, “Bring me, please, a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12And she said, “As Yahweh your God lives, I have no baked bread, only a handful of flour in the jar and a little oil in the jug, and behold, I am gathering a couple pieces of firewood, and I will go and make it for me and my son, and we will eat it; then we will die.” 13And Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go, do according to your word. Only make for me from there a little cake first and bring it out to me; and for yourself and for you son make something afterward. 14For thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the jug of oil will not be empty until the day Yahweh gives rain upon the face of the ground.’” 15And she went and did according to the word of Elijah. And she ate, she and he and her household, for some time. 16And the jar of flour did not run out, and the jug of oil did not become empty according to the word of Yahweh which He spoke through Elijah.

          Perhaps Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “Two things in life are certain, death and taxes.” There doesn’t seem to be too much that we can bank on in this life. Everything is changing. Everything has been changing. Nothing is truly sure and certain from one day to the next in this earthly existence that we call “life.” A man gets a clean bill of health from the doctor. In a month’s time, he suffers a stroke and becomes disabled. She went home from the office on Thursday evening. Walking through the office door on Friday morning, she’s handed a memo that says she’s been let go due to downsizing. They drive the same road day after day, the same routine, uneventful trip. An impaired driver runs the stop light and hits them. The couple is fine, but the car . . . not so much.

          Nothing seems to be sure and certain in this life. Individuals and families are asking themselves, “How much gas can I afford to put into the car this week? Do I have enough to cover the ever-increasing price of groceries and to afford the heating bill this winter? What’s going on in the international scene? Are we safe in our country from attack?” Let’s face it, not one of us knows what tomorrow will hold. That’s nerve wracking. The uncertainties of life create anxious hearts and minds. And fear.

          In 1 Kings 17, we meet for the first time the Lord’s prophet, Elijah. His first service in ministry was to go to King Ahab who reigned over the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Samaria. That doesn’t sound like too bad of a job, going to the king and speaking God’s Word to him. But listen as the writer of 1 Kings tells us about Ahab, “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.. . . he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria.     . . . Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30–33 ESV). And Elijah’s God-given message to Ahab wasn’t particularly pleasant, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV).

          You can imagine how well this went over. In fact, there was no rain for 3½ years. For safety and for sustenance, God sent Elijah out of the Kingdom of Israel to live by the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan River. Ravens supplied bread and meat in the evening for Elijah. He drank water from the brook. But after a while, the brook dried up because there was no rain.

          An uncertain life. Now what? The water is dried up. Will God continue to send ravens with food? But where do I drink? In the uncertainty, God speaks, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a woman there, a widow, to provide for you.” So, Elijah up and went to Zarephath and he met this widow-woman near the gate of the city. She was gathering firewood. No doubt thirsty, Elijah asked her for a little water in a jar. She had some; there is still water in Zarephath. As she was going to get water for this man of God, Elijah called out to her that she might bring him a little food, a small cake of baked bread. The widow stopped dead in her tracks. “I don’t have any bread baked. In fact, I’m gathering this firewood so that I can go home, mix what little amount of flour still is in the jar with the tiny bit of oil left in the jug, bake it, eat it, and wait to starve to death.” The drought is severe. There is no more gain, no more flour, no more olive oil.

          An uncertain life. God sends Elijah to a widow that’s at the end of her rope. She has a young son to care for. She might even have an older daughter or two at home. There’s seemingly no way she can be the instrument of God’s provision for Elijah, herself, and her household. She fully expects to use up what remained in the pantry and then wait to die from starvation. Her uncertain life will end up in her certain death.

          You can feel the hopelessness, can’t you? For days, this widow has been wondering, “Will there be water enough for the day? Will there be flour and olive oil to bake a little something?” Nerves frayed to the end. Anxiety for her only son who has to go through this horrible drought barely eating or drinking. This is not the life she had planned. Her husband had died. She was left without him and his provision for the family. And now this, the uncertainty of simply surviving.

          But what she did not yet know was that in the middle of her very uncertain life, she had a sure and certain God. Oh, she knew Him, but as Elijah’s God—as Yahweh your God lives—she said to Elijah. And this certain God showed His faithfulness to this Gentile non-believer. Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.” Those are Gospel words, aren’t they? I think packed into the phrase is something like this: “Dear woman, I know what it’s like to be afraid in uncertain times. Believe me, I’m living it! But even with such an uncertain life that we both have, we don’t have to be afraid because the one true God, Yahweh, who lives and reigns on high, is sure and certain. And I’ll prove His certainty to you. You go back and do what you said you were going to do. Make a little cake but make it for me first and bring it to me. Afterward, then you make a cake of bread of you and your son. Yahweh has made a promise. The jar of flour won’t run out. The jug of oil will never be empty. You’ll see. There will be enough to make a little loaf for me and you.” And just listen to the certainty and the surety of verses 15 and 16, “And she went and did according to the word of Elijah. And she ate, she and he and her household, for some time. And the jar of flour did not run out, and the jug of oil did not become empty according to the word of Yahweh which He spoke through Elijah.”

          Yahweh our God calls us to this kind of faith and trust in Him during our life in this very uncertain world. Where there is so much to be afraid of, His Gospel Word speaks comfort and peace to our troubled hearts, souls, and minds, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid because God the Son has taken a place in the uncertain world. He assumed human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. He took to Himself a true human body and soul and He faced hunger and thirst. He had to rely on others to provide for His needs day in and day out. From Luke 8, “Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1–3 ESV). As Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 ESV).

          Christ Jesus emptied Himself and became man so that He might give you the certainty of His presence in an uncertain world. He is able to perfectly sympathize with our weakness and concerns. He faced them, all the uncertainties. Indeed, He was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin (Heb. 4:5). Jesus truly understands all your worries and fears about the uncertainties of life. He knows the temptation to stop trusting in God. The devil tempted Him to do that during the forty days in the wilderness. “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’

But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:3–4 ESV).

          When you and I are tempted to look to ourselves to get through the changes and chances of this life, when we are tested to look away from the Lord, Christ speaks His Word in the Scriptures, “Do not be afraid. For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6 ESV). Uncertain life does not get the upper hand on you because you are in Christ. Jesus is the High Priest who sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross winning the forgiveness of sins and purchasing for you eternal life with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the High Priest who continues to intercede for you with the Father. Jesus covers you in His blood and righteousness that takes away God’s wrath and anger. You are at peace with God. God is on your side in this ever changing and uncertain life.

          What this means is that you live an uncertain life with a very sure and certain God. This is the God who promises you through the voice of His Son in Holy Scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5 ESV). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 ESV). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27 ESV).

          Your assurance in this uncertain life is that you have a certain God with you always. As the writer to the Hebrews exclaims, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!” (Heb. 13:8 ESV). The same Jesus who died for your sins and rose again for your justification is the same Jesus who is with you through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit. He is present in His Gospel Word and in His Holy Supper to comfort, strengthen, forgive, restore, renew, and equip you for life in His service in this uncertain world.

As the widow’s jar of flour and jug of oil were never lacking, so it is with your most holy faith. It is daily strengthened by Christ’s Gospel and Sacrament so that you can live in the assurance of faith that as Yahweh your God lives, you do not need to be afraid. The Lord is with you for your blessing and comfort. He is your sure and certain God and Savior. Amen.

Sermon for October 31, 2021, Reformation Day

John 8:31-36 (Reformation Day—Series B)

“Christ Has Set You Free”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 31, 2021

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

Our text for the Festival of the Reformation is recorded in John 6:

31Therefore Jesus said to the Jews who were believing in Him, “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered Him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will be free.’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I say to you, that everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35Now the slave does not remain in the house forever. The Son remains forever. 36Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

          After the Battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, Maryland in September 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that would go into effect on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation read, “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” Although slavery and involuntary servitude was not abolished in the whole United States until the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln is often referred to as “The Great Emancipator.” In many ways, he likely was. But on this Reformation Day it is best for us to consider the Greatest Emancipator of all history—past, present, and future—the Lord Jesus Christ.

          To emancipate means “to free (someone) from someone else’s control or power.” Jesus’ hearers in John 8 did not understand that they truly did have a need to be set free from another’s control and power. “They answered Him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will be free?’” Though presently subject to Rome and the Herodians, these proud leaders asserted their independence by appealing to the heritage of Abraham, a free man. But Jesus did not have in mind their subjection to Rome nor Abraham who, in and of himself, was not a free man. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, that everyone who sins is a slave of sin.”

          Abraham was a sinner, wasn’t he? He couldn’t wait for God to fulfill His promise to him to give him and Sarah a son so, on multiple occasions, this couple took matters into their own hands contrary to God’s Word. Abraham and Sarah were no different from any other person born after the Fall into sin. Since all humanity sins all humanity is a slave of sin. Since the “wages of sin is death,” all humanity was also held in lifelong slavery through fear of death (Rom. 6:23; Heb. 2:15).

          As with those to whom Jesus spoke in our text, all people are under the delusion that they are somehow really free. They aren’t. We aren’t. Our independence in spiritual matters is a ruse. Our self-sufficiency about “getting right with God” is a charade. “Truly, truly I say to you, that everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” Before God, you and I are bound in our sins and trespasses. We do not have the freedom to better ourselves before God. We have no capability to move God to favor us with His grace. What we deserve is His wrath and displeasure, physical and eternal death. We are held tight in the chains of our sins and sinfulness, bound in our slavery to our evil inclination, and under the curse of God’s Law which we cannot keep according to His will. No matter what we think, we can’t buy our way out of this slavery.

          And that was the issue in the Holy Roman Empire in 1517. By the year 1400, people could buy indulgences for almost any reason. What’s an indulgence? The purchase of an indulgence granted freedom from the earthly punishment of sin and freedom from suffering in purgatory. Its purpose was to speed along the time it takes for the soul to get out of the place of purging away the sins you didn’t work off here on earth in order to get to heaven. In other words, people were paying money to the Roman Church in order to buy their way out of the slavery caused by their sins.

          A Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther, began having serious doubts about purgatory and indulgences. He began preaching sermons against indulgences because he believed that the people didn’t understand that they were not a ticket to heaven. Luther decided that this was an issue worth having an academic debate about. Luther prepared a statement in argument against the practice of indulgences. He nailed his statements for debate on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg on All Saints’ Eve, October 31, 1517. (This was the university town bulletin board. Everyone would be at church the next day for All Saints’ Day. And those interested in the topic for debate would read these statements.)

Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses concluded that a Christian who is sorry for their sins and repents with faith in Christ has God’s forgiveness and doesn’t need a letter of indulgence. Luther, you see, was coming to understand more clearly that salvation from sin and death is indeed a judicial act: God declares you right with Him because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, by grace alone through faith alone.

It was Jesus Christ who purchased the forgiveness of sins for the whole world with His suffering and death on the cross. “Truly, truly I say to you, that everyone who sins is a slave of sin. . . . Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Only God the Son could set humanity free from the bondage to sin and from the fear of death by conquering sin and death for us. This Gospel is at the very heart and center of the Reformation faith. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, took upon Himself our human flesh and dwelt among us as our Savior, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He became incarnate in order to set people free. And if the Son of God sets you free, you are free in every sense of the word—free from sin and free from the punishment of death!

          Jesus alone bought and won this freedom for you at great cost to Himself. All your sins and the sins of the whole world were placed on Christ as if they were His own. He suffered the God-forsakenness of hell on the cross. Nailed to a tree, the Son of God suffered for your sins and died your death. He shed His holy, precious blood so that your sins would be atoned for. God the Father justifies you—declares you righteous, not guilty of sin. You are released from the punishment of death because Jesus suffered, died, and shed His blood being punished in your place. It is as if the words spoken by the prophet Nathan to David are spoken personally to you, “The Lord has put away your sin. You shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13).

          It is this precious Word of God in the Gospel that personally delivers to you the forgiveness of sins that the Son Jesus Christ purchased and won for you. It is the forgiveness of Christ that gives you the freedom from sin and death. You receive this gift through faith in Jesus as your Savior when you believe that He has suffered and died for you. Luther put it this way when he preached on John 8, “[The gift of saving faith] is what liberates me from sin—not I myself, fasting, the life of a monk or nun, the Mass, pilgrimage, or the intercession of Mary or other saints; but it is solely Christ’s redemptive work. For no one else was born of Mary, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven than this one Man, Christ. Outside of Him there is no one in heaven or on earth, not even any angel, who could help us. Therefore we must cling solely to this Man and acknowledge Him alone as our Savior.”[1]

          By grace through faith, you have come know the truth of the Gospel found in the Word of Christ. You cling to Him alone as your Savior. Through the Gospel, you receive the forgiveness of sins in the Words of Absolution, through the preaching of His Word, and in the eating and drinking of Christ’s Body and Blood with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Through these Means of Grace, you have been set free from sin by the Son. You have been rescued from bondage to death. This wondrous Gospel announces to you in the name of Jesus, “Your sins are forgiven. Eternal life is yours. Go in peace; you are free.” 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), 411.

Sermon for October 24, 2021, Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 10:46-52 (Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 25—Series B)

“We are All Beggars”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 24, 2021

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 10:

46And they came into Jericho. And when He was leaving from Jericho, with His disciples and a considerable crowd, the son of Timaeus—Bartimaeus—a blind beggar, was sitting beside the road. 47And when he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was [there], he began to cry out and to say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48And many began rebuking him in order that he should be silent. But rather he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” 49And when Jesus stopped, He said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Have courage. Get up. He is calling you.” 50And casting off his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51And Jesus asked him and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabboni, in order that I may gain my sight.” 52And Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” And immediately he gained his sight and followed Him on the road.

             “Let nobody suppose that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years. Therefore there is something wonderful, first, about John the Baptist; second, about Christ; third, about the apostles. ‘Lay not your hand on this divine Aeneid, but bow before it, adore its every trace.’ We are beggars. That is true.” These were the last thoughts of Dr. Martin Luther on February 16, 1546, the day before he died.[1]

          We are beggars. That is true. What do we have of our own? From the mouth of Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21 ESV). The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim. 6:7 ESV). Like life itself, the necessities of life come from God. “[God] has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”[2] Luther again: “Whatever [we] have [we] acknowledge to be a gift of God’s grace; [we] have nothing to offer God, but [we] only receive from Him.”[3] The blind man, Bartimaeus, as a beggar, truly had nothing to offer Jesus. We are beggars. That is true.

But just maybe we can come up with something to give to God, beggars though we be? Perhaps our attempts at being good? No, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Is. 64:6 NAS95). “For there is not one truly righteous person on the earth who continually does good and never sins” (Eccl. 7:20 NET). Shall we offer God our self-righteousness? Our selfishness and greed? The filthy rags of our so-called good works? No. The only thing that we beggars would be able to offer God are our sins and our sinfulness. That is an unholy offering to be sure. In the end, we have nothing to give to God. We are beggars. That is true.

The year is 1763. Anglican pastor Augustus Toplady pens a hymn. His gift to God? Nothing, for he too is a beggar. His words, “Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling. Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace.” It’s the beloved hymn, Rock of Ages. Toplady knew that in and of himself, just like you and me, he had nothing. We are beggars. Like Bartimaeus, we have nothing to offer God. We can only receive from Him what He wants to give us according to His grace and mercy. “Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill Thy Law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. . . . Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

The Savior, Jesus, must wash us in His grace. We cry out in our helplessness as beggars, “Have mercy on me!” Satan retorts and rebukes us similar to the crowd shushing Bartimaeus, “Why should He? You have nothing. You are nothing. You are full of sin and wicked thoughts and desires. You deserve nothing, you pathetic beggar.” But Jesus stopped. “He said, ‘Call him.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Have courage. Get up. He is calling you.’”

Jesus is calling you. He wants to talk to you, O beggar. Jesus says to you, “What do you want me to do for you?” You have nothing but your sins and unrighteousness. Dare you say what you want? Bartimaeus did. “I want to gain my sight!” He acknowledged Jesus as the One who can make the blind see. Isaiah 35, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Is. 35:4–5 ESV). O beggar, Jesus asks each of you, “What do you want me to do for you?” Tell Him what you want—“Have mercy on me, a sinner. Wash me so that I might live and not die. Remove the blindness of my sin so that I might see you by faith as Lord and God and follow you according to Your grace.”

You had nothing but your sins and sinfulness. And Jesus took that from you. He took the filthy rags of all your sins and clothed Himself with them. He carried your hateful words and perverted thoughts. He wrapped Himself up in your greed and selfishness. Jesus assumed your punishment of hell and death as they pierced His hands and feet on the cross. He shed His holy, precious blood to atone for your sins and for the sins of the whole world. And He gives you the gift of His righteousness in the forgiveness of all your sins. Luther called it a great exchange. He wrote, “Is not this a beautiful, glorious exchange, by which Christ, who is [completely] innocent and holy, not only takes upon himself another’s sin, that is, my sin and guilt, but also clothes and adorns me, who am nothing but sin, with his own innocence and purity? And then besides dies the shameful death of the Cross for the sake of my sins, through which I have deserved death and condemnation, and grants to me his righteousness, in order that I may live with him eternally in glorious and unspeakable joy. Through this blessed exchange, in which Christ changes places with us (something the heart can grasp only in faith), and through nothing else, are we freed from sin and death and given his righteousness and life as our own.”[4] Again he says, “That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it. And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them. . . .”[5]

We are beggars. That is true. Through His grace, God has heard our cries for mercy. We who have nothing, to us God has given everything. Our Father gives us all that we need to support this body and life. He has given us His One-of-a-Kind Son who took our sins upon Himself, died on the cross, rose again from the dead, and so freely gives to all who trust in Him His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life. Hearing His Gospel Word and in the eating and drinking of the holy Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood, the Lord Himself sends you into the week ahead, saying to you just as His did to Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 476.

     [2] Martin Luther, Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 16.

     [3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 16: Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 1-39, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 16 (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1999), 121.

     [4] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 51 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 316.

     [5] Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.

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

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

“Grace in the Hurt of Life”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 17, 2021

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

Our text is the Old Testament Reading from Ecclesiastes 5:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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