Author: pastormjc

Sermon for August 28, 2022, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 14:1-6 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

“Watching Jesus Closely”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 28, 2022

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

Our text is from the Gospel Lesson recorded in Luke 14:

1And it happened that when He came to eat bread on the Sabbath in the house of a certain ruler of the Pharisees and they were watching Him closely, 2behold, a certain man before Him was suffering from dropsy. 3And Jesus answered and said to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4And they remained silent. And taking hold of him, He healed him and released him. 5And He said to them, “Who of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well will not immediately pull him up on the day of the Sabbath?” 6And they were not able to answer back to these things.

          In January 1984, Rockwell released his international chart-topping song, “Somebody’s Watching Me.” You hear it more frequently on the radio around Halloween-time. The chorus says, “I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me / And I have no privacy / I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me / Who’s playing tricks on me?” At any rate, this is the song that popped into my head in reading the opening verse of today’s Gospel reading “when [Jesus] came to eat bread on the Sabbath in the house of a certain ruler of the Pharisees and they were watching Him closely.”

          Why were the Pharisees watching Jesus with such scrutiny at this dinner following the Sabbath-day synagogue service? Well, Jesus had a habit of doing things that the Pharisees said was unlawful to do on the Sabbath. Over time, many traditions had been added to God’s Commandment about the Sabbath Day which specified numerous categories of work to avoid on the Sabbath. These made the Sabbath a detailed and burdensome observance for the people. You could say that it was hard work not to do work on the Sabbath. One Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, as was His custom. A man was there whose right hand was withered. St. Luke writes in chapter 6:7, “And the scribes and the Pharisees watched Him closely to see whether He would heal on the Sabbath in order that they might find charges to bring against Him.” And what did Jesus do? “But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ And he rose and stood there.And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’And after looking around at them all he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored.But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:8–11 ESV).

          In Luke 13, one chapter before our text today, Jesus was again teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. There was a woman who had an evil spirit for 18 years that caused her to be bent over and not able to fully straighten up. Jesus saw her and said to her, “Woman, you are released from your disability.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God (Luke 13:10-13). But the synagogue ruler was outraged “because Jesus healed on the Sabbath” (13:14). He told the congregation, “’There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’Then the Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?’ As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him” (Luke 13:14–17 ESV).

          Mere verses later, our text for today has Jesus, on another Sabbath, this time at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. And what were they doing? “Watching Him closely.” It seems that the experts in the law and the Pharisees were hoping that He would break the Sabbath rules again so that they might finally do something about His blatant disregard for their traditions.

          And Jesus does not disappoint those watching Him. A man with dropsy comes into their midst. Dropsy isn’t a word that we use anymore. It’s the condition that we know as generalized edema, bodily swelling due to an excess of fluid. Not a disease in itself, it is an indication that something is not right in the body, like congestive heart failure or kidney disease. Now, we don’t know why this man is at the Pharisee’s dinner party. It seems unlikely that he would have been invited because he would have been considered ceremonially unclean because his swelling was viewed as a punishment for sin (which was not the case). Whatever the reason, this man is before Jesus. And Jesus once again heals on the Sabbath.

          Jesus knows that He is being closely watched. Luke writes, “Behold, a certain man before Him was suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and said to the lawyers and Pharisees.” What is he answering? There isn’t anything recorded that they had said. Again, Jesus knew what was in their hearts and minds and so he answered their objections without them uttering a word, “Is it permitted to heal on the Sabbath or not?” And they remained silent. If they said “yes” then they have no reason to charge Jesus with breaking the Sabbath laws now or before! If they said “no” then they are caught forbidding helping another person and breaking the law of love for the neighbor.

          Jesus had already taught that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The day of rest, which is what the Hebrew word sabbath means, was intended by God to restore people, not to make them slaves of arbitrary rules and regulations that come about by way of the tradition of people. As God rested on the seventh day following the six days of creation, so the Lord gifted to people a day of rest from the everyday labors of life. It especially gives people time to hear the Word of God that they would not normally have because of the busyness of life. We read in the Large Catechism, “Now, in the Old Testament, God set apart the seventh day and appointed it for rest. He commanded that it should be regarded as holy above all other days. This commandment was given only to the Jewish people for this outward obedience, that they should stop toilsome work and rest. In that way both man and beast might recover and not be weakened by endless labor. Later, the Jewish people restricted the Sabbath too closely and greatly abused it. They defamed Christ and could not endure in Him the same works that they themselves would do on that day, as we read in the Gospel. They acted as though the commandment were fulfilled by doing no manual work whatsoever. This, however, was not the meaning. But, as we shall hear, they were supposed to sanctify the holy day or day of rest. . . . [On] this day of rest (since we can get no other chance), we have the freedom and time to attend divine service. We come together to hear and use God’s Word, and then to praise God, to sing and to pray.

. . . This is the simple meaning of the commandment: People must have holidays. Therefore, such observances should be devoted to hearing God’s Word so that the special function of this day of rest should be the ministry of the Word for the young and the mass of poor people. Yet the resting should not be strictly understood to forbid any work that comes up, which cannot be avoided.”[1] And the showing of love and mercy cannot be avoided on the Sabbath Day or any other day! The Sabbath does not cancel out the law to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus’ work of healing on the Sabbath, then, actually fulfilled the Sabbath Day’s purpose: to provide blessing for God’s people. Were you watching Jesus closely in our text? What does He do with the man who is suffering? “And taking hold of him, He healed him and released him.” Jesus healed this man from that which was causing his swelling. Not only is the edema gone, but so is the root cause. He is healed. And the man is also released. The English Standard Version translates this as “sent him away.” This is certainly possible, but the word is used frequently in the context of setting free, releasing, and pardoning from a painful condition or from sin. I think there’s more here than Jesus simply healing the man from his physical problem and sending him off. There’s a real setting free, not only from disease, but also from the power of sin and death which is the ultimate disease. Jesus’ brought this man the Sabbath blessing of rest and release, as He said to the woman on a previous Sabbath, “Youa released from your disability.” Jesus grants the very gift of God that the Sabbath intended to bring to people.

And that is true for us as well. Jesus sees our need, heals us, and releases us from sin and death with His blessings of forgiveness and eternal life. Our Lord takes hold of us by the power of His Holy Spirit through Baptism. He claims us as children of the heavenly Father by His blood shed for us on the cross. There He suffered the pains of sin and its consequences. He faced hellish death for us. He rested in death in the tomb on the Sabbath. But He rose again victorious over sin, death, and hell on the first day of the week. And so it is that believers in Jesus gather together on this first day of the week in celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. We gather in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to receive the Sabbath blessings of rest and release from sin, death, and hell that our Savior gives to us through His Word and blessed Sacrament.

In the words of Absolution, the blessings of the Gospel are spoken into your ears in a personal way. Through these words you receive the salvation earned by Jesus on the cross of Calvary; every sin covered by His blessed death and resurrection. You are released; you are free. Like the Absolution, the Sermon delivers the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ on the cross. In the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus delivers His blessings to you personally as you eat His Body and drink His Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Here in the Divine Service, on this our Day of Rest, your Lord and Savior gifts you His blessings of forgiveness and salvation. He continues to rescue you from your sins, releasing you from your guilt, and granting you heavenly blessings by means of His Gospel Word. That’s what the Sabbath is for. It is your day of rest and release, of rescue and of blessing. And if you watch the Lord Jesus closely throughout the Divine Service, you will see Him at work where He promises to be—in His Gospel Word and Sacrament—for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 376-368.

Sermon for August 21, 2022, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 13:22-30 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

“The Struggle is Real”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 21, 2022

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

Our text is the Gospel Lesson from Luke 13:

22And [Jesus] was passing through cities and villages teaching and journeying to Jerusalem. 23And someone said to Him, “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” And He said to them, 24“Struggle to enter through the narrow door, because many, I say to you, will seek to enter and they will not be able. 25From whenever the master of the house should rise and shut the door they shall begin to stand outside and to knock on the door saying, ‘Lord, open for us.’ And answering, He will say, ‘I do not know where you have come from?’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets.’ 27But He will speak, saying to you, ‘I do not know where you have come from. Depart from me, all you workers of unrighteousness.’ 28There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the reign and rule of God, but you yourselves being thrown outside. 29And they will come from east and west and from north and south and they will recline at table in the reign and rule of God. 30And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.

          An eternal banquet feast in the new creation! An everlasting feast in the reign and rule of God we are sitting at the table with Him! People from all over—east and west, north and south, some last who will be first, some first who be last. But there at the eternal feast they will be, at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom!

Thine the kingdom Thine the prize

    Thine the wonder full surprise
Thine the banquet then the praise
    Then the justice of Thy ways
Thine the glory Thine the story
    Then the welcome to the least
Then the wonder all increasing at Thy feast at Thy feast.[1]

          But before the feast, the master of the house shuts the door. The time to enter will have ended. The time of God’s patient restraint will be over. “Lord, open for us.” And answering, He will say, “I do not know where you have come from?” “We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets.” But He will speak, saying to you, “I do not know where you have come from. Depart from me, all you workers of unrighteousness.” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the reign and rule of God, but you yourselves being thrown outside.

          The unnamed questioner asked Jesus as He was on His way to Jerusalem for His Passion, “Lord, are those who being saved few?” Jesus’ response is one that redirected the questioner away from worrying about others to examining himself. “Struggle to enter through the narrow door, because many, I say to you, will seek to enter and they will not be able.” In other words, “O questioner, will you be saved?”

          Ask yourself, am I one of the many or one of the few?

          Many people will seek to enter into the reign and rule of God through what Jesus calls “the narrow door.” They will try and they will fail because they are not able to enter. Literally, they are not “strong enough” to enter the narrow door. But how hard could it be? Like a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle (Luke 18:25). It is simply impossible. Impossible for those who are rich and for anyone else to enter into God’s reign and rule on the basis of their own works and their own righteousness.

          Who is it that enters into God’s reign and rule? Is it not the righteous? Psalm 118:20, “This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.” Jesus said in Matthew 13, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43 ESV). To put it negatively, the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9 ESV).

          As we examine ourselves and ask, am I one of the many or one of the few, we also need to question ourselves, “Am I righteous?”

          David states unequivocally in Psalm 143 that “no one living is righteous before [God]. (Psa. 143:2 ESV). St. Paul, quoting various Old Testament texts points out in Romans 3 that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. . . . There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:9–18 ESV). Through Adam’s fall into sin, all humanity is corrupt and sinful. We are not righteous in and of ourselves. We are deeply flawed and spiritually sick. We cannot rely on ourselves to save us from sin and death. We cannot trust in our strength to make us right and fit for the kingdom of God. Many will seek to enter and they will not be able. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified [declared righteous] in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20 ESV).

          Am I one of the many or one of the few? Am I righteous? Am I one of the first or last in God’s reign and rule? How can I know; how can I be certain?

          You can know and be certain that you have a place reserved for you at the eternal banquet feast because of Jesus Christ. Your eternal life and salvation are not dependent in any way upon you. Paul Speratus (1484-1551) in his hymn, “Salvation Unto Us Has Come,” (555 in the hymnal), writes, “Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor; Good works cannot avert our doom, They help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer” (emphasis added). This is the message of Ephesians 2, “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). Entrance into eternal salvation in the reign and rule of God is the Lord’s own gift available to all people by His grace through the gift of faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, we are empowered to repent of our sins while trusting solely in the merits of Jesus who alone won forgiveness and salvation for all people by His death and resurrection. By grace, the narrow door is open NOW into the house in which the eternal banquet feast is to be celebrated.

          NOW the door is open by grace through faith in Jesus. THEN it will be shut when the Last Day arrives. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2 ESV). Paul, preaching at Athens in the Areopagus, proclaimed, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31 ESV). Jesus, who suffered the death of all humanity on the cross, paid for humanity’s sins with His own precious blood. Jesus, the only Righteous One, suffered death and hell for all unrighteous people. Jesus is now risen from the dead so that, by faith in the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus, we receive His righteousness as if it is our own. It is His free gift to us so that we might have a place at the eternal feast in the new creation at the end of days. Romans 3, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified [declared right] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:21–25).

          Now, then, is the time to struggle to enter through the narrow door. Now is the time to strain every nerve to enter. This is not the struggle to do enough good things in life in order to earn God’s favor. This is not a striving to please God with the way you live. Jesus did ALL the good things necessary FOR YOU. He kept God’s Law perfectly for you because you are not able to do so. Jesus pleased God as God’s One-of-a-Kind Son, with whom the Father is well-pleased, in His perfect life, and in His sacrificial death and resurrection for you. God the Father cannot be more pleased with you than He already is. Through the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, you have been declared righteous. You have been forgiven. You are made holy because you are covered in the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ. “This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psa. 118:23 ESV).

          No, the struggle to enter through the narrow door has nothing to do with our works as if to earn salvation. The struggle by which we enter the narrow door is repentance. And repentance is the work of God the Holy Spirit in the human heart. He creates the change in us through the power and grace of the Spirit. Through the Gospel Word and in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we are given saving faith, trust, that Jesus, true God and true Man, suffered, died, and rose again in our place winning our forgiveness, our rescue from death and hell, and our eternal salvation. We receive these blessings through faith according to the Gospel Word and Spirit who delivers them personally to us. But when we have come to faith and trust in Christ and desire to repent of our sins while trusting in Christ for complete forgiveness, our sinful nature says, “No,” and wars against God’s Word and Spirit. That’s the struggle of the Christian life, and that struggle is real. Paul relates this spiritual struggle to us in Romans 7: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.. . . So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:15–25 ESV).

          This is our struggle too! It is an ongoing and life-long struggle that characterizes the lives of God’s baptized children as long as we live in this sin-filled world. Therefore, we cling ever more firmly to faith and the forgiveness of sins that are ours in Christ. By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, we daily die to sin and rise to newness of life in our Baptism. With sorrow for our sins and faith in the forgiveness Jesus won for us with His death and resurrection, our lives become a daily dying and rising against as we struggle and strive against the old sinful nature. But thanks be to God that we already have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

          What is the victory that overcomes? Our faith! (1 John 5:4). In our struggle against sin throughout our lives, we might not always feel like conquerors. But the victory does belong to us who believe in Jesus Christ. It is His victory given to us. It is His eternal life given to us. Jesus fulfilled the Commandments in our place. He made Himself our human Brother so that through Him we might become the children of God and share in His great family of love. And where do families often share that love? At a feast!

          By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit as He works through our Baptismal faith and the Gospel Word, we fight the good fight of faith. We repent of our sins. We receive Christ’s forgiveness and new life. We daily die to sin and rise again in our Baptisms with the assurance that we are God’s own beloved sons and daughters. We are sure that we have a place at His eternal banquet feast in the new heavens and earth because we have a place TODAY where we recline at His Table and eat His Body and drink His Blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our most holy faith. Brothers and Sister in Christ, the struggle against sin is real. But the victory over sin and death by faith in Christ is real too, and it is your victory. See you at the Feast! Amen.

     [1] LSB 688:4. Text: © 1983 Augsburg Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000752

Sermon for August 14, 2022, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 23:16-29 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

“He Chastens and He Heals”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 14, 2022

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

Our text is the Old Testament Reading from Jeremiah 23:

16Thus says Yahweh of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, who fill you with vain hopes. They speak a vision from their heart. It is not from the mouth of Yahweh. 17They keep saying to those who despise the word of Yahweh, ‘You will have peace.’ And to all who walk in the stubbornness of their heart they say, ‘Disaster will not come upon you.’ 18For who has stood in the council of Yahweh and has seen and heard His word? Who has paid attention to His word and listened? 19Behold, the storm-wind of Yahweh’s wrath goes out and the storm-wind whirling. Upon the head of the wicked it will whirl. 20The anger of Yahweh will not turn until He has finished and accomplished the purposes of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. 21I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. 22If they had stood in my council they would proclaim my words to my people and they would turn them from their wicked ways and from their evil deeds. 23Am I a God who is near—oracle of Yahweh—and not a God far off? 24Can a man hide in places and I not see Him?—oracle of Yahweh. Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?—oracle of Yahweh. 25I heard what they said, the prophets who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have had a dream. I have had a dream.’ 26How long will it be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy these lies and who prophesy deceit in their hearts, 27the ones who think to make my people forget my name because of their dreams which they speak to one another, just as their fathers forgot my name because of Baal? 28The prophet who dreams, let him tell the dream. But the one who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What does chaff have to do with wheat?—oracle of Yahweh. 29Are not my words like fire—oracle of Yahweh—and like a hammer that shatters the rock?”

          One of the prayers for the sick begins, “O Lord, You are the great Physician of soul and body; You chasten and You heal.” I really like the healing part, but the chastening? What does “chasten” mean anyway? It means “to correct by punishment; take to task; to refine or purify.” I do like the healing part, but definitely not the chastening.

          God’s prophet Jeremiah preached to the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reign of its final five kings between the years of 672-587 B.C. He had a chastening message for the people of Judah, a message of judgment and punishment from God. Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet” because of the sad message of divine judgment he delivered and because so few believed him or even listened to him.

          Jeremiah’s message from Yahweh to His covenant people was a word of doom. God’s people didn’t listen because their sin had made their hearts numb. They were drunk on their foolishness. The times were so bad that some people even burned up their children as part of the worship they offered to their idol-god Molech! You can read about that in Jeremiah 7:30-31. This was indeed a people whom God needed to chasten, to punish, and to purify. Speaking for God, Jeremiah begged the people to repent and return to the true God—Yahweh—in faith and obedience. Such amazing stubbornness, which is a lot like our own stubbornness at times!

          The people of Judah insisted on following their own path. And the path they followed was heard in the voice of prophets who spoken a contradictory message to that of Jeremiah. In the verses preceding our text today God says, “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the LORD. . . . In the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil;          all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah” (Jer. 23:11–14 ESV). And we remember how the Lord poured out His wrath in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.

          And so Jeremiah speaks to the people of Judah in our reading: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, who fill you with vain hopes. They speak a vision from their heart. It is not from the mouth of Yahweh. They keep saying to those who despise the word of Yahweh, ‘You will have peace.’ And to all who walk in the stubbornness of their heart they say, ‘Disaster will not come upon you.’” But that’s not what God has said to the people! “Behold, the storm-wind of Yahweh’s wrath goes out and the storm-wind whirling. Upon the head of the wicked it will whirl. The anger of Yahweh will not turn until He has finished and accomplished the purposes of His heart.”

          The false prophets changed God’s message from one of punishment to one of peace. “Don’t listen to Jeremiah. God’s not going to do anything to us. We are His chosen people. There will be peace. There is no reason for God to bring disaster. Don’t worry. Just keep doing what you are doing and enjoy life.” These liars should have warned sinners of the impending judgment of God against their sins and unfaithfulness to Him and His covenant promise. They didn’t. They allowed and even encouraged the people to slide deeper into idolatry and immorality.

          But faithful Jeremiah continued to proclaim Yahweh’s message to His fallen people. The time of judgement is going to come against their sins—their breaking of God’s covenant agreement, their idolatry with their worship of Baal, as well as their immorality. Seventy-four times, Jeremiah used the word “turn” and “return,” begging his people to repent that God may show undeserved kindness and mercy. Repent that God may heal and forgive. But they would not and so God must chasten and punish.

          That’s an uncomfortable feeling, is it not? The wrath, anger, and punishment of God’s divine, holy justice? Through Jeremiah, the Lord asked, “Am I a God who is near and not a God far off? Can a man hide in places and I not see him?” Yahweh is not some small local deity unaware of the goings on outside of His territory, someone from whom you could hide. He is the transcendent God who knows and sees all. God is not merely a God who is near, but also “far off,” everywhere! God is omnipresent—present everywhere! He is omniscient—all-knowing! “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” Of course you do, O Lord! Nothing is hidden from you. The prophet Amos wrote, “[God said,] If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them” (Amos 9:3 ESV). The New Testament writer to the Hebrews said, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13 ESV).

          There is no one who can escape the attention of our omnipresent and omniscient, our all-present and all-knowing, God. The Lord says, “I heard what they said, the prophets who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have had a dream. I have had a dream.’” He knows their sins. He knows my sin and your sin. We are exposed before the God of angelic armies, the Creator of heaven and earth, Yahweh the almighty. You and I cannot deny, hide, or sugar-coat our sins to make them in any way, shape, or form to be “okay.” Sin is never okay. Thinking, speaking, desiring, and acting contrary to God’s revealed Word in Scripture is never okay. Try as we might to say “I will have peace” and “Disaster will not come near me,” it simply is not true. The wages of sin is what? Death. Hell. Eternal, forever and ever, separation from God (Rom. 6:23).

          When we hear this truth about sin and God’s holy and just judgment against sin and sinner, we should tremble. We understand what God means when He says through Jeremiah at the end of our text, “Are not my words like fire—oracle of Yahweh—and like a hammer that shatters the rock?” Professor Luther, lecturing in Wittenburg on the Book of Galatians, said, “God cannot soften and humble this man or make him acknowledge his misery and damnation any other way than by the Law. Therefore the proper and absolute use of the Law is to terrify with lightning (as on Mt. Sinai), thunder, and the blare of the trumpet, with a thunderbolt to burn and crush that brute which is called the presumption of righteousness. Hence God says through Jeremiah (23:29): “My Word is a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces.” For as long as the presumption of righteousness remains in a man, there remain immense pride, self-trust, smugness, hate of God, contempt of grace and mercy, ignorance of the promises and of Christ. The proclamation of free grace and the forgiveness of sins does not enter his heart and understanding, because that huge rock and solid wall, namely, the presumption of righteousness by which the heart itself is surrounded, prevents this from happening. Therefore this presumption of righteousness is a huge and a horrible monster. To break and crush it, God needs a large and powerful hammer, that is, the Law, which is the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of divine wrath. To what purpose? To attack the presumption of righteousness, which is a rebellious, stubborn, and stiff-necked beast. And so when the Law accuses and terrifies the conscience—’You must do this or that! You have not done so! Then you are condemned to the wrath of God and to eternal death!’—then the Law is being employed in its proper use and for its proper purpose. Then the heart is crushed to the point of despair. This use and function of the Law is felt by terrified and desperate consciences.”[1]

          It is to our discomfort that no sin escapes God’s attention. But it is equally true, to our comfort, that no need can escape His attention either. Yahweh is the omniscient and omnipresent God of heaven and earth. He condemns sin and sinner with His Word of Law that acts like a fire and hammer. But He also offers healing. Remember, He chastens and He heals. We cannot rescue ourselves from His wrath and condemnation. We cannot escape the punishment of death and hell. But God uses His Word that burns and breaks us for the purpose of restoring and making us whole.

          The prophet Joel, chapter 2, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13 ESV). Yahweh your God relented over the disaster that was to be your punishment for idolatry and immorality, for all your sins. But He didn’t ignore sin. He didn’t say it was okay. He said, “I will punish My beloved Son in your place.” 2 Corinthians 5, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 ESV). Jesus took upon Himself our status and standing before God’s righteous council. He was declared guilty of all the sin and evil in the world as He hung in cosmic darkness, forsaken by God the Father, on the cross. All your sins and mine received full punishment as the wrath and anger of God was poured out upon Jesus as He bled and died our death and suffered our hell.

          Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death and glorious resurrection on the third day, by God’s immeasurable grace through faith, we have received the forgiveness of sins. We are rescued from death and hell. God is no longer angry at us because all our sins are covered, atoned for, in the blood of Christ, our Risen Savior. In Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself. He doesn’t count our sins against us because they were all counted and charged to Jesus (2 Cor. 5:19).  They were paid for in full. Now, we receive the blessings of Jesus’ cross and resurrection—forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

          This is the Gospel, the Good News Word of God to us, that pulls out from the depths of despair because of our sins and the punishment we so feared. We have the Lord’s own promise that our sins stand forgiven in Christ. We have been given the Holy Spirit who, through the Gospel Word, leads us to daily repentance and faith in the promises of God that are all Yes in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). Even as the holy Law chastens, so the powerful Gospel brings us healing in body and soul unto life everlasting through the forgiveness of sins. Again, Professor Luther, “The Gospel is a light that illumines hearts and makes them alive. It discloses what grace and the mercy of God are; what the forgiveness of sins, blessing, righteousness, life, and eternal salvation are; and how we are to attain to these.”[2]

          And these gifts are all yours by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, your Savior. He is the great Physician of soul and body who does chasten through His Word of Law and heal by means of the Gospel. Do not listen to those who speak visions from their own hearts, who do not pay attention to Word given to us in the Bible. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, continue to listen to the whole counsel of God in His Law and Gospel centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hear His Word from Scripture and know by faith that you are healed of sin through His blood shed for you. Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 309–311.

     [2] Ibid., 313.

Sermon for August 7, 2022, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 12:22-32 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

“Provided for In the Journey”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 7, 2022

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson from Luke 12:

22And He said to His disciples, “Therefore, I say to you, do not be anxious about your life—what you will eat, nor about your body—what you will wear. 23For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens because they neither sow nor reap, who have neither storeroom nor barn, but God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds? 25Any which of you, by being anxious, is able to add a cubit to his age? 26If, therefore, you are not able to do this little thing, why are you anxious about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, but I say to you, neither Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these! 28And if God so clothes the grass, being in the field today and tomorrow thrown into the fire, how much more you, you of little faith? 29And you, do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink and do not be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek these things, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31But rather seek His reign and rule, and all these things will be added to you. 32Do not fear, little flock, because your Father is well-pleased to give you the kingdom.”

           Physical needs are an important part of life. It is universally agreed upon that all people need food and water, clothing, and shelter—the most basic of human needs. However, physical needs should not dominate a Christian’s thinking. Jesus said to the crowd after the man asked Him to tell his brother to divide up the family inheritance that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15). Possessions, as important as they are, do not make up our source of true life or wealth in relation to God. Since possessions can become a significant distraction for the Christian disciple, Jesus addresses the disciple’s attitude toward them in relation to the reign and rule of God.

          “Therefore, I say to you, do not be anxious about your life—what you will eat, nor about your body—what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” Last Sunday, I spoke on the theme of “being what you are” as a Baptized child of God. That theme does carry over to our Gospel text. You are a child of the heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit dwells in you (1 Cor 3:16). You live by faith in Jesus Christ and so, as your Lord has taught you, you pray and trust in God your heavenly Father to provide for you all that you need to support this body and life. And yet, our sinful nature still clings to us, and it is so difficult to look past ourselves and depend on another, even God Himself!

          Consider the rich fool from Jesus’ parable last Sunday. He had no thoughts toward God. He looked to secure himself and his future without God. “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (Luke 12:16–19 ESV). He trusted only in himself and his ability to take care of his life. The farmer did not entrust himself, indeed his very life, to God. And what did the Lord call him? “Fool!”

          You and I have not just played the fool, we have been the fool. We have failed to always recognize that God is the Giver of all things, including life and salvation. That’s because our possessions—our stuff—becomes a distraction. If life is truly more than what we eat, drink, and wear, if life is really more than storing up for ourselves earthly treasures, even though they might make us happy or feel good, why do we so readily live like our possessions are the end-all and be-all of our existence? Why do we fixate on having these things and attaining these things when God promises to provide them to us? Because we too are those of little faith. We seek what we are to eat and drink, wrongly believing that it is solely dependent on ourselves to provide. We do fail to pray and trust in God our heavenly Father to provide for us all that we need for life. When we are anxious and worried about physical things, Jesus says that we end up acting like “the nations,” the Gentiles, meaning, unbelievers.

          But that’s not who we are! Possessions, as important as they are, don’t make up our source of true life or wealth. “Consider the ravens because they neither sow nor reap, who have neither storeroom nor barn, but God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds?” Psalm 147:9, “He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry” (Psa. 147:9 ESV). Here is something interesting. In the Law given to the children of Israel, ravens are declared to be “unclean.” They are forbidden as food for the Israelites; ravens are not kosher. So, if God even cares for the unclean animals and birds of creation, surely He will care for His children! So don’t be anxious about these things.

                “Consider the lilies, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin, but I say to you, neither Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these! And if God so clothes the grass, being in the field today and tomorrow thrown into the fire, how much more you, you of little faith?” If God adorns the common plants, the lowly grass that is burned for fuel, with such glory and splendor and beauty, how much more will He lavish good things on the crown of His creation, humanity! So don’t be anxious about these things.

          Jesus today redirects our hearts and minds from seeking after these things—food, clothes, and earthly treasures—to seeking what is truly an everlasting treasure, God’s kingdom, His reign and rule in the person and work of Jesus Christ. “Your Father knows that you need these things. But rather seek His reign and rule, and all these things will be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, because your Father is well-pleased to give you the kingdom.”

          You have a heavenly Father, God Almighty, who provides for ALL your needs. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in heaven for ALL things truly necessary because God is the Father who always gives good gifts to His children. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father. His kingdom, His reign and rule, comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, “so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity” (Small Catechism).

By His grace, we believe the God our Father is kindly disposed toward us because of the saving work of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ’s suffering and death on the cross for our sins of selfishness, for our lack of fear, love, and trust in God our Father above all things, won for us forgiveness and everlasting life. Through the Word and Sacraments, God the Holy Spirit delivers to us this forgiveness and life and so brings God’s reign and rule to us in Jesus. God’s will for our salvation is accomplished by Jesus. You and I can look to our heavenly Father in faith and with trust knowing that He will indeed provide all that we need. Therefore, we don’t need to be concerned and worried about what we will eat or wear. We don’t need to be afraid in this life because we have a God and Lord who is with us, who is for us, and who provides our daily bread.

We understand that daily bread includes “Everything that belongs to the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like” (Small Catechism). Luther further comments in the Large Catechism, “God wishes to show us how He cares for us in all our need and faithfully provides also for our earthly support. He abundantly grants and preserves these things, even for the wicked and rogues [Matthew 5:45]. Yet, He wishes that we pray for these goods in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand and may feel His fatherly goodness toward us in them.”[1]

God our Father not only wills to provide us with earthly possessions and treasures that we need to support our body and life here and now, but He is also well-pleased to give us His kingdom with the assurance that all these earthly things are added alongside. Our eternal life in body and soul at the resurrection is also a gift of God that He has prepared for us through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. According to His Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, He gives us everlasting life through the Gospel and the Sacraments. This we receive by faith, according to His Word and Promise. As Abraham believed, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6), so we too believe by grace through faith that Jesus alone has won our forgiveness and everlasting life that is filled with heavenly treasure. Even so, with faith in the Lord’s promises, we trust that He will continue to supply us with earthly treasures, preserving us in body and soul throughout the days of our earthly journey, even to the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Amen.

    [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 418.

Sermon for July 31, 2022, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 3:1-4 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

“Be What You Are”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 31, 2022

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

Our text is the Epistle lesson from Colossians 3:

1Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, be seeking the things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. 2Be setting your minds on the things above, not on the things on the earth. 3For you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God. 4Whenever Christ, your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

          “You are what you eat.” This proverbial saying suggests that in order to be fit and healthy, you need to eat good food. In 1826, the French lawyer Brillat-Savarin wrote, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” In an 1863 essay titled Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach wrote: “Der Mensch ist, was er ißt.” Man is what he eats. They were saying that the food one eats has a bearing on one’s state of mind and health. In the 1930s, American nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, a strong believer in the idea that food controls health, developed the Catabolic Diet. That view gained some adherents at the time and the earliest known printed example is from an advertisement for beef in a 1923 edition of the Bridgeport Telegraph for United [Meat] Markets, “Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.” In the opening verses of today’s Epistle text, we have the apostle Paul encouraging believers in Jesus to be not what they eat, but rather, “Be Who You Are.”

          Let’s face it, Christians don’t always act like Christians. You act selfishly, in your own interest, under the disguise of “doing it for the Lord.” You refuse to forgive and be reconciled because you think that you are right. Just look at all the ways that you as believers in Jesus live with your minds set “on the things on the earth.” No, we’re not talking about the ordinary, everyday things of this earth. We’re talking about things that are evil, that are contrary to the Word of God and thus are unbecoming for the believer. More than that, they are sinful and cause the wrath of God against you. What are these things on the earth that you so eagerly embrace? Paul tells you in our Epistle: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. Lying, sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5–9 ESV).

          When your sinful nature wars against the Holy Spirit and you give it free reign, what a mess it makes of your life and the lives of others! Hateful words are spoken. You do not put others first because you want things to be your way and you demand it, even at the cost of hurting brothers and sisters in Christ. Your sinful flesh, consumed by self-importance, instinctively looks down on others and inevitably causes interpersonal tensions. These are the attitudes and behaviors that disrupt Christian fellowship. This is not how Christians have been called to live, with minds set on the things on the earth. Galatians 5, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:13–16 ESV).

          When Christians are controlled by their sinful nature and fall prey to the devil and the wickedness of the world, they are no longer being what they are—baptized children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus! This not only hurts one another, but the whole Church, and gives a terrible witness to the Lord Jesus.

          The foundation of what you are in Christ is your Baptism. Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3, “be seeking the things above,” “be setting your minds on the thing above, not on things on the earth,” is grounded in the foundation of your Baptism. You have been raised with Christ in Baptism. In fact, in Baptism you died with Christ. Colossians 3: “For you died.” How did you die? With Christ at the cross. Romans 3 says that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3 ESV). In Baptism a person dies to sin and our death to sin in Baptism connects us with, and plugs us into, the death of Christ on the cross.

          Paul, then, asks the question, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2 ESV). You can’t, unless you reject the reality of who you are by allowing sin to have the control in your life. The Church Father Chrysostom described baptismal death to sin like this: “Being dead to sin means not obeying it any more. Baptism has made us dead to sin once and for all, but we must strive to maintain this state of affairs, so that however many commands sin may give us, we no longer obey it but remain unmoved by it, as a corpse does.”[1] Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism on Holy Baptism that Baptism “signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. And also it shows that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[2]

          In Baptism the death of sin occurs because you are locked into the death of Christ who died, once and for all, for the sins of the world. What’s more, you are raised with Christ. Dead to sin—risen to new life! Through your incorporation into Jesus’ redeeming work, you have been delivered from evil for eternal salvation. And this eternal salvation is the basis of the kind of conduct you also display in this life. Because you are “heirs of eternal life at the return of Christ, Christians are to live in a manner corresponding to life in the holiness of heaven, rather than to a life characteristic of conduct on this evil earth.”[3]

          By Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are already raised with Christ to life “above.” You are new creations! The old has passed away; the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17). By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, you are to pattern your behavior in thought, word, and deed after the sort of life that will characterize your existence “above” in eternity. This is nothing else than God exhorting you as baptized Christians to “be what you already are.”

          This means that in the power of your Baptism by the work of the Spirit you “put to death what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:5). Drown in the powerful waters of your Baptism those attitudes, behaviors, and words that are characteristic of those under the influence of Satan and their own sinful nature. As Christians who have “put off” the old Adam, the sinful nature, through your Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, daily die to the desires that sin in you suggests. Rise to the new life of faith and put on the virtues of the new Adam (Christ)—a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, and thankfulness. You were dead and were raised to life with Christ in Baptism and now you wear Christ’s own virtues as you live the Christian life in word and action. Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “So a truly Christian life is nothing other than a daily Baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be done without ceasing, that we always keep purging away whatever belongs to the old Adam. Then what belongs to the new man may come forth. But what is the old man? It is what is born in human beings from Adam: anger, hate, envy, unchastity, stinginess, laziness, arrogance—yes, unbelief. The old man is infected with all vices and has by nature nothing good in him. Now, when we have come into Christ’s kingdom, these things must daily decrease. The longer we live the more we become gentle, patient, meek, and ever turn away from unbelief, greed, hatred, envy, and arrogance.”[4]

          In Baptism, you were brought to the Lord Jesus to receive His gifts through faith. You died with Christ. You were raised with Christ. You have the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. You are empowered by the Holy Spirit by means of the Gospel and the Sacraments to be seeking the things above. Through Word and Supper, the Spirit strengthens your faith and increases its fruit in your lives. He gives you new desires so that you strive to overcome sin and to set your minds on the things above and not on the evil things on earth. You are Christians. You are different from the world that does not know Christ Jesus by faith. Be what you are—what God in Christ through the Spirit has recreated you to be. In your words and actions, show humility and Christ-like love. Don’t be selfish and continue to think that everything has to be the way you want it or how you think things should be. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but think with sober judgment, “each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:3–5 ESV). You are baptized children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus! Do not hurt one another with your words and actions. Give a good witness to the Lord Jesus in how you act and speak as those who are setting your minds on the things above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Direct your hearts, minds, words, and actions to Christ. Look to Him who has begun this good work in you and so live out your most holy faith. God grant this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

     [1] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, NT Vol. 6, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998), 153.

     [2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 340.

     [3] Paul E. Deterding, Colossians, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2003), 139.

     [4] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 430.