Sermon for February 3, 2019, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Luke 4:31-44 (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)

“For This Purpose”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 3, 2019

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 4:

31And [Jesus] went down into Capernaum, a town of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. 32And they were amazed at his teaching because his word had authority. 33And there was a man in the synagogue who had the spirit of an unclean demon and he called out with a loud voice, 34“Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? We know who you are, the Holy One of God!” 35And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Muzzle it and come out of him!” And after the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36And they were all amazed and began to discuss with one another, saying, “What is this word, because with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out?” 37And the report about him went out into every place in the neighboring region. 38After he arose from the synagogue, he went into Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they entreated him on her behalf [to help her]. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever and it left her. Immediately she rose and began to serve them. 40And when the sun had set, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him. And he laid his hands on each one of them and healed them. 41And demons also came out of many crying out and saying, “You are the Son of God.” But he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew him to be the Christ. 42Now when it had become day, he departed and went away into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him and they came to him and tried to keep him from leaving them43but he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, for that is what I was sent to do.” 44And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

          Last Sunday, we heard in the Gospel reading that Jesus had come to His hometown of Nazareth. There He proclaimed the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 because He, the Christ, had come to bring release to those captive to sin, death, and the devil. Jesus, true God, had become Incarnate in order to free His people from oppression, enslavement, and imprisonment to sin, sickness, death, and Satan. He would also win this release and rescue for the Gentiles, and that got Him thrown out of town because the Jews did not want a Messiah who would extend the gifts of God to the nations.

          What’s at the heart of the mission and ministry of Jesus is that all people need what the Incarnate Son of God has come to bring—rescue and release from sin, sickness, Satan’s oppression, and the power of death. The whole of creation, in fact, needs this rescue and release from its bondage to corruption and decay brought about by humanity’s sin. The Word of God tells us in Romans 8, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21 ESV). Because of Adam’s sin, all of God’s good creation came under His judgment. Nothing in all of creation has, since that time, been able to fulfill its God-given purpose. All of creation, including us human creatures, is trapped in an endless cycle of deterioration that leads to death.

          We can see this cycle played out during the ministry of Jesus. What is it that He encounters during His ministry in Galilee? Demon possession, sickness, sin, and death. In the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus confronts the spirit of an unclean demon. He meets the feverishly-ill mother-in-law of Simon Peter. Then, “all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him. . . . And demons also. . . .” In Luke 5, Jesus encounters a leper and a paralytic and, later in chapter 6, a man with a withered hand. In chapter 7, we see Jesus confronting the sickness of a centurion’s servant and the death of a widow’s only son.

          We also see this cycle of sin, sickness, and Satan’s oppression leading to death in our own day. The devil and his evil angels are constantly working against us to lead us into temptation and sin. He works through false religions and spiritualities, twisting and distorting the Word of God in the Bible, in order to lead God’s human creatures further away from their one true God and Lord. As a result of the devil’s temptations and because of the weakness of our corrupted, sin-filled human natures, we daily sin much in thoughts, desires, words, and actions. Our own original sin, inherited from Adam through our own parents, inclines us only toward ourselves and away from God and His Word of authority and power. We desire, according to our sinful natures, to be gods for ourselves, and that leads us into sin, rebellion against our true God and Lord.

          You and I and all of God’s human creatures also encounter the bondage and corruption to decay faced by the whole creation. Our bodies are subject to sicknesses and diseases—physical, mental, and emotional. Seemingly healthy people die without warning. A loved one is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Perhaps you are faced with an anxiety disorder or clinical depression. And then there are just the basic needs of food and shelter and clothing that many in our community, state, nation, and world lack. These are all examples of creation’s bondage in its fallenness. The effects and consequences of sin leading to death are everywhere.

          In spite of this, a new era of salvation from sin, sickness, Satan, and death has broken into this fallen creation. The Holy One of God has come in human flesh to rebuke that which holds people and creation in bondage.

          The demons, the evil angels, correctly identified Jesus. “We know who you are, the Holy One of God!” They cried out, “You are the Son of God!” They have this prior knowledge of God the Son, against whom they rebelled and instead followed Satan. There is no question in their minds that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Messiah, the Son of God made flesh who indeed had come to destroy them! And Jesus rebukes the demons. He censures them to prevent their speaking a confession of Him and to bring their possession of one of God’s people to an end. Where the devil and his evil angels seemed to have had free reign, Jesus puts it to an end by Jesus. The demons were rebuked and cast out.

          Similarly, Jesus rebukes and ends the sicknesses of the people. He rebuked the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law and it left her. He laid His hands on any who were sick with various diseases and healed them. Jesus sets free those who are in bondage by rebuking and ending that which binds them.

          Jesus, the Holy One of God, the Messiah, had come to undo that which held creation in bondage and captivity since the Fall of Eve and Adam into sin. The culmination of this release would come in the rebuke of sin and death itself with Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. The Good News is that Jesus’ teaching and miracles demonstrate that the new era of salvation has broken in. Jesus’ healings and all the exorcisms He performed point to the ultimate release from Satan’s bondage and captivity to sin. For with His death and resurrection, Jesus would perform the ultimate in healing and the exorcism of the world.

          Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, lived among us under the bondage of our sin. On the cross, Jesus endured hell and death itself so that you and I and all of God’s human creatures, indeed, the whole of creation, might be set free from the power of Satan, sin, and death. We read in John 8, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’” (Jn. 8:34-36 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God, has delivered you from the jaws of hell and has brought you again into the Father’s grace and favor. He’s brought you from Satan to God, from death to life, and from sin to righteousness (Large Catechism II.31). To bring you this freedom from the bondage of sin and its effects, Jesus “became man [John 1:14], was conceived and born without sin [Hebrews 4:15], from the Holy Spirit and from the virgin Mary [Luke 1:35], so that He might overcome sin. . . . He suffered, died, and was buried so that He might make satisfaction for [you] and pay what [you] owe [1 Corinthians 15:3–4], not with silver or gold, but with His own precious blood [1 Peter 1:18–19]. And He did all this in order to become [your] Lord. . .  After that He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death [1 Corinthians 15:54], and finally ascended into heaven and assumed the government at the Father’s right hand [1 Peter 3:22]. He did these things so that the devil and all powers must be subject to Him and lie at His feet [Hebrews 10:12–13] until finally, at the Last Day, He will completely divide and separate [you] from the wicked world, the devil, death, [and] sin, . . . [Matthew 25:31–46; 13:24–30, 47–50].”[1]

          The authority and power of Jesus’ word, fulfilled in His perfect life, death, and resurrection, has accomplished salvation, freedom, and release from the oppression of sin, death, and the power of the devil for you and for all people. It was for this purpose that the Holy One of God became flesh and dwelt among us so that you and I might be set free from this bondage through the forgiveness of sin to have life forever with the Lord. It is the very Word of Christ that continues to be preached today that announces this very salvation to you. You are released from your sins with the Words of Absolution, which are the words of Jesus spoken to you by His called and ordained servant. You are released from your sins as you hear the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as your hear it read and preached. Through this Gospel Word, your Baptismal faith is strengthened so that you might be victorious over the consequences and effects of sin in this life, knowing that what awaits you in glory is life forever with God in perfect peace. Jesus offers this comfort until the completion of all things when we will enjoy together the fullness of the release that the Lord gives. He says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 ESV).

          Indeed, He has overcome the world, the devil, sin, and death itself. Jesus’ Word bestows on you the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life which His life, death, and resurrection won for you and for all people. In the certainness of faith, we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies,” (Rom.8:23) looking forward to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ when we will enjoy forever the complete freedom from all that would oppress us. Amen.

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

Sermon for Christmas Day, December 25, 2018

Luke 2:8-17 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Day)

“Bethlehem’s Lamb”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

December 25, 2018

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

Our text is from the Christmas Gospel recorded in Luke 2:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

The region surrounding Bethlehem was ideal for raising sheep. Not only was there good grazing land, but the hillsides contained numerous caves which could be used by shepherds for shelter. Furthermore, there was an excellent market in nearby Jerusalem for these sheep. Many of Bethlehem’s sheep were likely raised for sacrifice at the Temple. During the special festival days in Israel’s religious calendar, thousands of Jews would come to their holy city from all over the Roman Empire to offer sacrifices. Rather than transport their sacrificial lambs from distant homes, they would buy them in Jerusalem. By law, the sheep slated for sacrifice had to be without blemish or defect.  Thus the shepherds in the region of Bethlehem kept close watch over their special sheep. 

           Imagine with me the joy of a Bethlehem shepherd at the birth of a perfect male lamb. We know how adorable baby sheep are. This one is perfect in every way. The soft bleating pleases our ears. The shepherd rejoices to add this lamb to his flock. It will receive his love and care and protection. He will lead it to green pastures and let it drink by still waters. He will laugh as it romps and plays with the other lambs. All the while, he knows that the day is coming when this little lamb will be sacrificed at the Temple for the sins of the people. This lamb, without spot or blemish, when it is a year old, will be a Passover Lamb.

          What might it have been like to be a shepherd, raising lambs for sacrifice to God?  While shepherding was considered a menial task, would it not have been an honor to serve God and God’s people by caring for the sheep that would one day be offered as a sacrifice of atonement to cleanse the sins of the people? Under God’s first covenant, this sacrifice was completely necessary to cover over the breach between God and His people caused by sin. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22 ESV). Yet, there must have been a sense of sadness to know that you were raising lambs whose purpose in life was to die on behalf of people, shedding its blood so that they might receive forgiveness from God. 

          On a crowded night in the village of Bethlehem, the City of David, 2000 years ago, THE Lamb of God was born. No, this Lamb was not to be found out with the flocks and the shepherds. This Lamb was found, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn. This Lamb was the firstborn son of Mary, a virgin from Nazareth, who had conceived the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. This Lamb’s name was Jesus, true God who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). His purpose in life was ultimately to die on behalf of all people, to suffer the punishment for their sins, and to win forgiveness and eternal life for the world by the shedding His blood. 

          What must it have been like for Mary and Joseph when the Bethlehem shepherds arrived and shared their message with them? “The angel of the Lord appeared to us and told us good news of great joy that is for people everywhere. We have come to see the Savior, Christ the Lord! And here He is, lying in a manger, just as the angel told us!” Luke tells us that Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 

          What thoughts would have gone through Joseph and Mary’s minds as, on the eighth day, they named their child Jesus, the name given to them by God through the angel? “He will save His people from their sins.”  As they raised Jesus, the one John the Baptist would call the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” did they consider the words of Isaiah 53? “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . . he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.”

          What would it have been like for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus, the Savior of the world, who would give up His life as a sacrificial lamb for them and for all people? Did they feel the honor of serving God and God’s people by caring for the Son-of-God-Incarnate who would one day be offered on the altar of the cross for the sins of the people? Would they have experienced some of the feelings that the Bethlehem shepherds did as they watched a newborn lamb take its first steps, as the little lamb romped and played, as the lamb grew up, all the while looking to the lamb’s purpose, knowing what was to take place and that it was to die for sinful people? 

          The message of Christmas is that God loves you and me dearly, sinful people though we are.  We are flawed, lacking the perfection that God demands. We are flawed in our relationship with God which is broken by our sinfulness. Satan has turned us against God. He has planted selfishness, envy, self-righteousness, pride, lust, and arrogance in us. So many people, including you and me at times, trudge off, sad and lonely, trying to keep cheerful by numbing our minds with meaningless things because we think we can solve our own problems and cover up our sins and failures to do good. 

          But He sent forth Jesus to be the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb for your sins and mine. Jesus Christ was born for us. As God’s perfect Lamb, Jesus took on Himself all our imperfections, all our blemishes, and all our flaws. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter for us. As Jesus hung on the cross and bore the sins of the world, yours and mine included, God turned His face from His only Son. He turned in horror from His beloved one. He abandoned His Son on the cross because He was bearing the unholiness of all people. 

In this way, Jesus suffered the full punishment of hell for your sins and died in your place on the cross because God loves you dearly. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed,” Paul says (1Cor. 5:7). The Child of Mary once laid in a wooden manger suffered death on the wood of the cross, shedding His blood to make you clean from all sin and unrighteousness. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). By the blood of Jesus, you are forgiven. You are set free from sin, death, and Satan’s power. Covered in Christ’s blood and righteousness, there is nothing about you that God doesn’t like, nothing that is less than perfect in His eyes. Christ has been your Lamb, your substitute, taking your imperfections on Himself, and through faith, giving you His perfection and His holiness that makes you true children of God.

What joy filled the hearts of the shepherds that first Christmas as they heard the Good News and saw God’s promised Savior, the Lamb of God, lying in a manger! What joy filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph at this wondrous, miraculous birth! What joy the birth of Jesus gives to you and me! Celebrate, then, with the joy of the angels—“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!” Celebrate with the joy of the angelic hosts and the Church in heaven—“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). And celebrate with your brothers and sisters in Christ, with your families and friends, for to you is born a Savior, the true Lamb of God, who is Christ the Lord!  Amen

Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018

Luke 2:19 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Eve)

“We’ve Heard This Before”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 24, 2018

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

Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

          Last Tuesday I once again had the pleasure of leading the worship service at Parkway Pavilion nursing care facility. Naturally, the service theme was “Christmas.” We sang several of the beloved hymns of Christmas just like we are doing here today/tonight. We heard the Christmas Gospel from Luke 2, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us’” (Lk. 2:6-15 ESV).

          Then it was it time for the sermon. I told the worshipers gathered that Christmas was only one week away and, for a preacher, that’s not good. It is not good because, at Christmas, we hear the same Biblical text year after year after year. Whether we are reading it from our Bibles, Christmas storybooks, or watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, we know the account of the birth of Jesus. There’s no surprise to it. There’s no plot twist. Just the same “we’ve all heard this before” Christmas story. And for the preacher, that’s not good. How do you proclaim the message of Christmas again, one more time, in a way that the people find engaging? How do you preach the Christmas story in a way that your hearers find it relevant without the silent groans in their head, “we’ve heard this before”? For us, then, who know the Biblical account of Christmas and the birth of Jesus which we hear every year, how do we get away from the mentality of “we’ve heard this before, ho-hum, hum-ho”?

          Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt.” I wonder if a version of this happens with us regarding the texts of Scripture that we have come to know so well. I don’t believe that we have “contempt” for God’s Word in the form of hatred for it, but rather “contempt” in the sense that it simply is no longer important. If I asked you to say the Lord’s Prayer as quickly as possible, you could do it. You wouldn’t even have to think about the words since they would just roll off your tongue. But does that happen when we actually pray the Lord’s Prayer? Do we fail to take those God-given words to heart and to pray them from the heart rather than from our heads via rote memory? Is this perhaps how we might receive the God-given account of the birth of His One-of-a-Kind Son in human flesh? (Read quickly without emotion:) “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child” (Lk. 2:1-6 ESV). Ho-hum, hum-ho. Been there, done that.

          The words can just roll off our tongues whether they are the words of Luke 2, Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed. We fail always to think about the texts that we are so familiar with that we end up, in a very real way, disregarding them as significant or important for our lives in the here-and-now. What can move us, then, away from the attitude that we’ve heard all this before? Why, the very text of God’s Word itself!

          Now then, there is Mary, at the end of a very long nine-months—from the message of Gabriel announcing to her that the Son of God would be made flesh in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit until the time the shepherds had departed from them to share the Good News of the birth of the Savior of the world. And look what the Lord reveals in His Word that she does. She “treasured up all these things” and “pondered them in her heart.” One commentator suggests that what Mary treasured in her heart was that the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, was the God-given sign of the Christ, whose birth signals glory in heaven and peace on earth. Mary carefully kept in mind and preserved in her memory the Word of God through the angel Gabriel, the Word of God shared with her by the shepherds who received it from an angel of the Lord and the whole heavenly army. This is the work of God the Holy Spirit in her. He brought God’s Word of promise to her that first Christmas even as by His overshadowing power the Spirit had placed the Word-made-flesh within her womb so that Jesus would be born as our Lord and Savior.

          Christmas Eve, then, can be a time for us also to stop what we are doing for a moment. It’s a time to pause from all of our Advent preparations, a time to set aside the gifts and the giving, the decorations and lights, the cookies and the goodies. Today/tonight is a time to carefully keep in mind God’s Word of promise in Jesus, pondering with heartfelt thought about “all these things.”

          What are “these things” for us? They are the incarnation, that God the Son became fully human by the power of the Spirit in Mary’s womb. He was born in Bethlehem, His first bed a manger. The Son of God “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of people” (Phil. 2:7). I’ve used the illustration before, but it bears repeating. Author C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, Mere Christianity, “Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well, suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man. It would involve turning the tin into flesh. And suppose the tin soldier did not like it. He is not interested in flesh; all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt. . . . He will not be made into a man if he can help it. What you would have done about that tin soldier I do not know. But what God did about us was this. The Second Person [of the Trinity,] God the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many [pounds]. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”

          We treasure and ponder that it was “for us” that the Son of God humbled Himself and became flesh and blood. His love compelled Him to take our place as a man under God’s Law which we have all failed to keep. In our place, Jesus kept all of God’s commandments perfectly. What He accomplished in His perfect life He gives you and me the credit for, just as if we had done so ourselves. Then in a great exchange, having given to us His righteousness, holiness, and perfection, Jesus took our sins and failures to fear, love, and trust in God, all our failings to love our neighbors, as if they were His sins. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8-9).

          Claiming our sinfulness and rebellion against God as His own, Jesus took them all the way to the cross. Nailed upon the cross, Jesus bled and suffered our hell and the punishment of God’s wrath in our place so that we might not ever experience it. Jesus died for us so that we might live forever with our sins completely forgiven. “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7 ESV). And you know what that means. By God’s grace through saving faith in Jesus, you are made holy. You are right with God. He is not angry with you. Nothing can separate you from Him and His love for you in Jesus. Eternal life is yours. The proof is in your Baptism where you were first marked with the sign of the holy cross upon your forehead and upon your heart. The water and the Word washed away your sins and gifted to you eternal life in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That gift of faith is regularly nurtured through the hearing of the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And the very Savior who took on human flesh and blood, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who died on the cross, rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven comes to you in His incarnate body and blood with the bread and wine. In Holy Communion, Christ, the God-Man, comes to you, truly present with His body and blood, and gives you the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your Baptismal faith.

          All this we know and believe because of the Words and Promises of God in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. God the Holy Spirit brings us these Words and Promises so that we might hear them over and over again, and in hearing them, we treasure them and ponder them as the gifts of God to us that they truly are. Yes, we’ve heard all this before! And thanks be to God that we will hear it again and again! They are His Words of life and salvation to you, His people, through which He delivers to you saving faith in Jesus, daily granting you the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation!

          I don’t know how I’m going to proclaim the message of Christmas again, one more time, in a way that the people find engaging. They’ve all heard it before. Perhaps this year they can pause together, hear the Word of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, and along with Mary, treasure up all these things, pondering them in their hearts. Then, as they go on their way with sins forgiven and the new life of faith in Christ, they might rejoice and praise God for all the things they have heard this day/night. Amen.

Sermon for September 25, 2016


Luke 16:19-31 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 21—Series C)


“Hearing Moses and the Prophets”


Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT


September 25, 2016




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



Our text is the Gospel appointed for the day, recorded in Luke 16:




19Now there was a certain rich man and he clothed himself in purple and fine linen. He enjoyed himself splendidly every day. 20Now a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21and he longed to be filled from what fell from the rich man’s table. Yet the dogs came and licked his sores. 22And it happened that the poor man died and he was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you received your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things. Now he is comforted here, but you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who wish to go through from here to you are not able, nor should they cross over from that place to us.” 27Then he said, “I beg you, Father, that you should send him to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers, so that he might bear witness to them so that they also should not come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them.” 30But he said, “No Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead should go to them, they will repent.” 31And he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”




           Within the next several weeks, members of Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer will receive their annual stewardship letter and pledge card. I’m not always sure what produces more audible groans, the word “stewardship” or “pledge card.” Neither one really should, but we have this strange aversion in the church to these things. This distaste has to do, more often than not, with a misunderstanding of who we are as Christians and what our God-given responsibilities are. And much of that misunderstanding has to do with ownership. 


          The opening verse of Psalm 24 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1 ESV). We read in Haggai, chapter 2, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). The Word of God teaches us that God is the owner of everything. All of creation and everything in creation belongs to Him. That means what we each call “mine” really isn’t “mine.” “Stewardship” means managing something on behalf of the actual owner. Christian stewardship is managing all that belongs to God on His behalf and using it as God wants it to be used.


You and I, then, are to use everything in creation according to God’s wishes because it all belongs to Him. But how do we know what those wishes are? We hear “Moses and the Prophets.” “Moses and the Prophets” means the Scriptures. Jesus used this phrase as a reference to what we call the Old Testament, God’s Word to His people written down by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through Moses and the other writers, predominantly the Prophets. Now, you and I are blessed to live on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection so we have the New Testament as well. The Holy Bible—both Old and New Testaments—is God’s full and complete revelation to us about our salvation from sin and death through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. It is in these Holy Scriptures that God also reveals to us how we are to go about caring for His creation and using His possessions. The Bible tells us how God desires that we use money, possessions, time, abilities, and even our very lives.


          We learn from the Bible what the use of God’s things should look like. Isaiah 58, “Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, . . .  cover him” (Isa. 58:7 ESV). The prophet Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8 ESV). In Jesus’ End Times discourse in Matthew we read, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’” (Matt. 25:34-36 ESV). James the brother of our Lord shares this, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas. 1:27 ESV).


          Of course, these are just a few examples of how we are to manage the things of God on His behalf. Failure to do these things which show love and mercy to others would be a failure to use the things of God the way He wants them to be used. This would also demonstrate a failure to listen to “Moses and the Prophets,” a failure to be both hearers and doers of God’s Word (James 1:22). And we know what this failure looks like from Jesus’ parable today. There’s a rich man who is really, really rich. How rich is he? He’s so rich, that he can afford very costly purple garments and the finest of linens. How rich is he? He’s so rich that he enjoys himself splendidly every day—every day is a humungous feast! Now, what does this son of Abraham do with the things of God that have been entrusted to his care? Takes care of himself. Thinks only of himself. He doesn’t show love for God or for his neighbor who is the poor beggar Lazarus, the one who was at the front gate of his expensive mansion-like-compound every day. The rich man’s failure to be a hearer and doer of the Word is so bad that when he dies and goes to hell he continues only to think of himself, asking if Lazarus might cool his tongue with some water.


          Jesus’ target audience, the Pharisees, like us, had “Moses and the Prophets.” It was the very Word of God that showed them His heartfelt desire that people show love and mercy to others by using the things over which the Lord made them managers according to His Word. Jesus’ parable was a big message to the Pharisees, who we are told, were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). The Scriptures told them that God desired them to use money and possession to love others and show mercy to others. They did not. The only conclusion for the Pharisees was this: if they didn’t stop scoffing at Jesus’ preaching about hypocrisy and the proper use of the things God had entrusted to them, they would find themselves with the rich man in eternal torment.


That’s an important message for you and me as well. Misuse of God’s possessions—money, talent, time, things—indicates that we have not always heard Moses and the Prophets. And we have not always been faithful hearers and doers of God’s Word. We have failed to always love God and do what He desires us to do . . . love our neighbors with mercy using His possessions to help and support them in every need.


So what is God to do? He should punish us with death and eternal torment in the fires of hell. But He chose to have mercy on us. He sent His One-of-a-Kind Son, true God, to become a man. “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). Jesus, the owner of everything, gave up His throne in heaven and took on our human flesh. He lived in poverty. His earthly life was dependent on the care of others. In His earthly life, Jesus demonstrated the love and mercy which He desires His people to have in the use of time, talents, treasures, and possessions as He served the poor, the widow, the tax-collector, and the sinners. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus confirmed His Word recorded in “Moses and the Prophets” as to how believers are to be stewards and managers of the Lord’s possessions. Jesus’ the Word-Made-Flesh lived His Word with His words and actions.


But it wasn’t enough for Jesus simply to model or to be an example. He came to be the Savior of those who fail to always hear and do the Scriptures. He came to be the Savior of those who have failed to always use what belongs to Godin accordance with His desires—to show love and mercy to others. For that sinful failure and for all our other sins, Jesus was nailed to a cross. He suffered God’s punishment of death and hell for us on the cross so that we would not have to face the torment and the fires of eternal damnation. Jesus shed His blood to purchase our complete forgiveness and eternal life.


As forgiven “new creations” in Christ Jesus, we now have the power of the Gospel at work in us through God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper, empowers Christian stewardship which is really just Christian living. The Spirit enkindles and increases the hearing and the doing of God’s Word in our lives as we live as managers of God’s things. We really are able, then, to regularly go to God’s Word, to hear His desires for how we are to use the Lord’s things, and then actually use them that way. We use His money, possessions, time, abilities, all His gifts in showing love and mercy to our neighbors as they have need. 


In our life of faith and love that God has given us in Jesus Christ, you and I search out opportunities to use what belongs to God in acts of mercy on behalf of our neighbors. We give monetary gifts in Jesus’ name to our congregation to support the ministry of the Word and the outreach and human care opportunities that we have in our community. There are volunteer opportunities within the congregation and in our town. There are opportunities to share food and drink, clothes, and personal care items. There are chances to mow someone’s lawn, rake leaves, and shovel snow. There are moments to read a book to someone whose eyesight has dimmed or who is blind. As we consider our congregation as a group of managers of God’s gifts, especially the gift of the Gospel, how will we, in accordance with His Word and will, use the Lord’s things in the year to come, in the next five years? Likely, there won’t be something as obvious as a “Lazarus” laid at our doorstep, but with much prayer and time spent hearing “Moses and the Prophets,” we will discern God’s will for us in matters of both congregational and individual stewardship.


May God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit grant us His blessing as we, His people, with faith in Christ, seek to grow and become ever more faithful stewards who show love and mercy to those in need. Amen.


Sermon for September 18, 2016

1 Timothy 2:1-7 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 20—Series C)

“Prayers for All People”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 18, 2016


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

Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Timothy 2:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.


          “The Prayer of the Church is so long. We stand there while prayers are said for the government and the military, for the poor and the needy, the hungry and homeless, for schools and communities, for the victims of natural disasters, for the sick and dying. It seems like the special intercession list never gets any shorter; it only gets longer.  Why do we have to pray for so many people and situations? Why do we have to pray for people I don’t know? Why do we have to pray for people I don’t even care about?” 

          Have you ever felt that way about the Prayer of the Church? By the time we get to the prayers the worship service is about ¾ over. You know you’re getting close to the end of the service and you are maybe thinking about getting on with the rest of the day. If the prayers were shorter, we would get to communion faster, and if we get to communion faster, church will be over sooner and we can move on to the other things we want to do with our day. 

          I once heard a story about a prayer group in a congregation. They wanted to get together and pray for the congregation, the world, and those in need. They opened up their group to requests from the congregation and the congregation gave them prayer requests—a whole lot of them—for people in the church, for friends in Florida, for an uncle in Arizona, for a neighbor’s son in the Marines, for this, for that, and for the other. At the prayer meeting, one of the members was heard to say, “This list for prayers is too long. We’ll be here way over the half-hour we had planned. We need to put a limit on who people can request prayers for, just members of our church, and nobody else. We don’t have that kind of time to include all these extra people and situations.”

          If Christian congregations do not pray for the world, who will? If individual believers in Jesus Christ, you and me, do not pray for people, who will? 

          God in His mercy and grace desires that all people should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. It is God’s longing that every person comes to know his or her sinful, lost condition, to realize their helplessness to change that condition, and to repent of their sins by the power of the Holy Spirit while trusting in faith that Jesus Christ is their only Savior from sin, Satan, and death. All of humanity is on the Lord’s radar screen for forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. Not one individual is ever left out from God’s free offer of grace, mercy, and peace in Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom, not just for some people or certain people, but for all people

          “Ransom” is a word that evokes the image of the marketplace, particularly the slave market. The ransom was the price paid to purchase a servant or slave from indenture or slavery. Jesus is the One who came to pay the price for securing freedom for those in slavery to sin, death, and the devil. Jesus Christ Himself is also the price paid, the ransom price required to secure our freedom.

Picture yourself, and all other people, as helpless slaves, chained in the marketplace on the town green, standing on the auction block with no hope of freedom. For all you know, you will be purchased by an evil taskmaster as bad as the one in whose chains you now stand. Amazingly, along comes Jesus. He takes His place among you and the rest of the slaves. He fully identifies with all of you as He becomes one of you.  Then He pays the price for your freedom, and incredibly, the price is His own life. Jesus’ precious blood is poured out on the auction block of the cross. What a powerful image! You look up and there stands Jesus, giving Himself for you, standing in your chains, shedding His blood for you, buying your freedom and the freedom of everyone else in the whole world.  “You are all free!” the auctioneer says. “The price has been paid.” The eternally valuable blood of Christ, the priceless perfection of His obedience in life and in death, and the precious treasury of His merit on the cross—this was the payment to buy freedom for you and for the entire world, freedom from all sins, from death, and from the power of Satan.[1] 

But not all people receive the gift of this freedom in Jesus Christ. Not all people are saved from their sins, from death, and from the devil’s power. It’s not because their forgiveness and freedom have not been acquired for them by Jesus. It’s not because their forgiveness and freedom are not available to them through the Gospel. Not all people are saved because not all people want the free gift won for them by Jesus. They reject the Gospel truth of God’s Word and the free gifts of forgiveness and life purchased and won for them by Jesus. People resist the working of the Holy Spirit through that Gospel Word. Tragically, those who reject saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord also throw away the privilege to call upon the one, true God in prayer. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ may pray to God and expect to be heard. Only Christians and the Christian Church—believers in Jesus Christ—can effectively pray. 

Christians owe it all to Christ that we can approach God in prayer, presenting our requests before Him. Only when a person trusts in the merits of the Savior who won our forgiveness will our prayers touch the heart of God. We read in our Lutheran Confessions that “prayer relies upon God’s mercy, when we believe that we are heard for Christ’s sake. He is our High Priest, as He Himself says, ‘Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it’ (John 14:13-14). Without this High Priest, we cannot approach the Father” (Ap. AC V 212). And that’s what we read in our Epistle text, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” For this reason, the prayers of unbelievers, however sincere, are altogether in vain. Before a person can truly pray to God, he or she must trust in Christ alone as their one mediator.

This, then, brings us back to the questions of the day. If Christian congregations do not pray for the world, who will? If individual believers in Jesus Christ, you and I, do not pray for people, who will? The answer is no one. Christians, the Church, we are the ones who alone can come before God to pray for unbelievers (the world), and expect to be heard for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Mediator.

Because Jesus died for all people so that all people might be saved, Christians respond to His great love and grace in their lives by praying for all people. Because it is good and pleasing to God who commands us so to pray, we offer requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people. We pray for our governmental leaders as authorities instituted by God who deserve our honor and respect even if we are in disagreement with them. We pray for the sick and dying, for the needy, the lonely, and the hurting. We pray for the high and the low in society, for the good and the evil. We Christians must do this, not just for one another in the household of faith, but especially for the non-believers. All people, but especially those who do not know Christ as their Savior, need the prayers of the Church, the very people who have the “ear” of God and are heard by Him because we have received the gift of faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

No one else can pray for people like you can because you are a Christian. No other group of people can pray like you can as a Christian congregation. You have the honor and privilege of praying not only for the Church but also for those outside the Church, for the world and all people according to their needs. What an awesome responsibility God has entrusted to you! What a joyful task we have as individuals, as prayer groups, as a congregation, to take the time to pray for all people. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes, how much time it uses up in our day, because our prayers are of eternal value. We are praying for many who cannot pray for themselves and their own needs since they do not confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. We are praying for many who cannot pray for their own salvation. So we pray that they too might come to the knowledge of the truth of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Gospel.   

So maybe the Prayer of the Church isn’t too long after all. Perhaps the special intercession list ought to get longer. After all, we get to pray for so many people and situations! We get to pray for people we don’t know, for people we don’t like or perhaps even care about. We are privileged to pray for people who don’t yet know Jesus Christ by faith!  ‘Cause if we don’t, who will?  Amen.   


[1] Illustration taken from Just Words by Jacob A.O. Preus, St. Louis: Concordia, 2000.