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Sermon for July 8, 2018

Mark 6:7-13 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 9—Series B)

“Proclaiming Repentance”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 8, 2018

 

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

 

Our text is the Gospel lesson appointed for today recorded in Mark 6:

 

7And [Jesus] called together the Twelve and He began to send them out with a commission two by two and He gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8And He ordered them that they should take nothing on the way except only a staff—not bread, not a leather pouch, not money for their belts—9but shod with sandals and not to wear two tunics. 10And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, remain there until you go out from there. 11And whatever place does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 12And as they went out, they preached that people should repent now. 13And they threw out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

 

          According to Grammarist.com, “The adjective immoral means contrary to established moral principles. Immoral actions are corrupt, unethical, sinful, or just wrong. Amoral means (1) neither moral nor immoral, or (2) lacking moral sensibility. So while immoral and amoral might share a little common ground, there is a clear distinction: immoral things are bad, and amoral things are either neutral from a moral perspective or simply removed from moral considerations.”[1] Even a superficial study of our culture and society will reveal that you and I are living not in an immoral culture, but a culture that is amoral. Things are simply removed from moral consideration because the culture says that there is no absolute truth. All truth, then, is relative. It’s my truth and your truth. “Truth” is whatever an individual says it is.

          This has developed a society and culture without moral standards, with no moral compass. There is no absolute “right” and “wrong.” If I say that this behavior is “wrong,” the culture counters and says, “In your truth it is wrong, but in my truth it is right. Therefore, it is right for me and is okay and you can’t say otherwise because, in our world, all truth is subjective and relative.” It is a refrain from the Book of Judges once again, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg. 17:6 ESV).

          It is in the midst of this amoral culture that the Church continues the mission given to her by her Lord Jesus Christ. We as the Church in this place live and serve a culture and society in which homosexual AND heterosexual immorality run rampant: unchecked lust for sexual pleasures, the use of pornography (which according to a June 5 Gallup poll 43% of Americans say is morally acceptable). Men have sex with men and women with women. Men and women are having sex with each other, with multiple partners, outside the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman until death us do part.

But amoral sexuality isn’t the only issue. People are filled with hate for other people. People lie and gossip about each other. They boast about themselves, are all puffed up, “I’m better than you are.” Murder, rage, cheating, stealing, putting other people down so that you get ahead, “It’s nothing personal; it’s just business.” In a culture with no moral compass and no moral standard, look at what you get! Do you like what you see and hear in our society? How many of you regularly tell me that you can’t watch the news anymore because of the condition of the culture and the amoral life that society has chosen to live?

What, then, shall we, the Church, say to these things? “Well, it’s okay, to each his or her own”? “Live and let live?” That’s not being any different from the culture and society that we have been called out from to be the Church. St. Paul in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world.” The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:14, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” What, then, shall we say to the people in our culture? How about, “Repent, now!”

Oh, no! We couldn’t! That just wouldn’t be right. They would get upset and offended if we said that their “truth” wasn’t really the truth. Repent, now? No, we just can’t.

But we must.

Whether or not somebody believes it personally, there is an absolute and objective reality and truth. That truth is that the reign and rule of God has broken into a world of sin to undo what the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh have done and to save people from sin and eternal death. Mark’s Gospel begins with this very truth. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The due time is fulfilled, and the reign and rule of God has drawn near and is now hand; repent and believe in the gospel, now”’ (Mk. 1:14-15). Jesus in Mark 6 commissions the Twelve to go out in His name and preach that people should repent now and trust in the gracious reign and rule of God that has come in the person and work of Jesus. That same commission belongs to all believers in Jesus as He sends us out into the world in order to make disciples by baptizing and teaching all the things He has commanded us. And that includes repentance.

“Repent” implies that sin, a wrong, has occurred and that a change, literally, a turning around, must take place. Sin is literally “to miss the mark.” It is to “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Think of playing a game of darts. You want to hit the bulls-eye. “Missing the mark” isn’t missing to the right or the left of the bulls-eye. It isn’t missing above or below. “Missing the mark” means your dart didn’t even make it to the board. It fell short, on the ground, in front of the board. So all people fall short before God. We sin. We do the wrong He has commanded us in His Word not to do. We fail to do the good which He desires. All people have missed the mark and the penalty isn’t a poor score. It’s eternal death in hell.

So we ALL need to be brought to repentance, now. But you might say to yourself, “Who am I to call another person to repentance?” You are a baptized Christian with a commission to make disciples. You are a baptized Christian with a God-given mission to bring to those who need to come under the reign and rule of God in Christ the message of HIS Word, the message of Law and Gospel, of sin and grace.

As Christians, we in the Church must call sin what God’s Word has called sin. God’s Word defines what “missing the mark” is, not the pastor, not the people. Sin isn’t a matter of my opinion or yours. God’s Word tells us what is sinful and what is not. HE sets the standard. HE sets the morality because it is HIS Word. And we find those do’s and don’ts, shoulds and should nots in His Word summarized in the Ten Commandments. Why are homosexuality and heterosexual sex outside of the marriage of one man and one woman sinful? Because it’s tradition? No! Because God’s Word says it is. Why is gossiping wrong? Because I say so? No! Because God’s Word says it is. Why is hurting my neighbor and failing to show him or her love and mercy wrong? Because it’s not nice? No! Because God’s Word says it is.

It is that Word of God’s Law that the Church must proclaim to people. If we do not know our condition and standing before the Holy God, what need do we have to be saved? But when we hear God’s Word that shows our sins, our “missing the mark,” we are crushed. We are brought low and realize that “I am not as God would have me to be. I have to become a different person.”[2]

That’s what it means to proclaim repentance. It means to present God’s Word of Law in such a way that the hearer says, “That’s me! I’ve missed the mark. I have sinned and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment. I deserve death and hell! What am I going to do?” When that question gets asked, it is then time for the precious Gospel to be heard. “You aren’t going to do anything. Jesus, God’s Son, has already done everything necessary to save you from your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He died on a cross for you bearing all your sins and the sins of the whole world. Nailed to the cross, Jesus bore in His own body homosexual and heterosexual lust and immorality, gossip, hatred, lies, murders, theft, failure to love and to show mercy. All sins, every last one, Jesus bore as if they were His own as He suffered death and hell itself on the cross, paying the full penalty on your behalf. Receive as a gift the Gospel of the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life now!”

This is what it is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name to “all nations” (Lk. 24:47). We call other sinners into repentance even as we are called so that they might know what they are before God and acknowledge that they are lost, just as we confess about ourselves. They are in this way prepared to receive grace and to expect and accept from Christ the forgiveness of sins, just as we do through His Gospel and Sacraments. This preaching of repentance is what we do as the Church as we replicate Jesus’ ministry in our day and to our culture so that many more people might be brought under the gracious reign and rule of God’s kingdom.

But what if we are rejected? Better, what happens WHEN we are rejected? We follow the example given to the Twelve. Jesus knew then and He knows now that not all will receive the Good News of His forgiveness and life. They will choose to remain in their sin and unbelief. They will toss aside His Word of truth. They will reject His messengers—you and me—perhaps even with mocking, anger, offense, hatred, or with violence. Yet, trusting that the Lord of the Church, Jesus, goes with us in the power of the Holy Spirit, we proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in the precious name of Jesus. And when rejection comes, we simply in our own hearts and minds “shake off the dust from our feet.” We move on, knowing that those who will not hear are without the reign and rule of God in Jesus, but with a prayer that they might hear again the Word and their hearts be turned by the Spirit to receive faith and life in Christ.

Such is the mission of Christ’s Church on earth. It is the mission of this congregation of saints in Christ. We hear the Law and confess our sins. By the power of the Spirit, we are turned in repentance and faith receiving forgiveness and eternal life through the Gospel of Jesus in Word and Sacrament. Then we go. We go and proclaim with our lips the Word of truth, the Gospel of salvation. We announce repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. That’s the mission. The Lord of the Church through His Spirit will do the rest. Amen.  

 

[1] Grammarist. “Amoral vs. Immoral.” Accessed July 3, 2018, http://grammarist.com/usage/amoral-immoral.

[2] C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel: A Reader’s Edition (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010), 91.

Sermon for July 1, 2018

Mark 5:21-43 (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 8—Series B)

“The Great Physician”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 1, 2018

 

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

 

Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 5:

 

21And after Jesus again crossed over in the boat to the other side a great crowd gathered together about Him, and He was beside the sea. 22And one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, came and, when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23and pleaded with Him a lot, saying, “My little daughter is dying. [I ask] that you come and lay your hands on her in order that she might be healed/saved and live.” 24And he went with her. And a great crowd began to follow Him and began to press against Him. 25And a woman who had a flow of blood twelve years 26and had suffered much at the hand of many physicians and had spent all that she had and without being helped at all, but rather had gotten worse, 27when she heard about Jesus, having come in the crowd from behind, touched his outer garment, 28for she was saying, “If I should touch even His clothing, I will be healed/saved.” 29And immediately her flow of blood dried up and she knew in her body that she was healed from her affliction. 30And immediately, Jesus, when He recognized in Himself that power had gone out from Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothing?” 31And his disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, “Who touched me?” 32And He kept looking around to see the woman who had done this. 33And the woman, becoming afraid and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed/saved you. Go into peace and be healthy from your affliction.” 35While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the ruler of the synagogue saying, “Your daughter has died. Why do you still bother the teacher?” 36But Jesus, upon overhearing the word as it was spoken, say to the ruler of the synagogue, “Stop being afraid. Only believe.” 37And He did not allow anyone to follow along with Him except Peter and James and John, the brother of James. 38And they came into the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and He observed an uproar and [people who were] weeping and crying a lot, 39and upon entering He said to them, “Why are you making an uproar and weeping? The child has not died but is sleeping.” 40And they began to laugh Him to scorn. But He, upon throwing them all out, took the father of the child and the mother and those who were with him and He went into where the child was. 41And upon grasping the hand of the child, He said to her, “Talitha koum,” which is interpreted, “Little girl, to you I say,  ‘Arise.'” 42And immediately the little girl arose and began to walk around, for she was twelve years old. And they were greatly amazed immediately. 43And He gave them a lot of express orders that no one should know this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.

 

          Dr. Martin Luther was a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. He was a lecturer, especially in the Old Testament. In his lectures on Genesis 3, the Great Reformer taught, “let us not minimize this evil which human nature has contracted as a result of the sin of our first parents; rather let us emphasize it. Then we shall both regret deeply this state of ours and have a profound longing for Christ, our Physician, who was sent by the Father to heal those evils which Satan brought upon us through sin, and to restore us to the eternal glory which we had lost.”[1] In today’s Gospel text, we see the request of faith that Jesus do this very thing—heal those evils which the devil brought upon us through sin and restore to us eternal glory.

          Three times we encounter the word sw,|zw (sōzō) which means “to heal” and “to save.” There is more going on with this word than simply “to be made well,” as we read it in the English Standard Version. When sw,|zw is used in the way in which St. Mark uses it here, it denotes salvation in a wider sense than simple healing. There are more external results including the rescue from sin and from the forces of evil, salvation from all that is opposed to the gracious reign and rule of God.

          In Mark 5, the ultimate need is to be saved from death. Jairus’ little daughter was literally “having her end.” She, at the age of 12, was dying. About the time this girl was born, an unnamed woman began to have a bleeding problem. She paid the doctors all that she had, but to no avail. Instead of getting better, she was getting worse. Likely there were medical complications from this worsening flow of blood—anemia? physical weakness? dizziness? Was her physical death getting closer because of this bleeding? I think it’s likely. But she also endured death in a different way. Her bleeding caused her to be ceremonially unclean, unfit for worship, unfit to be a part of the community of Israel. She would have been ostracized, cut off from the community, to suffer and ultimately to die alone.

          And what is it that both seek from Jesus? To be saved. Jairus pleaded a lot with Jesus, “I ask that you come and lay your hands on her in order that she might be healed/saved and live.” The woman with the flow of blood was saying, “If I should touch even His clothing, I will be healed/saved.” Both longed for Jesus to heal/save them from the evils that had fallen upon them as a consequence of sin. They sought restoration in body and soul as well as restoration to the community and to the family of God.

          Do we not seek the same salvation? What evils have been brought upon us by sin? What choices have we made contrary to the Word of God that have led to us harming ourselves and causing hurt to others? How has our sin affected our relationships with our spouses and children, our relationships with our siblings? What failures to love our neighbors have hurt and harmed them in their body because of our lack of love and mercy? Consider also the effects and consequences of living in a world that is corrupted, a fallen creation, bodies subject to disease and pain, the changes and chances of life over which we have no control.

          Would it not be so foolish of us to ask, “What do I need to be saved from?” Look around. Look at yourself, at your life, at your physical and spiritual, mental and emotional condition. Have you no need for the healing and salvation of Jesus Christ? How foolish to think so. And how equally foolish not to look to Jesus with trust in the heart to grant us salvation-healing from sin and its consequences. “Why do you still bother the teacher?” they asked when they came to tell Jairus of his daughter’s death. Bother the teacher? Yes, bother Him in faith always. “Stop being afraid. Only believe!” commanded Him who rebuked the wind and made the sea calm. Jesus can be trusted to accomplish salvation for us in body and soul.

          The woman with the flow of blood trusted with faith in Him. She didn’t need or want a big show, no razzle-dazzle, just a touch of His clothes was enough to bring her health and salvation. And she trusted that. And Jesus confirmed that trust, “Daughter, your faith has brought you into a condition of healing and salvation now. Go into peace and be healthy from your affliction.” Could Jairus’ similarly trust? Could the gift of faith in Jesus bring him into a condition of healing and salvation now? Of course! “Little girl, to you I say, ‘Arise.’” And immediately she arose and walked around! Stop being afraid. Only believe! The reign and rule of God had come to this woman, to this father, daughter, and mother!—salvation and health in the fullest sense of life and restoration, not only in body, but in body and soul. Jesus undid the work of sin and death. He brought life and health. As the hymnwriter said, “If you are sick, if death is near, This truth your troubled heart can cheer: Christ Jesus saves your soul from death; That is the firmest ground of faith” (LSB 571:5).

          Faith alone saves. It is the key to entering and being under God’s gracious reign and rule. Romans 1:17, “For in [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Full salvation unto life is what Jesus and His gracious actions are all about. Full health and salvation from sin, death, and the devil is what Jesus purchased and won for you on the cross. Before His last breath, Jesus cried out “Tetelestai!” “It stands finished now and forever.” Jesus’ saving work is done—forgiveness of all sins is a reality. Salvation and health from sin is your gift by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). You are made heirs of salvation and given the gift of everlasting life in resurrected body and soul in the reign and rule of God that will come in its fullness at Christ’s return on the Last Day. There is nothing left you to do in terms of saving-health. It was all won for you by Christ on the cross. Forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours—a gift of God’s grace received by the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ. “Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor . . . Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer” (LSB 555:1).

          Christ is our Great Physician of soul and body. By His cross and resurrection He has healed us from those evils which Satan brought upon us through sin with the forgiveness of sins won for us by His blood. By grace through faith and trust in His saving work, we have been restored to the eternal glory which we had lost in the Fall into sin. Salvation—saving health—from sin and death is ours. It is full and complete in Jesus, a salvation that brings us into peace—peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, peace in His eternal presence in a new creation where we will live with Him forevermore under His reign and rule without fear. Amen.

 

         

 

 

         

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 143–144.

Sermon for June 24, 2018

Mark 4:35-41 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 7—Series B)

“When You Think God Doesn’t Care, Think Again”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

June 24, 2018

 

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

 

Our text today is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 4:

 

35And [Jesus] said to them on that day when evening had come, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took Him along in the boat just as He was, and other boats were with Him. 37And a great windstorm arose and the waves were thrown over into the boat so that the boat was already filling. 38And He was in the stern asleep on the cushion. And they roused Him and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” 39And after He was awakened, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Be silent! Put a muzzle on it and stay that way!” And the wind stopped and there was a great calm. 40And He said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still have no faith?” 41And they feared a great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

 

           What image best illustrates your life at this point in time? A great calm or a windstorm with the waves thrown over into your boat? In this life, we certainly experience both. And Jesus reveals to us the loving care of our God and Father in both times of calm and storm.

          There are many moments in life when we feel like the disciples felt. They were in a very real boat in a very real windstorm on the very real Sea of Galilee. The wind had kicked up so much that the waves were thrown over the sides, filling the fishing boat with water. But Jesus was sleeping through it! I wonder how that was possible with the waves getting Him wet at they broke over the sides of the boat. His sleep must have been the deep sleep of exhaustion. (This reveals much about the true humanity of Jesus.) So regardless of the windstorm, Jesus slept.

          Now in the Bible, there is another story of someone who slept in a storm at sea. His name was Jonah (which is what we are studying in Bible class on Sunday mornings). Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord, boarding a ship to flee to Tarshish. God hurled a wind on the Mediterranean Sea so that there was a great storm. It was such a storm that Jonah 1:4 says, “As a result, the ship thought itself to be broken.” The sailors started praying to their gods. They threw the ship’s gear overboard in order to placate their god of the sea, Yamm. “But Jonah went down to the innermost recesses of the ship, lay down, and fell into a deep sleep. So the captain approached him and said to him, “What are you doing in a deep sleep? Arise, call to your God; perhaps that God of yours will show compassion toward us so that we will not perish” (Jonah 1:5b-6).

          Both Jesus and Jonah slept in a storm. Both Jonah and Jesus were accused of not caring. “Jonah, don’t you care that we’re in this storm and Yamm isn’t listening to us. Get up, pray to your God and maybe He’ll listen.”

          “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing!”

          The similarities end here. Jonah didn’t care, not one bit. Jesus, on the other hand, did care. But it didn’t look like it from the disciples’ perspective.

          When you are going through what we’ll call “life’s storms,” what is your perspective on Jesus? “Life’s storms” could include any number of troubles, sufferings, heartaches, diseases, and fears—anything that makes us feel like we’re in a tiny boat on the Sea of Galilee with the waves crashing over the sides into our lives. The disciples in the very real storm were afraid of dying. That fear of death is ours too. We might ask ourselves, “Will this situation actually kill me? I don’t think I’m going to survive this.” Grief, medical concerns and health issues, mental and emotional troubles, addictions, conflict, relationship difficulties—the waves are pouring over the sides. What is the outcome going to be? You are going through the closest thing to hell on earth that you can imagine and Jesus, from your perspective, is asleep. “Do you care?” you ask. To which Jesus responds, “Don’t you trust Me?”

          Well, yes, but . . .

          The disciples in the boat with Jesus DO think that Jesus is special and can help. Why else would they wake Him up, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Implied here is, “If you really care, do something!” Now they have a saving faith—they follow Jesus, listen to Him, and come to Him for help. But the disciples do not yet have a faith that rests confidently in Jesus as does St. Paul who says in Philippians 4:13 that he is strong with respect to all things in Jesus who strengthens him. The disciples do wonder about their welfare, even though the Lord is present with them in the boat. And you and I are not really that different.

          We do have a saving faith. It is God’s gift to us by means of the water and the Word in Holy Baptism. It is a faith that trusts in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins, for eternal life, for salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil. That is the assurance of faith, as the writer of Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But is it also a faith that trusts Jesus when the waves are pouring into the boat, when the illness, the trouble, the evils of life are pressing upon us? Oh yes! The gift of faith is a gift that is able to say, “I trust you, Lord. I know you care.”

          The proof that Jesus cares is in the cross. Jesus cares about you so much that He as the only Son of God became fully human. As true man, Jesus experienced in His flesh all that you experience. He was in the real boat in the real storm on the real Sea of Galilee. He really slept from exhaustion. He faced grief in the sight of death. Jesus wept (Jn. 11:35) tears of sorrow at the loss of Lazarus. He was tempted throughout His earthly life by the devil. He lived often without a home, without a place to lay His head. He knew up-close and personal the ravages of disease and mistreatment at the hands of others. He Himself was mistreated, mocked, called an agent of Satan. Why? Because He cares for you. And He showed the depth and breadth of that care on Calvary’s hill, lifted up on that cross to bear your sins, to suffer your literal hell, to die your death so that you might receive the free gift of forgiveness and life forever with the God who made you, who redeemed you, and who has made you holy by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

          Jesus is the personal, living God who intervenes in the experience of His people with a revelation of His power. He rebuked the wind and commanded the sea, “Be silent! Put a muzzle on it and stay that way!” The wind stopped. There was a great calm. “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” He is the God-Man, Jesus, the Christ. He is the Savior who suffers and dies, who rises from the dead to give forgiveness and life to people. He is the One who cares for you, showing to you how much the Father in heaven cares for you. This is God, the Father Almighty, who has made you, who has richly given you everything that you need to support this body and life, who continues to defend you against all danger and guards and protects you from all evil (Small Catechism, First Article). Through the saving work of His One-of-a-Kind Son, God shows His fatherly heart to you—His love, His mercy, His care.

          But can you trust Him to be there in the midst of all that life throws at you? Can you really be sure that God won’t fall asleep on the job and abandon you? Yes. God the Father abandoned His only Son Jesus on the cross so that you would never ever be forsaken by Him. His promises are true. “He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5 ESV). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 ESV). With the faith of St. Paul, we also can be confident that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39 ESV).

          These are Gospel promises from God Himself to you that are yours in Christ Jesus. Truly, we can sing with faith the words of the Psalmist, “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8 ESV). This is the God and Savior who has not given us a spirit of fear, but “of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). This is the God who forgives all our sins on account of the saving blood of Jesus Christ, the God who calls us His own children, inheritors of life everlasting and all the blessings of His eternal kingdom. He is the God and Savior who is with you by the power of the Holy Spirit in the great calms and in the great storms of life, who invites you in faith, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15 ESV).

          Ships nearing a dangerous shore in a violent storm throw out an anchor. It keeps the vessel from being driven toward the rocks that line the shore and from being dashed to pieces on them, and it holds the bow of the ship straight into the wind so that the onrushing waves are cut in two and do not strike the ship sideways and swamp it. Your Christian faith holds safely in the midst of the storms of life onto Jesus Christ, your anchor sure. Thus in faith we say:

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;

In ev’ry high and stormy gale My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

                                                                                   Text: Public domain

Amen.

         

Sermon for June 17, 2018

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 6—Series B)

“Tents and Buildings from God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

June 17, 2018

 

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

Our text today is from the Epistle lesson recorded in 2 Corinthians 5:

1For we know that if the earthly house, the tent we live in, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. 2For in this earthly tent we groan, longing to put on our dwelling from heaven, if indeed by putting it on we would not be found naked. 4For we groan while we are in this tent since we are burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, in order that mortal should be swallowed up by life. 5Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit.

 

          The Church Father Ambrosiaster, writing in the late 300s AD, said, “Our present body is our earthly home. Our resurrection body is our heavenly one.”[1] That is a nice neat and compact summary of our text this morning. As Christians, “we know,” Paul says, that when our earthly house, this tent of a body in which we live here, is destroyed, “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.” So let’s look at what we have now.

          First, as human creatures, we are comprised of a mortal body and an immortal soul in one complete person. We have eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that beats and sends the blood through the lungs to be purified and filled with oxygen so that it may pass throughout our entire body to build up its tissues, a delicate nervous system that carries messages to and from the brain. In the words of the Psalmist, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:14 ESV). Yet this wonderful body that God created is subject to the consequences of sin and death. It is an imperfect body, a mortal body, that, according to God’s Word, will die because of our sinful natures inherited from Adam and Eve.

          The soul is different in that it is the immortal, living, spiritual essence of a person. What it is made up of and what it looks like and how it works per se we simply do not understand. The soul dwells in the body but takes up no room or space. It gives life to the body and makes use of the body’s members according to the purpose for which they are designed. It is said that the soul is the carrier of a person’s personality, of his conscious self, his “ego.”[2]

          So in our present condition, we are made up of a mortal body and an immortal soul. Paul compares our current situation to living in a tent. Tents are meant to be temporary and not permanent shelters. Tents are not designed to be lived in 24-7-365. So also there is a “temporariness” to our condition living in the body. We are fallen creatures. We carry the disease of sin around in our bodies day in and day out. From the moment of birth, we are marching toward death. It is the just consequence of our sin. Even if we never ever “did” a single thing wrong, if we never ever committed an act contrary to God’s Word, we would still be sinners by nature because of the original sin with which we were conceived and born.

          And sin wreaks havoc on us in body and soul. In chapter 4 Paul speaks of our “outer self” that is “wasting away.” He talks about a “light momentary affliction” that is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I have to tell you, Paul’s understanding of “light” and “momentary” in regards to affliction must be different from mine. What you and I go through in this life isn’t often felt to be light or momentary. Yes, Paul’s talking “big picture” here, but when you are in the thick of things here and now, you sure do feel your mortality, your bodily weaknesses, your inclination to fall into temptation and to do what is contrary to God’s Word. You feel helpless, hopeless, hurt. The illness, the cancer, the anxiety or depression, the worry, the fear, the job loss, the bills, the lust, the hatred, and the desires to live for self—attack after attack, affliction after affliction. And yes, we “groan while we are in this tent since we are burdened.”

          That’s what sin and its consequences and effects on us in body and soul are—burdens, weights that cannot be lifted off of us by ourselves nor removed with the help of other people who are just as weak and helpless as we are to change our situation. Ah, but wait! There is One who is fully human, but not like us who are weak and helpless under the weight of sin. There is One who is fully human with an immortal body and an immortal soul. He is the God-Man, Jesus Christ. God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, equal with the Father and the Spirit, took to His divine person a true human body and soul. He “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” For what purpose? To redeem us in body and soul, to save us from sin and death, to recreate us to be like Him.

          We read God’s Word in Hebrews 2, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. . . . Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make [a sacrifice of atonement] for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:14-18 ESV). Jesus, true God and true Man, offered His body to the suffering of a sin-filled world. He subjected Himself willingly to the afflictions that all humanity endures—hunger, thirst, homelessness, loneliness, temptation, pain, grief, and fear. Then He willingly subjected Himself to the full wrath of God’s anger against humanity’s sin. Jesus took the full punishment of hell and death for us on the cross, suffering and dying in our place, shedding His holy blood to atone for our sins and to make us once again right with God through the forgiveness of sins.

          Where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life in body and soul. We walk by faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God—the Son of Man, who suffered and died to win the forgiveness of sins and a new life for us by grace. Since you are in Christ by grace through faith, you are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). You now possess “a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.” Eternal life, yes, resurrection life, is now yours through the baptismal faith given you through the Gospel. Because Jesus won your forgiveness of sins and has made you a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel Word and Sacraments, you have awaiting an immortal body in the resurrection on the Last Day.

          This present possession of a transformed and glorified body and soul is now seen with the eyes of faith in the promise. But at Christ’s coming, it will be completed in all its fullness. Then we will have a body and soul just like the body and soul of the Risen Lord Jesus. Philippians 3:20-21 gives us the guarantee by the power of the Spirit, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21 ESV).

This heavenly dwelling, our resurrected, transformed, and glorified body, will be put on each us in the resurrection. The old earthly life and mode of existence will be taken down and folded away like a tent. The new heavenly life and existence will be put on us like a garment of glory, and we will be like the Lord. St. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 15, “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. . . . I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:35-57 ESV).

          The victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection is for you a new life in a glorious, perfect, immortal body and soul so that you will be with the Lord forever in the new creation that He will make for all who live by faith in Him. In this mortal body, you may groan under the burden of your fallen sinfulness, but then “the mortal shall be swallowed up by life,” by the resurrection life of Jesus given to you! Truly, you have this resurrection body and life in Christ now. Today you see it through the eyes of your most holy faith as you look forward to receiving it in on the Last Day. On the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ, you will indeed see your resurrection body as you live eternally in glory with the only true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.  

 

[1]1-2 Corinthians, ed. Gerald Bray, vol. New Testament VII, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 239.

[2] Edward W.A. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia, 1952), 48-49.

Sermon for June 10, 2018

Mark 3:20-27 (Third Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 5—Series B)

“Binding the Strong Man”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

June 10, 2018

 

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

 

Our text today is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 3:

 

20 Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

 

          On June 16, 1858, 1000 delegates to the Republican State Convention met in the statehouse in Springfield, IL. At 5 p.m., they nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate to run against Democrat Stephen Douglas. At 8 p.m., Lincoln delivered this speech, known today as the House Divided Speech:

“Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.

 

If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.

 “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved –I do not expect the house to fall –but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as newNorth as well as South.”

 

Lincoln was quoting the Lord Jesus who said to the Scribes, “If a house should be divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” The Scribes accused Jesus of being in league with Satan, called here “Beelzebul.” They charged Jesus with being an agent of the devil, fully under the devil’s power and authority. The spiritual force that Jesus is allied with is evil and against God. Even Jesus’ own relatives were buying into the idea that Jesus’ head wasn’t screwed on just right, saying He is “out of his senses.” 

But Jesus is quick to counter this charge, demonstrating how “out of their senses” the Scribes were for making such an absurd accusation. If Jesus is indeed demon possessed, would there be any sense whatsoever in casting out demons through collusion with the prince of demons? Of course not! Jesus’ argument is, “If what you say is true there exists the impossible circumstance that Satan is destroying his own realm. If your accusation is factual, then Satan has become divided in his allegiance.  He’s turned against himself and started a civil war against himself. This should mean that he has become powerless. Yet this is clearly not so. Satan remains strong, and this fact exposes the delusion of your charge.” 

In Mark’s Gospel, demonstrations of Jesus’ power are found in exorcisms far more often than any other type of mighty deed. In the first 3 chapters of Mark alone with have four instances where Jesus casts out the unclean spirits and heals the demon-possessed (Mark 1:23, 34, 39; 3:11). If Jesus were throwing out demons under the authority of Satan, that would be defeating the devil’s purpose in destroying God’s people and kingdom. The very fact that there are demons and unclean spirits which Jesus casts out clearly shows that Satan’s kingdom is not divided nor has his “house,” his realm of influence and power, fallen. Indeed, humanity remained in captivity to sin, Satan, and death. 

As Americans, we say that we live in the “land of the free.”  And to some extent that is true. We have certain freedoms that we are able to exercise in the world, for example, the freedom to gather and to hear God’s Word without fear of arrest.  Before people, we are free to be and to do under the rule of law. Before God, however, it’s a very different story. How does being in bondage sound to you? Slavery? Oppression? Spiritually, as we stand before God by nature, we are in bondage, slaves to sin and death and oppressed by the devil. 

By nature, all people are spiritual slaves.  We are held in the strong chains of an evil taskmaster.  We often talk about a threefold taskmaster who holds us captive: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  Satan is an oppressive slave driver, driving us further from our God.  The world would draw us deeper into bondage, enticing us with its fleeting and perishable goods.  Our sinful flesh constantly tempts us to lust after those things that cannot satisfy and that soon perish.  This is the realm of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, Satan himself. We are held tightly in his chains, under his authority and that of his lackeys, sin and death. You and I and all people, by nature, have no freedom before God to better ourselves in His eyes. We don’t have the ability to move God to favor us with His grace. We are held fast in the chains of our sin, bound in our slavery to our evil inclination, held captive by the devil, and therefore, under the curse of God’s Law which is eternal death. 

It’s not a pretty picture, is it? But it is what God’s Word tells us. We read in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3 ESV). Dead in trespasses. Followers of the prince of the power of the air—Satan—the spirit at work in the world. Children deserving God’s wrath and punishment. There’s no freedom here. There’s only bondage and slavery to the devil and his cohorts, the world and our flesh. And we would be left to die in this captivity, for Satan is a strong man who held us tightly in his grip. 

Now imagine for a moment that you wanted to rob a house. No, I’m not saying that you should go out and plan on robbing your neighbor—no, no, no! Just imagine IF! Okay? So, if you wanted to rob a house and take everything, first you’d need to tie up the homeowner so that he would not be able to stop you. That’s Jesus’ point this morning in His parable. “No one is able, coming into the strong man’s house, to plunder his goods, except first he should bind the strong man. Then he will plunder his house.” Luke adds in his Gospel, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:21-22 ESV).

Who stands in for the strong man? Satan! He is the strong man and you and I are his “goods.”  He guards us, his slaves, seeking to keep us from God and from everlasting life through our bondage to sin and death. In order to rob this strong man, Satan, of his goods, there must be a Stronger Man who can bind him and plunder his house. Who do you think that Stronger Man is? Yes, God Himself in the person of His incarnate one-of-a-kind Son, Jesus Christ. 

God comes into Satan’s “house,” his realm and territory, in human flesh, in order to rob Satan blind of his goods—you and me, and all humanity. Jesus is the Stronger Man who entered Satan’s house, bound the “strong man,” and plundered his goods. The evidence of this is precisely Jesus’ casting out demons and unclean spirits. Satan’s hold on humanity is broken as Jesus’ breaks into Satan’s house with the rule and reign of God that comes with Jesus’ person and ministry. Satan and his forces are being neutralized. Jesus confronts Satan on his own turf and crushes him on all fields.  Even when it looked as if the devil was conquering Jesus as He died on the cross, the devil himself was actually being conquered. When Jesus was crucified, the blood of Him who had no sin at all was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. The One who was guilty of no sin freed us from the bondage to sin, Satan, and death with His own death and the shedding of His most valuable blood. 

Ironically, what was not true of Satan’s kingdom, it’s being divided, was true of God’s kingdom—at least at the cross. There, on the cross, God’s house was divided against itself. It was Father against Son. The Father forsook Jesus, and Jesus cried out a heart-rending, “Why? Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). God rose up against Himself, so to speak. The cause of the division was the innocent Jesus’ literal assumption of our sins as His own while suffering on the cross.  Holiness recoiled from the sight and Jesus was left alone in the abandonment of damnation, paying the penalty for our sins.

Oddly enough, this division did NOT bring about the fall of God’s house. Rather, it made it secure. It established God’s Kingdom. It made His house stand firm. For the division of Father and Son at the cross removed the division between God and humanity, the division caused by people’s slavery to sin and the devil.[1] We are now at peace with God. Because God forsook His Son on the cross as He paid for our sins, you and I are set free from our sins. We are released from our bondage to the devil. We are no longer held captive by death. Jesus Christ has died for us and is risen again.  You and I have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We look forward to the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come!

The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That freedom which Jesus Christ, the Stronger Man, has won for you and me by His cross and resurrection is liberty from the strong man, Satan, emancipation from sin and the power of death! In Christ, the free gift of redemption and atonement makes us members and heirs of His Kingdom, a Kingdom that cannot fall, a Kingdom in which we enjoy the freedom of the glory of the children of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Rom. 8:21). Amen. 

[1] Francis C Rossow. Gospel Handles. St Louis, Concordia. © 2001

Sermon for June 3, 2018, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

The Third Commandment (Second Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 4—Series B)

“Remembering the Sabbath Day”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

June 3, 2018

 

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

Our text today is the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”

          Dr. Luther explained the Commandment this way in the Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Seems so simple and straightforward, doesn’t it? If you were living at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it wouldn’t have been as simple as it should be. The Pharisees interpreted God’s Law by adding to it, strictly defining what “rest” on the Sabbath or “rest day” ought to look like. Those who tried to follow the Sabbath rules found that God’s good Commandment had been turned into a heavy burden, a yoke around their necks. Yet Jesus promised just before the events of today’s Gospel lesson, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).

          You and I, like the Pharisees of old, are the ones who can turn the Third Commandment into a burden when we misunderstand its purpose. Following the Third Commandment is not to be a burdensome thing as 1 John 5:3 reminds us that God’s commandments are not burdensome. Neither is the Third Commandment meant to be a chore. And it is not something that, by accomplishing it, makes God love you more. Rather, the Sabbath or rest day is a gift of God’s love to His creation. It is precisely something good that God has given us to relieve the heavy burdens and the yokes of life. Jesus said in Mark 2, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” The day of rest was established by God to restore people, not to burden people and make them slaves of arbitrary rules and regulations.

So how can we turn the Sabbath day into a burden? Perhaps something like this: “I have to go to church. It’s part of the rules of being a Christian.” “Going to worship makes God happy. If I want to make God happy, then I have to go.” But the Lord didn’t set aside the Sabbath day to make Him happy. He didn’t set apart the day of rest as a burdensome rule for people to follow. He set aside the day of rest to bless His people, a day set apart for you.

The blessing of the Sabbath day, the seventh day, was first carried out at the completion of creation, not at the giving of the Law on Mr. Sinai. We read in Genesis, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:2-3 ESV). It is chiefly for people that this rest of God is given. Luther commented, “. . . man was especially created for the knowledge and worship of God; for the Sabbath was not ordained for sheep and cows but for men, that in them the knowledge of God might be developed and might increase.”[1]

As with all of God’s creation, the Sabbath was designed for people to serve them. “The seventh day, blessed and consecrated by God, appears to man in the form of a concrete, earthly day, set apart for God. Man’s course on earth begins with their earthly day which is designed for participation in God’s rest! . . . So long as man with his work is bound to this earth, the workday of man shall be [bordered] and interrupted—[bordered] and interrupted from the very beginning by a day on which man rests from his labors and is free for the testimony of the blessed and hallowed seventh day.”[2] So God creates Adam and Even on the Sixth Day and gives them their work of caring for His new creation. The very next day, God gives them a day of rest, a day off even before they start their work—a day set aside to be with Him as their Creator and Lord.

          From the very beginning, then, Jesus’ saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” is true. The Third Commandment is really for our blessing and benefit as God’s creatures who work and care for the earth and our families and who show mercy to our neighbors. We abuse the day of rest when we turn it into a burden rather than receiving it as a blessing. God wants us to have a day of rest from our daily routines. And He wants us also to have a day of spiritual rest from the bombardments of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. God desires to refresh and to renew us with His Gospel Word so that we might have our day of rest in Christ and so keep the Sabbath day holy.

          You see, “keeping the Sabbath day holy” is not a work that we perform as if we’re doing God a favor or earning a special place in His heart because we went to church. The Sabbath is holy because God made it so and blessed it to be so for us by grace from the very beginning of time—a day of rest and gladness, as the hymnwriter penned. To borrow language from Luther’s Catechism, “The day of rest is holy without our prayer. But we pray that it would be kept holy among us.” This happens as God gathers us together around His Word. “God’s Word is the treasure that makes everything holy” (LC I:91).  

          It is especially the work of God the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies” us in the Christian faith. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, has fulfilled the Sabbath by giving us “rest” in the forgiveness of sins. Remember His Words? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30 ESV). “The ‘labor’ and the burden signify the [sorrow], anxiety, and terrors of sin and death. To ‘come to’ Christ is to believe that sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. When we believe, our hearts are brought to life by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Word” (Ap XIIA:44-45).[3]

Jesus offered Himself to death on a cross so that you would receive the forgiveness of sins as a gift by grace through faith in Him. Sabbath rest comes to you through the Gospel Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. So that you might continually be blessed by the gifts of God in Christ, the Spirit calls us together as “Church” and gathers us around the Word of Christ and the Sacraments of Christ so that you and I might receive the Savior’s promised blessing of rest in Him. Here in worship, when you gather on the day of rest, God in His Word tells you that you are His. Your sins are forgiven as the Gospel is declared to you in the spoken Word, in Baptism, in the Absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper. It is no accident that we call this the “Divine Service” because here God serves you and me with His gifts of grace—forgiveness and eternal life—purchased and won for us by Jesus on the cross—by means of Word and Sacrament. Through those Means, the Holy Spirit by the Gospel makes us holy and so enables us to keep the Sabbath day holy, set apart, for the very purpose of receiving Christ’s gifts guaranteed to us by hearing His Gospel Word. 

The holy day of rest, the Sabbath, was not created to be an obligation for people to keep as a burden or as one of a list of rules. It is a time that God made for you and me to give rest to our bodies through leisure and especially rest to our bodies and souls from the attacks of sin and Satan through the hearing of the Word and the refreshment of the Gospel. Receiving the gifts of God in Christ through His Gospel and Sacrament is how the Lord serves us and we respond to those gifts in prayer and praise. Yet we receive much more from the Savior than we can ever give. The time set apart for the Divine Service on this day of rest and gladness is an opportunity to encourage each other and to be encouraged by one another as we receive the promised rest of forgiveness, life, and salvation from Jesus so that we might truly keep the Sabbath day holy. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 80.

[2] Peter Brunner, Worship in the Name of Jesus, trans. M.H. Bertram (St. Louis: Concordia, 1968), 38-39.

[3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 163.

Sermon for May 27, 2018, The Holy Trinity

Isaiah 6:1-8 (The Holy Trinity—Series B)

“Holy, Holy, Holy”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 27, 2018

 

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

 

Our text is the Old Testament Lesson recorded in Isaiah 6:

 

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon his throne high and lifted up and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphim were standing above him—six wings!—six wings for each! With two he covered his face and with two he covered his feet and with two he flew. 3And these each called to one another saying, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of armies. The whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The doorposts of the thresholds shook from the sound of the calling and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said, “Woe to me, for I am cut off because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of armies.” 6And one of the seraphim flew to me. And in his hand was a glowing coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold! This has touched your lips and your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.” 8And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

 

          It is a powerful refrain that shakes the very throne room of God:

tAa+b’c. hw”åhy> vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’

Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies!

It is repeated again and again by the seraphim, a very special order of angels that attend the Triune God with praise and serve Him in His royal court.

tAa+b’c. hw”åhy> vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’

Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies!

          This chorus of praise reveals something about God to us. Isaiah sees God on His throne, high and lifted up, as the seraphim call back and forth to one another those powerful words describing our powerful God which echo through God’s throne room, shaking the doorposts and the thresholds—

tAa+b’c. hw”åhy> vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’

Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies!

          What does it mean that God is Holy, Holy, Holy? Our God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is, in His very nature, being, and essence, holy. He is set apart, removed, exalted. God is exalted above all of His creation and over all of His creatures. (He sits on a throne, high and lifted up. The angels even cover their faces and feet in God’s presence as a sign of His holiness and their unworthiness.) Isaiah will repeatedly use the phrase, “Holy One” to describe the Lord. As the holy God, He is separate from sin. God is absolutely pure.

tAa+b’c. hw”åhy> vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’

Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies!

          That’s the problem, isn’t it? The Triune God is perfectly, completely holy by nature and essence and you and I are not at all holy by nature. Isaiah was fully aware of that reality, was he not? He exclaims at the sight, “Woe to me, for I am cut off!” Isaiah acknowledges that he faces calamity, disaster, and doom standing before the completely Holy One, God Himself. Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of armies, and I am not—woe to me, indeed!

          Isaiah confesses to having a mouth that is impure because it is connected to a heart and mind that is sinful and unclean. Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt. 15:18-20 ESV). This is what makes us unclean—our sinful natures inherited from Adam. That original sin with which we are conceived and born manifests itself in all kinds of acts of sin in our thinking, speaking, desiring, and doing. Truly, our words and actions speak volumes, “Look at how great I am! Look at all the good things I’ve done. Look at me, world, and take note!” But while you and I might impress other people with our selfish pride and self-glorification, we certainly do not impress God. And if you want to stand before God, impress Him you must! What is it, then, that would impress God enough for you and me to stand before His holy presence without the fear of wrath, condemnation, and death?  Psalm 24:3-4 tells us, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” 

Isaiah, as well as you and me, can only respond to God’s presence: “Woe to me! I am doomed! I am a man of unclean lips!” We are sinful people who cannot praise God as we should with pure lips because our sin makes itself known from our mouths and our actions. Along with Isaiah, we desire to praise God and give Him the glory as did the angelic seraphim who sang

tAa+b’c. hw”åhy> vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’

Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies!

But because of our sinful depravity, we can’t! Those whose natures are full of sin cannot praise God as they should. Nor can we stand before the King, Yahweh of armies. Our sinfulness condemns us to face God’s anger and wrath at our sins. 

So, you and I are not able to serve God perfectly in holiness by keeping His Commandments to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things and to love our neighbors by showing them mercy. We fall far short of His glory. We then come to realize the infinite distance between the Holy God and us sinful creatures. Before His awesome throne, we are nothing but dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27). We stand condemned to eternal death by His holiness and justice. There is nothing we can do to merit forgiveness and life. There is nothing that we can offer God to appease His wrath and displeasure. We broke His Law. We who are unholy stand rightly condemned and punished. “Woe to me for I am cut off because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”

Now listen to what happens to Isaiah in his despair and distress over his sinfulness. “And one of the seraphim flew to me. And in his hand was a glowing coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, ‘Behold! This has touched your lips and your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.’”

tAa+b’c. hw”åhy> vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’

Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies!

The thrice holy God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—chooses to cleanse Isaiah. God removes the unholiness and the uncleanness of Isaiah’s sin so that he might stand before Yahweh, the King, without fear of condemnation and death. Yahweh makes Isaiah holy out of His pure mercy and grace. Isaiah didn’t earn it. He didn’t merit it because of good behavior. Isaiah was instead, “Woe to me! I’m doomed!” But God in His mercy chose to cleanse Isaiah and atone for his prophet’s sin.

Isaiah’s forgiveness of sin by means of a burning coal taken from the altar pictures the ultimate atonement for sin accomplished by the means of God the Son’s own blood shed on the altar of the cross. The Son of the Most High left His heavenly armies and took on human flesh in order to live a pure and holy life in humanity’s place. Jesus Christ, very God of very God, did what we cannot do. He acted in our place under God’s Law and kept it perfectly for us. Then Jesus took sinful, unclean humanity’s place under God’s wrath and judgment against sin. He bore our sins in His body on the tree of the cross. (1 Peter 2:24) He suffered hell itself on that cross, being forsaken by God the Father. Christ shed His holy, precious blood to make atonement for our sin, taking away our guilt: “The blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).

The necessary sacrifice has been made. Your guilt is taken away; your sin atoned for by Jesus’ blood shed for you on the cross. You are made clean in the blood of Jesus in order to stand before the Lord in righteousness and holiness forever. By the power of God the Holy Spirit through Gospel Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, the Father now declares you in Christ to be

vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’ Holy, Holy, Holy

Jesus’ death and His Easter resurrection won for you the forgiveness of sins. You are rescued from death and the devil. You have been given eternal life and are made holy so that you can praise God and glorify Him as you should!

In the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ you see how much God loves you—so much so that He sent His only Son to die on a cross in order that you might live in holiness before Him. When you know and realize the magnitude of your sins and just how great the gift of forgiveness and eternal life is that you have freely received, how can you not respond with hearts and lips cleansed by Jesus’ blood with praise and glory to God? It is no longer, “Look at me, world! Look what I have done.”  Instead, it is “Look at Christ, world! Look what God has done for you through the gift of His Son!” 

tAa+b’c. hw”åhy> vAdßq’ vAd±q’ vAdôq’

Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of armies!

By grace through faith in Jesus, on account of His death on the cross for you, your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for. You now stand before Yahweh of armies righteous and holy, through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

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