Sermon for August 22, 2021, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 7:1-13 (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 16—Series B)

“The Word of God Not of People”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 22, 2021

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 7:

1And the Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered to Him, having come from Jerusalem. 2And when they saw that some of His disciples were eating their loaves of bread with unclean, that is unwashed, hands—3for the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat if they do not wash their hands, from elbow to knuckles, adhering to the tradition of the elders. 4And coming from the marketplace, if they do not purify themselves, they do not eat, and many other things there are which they receive by tradition to observe, ritual washings of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches—5and the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but they eat their bread with unclean hands?” 6But He answered them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you hypocrites, as it stands written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7And in vain they worship me, teaching teachings which are the commandments of people.’ 8Having left the commandment of God you hold on to the tradition of people.” 9And He continued to say to them, “Well do you reject the commandment of God in order that you may observe your tradition. 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘The one who reviles father or mother, let him surely die.’ 11But as for you, you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is Korban,’ that is, a gift to God, then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father and mother, 13making void the word of God by your tradition which you have handed on. And many such things you do.”

          The tradition was that they could not eat their meals except they wash. In other words, the Pharisees and scribes held to the tradition that said they could not eat their meals if they do not practice a ceremonial washing of their hands and utensils to remove any possible ritualistic defilement from contact with Gentiles (non-Jews). The Jewish historian Josephus wrote in his Jewish Antiquities, “Now I want to make plain that the Pharisees handed down some customs to the people from the successors of the fathers that are not read in the law of Moses.”[1] Did you catch that? The tradition of the elders is not the God-given Torah (instruction) that He gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. So, Jesus is spot on when He tells the religious leaders, “Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you hypocrites, as it stands written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching teachings which are the commandments of people.’ Having left the commandment of God you hold on to the tradition of people.”

          But maybe Jesus is overdoing it a bit? The oral law, the oral tradition, was put in place to “put a fence” around the Torah of Moses to protect God’s Law from being violated. It was designed to keep the people of Israel from breaking the Commandments. But the problem is that, in fact, the tradition of the elders tampered with the Law. It added to it rules that were stricter than the Law of God. It was by keeping these hefty mandates that the Pharisees and scribes could maintain their own ritual purity in the sight of God.

          So, Jesus isn’t overdoing it. It is the followers of the traditions of the elders that are overdoing it. And what they are overdoing is what God set up for them. The Law was not designed to make life difficult for God’s people, but that’s exactly what happens when the traditions of people put a fence around the Law to keep people away from breaking it. These human regulations overburdened God’s people and finally outdid God’s own Torah! If you don’t ritually wash from you elbows to your knuckles, you are defiled before God, and therefore, cannot eat. If you don’t purify your cups and copper pots and even your dining couches on which you recline at table, you are defiled before God, and cannot eat.

          But that’s not what God’s Law said. However, God’s Law did say, “Honor your father and your mother.” We know that’s the Fourth Commandment. But, following the oral tradition, the Pharisees and scribes negated God’s commandment with their own that said that if a son tells his parents that whatever help and support he might have given them through the years is a gift to God, then the son doesn’t have to help, support, and love his parents because all of what belongs to the son he is giving to God. “Sorry, Mom and Dad! Guess I can’t do anything for you!” But the Commandment of God says, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” The oral tradition, Jesus said, thus voided the word of God.

          And yet it was this oral tradition of the elders that the Pharisees and scribes demanded that the people obey in order maintain their purity before God. But they should have been directing the people to God’s Word.

          Living by man-made traditions, whether it is those of the Pharisees or those of today, is living contrary the Word of God. Just as God’s Old Testament laws did not command this ceremonial washing of hands in the days of Jesus, so God’s Word in the Bible does not speak of people living a “pure” life to gain heaven. In attempting to do so, we leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of people. It is a “man-made-up” tradition that we can go to heaven because of how we act or don’t act. The Word of God says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). In Titus 3:5, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” 

          People can act like Christians, talk like Christians, and behave like Christians; a person can be the nicest, the kindest, the gentlest individual you will ever meet, but if their life is void of God’s Word and faith in Christ Jesus, and they are merely trying to live the “pure-life tradition,” and it’s all in vain. “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching teachings which are the commandments of people.” It’s just as foolish and useless as the Pharisee’s tradition that they could not eat their meals except they practice a ceremonial washing of their hands and utensils to remove alleged ritualistic defilement from unknown contact with Gentiles.

          Yet, as foolish and useless as that tradition was, there was a grain of ironic truth in it. None of the Pharisees—no one, in fact—can eat of the heavenly banquet except they wash—except they wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). No one is able to enter heaven unless they “are washed . . . sanctified . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Heaven is not possible for us except that our hearts are “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). Thus says the Lord!

The Word of God is clear that God Himself must do this washing just as He promises. God must cleanse us from our sins to make us ready and right for His heavenly kingdom. God gave us Jesus so that through His sacrificial death on the cross we would be made clean from our sins by the shedding of His blood. Though our sins were as scarlet, in Christ, they are whiter than snow (Ps. 51:7). We have been fully purified, as St. John writes, “The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

The cleansing blood of Christ shed on the cross is applied top you personally in the purifying effects of Baptism. You have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through water and the Word. The Lord’s baptismal water has washed away your sins, making you holy and clean, right to stand before God in holiness and purity forever—the holiness and purity of Christ given to you through the waters of Baptism.

Baptism, then, is a source of great comfort to you and me, especially when we feel our sins and know that our living doesn’t stand up to God’s commandments. When we feel our sin, when we feel unworthy of God, our Baptism reminds us that God has come near to us. He has spoken to us by name in Baptism. God has claimed us, cleansed us, and put the saving mark of the cross on our head and on our heart.

Through our Baptism into Christ, we truly participate in the faith-filled, faithful living of the children of God empowered by the Holy Spirit through the Word. By grace through faith, we ever hold fast to the Word of God and His commands, living out our baptismal faith in our speaking and doing. Our Christian life is a result of God’s cleansing us through Baptism and giving heaven to us as a free gift in Christ who died and rose for us. We live a pure and decent, God-fearing life of faith here on earth because of what God did for us in sending Jesus to be our Savior. Jesus is the One who makes us truly clean before God the Father. Christ has washed us so that we are now ready to eat with Him at His heavenly banquet table. This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.


     [1] Josephus, Antiquities, 13.297. Quoted in James W. Voelz, Mark 1:1-8:26, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2013), 455.

Sermon for August 15, 2021, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

John 6:60-69 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 15—Series B)

“Are You Offended?”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 15, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in John 6:

60Therefore, many of His disciples, after they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying. Who is able to hear it?” 61But Jesus, knowing in Himself that his disciples were grumbling concerning this, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62What if you should see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before, what then? 63The Spirit is the One who gives life, the flesh benefits nothing. The words which I am speaking to you are Spirit and are life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who were the ones who would not believe and who is the one who would betray Him. 65And He said, “On account of this I say to you, that no one is able to come to me unless it is granted to Him from the Father.” 66From this point on, many of His disciples went away and drew back and no longer walked with Him. 67Therefore, Jesus said to the Twelve, “You also do not wish to go away, do you?” 68Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

          In July, 2019, Pastor Larry Peters, a 40-year veteran pastor of our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, wrote the following on his blog, “Sadly, we live in a world in which offense is a common word that is generally misunderstood. We are offended by all sorts of things today. A story a while ago found Starbucks asking police to leave their establishment because a few folks were offended by the presence of the men in blue drinking coffee (as if that were out of the ordinary!). College students routinely riot because they [are] offended when a speaker might have the nerve to disagree with them and speak on something they find objectionable (as if democracy existed only to protect what we want to hear). But in the Church this word has been used in a variety of contexts that betray what it really means. People insist that they are offended by churches that do not ordain women, promote the GLBTQ agenda, or support the global causes of the day (from climate change to gun control). They are not offended. They simply do not like what they hear. They claim offense but offense in the Scriptures means something more than hurt feelings. It means a scandal to the faith and, in particular, a scandal that threatens the faith of an individual Christian. This is not something inconsequential but profound. To be offended, then, means to have the very foundation of your faith shaken to its core.”[1]

“Therefore, many of His disciples, after they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying. Who is able to hear it?’ But Jesus, knowing in Himself that his disciples were grumbling concerning this, said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’” Jesus had many followers—that’s what “disciple” means. They followed Him as their Rabbi, their Teacher. But things changed in an instant with Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. Jesus directed them to a Bread of more significance than the manna that the children of Israel ate for forty years in the wilderness. Jesus pointed them to a Bread better than the loaves multiplied and distributed after He had given thanks. Jesus revealed Himself to be the living Bread from heaven that gives eternal life to the world through His sacrificial death on behalf of the world. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” . . . “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. . . . This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:51–58 ESV).

His disciples not only found this difficult to understand, but suspected that, if they did understand it, they would find it unacceptable. It would be, to use the Greek work, a scandalon, something scandalous and truly an offense, something that would indeed rock the core of their very beliefs. Jesus’ words have the power to change those beliefs from death to life. The people to whom Jesus spoke in the Capernaum synagogue were all about “flesh.” They were all about the literal bread Jesus had provided (so much so that they wanted to make Him king!) They were all about the manna that Moses had given. But it wasn’t Moses who had given them the manna. It was God the Father. And it was God the Father who had given the true and living Bread, Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God. It’s not about “flesh,” the earthly bread. It’s about the Spirit that gives life through the words of Jesus who is Himself the Word of God made flesh and dwelling in our midst.

Jesus invited His disciples to hear His words in faith as “Spirit” and “life.” God  authorized His One-of-a-Kind Son to be that “bread” that came down from heaven and gives life to all people. True life, eternal life, is to be found in Jesus alone. Not only will those who come to Christ Jesus by faith find in Him sustenance and refreshment for their souls’ hunger and thirst, they will never die. Jesus promised vindication, not death but life— “never go hungry,” and “never thirst” (6:35), “never cast out” (v. 37), “raise it up on the last day,” “have eternal life,” “raise him up on the last day” (v. 39, 40, 44), “has life eternal” (v. 47), “will live forever” (v. 51). And the way to this resurrection life is through the death of Jesus, the Bread of Life, as He gives His flesh—Himself—into the death that should have been ours.

And that just doesn’t cut it for many. From this point on, many of His disciples went away and drew back and no longer walked with Him.” The apostle Paul would say it like this in his first letter to the Corinthian congregation, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.. . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block [a scandalon, an offense] to Jews and folly to Gentiles,but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:18–25 ESV).

Thus, Jesus and His death on a cross will always shake the core of human beliefs. It will always cause offense to human nature which is turned away from such a preposterous idea that a death and the shedding of blood might cover over sin and earn forgiveness and life. But it is His death on the cross, the shedding of His blood, and His resurrection to bodily life again on the third day that guarantees forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe. “Faith unites itself to Christ where he is and where he works. Were faith to seek Christ outside his work, faith would not find him and so prove itself to be a delusion. But there is no work of Christ were there is no flesh given and no blood shed. . . . There is no life apart from Him who is, precisely as the incarnate and crucified One, himself Life.”[2]

This is the message that gives offense. This is the message that causes people to walk away from the Christian faith. Those disciples in Capernaum no longer regarded Jesus as their Teacher. They stopped being His disciples, returning to their previous allegiances. They turned away from fellowship with Jesus, and so turned away from fellowship with the Father and the Spirit. They rejected the life that Christ had come to give. They abandoned the new life of water and the Spirit that rocks the sinful nature to its core and begins to recreate people into the image of God as the Spirit sanctifies people in Christ Jesus for eternal life. In John 10, Jesus would promise this life again, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10–11 ESV). The Shepherd dies, giving His flesh into death, shedding His Paschal blood on the cross, to set all people free from sin, death, and hell, and giving them new, eternal life in which they more faithfully fear, love, and trust in God and love others more than themselves.

To whom, then, will you go? Where will you find Spirit and life and not flesh and death apart from Christ? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:53–58 ESV). Amen.


     [1] https://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/2019/07/offended-by-offense.html

     [2] William C. Weinrich, John 1:1-7:1, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2015), 732.

Sermon for August 8, 2021, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:1-8 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 14—Series B)

“Strengthened By the Food God Provides”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 8, 2021

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 1 Kings 19:

1And Ahab told to Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2And Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah saying, “So may the gods do to me and more if I do not, by this time tomorrow, make your life like the life of one of them.” 3When he saw that, he arose, and ran for his life and came to Beer-Sheba, which belongs to Judah, and he left his servant there. 4And he went into the wilderness a day’s journey and he came and sat down under a broom tree and he asked that he would die, and he said, “Enough! Now, O Yahweh, take my life because I am no better than my fathers.” 5And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold! This angel was touching him and was saying to him, “Arise; eat.” 6And he looked and behold! there was at his head a round flat loaf baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and he lay down again.  7And the angel of Yahweh returned a second time and touched him and said to him, “Arise. Eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8And he arose and ate and drank and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.

           Elijah had been to the mountaintop, literally. But now he was down in death valley. How quickly the situation changed! One moment, Elijah was at the top of it all. Yahweh and the Canaanite god Baal had duked it out. Actually, it wasn’t much of a contest. Being a fake god, Baal never showed up that day on Mt. Carmel, a mountain due west of the Sea of Galilee on the Mediterranean coast. Oh, his priests tried to call upon him to bring down fire to consume their sacrifice. They danced around like a bunch of crazy people, cutting themselves to appease their deity. But nothing happened. Elijah watched all the commotion and made fun of them around noontime, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Ki. 18:27 ESV). But nothing ever happened. Baal never answered. But Yahweh did.

          Elijah stood before his water-drenched altar, the wood, the stones, the sacrifice water-logged and dripping profusely. He prayed, “‘O Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Yahweh, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Yahweh, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of Yahweh fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.’ And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.’ And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there” (1 Ki. 18:36-40).

          The 450 prophets of Baal met their end with the judgment of God in their execution. Elijah was on top of the mountain, used by Yahweh to show the people that He alone is the only real God. It was a big win for the Lord! Elijah was flying high! But then Queen Jezebel put out the death warrant on Elijah. She swore an oath when she learned that the prophets of Baal had been killed, “So may the gods do to me and more if I do not, by this time tomorrow, make your life like the life of one of them.” Wanted: Elijah the prophet. Dead, not alive.

          Now suddenly finding himself no longer on top of the world but in death valley, Elijah got out of the Kingdom of Israel. He went to the farthest city in the southern-most part of the Kingdom of Judah. It seems he was crushed. He was devastated. It was a huge victory for the Lord, but now he’s under the sentence of death by the queen of Israel. A day’s journey into the wilderness south of the Kingdom of Judah, Elijah lay down under a 10-12-foot-high broom tree, the only one in the area. “Enough! Now, O Yahweh, take my life because I am no better than my fathers.”

          We get some insight into Elijah’s thinking in the verses following our Old Testament text today. When Elijah was at Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai of the Ten Commandments fame, Yahweh had a conversation with His servant. The Word of Yahweh came to him. I’ve capitalized “Word” to indicate that it’s not simply a spoken, audible word, but the eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. This is the very Word of God who would, in centuries to come, take on human flesh and dwell among us as Jesus the Incarnate Son of God. But now God the Son comes to Elijah in a form that Elijah can see and relate to and asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah tells Him, “I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Ki. 19:10).

          Elijah was discouraged. He was afraid. He felt totally alone in the mission to preach to the people so that they might hear God’s Word and be brought to repentance and faith in Yahweh again as their Redeemer. But the Son of God reveals something to Elijah at Mt. Horeb that he didn’t know. But I’ll come to that in a minute. There is another answer to the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” that we need to address.

          The Word of Yahweh would not be speaking with Elijah on this mountain had He not touched and spoken to Elijah in the wilderness. From our reading, Elijah “lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold! This angel was touching him and was saying to him, ‘Arise; eat.’ And he looked and behold! there was at his head a round flat loaf baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and he lay down again. And the angel of Yahweh returned a second time and touched him and said to him, ‘Arise. Eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ And he arose and ate and drank and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.”

          The Word of Yahweh is the Angel of Yahweh is God the Son. God the Son set Elijah up to bring Him to Mt. Horeb in order to share some good news with the worn-out prophet. And so He provided food for Elijah in the wilderness. Now wait a minute! Hasn’t He done this before, fed people in the wilderness with bread, the manna? Oh yes! Will God the Son feed another crowd of people in the wilderness with bread? Yes, and with fish! They will all eat to the full and be satisfied because the Son of God-made-flesh would provide the food for them and would then teach His people that He is the true bread that came down from heaven in order to give life to the world. We heard in John 6, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn. 6:48-51 ESV).

          In the strength of physical food, Yahweh brought Elijah to the mountain again. Then the Word of Yahweh spoke Gospel, good news, to his prophet, “Elijah, you are most certainly not alone. I have seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Ki. 19:18). Seven thousand! So Elijah is strengthened by the Gospel Word spoken by God the Son who is the Word of Yahweh. Elijah is encouraged and made ready again to take up his commission to return to his God-given ministry. By the food of bread and by the nourishment of the Word, Elijah returns and serves the Triune God until he is taken up into heaven in a whirlwind in 2 Kings chapter 2.

          Elijah needed the strength that God provided both physically and spiritually. Elijah received real, tangible, edible food. He also received God’s grace and encouragement, a new life, if you will, so that he might return to ministry. Now, we’ve spent a lot of time with Elijah this morning. What is there in this text for us? We, too, need the strength that God provides for us, both real and tangible things for the here and now and His grace and new life for now and forever.

          The one, true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, provides us our “daily bread.” We confess that He is our Creator and Preserver and that we are His creatures. Martin Luther reminds us in the Large Catechism that the Triune God “has given and constantly preserves   . . . for me my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, reason, and understanding, and so on. He gives me food and drink, clothing and support, wife and children, domestic servants, house and home, and more. Besides, He causes all created things to serve for the uses and necessities of life. These include the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever it bears and produces. They include birds and fish, beasts, grain, and all kinds of produce. . . . They also include whatever else there is for bodily and temporal goods, like good government, peace, and security” (Large Catechism).[1] The very God who provided bread in the wilderness for His ancient people, who gave to Elijah food in the desert, who multiplied loaves and fish and fed the thousands continues to provide for all of our physical needs as well so that we might be strengthened to serve the Lord in our vocations as father, mother, son, daughter, employer, and employee.

          The Word of Yahweh who comforted Elijah with good news also provides His Gospel for us. The Word who took to Himself a real human body and soul allowed Himself to suffer death and hell on a cross so that all people might receive the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Him. Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). And on the cross, He did. He gave His flesh into death and commended His soul into the hands of the Father as He died. Jesus died so that you and I and all who live by faith in the Son of God will live forever. But the Gospel doesn’t end with Jesus’ death, for there must also be the resurrection of the Son of God. As Jesus lives, so we too shall live a new life in the forgiveness of sins looking forward to resurrection life in body and soul forever and ever. That’s the Gospel—Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Man, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of your sins unto life everlasting.

          It is in the strength and power of the Gospel Word that we live new lives of faith with forgiveness and eternal life. The Angel of Yahweh, the Word of Yahweh, Jesus the Son bids us, “Arise! Eat.” At His bidding then we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures. Jesus the Son invites us, “Arise! Eat!” And so He prepares a table before us of bread and wine with His Word of command and institution so that we truly eat and drink His body and blood with the bread and wine in the Holy Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins, for life and salvation, and for the strengthening of our faith so that we might live in this world in the strength that God provides in His Son, in His Word, in His Sacrament.

          Perhaps as we visit with Elijah today we might exclaim, “Yahweh has done it again!” Our God provides the physical things that we need to strengthen us for living and for serving Him. Our God provides forgiveness of sins through the hearing of the Word and through eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus so that we have eternal life and are rescued and redeemed from death and the devil’s power. Yes, what Yahweh offers to you and me here in Word and Sacrament is strength, the power of the Gospel unto salvation, so that we can go back out into the world in the strength of God and live ever more faithful lives of love and service to others. For the journey of life is too much for us, so come and eat to full and be satisfied. For the flesh of the Son of God is true food, and His blood is true drink (John 6:56). Go, then, in peace in the strength of this heavenly food of Word and Supper. Amen. 


     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 400.

Sermon for August 1, 2021, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

John 6:30-33 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 13—Series B)

“Don’t Forget the Giver”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 1, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson for the day recorded in John 6:

30Therefore, they said to [Jesus], “What sign do you do so that we may see and believe you? What work? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it stands written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Therefore Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, Moses has not given you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the Bread of God is [the bread] which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

          It’s been said that “an elephant never forgets.” Elephants might not forget, but I sure do. If I don’t write it down, I’m so much less likely to remember. And as I’ve said before, don’t tell me anything I have to remember as you walk out of church on a Sunday morning because I’m probably not going to remember it.

          The crowd at the feeding of the 5000 was forgetful too. When they found Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they wanted to know when He had gotten there. “You didn’t get into the boat with the disciples, so when did you sneak out? And by the way, can you feed us again?” They weren’t looking for Jesus because they saw the miracle of the feeding and were putting their trust in Him as God and Lord but because they ate their fill of the loaves and were satisfied. Jesus knew that and told them so as He directed them to a spiritual food that endures for eternal life, not just physical, earthly life. And the crowd then asked for a sign if they are to believe in the name of the One whom God the Father had sent, namely this Jesus. You see, that had already forgotten about the five loaves and two fish which Jesus used to feed more than 5000 people.

          The crowd wasn’t thinking of the sign of the miraculous feeding as pointing them to Jesus, God-made-flesh and dwelling among them. They were thinking of their physical need for bread. After all, they tried to force Jesus to become king so that He would provide for their physical needs every day. No more working for food for this bunch! “Besides,” they said, “our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness that Moses gave them. Moses took care of our peoples’ physical needs. Why won’t you? Give us more bread!”

          It became all about the gift—the loaves—and forgotten in all of it was the Giver. The fact that Jesus fed all those people in the wilderness with a few loaves and fish should have been received as a sign pointing to Him as Lord and God. Who could do such a sign if He were not true God? But the crowd couldn’t see past their noses—or more accurately, their stomachs. It was all about what they got and not about from whom they received it. If Jesus had gorged them with food and drink every day, He would have been a welcome Christ. But when they asked, “What must we do to be working the works of God?” and He told them, “Believe in Me!” they wanted to know why? “What sign do you do that we should believe in you? Moses gave us bread from heaven. What are you going to do?”

          Martin Luther, preaching on John 6, told the people of his day, “I suppose people will always be willing to let the Gospel feed them and make them wealthy, to have it serve worldly ends and bring them food, money, honor, and life’s comforts; but it is intolerable if it tries to instruct people in the service of God. They love God as lice love a [vagrant]; far from being interested in his welfare, their one concern is to feed on him and suck his blood. Our love for the Gospel is like that. We seek nothing but gluttony and our own selfish interest. The Gospel is loved on account of greed, not on account of righteousness.”[1]

Pretty strong words, aren’t they? But how often are Jesus and His Word received for what can be gotten from Him for this life? “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people” (Small Catechism). So, what will you give me, Lord? What earthly blessings can I expect from you? What sign will you do that I should believe in You? Will you always give me what I want—food, clothes, nice house, nice car, lots of money, happiness, health? Are you going to make this life worth my while? Let’s see the gifts! Let’s see the blessings pile up! You want my love? Well show me!

It becomes all about the gifts. It becomes all about the physical, earthly prosperity that God can give. And if He really loves us, that’s what He’ll do. Fill my basement and my shed. Give me grain and give me bread. Be for us the “bread king” so we don’t have to work so hard for it anymore. Moses did it for the Israelites. Why won’t You do it for me, Jesus?

Actually, Moses didn’t give the Israelites anything. The people had forgotten. God was the giver of the manna in the wilderness. You know the Biblical account. We heard it again today in our Old Testament lesson from Exodus 16. “The people had nothing to eat and resentfully deplored their departure from Egypt with its fleshpots and its onions and garlic. They forgot the servitude they had endured there. They panted after Egypt and forgot the miracles of God. In answer to Moses’ plea God gave them manna; each day the people gathered their daily ration. . . . They collected it daily from the fields in quantities sufficient for the day, bore it home, and prepared it as they chose. This miracle endured for forty consecutive years, providing these wicked, ungrateful Israelites with daily food. But they wearied of this bread from heaven and would fain have returned to Egypt with its onions and garlic.”[2] And yet, even as they complained, God gave. He gave and gave and gave. Not Moses! God, the Lord Yahweh, gave. And Moses told the children of Israel, “You shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:2–3 ESV).

And it was from the mouth of the Lord that the people in Capernaum heard that it’s not all about the gifts. It’s about the Giver. Jesus, true God and true Man said, “Truly, truly I say to you, Moses has not given you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the Bread of God is [the bread] which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Manna didn’t give eternal life. It only sustained earthly life. As Jesus Himself would point out a few verses later, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”This crowd ate the loaves and one day, they would die. But God is giving a gift better than the manna. He’s giving a gift better than a life-time supply of food. Jesus, gesturing to Himself, said, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:49–51 ESV).

The bread that God gives is His own Son. Jesus is the Bread come down from heaven. He is the Gift of God to all people. He is God the Father’s gift given into death as the Paschal Lamb in order to give life. “For the Bread of God is [the bread] which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus gives you life by His death. He dies for you sins so that you now live in His righteousness. He suffers God’s wrath and anger; He bleeds on the cross. You have peace with God and receive pure, white garments washed in the blood of the Lamb, symbols of your holiness and rightness. He wears thorns on His head. You wear the crown of everlasting life because your sins are forgiven, removed, atoned for. You have life and have it in abundance—eternally with God.

The Bread of God, Jesus Christ, has removed your sin. He has delivered you from the power of death and the devil. By the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, you believe in Jesus whom the Father sent to live, suffer, die, and rise again for your forgiveness and for your eternal life. The Bread from heaven, Jesus, is the real gift. He is the Living Savior and God the Father is the real Giver of all the spiritual blessings of His Son, our Lord. These gifts you receive by faith through the Gospel, in Baptism, and in the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood where He feeds us with bread and wine, that is, His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, for eternal life, and for salvation.

In addition, the Lord also provides that which we need to support this body and life. He gives good gifts to us in food and drink, house and home. He blesses us with what we need and enables us to share with those who lack. But it’s not about these gifts. It’s about the Giver. It’s about the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Everything else flows from this blessing of eternal life and salvation.

As we learned from the Small Catechism, the Father does all this “only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” To the only true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we do give thanks and praise for the Bread of Life, Jesus, and for our daily bread that we receive from the Lord’s abundance and blessing. Amen.


     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 30.

     [2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 30–31.

Sermon for July 18, 2021 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

From Concordia Pulpit, Vol. 31, Part 3. Written by Paul Raabe

Jeremiah 23:1-6 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 11—Series B)

“A Righteous Shepherd King”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 18, 2021

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson for the day from Jeremiah 23.

1  “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’

You need a king. You might not think so. Americans don’t like kings. We affirm government of the people, by the people, and for the people. As a worldly political policy, our American system of checks and balances is good and beneficial. It works. But before God Almighty himself, you need a king, God’s kind of human king.

You don’t need the world’s kind of king. The kings of the world can prove to be incredibly violent and murderous. One thinks of all the blood that was shed by the kings of ancient Assyria and Babylon and Greece and Rome and, in more recent days, absolute rulers such as Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao, and many others. Kings of the world are typically not righteous in God’s way of righteousness. They rule in very unrighteous ways, with wicked policies toward the people and in turn leading the people in wicked ways. As goes the king, so go the people. The root of the problem is this: kings of the world are self-serving. The adage is apt: “It’s all about power, getting it and keeping it.” Worldly kings seek their own glory and prestige. They often don’t really care about their people or their people’s plight. They’re interested only in feathering their own nest.

What results from these policies and practices? The sheep scatter. Every sinner does his own thing. Every sinner goes his own way, and that way is always away from the true God, their Creator—always. Without a righteous shepherd-king, the sheep disperse and wander aimlessly. At an archaeological dig in northeast Syria, they saw a flock of sheep daily pass the site. Each sheep would wander off in its own direction until the shepherd came and gathered them together. Sinners are like that. Without a good shepherd-king, everyone does what is right in his own eyes, instead of what is right in God’s eyes. As Isaiah confessed for us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Is 53:6).

Ancient Israel can function as a visual aid, as a model of what happens without God’s kind of human king. In ancient Israel, the king was supposed to be a good shepherd who would gather his sheep and lead them in the ways of the Lord. Jeremiah states God’s own expectations for God’s kind of king: “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer 22:3).

But a bad shepherd-king will mislead the people and serve only himself. Jeremiah, as well as Ezekiel in Ezekiel 34, condemned the last shepherd-kings of Jerusalem in his day. They attended only to themselves. They were only self-serving. They built their own magnificent palace but did not care for the people by doing what was right before God. Their eyes and heart were oriented toward only their own covetous desires. Their practices consisted of shedding innocent blood and practicing violent oppression. And the worst thing was that they led the people away from the true God toward idols. They corrupted the people, and the people themselves became corrupt and guilty as well.

They were supposed to be good shepherds, to rule the people in true righteousness, to lead the people in God’s ways, and to unite the people to serve the Lord in true unity. But in fact, the corrupt practices of the kings corrupted the people and would lead to their dispersion. Jeremiah announced the words of Yahweh, the God of Israel: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (Jer 23:1). And in fact, the sheep were scattered among the nations. In 587 BC, Babylon came, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and exiled the people.

But God did not end his message there. Through Jeremiah, God announced a wonderful promise of a different future. In the future, God will regather the remnant of his flock out of the other lands and bring them back to the sheepfold. Not only that, but

The Days Are Coming When God Will “Raise Up for David a Righteous Branch, and a King Shall Rule and Act Wisely and Do God’s Judgment and Righteousness in the Land”

(v 5). In contrast to the wicked and unrighteous kings Jerusalem was used to, this future king will be a righteous Branch, which will grow into a tree that will bear much fruit. This future king will rule wisely and do what is truly righteous. He will unite Judah and Israel in salvation and safety. No longer will they fear conquering enemies. And through the messianic King, the gift of righteousness will come to the people from God. The Messiah’s name will be “Yahweh is our righteousness.” Through the rule of the Davidic Messiah, Yahweh is the author and source of our righteousness.

Hear the good news. God fulfills his promises of old. He began to restore his exiled people back to the land of Israel in 538 BC and then more in 457 BC. And in the fullness of time, six hundred years after Jeremiah’s promise, God brought his ancient promises to fulfillment. God sent his only-begotten Son to join the human race, to become Israel’s human King from the line of David. God gave you a righteous Shepherd-King. And what did he do? During his public ministry in the land of Israel, he had compassion on Israel as sheep without a shepherd. He gathered to himself the lost sheep of Israel. He did what a righteous king was supposed to do. He had compassion on the helpless, the widow, the fatherless, the weak, the overlooked nobodies. We can read about his public ministry in the Gospel appointed for this season, the Gospel according to Mark. Jesus saw the people of Israel as sheep without a shepherd, and he gathered them to himself. He continues to do that even to this day. Remember the Day of Pentecost, how the Holy Spirit was sent by the exalted Messiah Jesus and came upon Israelites who had gathered in Jerusalem from around the world.

God gave you a righteous Shepherd-King. Jesus is the Shepherd-King who unites his people like a shepherd unites his sheep. And he adds even more to his flock, those beyond native Israel. Through holy baptism, he brought even us Gentiles into his sheepfold. He gathers his own from around the world and brings us to God his Father. Jesus is the Shepherd-King of Israel, who is better than any of the preceding kings of Israel. In fact, he does something surprising. This Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep, for you. And God raised him up on the third day and highly exalted him. Now Jesus as the Davidic King rules over you by his Holy Spirit. To live under his rule is a blessed life. He brings you to the God of ancient Israel, the true God and makes you part of his own flock. Through his sacred meal, he nourishes you with his body and blood and gives you eternal life with him. You by faith belong to his flock and enjoy salvation and safety under his rule. You need not fear anything. For your Shepherd-King is all for you, no matter what. After those woeful shepherds, “behold, the days” of “a righteous Branch [who] shall reign as king and deal wisely and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Jesus is the righteous Shepherd-King. Through him, you receive true righteousness from God himself. God laid on Jesus, the King, your iniquity and sin. And God reckoned to you the righteousness of Jesus, which he achieved by his own righteous doing and suffering. By faith, you now stand righteous before God. Yahweh, the true God, is now the source of your righteousness. His righteousness has replaced your wickedness. And by his Spirit, he promises to lead you in righteous ways. You belong to the righteous Shepherd-King of Israel. Follow his paths, the righteous paths of your righteous King. And wait with eager anticipation for when Jesus comes again in glory to gather you and all his flock together into his glorious, eternal kingdom. God has given you a righteous Shepherd-King. Enjoy by faith his rule now. Hear the Word faithfully preached and taught by his called undershepherd, your pastor. Receive the Lord’s Supper rightly administered by his called undershepherd. And look forward to the day of bodily resurrection when you will see your righteous Shepherd-King face-to-face. Amen.