Tag: churches in enfield ct

Sermon for Christmas Day

1 John 4:9-11 (Christmas Day)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 25, 2010

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

Our text is from 1 John 4:9-11:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

So what did you get for Christmas?  Was it what you wanted?  Did Santa come through again for you this year?  He did at my house!  I hope he did for you too.

The giving of Christmas presents is meant to remind each of us of the gift that God the Father gave to us in His Son, the Word of God Made flesh, Jesus Christ.  It is His gift of love to us that enables us to be God’s gifts to the world.

God loves you dearly, and He shows you His love by sending you your greatest gift: Jesus.  So often when we think of love we think of the emotion and the romance.  We use the word love to talk about our favorite food and about our favorite people.  We love our cars, our pets, our vacations . . . love has become so overused that we have forgotten that love has a price.

St. John tells us in his first letter that love, as defined and described in the Bible, is not an emotion.  It is not a warm, fuzzy feeling.  It is not even our attraction for another person.  John tells us that “God is love” and that the only way to know love is to know God.  John then goes on to tell us that God’s greatest expression of love is Jesus.  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  This is more than the heartwarming manger story we hear at Christmas.  John reminds us the baby that Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger on that first Christmas came with the purpose of expressing God’s love.  God, the Father, sent that baby, His Son, Jesus, to grow up and live for us the righteous life He demands; He sent that baby, His Son, Jesus, to die for us to be the “propitiation for our sins,” which means that Jesus is the one who was sent to die the sacrificial death for our sins.  If God is love, then His love is truly shown as He sends us sinners Jesus.  The great gift of Jesus is what Christmas is all about!

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.”  Or in the words of the Christmas hymn “God Loves Me Dearly”:

He sent forth Jesus,

My dear Redeemer,

He sent forth Jesus

And set me free. (Lutheran Service Book 392:3)

The love of God is not an emotion, it is not expressed in good feelings—not even the great feelings we have around Christmastime.  Jesus is God’s greatest expression of His love.  God’s love for us in Jesus is seen in His sinless life, all His miraculous works, the prophecies He fulfilled, the promises He’s given, and the words of life He preached.  It includes His suffering and death on the cross, and it includes the victory of the empty tomb!  That is how God’s love is truly shown!  The love of God is His determination, His activity to send us Jesus to buy us back from the penalty of sin.

Unfortunately, this expression of God’s love is lost, especially in the hubbub of the season.  We get busy in the trappings and activities of the holidays and lose sight of the fact that Jesus’ birth is given its eternal meaning in His death on the cross.  It all can get so easily lost and we run from shopping to celebration to work to family to this, that, and the other thing.  At this time of year, probably more than at any other, we need to make some quiet time with our God in His Word (the Bible), clear away the clutter of Christmas, and take a good look again at the love that came down from heaven for us that night so long ago in Bethlehem!  Think of the words of the hymn “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You.”

Love caused Your incarnation;

Love brought You down to me.

Your thirst for my salvation

Procured my liberty.

Oh, love beyond all telling,

That led You to embrace

In love, all love excelling,

Our lost and fallen race. (LSB 334:4)

That is true love!  That love of God, expressed in His Son, Jesus, is what Christmas is all about! We meditate on that love as we celebrate Christmas day.  One Lutheran scholar once wrote this about this true love of Christmas:

As long as we talk of God’s love and think only of the candy of our wishes, we have never yet known that love.  The victory of God’s love is on Calvary; the triumph of His love, in Christ’s open tomb; the glory of His love in all those who now live through Christ.—To know God’s love is to prize the sacrifice that love made; to share its power; to serve in its kingdom.  The greatest thing in the world is not anything of the world at all; it is the heavenly love of God in Christ Jesus his Son. (R. C. H. Lenski, The Eisenach Epistle Selections [Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1914], 1:573)

Even the unbelieving world around us puts an emphasis on giving, sharing, and helping others in the days leading up to Christmas.  We usually do a little more of it ourselves around this time of year also, don’t we?  Hopefully our reason for doing good and showing love for others at this time of year, and always, is motivated by a heart of love and in genuine appreciation for the love God has shown in His Son.

But if all we’re doing for our fellow man is giving gifts, food, a friendly visit, or volunteering our time, then we aren’t showing our fellow man the fullest or truest kind of love!  In fact, as one theologian once put it, “It is the height of lovelessness to let men’s souls go on to [destruction], while we provide a thousand charities for their bodies” (Lenski, 574).  If we share food, money, clothing, and time, but do not share the true meaning and love of Christmas with others, we are not showing true love.  If we go and visit with the less fortunate, when we go Christmas caroling, or when we have any other opportunities to do good to others, but do not share the love of Christ in both word and song, then we are not loving our neighbor with the Love that loved us enough to give up everything, even His life, that we might be saved.

You and I have been given the love of God.  You and I have received in His Word and in our Baptism the love of God that forgives our sins, removes from us the penalty of sin, and gives us life eternal with God.  We have received the gift of “God with us,” Immanuel; Jesus, the Savior, born in Bethlehem’s manger.  The natural response to the great, saving gift of God’s love in Christ is to share and show that love with others.  But you notice that John’s words are a bit surprising in that last verse, aren’t they?  You might expect him to say, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love Him.”  Instead, he tells us “we also ought to love one another.”  The best way to express our love for God—and the way He most wants us to express our love for Him—is to show love for our neighbor, not only our fellow believers, but especially those whom God places in our path who desperately need to hear the Good News of God, who is love.  The fact that we have been loved by God means that we have been given as a gift of God’s love to the world: showing our love for God through loving and serving them in Jesus’ name!

This is the reason that I appreciate and encourage our Food Shelf Ministry so much.  We aren’t just giving people the earthly things they need when we hand out toothpaste and deodorant, shampoo and body wash.  We also give them the one thing needful, the true love of God in the Savior Jesus Christ.  And we do it with our actions and most importantly with our words speaking HIS Word.  We’ve shared the love of God with a woman who has suffered domestic abuse.  We’ve shared the love of God in Christ with a teenage couple where the very young girl is pregnant, offering the support and love of this congregation and the free gift of Holy Baptism.  We’ve cried with the hurting and laughed with those rejoicing in God’s love for them.

How wonderful it is that through God’s greatest gift to us, our Savior Jesus, who won our forgiveness and new life, that the Lord would cause us to be gifts of Christ to the world!  After all, we who are in Christ are “Christians,” followers of Christ who give Christ to the world!  As much as we love the gifts of Christmas, we will always be loved by God more.  As much as we desire the gifts of Christmas, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will all the more desire to be the gifts of God in Christ to the world so that many will hear and know by faith that a Savior has been for them, who is Jesus Christ, the Lord.  Amen.

Sermon for December 12, 2010

Isaiah 35:1-10 (3rd Sunday in Advent—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 12, 2010

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

Our text is the Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah 35:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

Roads are an important part of our country’s infrastructure.  Roads move people and goods from one destination to another over a smooth surface (more or less) that allows for faster travel times than over, say, dirt, grass, or sand.  We think of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System in our own country which was prompted in part because of President Eisenhower’s liking of the German Autobahn.  Going back in time, it was the old Roman roads of that grand empire that revolutionized travel.  Roman roads allowed unprecedented movement and relatively safe travel by merchants and traders as the Roman legions moved along the same thoroughfares.  Caesar’s armies could swiftly move from one spot of trouble and unrest to next.

In the Bible, the life of faith of God’s people is compared to a road.  Walking in the ways of God or His Law would make up a small anthology of biblical verses.  There are over a hundred references in Psalms and the Book of Proverbs alone!  In Psalm 1 we hear that “the Lord knows the way of the righteous.”  David prays in Psalm 27, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path.”  God’s Word is described as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Ps. 119:105)  Last week we heard that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of a “voice calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight.’”  In the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal and arrest Jesus told the apostles, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  Then there is our text from Isaiah 35 this morning, “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness.”

The Holy Way, that sounds like a road to be traveled.  It is a road described as not having anything bad or sinful traveling on it.  It will be impossible for a traveler on this road, even if he doesn’t have any sense of direction, to get lost.  No GPS needed.  It will be a protected road without danger or risk of injury.  Truly, this sounds like the road we want to travel, doesn’t it?  But are we qualified to be on such a path?

At first, it doesn’t sound like you and I have permission to be there.  Isaiah says that the “unclean” shall not pass over it.  It shall belong to those who walk on “the way.”  I’m unfit for this road because I am unclean.  I am not holy.  Along with each one of you I confess week by week that I am this way—sinful and unclean—by my very nature as a human being who has inherited sin from my parents, who inherited it from theirs, going all the way back to Adam and Eve, our first parents.  It’s not just that you and I do sinful things, but rather that we have a nature that is corrupt and evil.  In this post-modern world that we live in there is a temptation to see people in such a positive light that the fact of human sinfulness is dismissed.  “Oh, she’s a good person.”  “He’s not that bad.”  “Everybody has a few faults, but for the most part people are decent.”

Are they, really?  My fifth and sixth grade teacher at St. Paul’s Lutheran School told us one day in religion class that, “Nice people go to hell.”  “Nice” doesn’t get you anywhere as far as God is concerned.  The Lord didn’t say, “Just be nice and everything will be okay.”  The Lord didn’t say, “Try to be as good as you can.  I know you have some mistakes, but they are no big deal.”  God said, “Be perfect!  Be holy!  Be without sin!”  Nice isn’t perfect.  Good enough isn’t holy.  Neither are without the corruption of sin.  “Nice” people go to hell because they are sinners.  “Good” people go to hell because they are sinners—sinners who can’t get rid of their sins on their own by behavior modification or medication; sinners who have no standing before God except as His enemies.

Left to myself, left to yourselves, we will never walk on the Way of Holiness.  God will come with vengeance.  God will come with recompense, with payment for our sins and our sinfulness.  He will come in judgment against our unholiness and our uncleanness.  His justice will force Him to condemn us, to measure out the punishment we have merited—eternal death and hell.  This is our fate if God should keep a record of our sins.  Who could stand before Him? (Psalm 103:3-4)  No one.  Not me, not you, not that “nice” man you know, not that “good” woman you associate with.

But hear what Isaiah promises.  Listen carefully to what God does for us!  “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.’” (Isaiah 35:4)  God will come with punishment for sin; He will come with full payment for sins.  But you and I He will save.

Because God is a just and holy God, He can’t let sin go unpunished.  There must be death and hell as consequence.  The payment has to be met!  Blood must be shed for forgiveness.  But it is not you nor I who suffer the consequence and punishment for sin.  God Himself does in our place.

The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God, Jesus the Christ took on human flesh and became incarnate among sinners.  He humbled Himself and became fully human, except without sin.  Jesus took on flesh so that He might fulfill God’s holy, perfect Law for us because we cannot.  Jesus took on human flesh so that He might be able to suffer God’s wrath against sin.  Jesus shed His blood to atone for our sin and He died our death, suffering the hell we deserved.  Christ bought us back.  He redeemed us from all sins, from death, and from the power of Satan with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.

The result of Christ’s death and resurrection is our complete forgiveness for the sins that we do, for the good we fail to do, and for the sinful nature with which we are conceived and born.  It is a totally complete forgiveness that covers all our sins and failures to be holy.  What’s more, having our sins forgiven by Jesus’ death for us, Jesus, by His loving choice, bestows His holiness upon you and me!  In a great exchange, Jesus took our sins and covered Himself with them when He died on the cross.  And He gave to you and me His perfection, His holiness, His perfect life.

So Martin Luther could preach at the baptism of Bernhard von Anhold on April 2, 1540, “Is not this a beautiful, glorious exchange, by which Christ, who is wholly innocent and holy, not only takes upon himself another’s sin, that is, my sin and guilt, but also clothes and adorns me, who am nothing but sin, with his own innocence and purity?  And then besides dies the shameful death of the Cross for the sake of my sins, through which I have deserved death and condemnation, and grants to me his righteousness, in order that I may live with him eternally in glorious and unspeakable joy.  Through this blessed exchange, in which Christ changes places with us (something the heart can grasp only in faith), and through nothing else, are we freed from sin and death and given his righteousness and life as our own.”[1]

In Christ alone are you and I made fit, qualified, to walk the Holy Way.  Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life—our Way, our Truth, our Life everlasting!  In Christ our Savior, we are the redeemed of the Lord.  We are the ransomed of the Lord whom He bought with His own blood.  Sorrow and sighing because of sin and its punishment has fled away.  Covered in the blood of Jesus through baptismal waters, you and I are holy in Christ and so are able to pass over the Way of Holiness in confidence and without fear to meet our God face to face.  You and I walk the way of life and faith in Christ and we will come into His eternal presence with singing with everlasting joy as we walk with our Lord on the Way of Holiness.  Amen.

 


[1]Martin Luther, vol. 51, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51 : Sermons I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 51:316 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1959).

 

Sermon for November 14, 2010

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (25th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 14, 2010

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

Our text for today is the Epistle lesson from 2 Thessalonians 3:

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

Fact: Not all people have saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Fact: Without saving faith in Jesus Christ, people are lost to death in hell.

Fact: You and I must pray for missions and for evangelism

Fact: You and I must share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.

So we start off with the problem—not all people have saving faith in Jesus Christ.  How do we know?  The Bible tells me so, right here in our text.  “Not all have faith.”  If everyone had faith in Jesus Christ, congregations like ours would be filled to overflowing with believers.  That isn’t the case because not all people have faith.

Saving faith is trust in the heart that believes that only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  This faith trusts that Jesus died on the cross to receive people’s punishment for sin, winning our complete forgiveness and right standing before God.  Faith believes that Jesus rose again from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, forever defeating death, guaranteeing our bodily resurrection from the dead.  It is faith alone that receives God’s blessings that Jesus won for us on the cross with His death and with His resurrection—the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.  But, not everyone has this faith.

There are people living in our community, right now, today, who do not have faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Some of these people are our neighbors and our friends.  They are coworkers and classmates.  They are adults and they are children.  They are the lost.  Without faith they are lost in that they do not have the hope of eternal life, but rather only the punishment of eternal death.  Without faith they are lost because they do not receive forgiveness for their sins.  They are lost because they do not believe in Jesus Christ.  The Bible makes this very clear in Acts 4:12, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth. . . . There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

One of the sad tragedies is that the Lost don’t realize their “lostness.”  They are unaware of their sick spiritual condition of separation from God.  They do not recognize their sin, their complete helplessness to change themselves, and their need for a Savior from death and hell.  Sin has so blinded people that they don’t know how dangerous it is.  People have a notion that they are basically good, that everything is fine.  If people are basically good, then why is there so much evil in the world?  If people are basically good, why are there so many murders, attacks, robberies, and the like?  People are NOT basically good.  All people, including you and me, were conceived and born sinful, evil, wicked, and godless.

Stinging words, aren’t they?  These are words that speak of a tragic, horrible reality.  It’s God’s Word in the Bible that shows us our lost condition.  It’s God’s Word in the Bible that shows us our separation from God, our sin, our helplessness to change.  Listen to what the one, true God says.

Psalm 51: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Ecclesiastes 7:20: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”

Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 8:7: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

Ephesians 2:1: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins”

We all started life in this world in the darkness and blindness of sin.  We all started out lost from

God and the eternal life He has prepared for us.  And it took an act of God to change that.  St. Paul writes in our text, “For not all have faith.  But the Lord is faithful.”

God had sinners to deal with and used His love to win them.  Immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and ate the forbidden fruit, bringing sin into the world, God promised to make everything right again.  He promised a Savior from sin and death and hell.  This Savior, a child of a woman, would defeat Satan, that ancient serpent.   God’s Son, Jesus Christ, walked among sinners and treated them as His friends, with His wondrous patience.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends.” (John 15:13-14a)

The Lord was faithful to His promise.  Jesus, the Son of God, was born of the virgin Mary to be our only Savior.  Jesus was faithful in keeping God’s Commandments perfectly on our behalf.  Jesus was faithful in suffering the agony of death and hell on a cross for you and me and for all of the lost.  It is the eternally valuable blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all our sins.  Jesus’ death on the cross means our forgiveness and our eternal life.  Jesus rescued us and all people from our “lostness.”  It was Christ who “came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)  It was Jesus, the Good Shepherd to us who are like sheep who have gone astray and cannot find our way home, who went to search for us.  When He found us in our sins, suffering covered in our guilt, He picked us up, washed us in His cleansing blood, put clean, new clothes on us, and carried us home rejoicing!

This happened through the waters of Holy Baptism.  Washed with the water and the Word of God, we were cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away our sin.  We were clothed with the righteousness, the holiness, of Jesus.  In Baptism our faithful Lord rescued us from our sin and its guilt by freely giving us forgiveness.  He saved us from death and from the devil’s power.  He gave us the gift of saving faith, establishing us as believers in Christ, guarding us from the evil one.  As a gift to us who were once lost but are now found in Christ, the Lord Himself now directs our hearts to the love of God and to the steadfast patience of Jesus Christ.

“Not all have faith.  But the Lord is faithful.”  He was faithful to you and me who were once lost in sin and death without saving faith.  God called us to be His children in Baptism.  He gave us faith in Jesus as our only Savior, forgiving us, saving us, and giving us life forever with Him.  And the Lord’s faithfulness continues through you and me to those who remain lost today without saving faith.

Remember the lost?  They are your neighbors and friends, coworkers and classmates.  They are adults and they are children.  They do not know Jesus Christ by faith.  They do not trust in Him as their only Savior from sin and death.  What can we do?  We can do nothing on our own.  To change sinful hearts is an act of God alone.  But God has picked you and me to carry the message of faith, forgiveness, and life to the lost.

Paul begins today, “Pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.”  The Word of the Lord runs ahead and speeds along when it is proclaimed, announced, and shared with the lost.  The Word cannot run too fast and too far and receive too much glory in the hearts of people.  But how does the Word of the Lord, the Good News about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, run?  It runs with our legs; it speaks with our mouths.  If you, the believers in Jesus Christ who live by faith in the Son of God, do not speed ahead God’s Word of love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, it will not go.  God’s Word says this in Romans 10, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

(Romans 10:14-17)

Everything we do as a Christian congregation centers on Christ and His mission to seek and to save the lost.  Our Pre-School, Sunday School, Vacation Bible school all seek the bring children into a loving relationship with their friend Jesus.  Bible classes, tag sales, craft fairs, the Food Shelf Ministry especially target adults that we might share Jesus with them.  But that is not enough.  Each one of you, boys and girls, men and women, you must take the message about Jesus to your neighbors and friends, coworkers and classmates.  You simply must.  They must hear the message about Jesus.  The Word of the Lord has to run its course and it has to run through you.  There is simply no option because those who live without Christ are lost and you have the only message of salvation to give them.

With faith in Jesus, we pray that each one of us individually will carry the Lord’s Word from this place out into the community, our homes, schools, and workplaces.  We are confident to share the message of Jesus Christ because the Lord directs our hearts and our words as we speak His Word on His behalf.  He will establish and guard us against the evil one.  He will open doors of opportunity for His Word to grow so that many who are now lost will be found by His Word, Jesus Christ.

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)  Amen.

Sermon for September 12, 2010

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (Holy Cross Day – Observed)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 12, 2010

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

Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Corinthians 1:

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 it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block 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. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The year was A.D. 326.  The Roman Emperor was Constantine I, the first Emperor of Rome to convert to Christianity.  His mother, Helena of Constantinople, was said to have discovered the true cross of Jesus during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem.  The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine.  The church was dedicated nine years later, on September 14, A.D. 335, with a portion of the thought-to-be cross placed inside it. On that day the cross itself was brought outside the church on so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate and to worship it.  Since that time, Holy Cross Day has been observed by the Christian Church as a time for recognizing the Cross in a festival atmosphere as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ’s victory over death, and a reminder of His promise we heard in the Gospel lesson, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Since we will not be together on September 14, we are observing Holy Cross Day in our Divine Service this morning.  But we want to observe this festival day rightly.  Holy Cross Day, unlike those who celebrated in A.D. 335, is not a day to worship the cross.  We do not bow down before the cross.  We do not pay homage to it.  Our prayers are no more significant if we pray before a cross or if we pray on our needs at our bedside with no cross in sight.  The cross is simply a sign pointing to Jesus Christ and Him Crucified for the sins of the whole world.  We gather with a festival-like atmosphere around the cross in our church not because of the cross itself, but because Jesus, the only Son of God, died on the cross and rose again on the third day saving us from Satan, sin, and death.

A wooden cross was an instrument of torture and death.  It was a form of capital punishment reserved for the worst in society and those whom the Romans wished to make a public spectacle of, like generals or kings conquered in battle.  It is no wonder then that Paul wrote in our text that the “word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”  To speak about the Son of God, the Savior, dying on a cross was to speak a message of utter nonsense.  What God would have His Son killed to save people?  What God would have His Son killed on a cross?  That’s complete humiliation, disgrace, and dishonor.  No one in Paul’s day would have thought of someone dying on the cross as something to celebrate.  The cross was not a symbol of victory and life, but a sign of terror and death.  So long has the cross been a centerpiece in churches that Christians forget the shame and offensiveness it represented in the ancient world.

Christ crucified—a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  The world for “stumbling block” here is our English word, “scandal.”  The cross was a cause for offense; Jesus’ death on the cross as a criminal was scandalous.  How could that event have ever saved anyone from eternal destruction?  Who can put their faith and trust for salvation in One who was lifted up and tree and crucified.  For the Bible says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13b)  To the Greeks, the message of a crucified savior was literally “moronic.”  It is so foolish that a deity would act so for human beings who cause so much trouble—to send the Christ to die on a cross!  You expect us to believe such silly things.  Give us plain signs; give us things that we can figure out with our wisdom through debate.

But human wisdom cannot lead to God, the only true God who reveals Himself in the message of the cross.  Human salvation was accomplished by the power of God effective in the word of the cross.  Jesus, the only Son of God, true God and true Man, suffered and died on the tree of the cross, bearing the sins of the whole world.  Unthinkable?  Yes.  Unimaginable?  Certainly.  Beyond human understanding?  Of course.  The cross was God’s instrument of wisdom, His means, of bringing about our forgiveness and eternal life.  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” Jesus said.  Jesus was the grain of wheat that died so that He might bear much fruit—forgiveness and life for the whole world, you, me, and everyone else.  Jesus was the Savior, lifted up and crucified on a cross, so that by God’s grace through faith all people might be drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit and receive the fruits of His cross, forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God forever.  Christ, through His saving and atoning work of the cross, is truly the power of God and the wisdom of God.  The word of the cross, as ridiculous and silly as it is to some, as moronic and stupid as it is to others, the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the dynamite-power of God that gives us faith in Jesus as our Savior, forgives our sins, and gives us life forever.

But no matter how well we dress up the word of the cross, the world will always find it distasteful.  The world marches to the beat of a different drummer.  The message of Christ crucified and raised for us is only foolish to those who don’t know the message and those who refuse to believe it.  The world will always think that we Christians are wasting our time.  But that doesn’t stop us.  We know better.  We know by faith in Christ that the word of the cross is the dynamite-power of God for everyone!  It’s the power of God that saves us.  And like St. Paul, we want to boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and share the word of the cross with as many other people as we can.

Probably you’ve at least seen these small silver crosses that some of our members hand out at places like the Food Shelf.  These little crosses have no magic powers.  They are not for worship, nor to make prayers “work better.”  They are a sign pointing to Jesus, tool that we can use to speak to others the word of the cross, the message of Christ-crucified and risen.  And for that, we hear the conclusion of the message today, in which you play a vitally important role.

[Members of the Board of Elders and others then distribute crosses to the congregation while the Head Elder encourages the congregation to share the cross given and especially the spoken message of Jesus Christ with someone else.]

Sermon for August 8, 2010

Luke 12:22-34 (11th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

August 8, 2010

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

Our text is the Gospel Lesson recorded in Luke 12:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.  Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, a treasure in heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

In his book God’s Psychiatry, Charles L. Allen tells this story: “As World War II was drawing to a close, the Allied armies gathered up many hungry orphans.  They were placed in camps where they were well-fed.  Despite excellent care, they slept poorly.  They seemed nervous and afraid.  Finally, a psychologist came up with the solution.  Each child was given a piece of bread to hold after he was put to bed.  This particular piece of bread was just to be held, not eaten.  The piece of bread produced wonderful results.  The children went to bed knowing instinctively they would have food to eat the next day.  That guarantee gave the children a restful and contented sleep.”

Jesus begins our reading this morning by telling His disciples not to be anxious or worried about their food and clothes.  There are, believe it or not, more important things than unnecessary concern over what you will eat and what you will put on.  But try telling that to one of those orphans.  Try telling that to the homeless person.  Try convincing one of the clients who need to use the Food Shelf.  Try to make someone who has just lost their job say that they don’t need to be concerned and they will probably laugh at you.  Those of us who “have” much more readily accept the words of Jesus, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”  But those who “have not” are going to balk.  “Jesus says that God feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies and grasses of the field.  Why doesn’t He take care of me?  If I’m of “much more value” than birds, why am I struggling just to put food on the table and clothes on my back?”

First, let’s understand what Jesus is NOT saying.  He is not saying that we don’t need to care.  He is not saying that there will never be any concern over paying the bills, buying the groceries, or clothing the family.  We live in a world that is totally messed up by sin and bad things do happen.  People, including Christians, suffer loss and want and need and hunger.  Worry is going to happen.  But when situations arise that cause us anxiety and concern over the physical things we need, how do respond?  Excessive worry and concern over the needs of the body manifests a lack of trust in God, a serious failing.  Rather than seeking what we are to eat and drink and wear, being worried about such things as if they are priority number one, Christ offers a better option—to seek God’s kingdom first and let God worry about taking care of these other needs.

The better option is to trust in God’s grace.  Sadly, when we are fat and happy, we tend not to think much about the fact that all we need to support this body and life is a gift from God.  When we are in need, we tend to worry so much about it and try to fix things ourselves that we don’t think much about the fact that all we need is a gift from God.

The apostle Paul wrote from his prison cell, “I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)  This is the lesson the Lord also wants us to learn.  God understands our needs better than we do.  Perhaps it is best for me to be humbled by God so that I learn what it means to be brought low and face hunger and need.  Perhaps I have been too worried and focused on physical things and have not been rich toward God.  In His loving care for my whole person, body and soul, it may be best for me not to have so much for a time.  Like Paul, that work of God in my life would stop me from being dependent on myself and would call me to more firmly trust in God, depending completely on Him to give me the things I need to support this body and life.  Listen to what St. Peter writes in his first letter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)  In other words, “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

We have a Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who today calls us away from our unnecessary concerns over the things of this world to a lively faith and trust in our heavenly Father who simply gives us His kingdom.  God’s kingdom comes among us by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly proclaimed the Good News message, “The kingdom of God has drawn near and is here now.”  God’s kingdom comes in the person of His Son, Jesus.  Jesus went to the cross to pay for all of our sins of excessive worry and concern about physical needs, the things that God knows we need and gives to us by His grace.  Jesus died and rose again so that, through the Holy Spirit, He might bring us personally into God’s kingdom through baptismal waters.  As baptized children of God, with faith and trust in our Father who promises to meet our physical needs, we pray as our Lord taught us, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”  “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

We are called to believe His holy Word that promises, first, that God’s kingdom is ours and, second, that God has given us a heavenly treasure in addition to the things we need in the here and now.  In the here and now God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, with faith in Jesus our Savior, that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving—seek first His kingdom and He gives us all the rest.  What is all the rest?  What is this daily bread He gives?  Everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

So look what happens when I find myself in need.  By God’s grace, while I may be lacking in money or clothes, food or goods, God blesses me with good friends and faithful neighbors who provide for me from their daily bread.  Is not God still seeing to it that I have what I need?  Certainly!  It may be not in the quantities I would prefer, but God, through His means, provides our daily bread.  He gives us the ability and faith through His Holy Spirit to trust that He will do just as He has promised.  Consider what happens when I find myself well-off.  I have the joy of first thanking and praising God for all His gifts, serving and obeying Him.  I am able to be the one who shares with those in need, providing the basic things others need out of my supply of daily bread.

In Christ, God the Father has made us members of His kingdom, whether we find ourselves with plenty or in need.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, no matter what our situation in life, He enables us to make life in the Kingdom our priority—faithfully using His Word and Sacraments, growing in faith toward God and love toward our neighbors.  All these other things that God knows we need, He will provide.  We will have enough.

As Christians, we learn what it is to have plenty and to face hunger with the Lord by our side.  We know what it is to have abundance and to have need as the Lord with us.  In all this we do not need to be afraid, whether we are rich or poor by the world’s standards.  We have Christ our Savior, our Shepherd, who will always guard His little flock.  We have our heavenly Father whose good pleasure it is to simply give us the kingdom of everlasting life, and along with that, everything we need in this earthly life.  We also have the Holy Spirit, who calls us by the Gospel to seek the Kingdom, trusting by faith that God’s Word is faithful and true.  We will have, by God’s standards, abundant life both here and in eternity.  Amen.