Holy Trinity Sunday
Holy Trinity Sunday
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, In a letter to James Madison in 1787 Thomas Jefferson quoted a Latin phrase: malo periculosam libertatem quam quietam servitutem, which means, “I prefer the tumult of liberty than the quiet of servitude” or to say it differently, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” Now, of course, the context had to do with government and the founding of America, but there is truth to that statement, isn’t there? There’s a certain quiet in slavery and a certain danger to freedom. With laws and rules there isn’t much room for choice. You have to do this and you have to do that, there are no questions, no wondering what I should do. But with freedom and liberty there’s a bit of difficulty. Now, I have to decide what to do, now I’m no longer just told what I should be doing, but I get to choose. Now I have to think, now I have to weigh my options, now I have to make a choice, now I have to take responsibility. So, do you prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery?
Today we’re looking at the freedom that we enjoy as Christians. And I think all of us here would agree that freedom is a good thing, something that we enjoy, something that we want. But with this freedom comes certain challenges that we need to consider. So, let’s consider this today: we need freedom, we have freedom, we live in freedom.
First of all, we need freedom. The Bible is very clear about our condition born into this world. We were not born into this world neutral, we were not born with a blank slate, we were not born partially good and partially bad. God’s Word tells us we were born descendants of Adam and Eve, not only did we inherit our physical DNA from them but we inherited their sinful image. David says in the Psalms, “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Earlier in the book of Romans we were told, “There is no one who does good, not even one, all have turned away, there is no one righteous, not even one, no one who does good, we have together become worthless.” Then later in Romans we heard that “the sinful mind is hostile to God it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” And Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” We weren’t born in freedom, we were born in slavery, slavery to sin.
So, what’s it like to be a slave? Being a slave means that you literally do not have control over your life. You can’t go wherever you want to go, you can’t do whatever you want to do, you can just see whomever you want to see, you can’t eat whatever you want to eat. Your time belongs to someone else, your energy belongs to someone else, your work belongs to someone else. We were born enslaved to sin. There’s a Lenten hymn that says, “Enslaved by sin and bound in chains, beneath its dreadful tyrant sway, and doomed to everlasting pains we wretched, guilty captives lay.”
And yet, every time we sin, every time we turn our back on God’s Word, every time that we do what WE want to do instead of what GOD wants us to do, every time we’re selfish, every time we’re prideful, we’re asking to be enslaved by sin. Sin doesn’t bring freedom, sin brings slavery, sin brings guilt, sin brings anxiety, sin brings pain. So, what do we need? We need freedom. That’s the first point.
The second point is, we have it! That’s also the message of the book of Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.” Jesus existed in all glory, freedom, riches, honor, Jesus couldn’t possibly gain anything more for himself, but he graciously came into our world, subjected himself under God’s law. His hands have done what was required of ours. His lips have spoken what we should have said. His ears have heard the pleas for help to which we should have listened. His heart has loved the Lord with the love that we owed to him. His mind has maintained the purity and truth that God demanded from ours. His blood has paid the penalty we deserved. So there is nothing left that we are required to do. He paid the ransom price to set us free from our slavery of sin with his blood shed for us on the cross, rescuing us, redeeming us, liberating us from our slavery to sin. Then in further grace he sent the Holy Spirit to you through water and the Word to bring you to faith so that the freedom he won on the cross might be yours personally. Jesus has set you free. You are free from all laws. You are free from having to do anything in order to go to heaven – Jesus did it all. Jesus fulfilled every obligation you are under and set you free. You are truly free. There is no fine print, there are no catches, there are no strings attached. That’s the 2nd point: we have freedom. Glorious freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil forever!
Lastly, how do we live in this freedom. Here is the joyful, but not always easy part. And this is what the apostle is addressing in our text. Having been rescued and redeemed by the Lord we want to serve him with our lives. How do we do that? Well, we look into God’s Word, there God tells us what it means to live as his child in this world. But what if it’s something not addressed in God’s Word? What if it’s something that isn’t commanded by God or forbidden by God? What should we do? The term we use for these things is called “adiaphora” and we have Christian freedom to do or not do things that God has neither commanded or forbidden. Here’s what God says, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.” Why do we worship on Sundays? It’s not because Sunday is a more sacred day than any other day of the week. We worship on Sundays partly because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, partly because we’ve done it that way for many years, partly because it’s the day that most people can come. Would it be wrong if we decided to have worship on a different day of the week? No. We could do that. The problem comes when someone says, “We must only worship on Sunday.” That would be adding something to God’s Word, that would be legalism. God allows us to choose when to formally worship Him.
“Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” There’s nothing wrong with eating certain foods, there is nothing wrong with not eating certain foods. Finally, the underlying question to ask about things that are not commanded or forbidden in God’s Word is: Can I do this or not do this to the glory of God? God gives us incredible freedom. In Christian freedom we, as a church, can decide how it is that we want to worship God in a fitting and orderly way. In Christian freedom, we as individuals, can decide how we want to serve God with our lives. An example that I read preparing for this sermon is actually one that we’re somewhat facing as a congregation. We have an increase in worship attendance and we have an increase in our gradeschool enrollment. Some may feel that since the worship service affects the most amount of people and is an integral part of the life of our church that expanding or improving our church facility should be the priority. Others may feel that since children are the future of our congregation that we should focus on expanding our school facility. With is right? Both are. But if the majority decide opposite from what I think, love says, “Even though this is not what I wanted, I’m going to support it.”
Why so? “For none of us lives to ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Christ set us free not to be selfish but to have self-less love for others.
Martin Luther once wrote: A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. What does that mean? That’s our lives. We have been set free, gloriously free, free from sin, death, and the devil. Free to live here and free to live forever in heaven. We are free to live our lives to the glory and praise of God. At the same time, we don’t use our freedom selfishly or in self-serving ways. Rather, in love and in freedom, we live for the good of others, we live to serve the good of others.
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, it seems that if you want to spark a very passionate and very argumentative conversation with someone today, just start talking about politics or policies or something that involves the government. It seems that in our nation people are very passionate about what our government should be doing. And that isn’t a terrible thing. We live in a country where the citizens of our country actually participate in a small way in government in the ability to elect officials to govern us. So it is important for citizens to be aware of the government and have knowledge so they can vote appropriately. But that also presents some challenges. How do we as Christians view the government? How do we live in this present world when in reality we are citizens of heaven? How do we balance this tension between the fact that heaven is our true home and yet if God has not yet taken us out of this world by death that we are still to live out our lives in this world?
Through the apostle Paul God gives us direction on how we are to carry out our lives in this world while we are not of this world. Remember that the government under which the apostle Paul lived was not a very nice government. Apparently, the government was very corrupt, dominated by unbelievers, promoted pagan idolatry, and would later on introduce some of the most horrid persecutions against Christians. But, nevertheless, notice what the apostle Paul tells us: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”
God has chosen to deal with you and me through representatives. One sphere of those representatives are all those who have secular authority over you and me. That includes the president, the members of congress and the senate, that includes the governor of our state and the house and senate, that includes mayors, judges, the police- everyone in authority over us have been given their positions by God. God is ultimately the ruler of the world and so those who have positions of authority have been put into those positions of authority by God.
Next, God tells us why government exists: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” The purpose of governmental officials is to keep the peace and order and provide protection for society. Governments should have laws that pose terror for people who would otherwise be menaces to society.
Next we’re told that those in authority are actually God’s servants. “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Why should we respect those in authority? Because they are in positions of authority established by God. They ultimately are to serve God’s purposes. They’ve received their power from God and execute judgment in the world and bring God’s judgment on people who disobey him. Those in government are finally to carry out God’s will. As soon as a ruler begins to make laws or demands that are contrary to God’s will, they are no longer servants of God, but usurpers of the authority which God has given them. The only time Christians will disobey the government is if it makes rules or demands that are contrary to God’s will. Then we are bound to a higher authority and must obey God rather than people. That doesn’t mean Christians will incite open rebellion against the government but patiently refuse to act contrary to God’s will – even if it means persecution.
“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Unbelievers will submit to the government’s laws out of fear, fear of punishment. There’s a part of each of us, a sinful flesh, that also submits out of fear. But as Christians we have an even better reason to obey the government in all things unless it tells us to disobey God and that is this: God wants us to. When we submit to authorities we are obeying God.
“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you ow them: if you ow taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” You see, when rulers are carrying out their jobs as representatives of God, when they rule according to God’s commands, then they provide a peaceful society in which we can do our God-given work of living for the Lord and sharing the gospel. So, we pay our taxes willingly, we don’t need to pay more than what the government says we should pay, nor should we pay less than what the government says we should pay.
Finally, to sum it all up, to describe how a Christian lives in this world in relationship to the government, to your neighbor, to your community, to anyone, God tells us: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” So how do we live as citizens in this world but not of this world? It is summed up in this word “love.” Love others means seeking no ill or harm to anyone. Love isn’t so much a fuzzy feeling or an emotion inside as it is a mindset that says, “I care so deeply about this person that I’m going to shape my actions to serve that person’s best interests.” You see, it’s not so much a gushy feeling as it is a decision to care about someone and show that care in the way that I act toward that person.
So, the question here is, do you do this? Do you honor those in authority over you? Do you gladly and willingly pay your taxes, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s? Do you pray for those in the government and those in authority over us? Do you gladly and willingly obey the government’s laws? Do you find yourself getting so wrapped up in politics that you forget that God is ultimately in control and those in power are there by God’s design and God will somehow someway work things out for the good of His people? Do you have a sincere love for every other person, shaping your actions to serve their best interests?
If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us has to say, “No. I’ve failed. I haven’t kept the fourth commandment. I need a substitute, a Savior.” And then we look to Jesus and we see in him the perfect substitute, the one who perfectly kept the law of love. Even while he was being nailed to a cross by an angry mob he said, “Father, forgiven them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He suffered and died there for all our sins of disrespecting those in authority, all our sins of failing to love our neighbor as ourselves, and every other sin we’ve committed. Because of that God sees you right now as the perfect citizen and as having loved others perfectly 100%.
Right now you’re an heir of eternal life. But right now God wants you to live in this world. You don’t belong to this world, you’re a citizen of heaven. But while you’re here, reflect the love of your Savior, honor and respect those in authority. Love your neighbor as yourself. For in doing so, you will have plenty of opportunities to communicate the greatest love to others by sharing with them the love of God in Christ our Savior. Amen.
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, have you heard of visual lethargy before? Even though you might not have heard that term, you probably understand the dynamic of it. Visual lethargy is something that artists speak about and it means that the more that you see something the less you actually see it. For example, the first time that you drove to your new job or school, you’re conscious of all the new sights and scenes along the way, you notice that nice park, that interesting house, that beautiful tree. But by your twenty-first trip, you’ve quit noticing those things and you’re anxious about the traffic going faster so you can get to work before you’re late. Has that happened to you? It seems inevitable but although you may see all those things, after a while you really don’t see them and you’ve lost a degree of wonder, a degree of thankfulness, a degree of gratitude at the beauty of things. The beauty that once captivated you is still there, but you don’t see it, and you can’t really celebrate that which you don’t see. Visual lethargy- you lose a certain sense of awe at something beautiful.
But that doesn’t just happen to us on our drive to work, does it? We can experience that same visual lethargy when it comes to our magnificent God. Have we lost some of our awe of God? You see, God has designed each human being to be in awe of Him, to worship Him. Every human being is designed by the Creator to worship Him. And so every single person is worshipping someone or something. Even the most irreligious person is worshipping- they may be worshipping themselves, may be worshipping their job, their money, their hobby, their social life, etc. Everybody is worshipping something, their hearts are in awe of something. But whenever you operate something contrary to its manufacturer’s guidelines you’re going to have problems. If you try to pop popcorn in a coffee maker, it’s not going to turn out right. If you put kool-aid in your car engine instead of oil, you’re not going to drive very far. If you operate against the manufacturer’s instructions you’re going to have problems. So it is with life. God has designed every person for worship. Everyone is worshipping something. If that something isn’t the God of the Holy Bible, you’re operating against God’s design and you’re always going to be lacking, missing, searching, and you will never have true and lasting joy and peace and satisfaction and contentment and a sense of purpose in life.
The Christian’s entire life is really meant to be worship. Every act, every word, every thought that we have is really to stem from a heart that’s in awe of God. Generally when we think of worship we think of gathering here in church to formally worship God – that’s certainly part of our worship, but for the Christian, their whole life is an act of worship to God. Awe of God is what we’re after when we come into God’s house. Literally what worship means is not that I’m coming here to be entertained, or I’m coming to benefit my life somehow, the real goal of worship is to come before God and give him awe and respect – that’s the goal of our worship. But that’s also the goal of our lives.
Awe and respect of God should be the reason I fill my head with the thoughts I think about. Awe of God should be the reason why I treat my wife the way I do. Awe of God should be the reason why I parent my children the way I parent them. Awe of God should be the reason why I wake up in the morning and go to work. Awe of God should be the reason why I handle my possessions the way I do. Awe of God should be the reason I manage my finances the way I do. Awe of God is meant to rule and influence and affect every aspect of my life. But is it? And if not, why not?
You see, the danger is, when we lose our awe of God, we’ll replace it with awe for ourselves. There’s only two options: live for God or live for yourself. If I’m not living for God, then I’m living for myself. There’s a war going on inside of you and inside of me between the awe of God and all the “awe-inspiring” things around us that God created. And perhaps it’s our visual lethargy of who God is and what God has done that has caused us to see God, but not see Him, to know God, but to not really know Him. Are you losing your awe of God?
What is capturing your awe in life? Where do you find the greatest happiness in life? Or, where do you find your deepest sorrows, because you lost what? You see what happens? When we lose our awe for God, when we become numb to the Lord and who He is and what He’s done for us, we’re going to search for awe in some created thing. Then our awe is kidnapped and we attach our happiness in life to the wrongs things, our sorrow in life to the wrong things, and our anger in life to the wrong things. If we lose our awe in God, we’ll find it in temporary, fleeting things that won’t ever satisfy.
How do we get our awe back? How do we continue to stand in awe of God? It’s seeing Him once again. Really looking, not just a passing glance. And that’s what the Apostle Paul does for us in this last part of Romans chapter 11. He’s been considering all these truths about God and he erupts into this awesome song of praise: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out.” No one will ever outwit or outsmart or stump God. His wisdom and knowledge are way too deep. It’s like walking out into a deep lake or ocean and you get out so far and pretty soon you’re too deep to stand anymore. His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God is never confused, God is never at a loss as to what to do next, God will never throw up his hands and say, “Oh no! What am I going to do?” God is not worried about hurricane Irma or Harvey, God is not afraid of the fires out west. He knows perfectly just how to do operate things in our world for the good of His people.
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Nobody can give God advice that He doesn’t already know. No one can give to God since God owns all things already. God has all things in His possession and He has power over all.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” Everything is God’s, He has all power, all might, all strength. He is infinitely more powerful than anything in all the world.
But what is absolutely jaw-dropping, astounding, amazing, and awe-inspiring is that our Creator God should use His infinite power and His infinite wisdom in order to rescue wayward sinners, like you and me. Why should the God of all the universe choose to save people like you and me who so easily and so often and so readily will lose our awe of Him for finding awe in things that are only fleeting and temporary? Why should God send His own Son into this world to suffer and die for sinful people like us who are all too prone to become bored and numb and careless about Him and His salvation?
There could only be one reason: awesome grace, mind-boggling love, extraordinary mercy. Instead of punishing us for our sins, God punished Jesus in our place, instead of sending us to hell, He made Jesus suffer hell in our place, instead of forsaking us, He forsook His own Son on the cross in our place. Why so? So that we would be His forever. What’s the only possible response to that grace? It can only be: Awe. Awe of Him and awe of what He’s done to save us. That’s worship. God is most glorified when we stand in awe of His love and His grace in sending Jesus to be our Savior. We do that in our lives when awe of God is at the base of all our thoughts, our words and our actions. We do that when we see signs of God’s awe all around us and it leads us to stand in awe of God and His grace. Signs simply point to something else. If you see a sign for Lake Bemidji, you don’t fish at the sign, the sign points you to the lake. So the beautiful, marvelous things of this world are signs, signs that point you to your marvelous and awesome God.
This week, worship your Lord. Stand in awe and marvel at who He is. And even greater, stand in awe of what He’s done for you in Jesus, rescuing you so that you can marvel at His grace throughout all eternity. Amen.
3th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 11:13-15, 17-24, 28-32
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you struggle with envy? Envy is where you look at someone else and what they have and wish that you had those things yourself. “I wish that I had that person’s job, I wish that I had that person’s stuff, I wish I had that person’s money, I wish I had that person’s house, I wish I had that person’s clothes, I wish I had that person’s personality, I wish I had that person’s happiness, I wish I had that person’s easy life, etc.” Envy is wanting something someone else has. I think it’s safe to say that it plagues every person – children, teenagers, adults, elderly- to some degree or another. And the result? A discontentment with life, gnawing feeling of lacking in life, a bitterness and anger. Do you struggle with envy or do people envy you?
Did you know that there is no reason for you to struggle with envy, but there’s plenty of reasons for people to envy you? Why so? Last week we looked at the Old Testament church and saw God’s faithfulness through centuries in keeping His promise to send a Savior into this world. Well, it’s always been God’s will that Jesus would be the Savior not just of the Israelites but the Savior of the world. God used a specific nation, the nation of Israel, to bring the Savior into the world, but God’s intention and will was for people of all nations to be part of his kingdom. We saw it in the Old Testament as people from different nations came to faith in the God of the Israelites, trusted in God’s Word, and looked forward to a Savior, like Ruth. When Jesus came He spent most of His time sharing the good news that He was the Savior to the people of Israel because they were the ones who had all the promises of God. But God’s intention was always to bring the message to all people. So, when the apostle Paul went on his mission trips to various places, he usually started by going to the synagogue where his fellow Jews were. Some believed in Jesus, others rejected. When he was rejected he brought the gospel to the Gentiles or non-Jews.
And that’s what Paul is describing in our lesson with this image of grafting. Grafting is when you take a branch from one tree and splice it onto the trunk of a different tree. That branch then starts receiving nutrients and sap from the trunk and becomes a branch on that tree. Jesus is that trunk, He is the vine. His fellow Israelites who rejected Him as the Savior through unbelief were cut off. Gentiles or wild olive shoots were grafted in through faith in Jesus as the Savior. And in the New Testament (which is really just a continuation of the Old Testament church), Gentiles are becoming members of God’s household, children of God, recipients of all God’s blessings through the free gift of faith in Jesus as their Savior. Throughout the ages Gentiles have been pouring into the church wherever the gospel is being proclaimed and becoming children of God. But in God’s master plan this also serves a saving purpose. As Gentiles pour into the church and receive every spiritual blessing from God, this is to incite the Israelites to envy in the hope that they too might be grafted back into the vine through faith in Jesus.
As a father I’ve done something similar with my children. One child has a toy, they see the toy of their brother or sister, lose interest in their toy and only want the other one’s toy. One thing you can do is take the original toy and really point out all of the different things you can do with it and it doesn’t work all the time, but sometimes they rediscover the uniqueness and specialness of their original toy and want it back again.
God’s master plan uses envy to bring people into His kingdom. This first applies to the Jewish people. The people God used to bring the Savior into the world. Many rejected Jesus and so were cut off, but they too can be grafted back in. I read a story about a Lutheran pastor who baptized a Jewish girl on Christmas Day, her mother and brother on Good Friday. The mother described how she had this Christian friend who always had a “sparkle” on her face when she talked about Jesus and the Jewish woman wanted that “sparkle” too. In a way she was envious.
But what about you, do people envy you? Do they envy what you have? I’m not talking about your stuff, your things, your personality, your position in life. I’m talking about what each one of you has. You have been grafted into the vine, you are a member of God’s own household, you are an eternal heir of the everlasting, almighty God! In other words, you’re rich! You’re infinitely rich in what really matters. Do people envy you? Do they envy what you have in Christ? I saw a statistic from the 2010 census that there are over 25,000 people in Beltrami county who didn’t indicate any religion at all. We live shoulder to shoulder with people who don’t believe, we experience the same difficulties, struggles, problems, but do they see a difference in us, in our attitude? Is there nothing that stands out in our words and behavior? Is our language just as filled with filth and gossip? Are we just as stressed, worried, anxious, prone to anger, discontent, jealous, proud, self-centered as anyone so that on the outside there doesn’t seem to be anything different about us and those who don’t believe? Nothing to envy? God’s NT mission plan is to use us to make unbelievers envious of what we have from Him. Why so? Because He wants them to come to faith too. But if we fall into the same sins and blend in with the unbelieving world- there’s nothing positively attracting about that. But why? Why would we not live differently from the sinful world? Isn’t it pride? Isn’t it an attitude of, “I’m in, I’m good. I can live however.”
Notice what God says here, “Don’t be arrogant, but tremble. If God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” Pride comes before the fall. Might we, too, be cut off if we keep sinning? The antidote to such pride and arrogance is God’s mercy. The only reason I’m here, the only reason you’re here, the only reason you and I are part of God’s eternal kingdom is the mercy and grace of God. We certainly don’t deserve it. But “God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” No one deserves anything from God, we’re all disobedient. No one can walk up to God and expect a paycheck, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But in mercy God graced us with full and free forgiveness in Jesus who paid for all sins with His life, death, and resurrection. There but for the grace of God go I.
But God’s mercy has the further purpose of igniting our hearts to share God’s mercy with any and all. That’s God’s plan for us NT Christians: that we bring the light of the gospel to others. No person should be regarded by us as hopelessly lost and beyond God’s grace, who knows how God may graft them into His vine? God uses us to incite envy in those who don’t have the hope that we have.
How to we make the gospel envious to others? How do we live with hope? How do we live as the salt and light of the world? It’s being reminded again and again what we have in Jesus. In Jesus you have eternal peace with God, everything is right with God. That means you have a peace that transcends understanding in the face of hurricanes and hate crimes, in the face of death and disasters, you have peace. Did you know that in Jesus you already, right now, are an heir of eternal life? That because of Jesus you’ll live in the riches of heaven forever? You know what having that does? It gives you contentment. What an incredible blessing! You don’t have to chase after the latest and greatest stuff, accumulate, try to get more and more, try to get ahead, in Jesus you have all you need for eternal life, you have contentment. Did you know that because Jesus died and rose for you that you have a undeflatable joy in any and every circumstance? A joy in good and bad times. Do you know how wonderful that is? You have purpose and meaning and identity, many don’t have that. You can be patient, kind, caring, and self-controlled. Why so? You know you’re forgiven. You know how rich you are in Jesus. You get to partake of the priceless body and blood of Jesus along with bread and wine in the life-giving Supper!
You have every spiritual blessing in Christ. You’ve been grafted into God’s eternal kingdom. God has mercifully made you rich in every way. Live as the redeemed, forgiven, blessed child of God you are. Lead those around you to be envious of what is yours in Christ so as to share the eternal treasure with them. Amen.
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, George Santayana lived in the 19-20th centuries and was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. Perhaps he’s most famous for a quote that is often attributed to him, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is great value in studying history, isn’t there? There’s value in knowing where you came from. There’s value in learning from past experiences. There’s value in understanding how things originated. There’s particular value in studying the history of God’s people. Today we’re installing our Sunday school teachers and in a little over a week we’ll begin a new school year here at St. Mark’s. Much of what we do as a congregation is training, teaching, educating our children about the history of God’s kingdom on earth.
Why do we do that? Because our salvation is based on real, true, historical facts. God gives us in the Old Testament a record of how he kept alive the promise made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that He would send the woman’s offspring to crush Satan’s head. Then we have a record of God’s incredible faithfulness to His promises and His people’s incredible unfaithfulness.
Notice what we have throughout the Old Testament. After the fall into sin at the very beginning and more and more people were born in the world, we notice that many people follow the way of Cain. They rebel against God, want God’s stuff, they want God’s world, but they don’t want God. In fact, it gets worse and worse until the point where there’s only one faithful, God-fearing, believing family left on the earth – Noah and his family. So God sends a massive flood to wipe the world clean of all the evil and corruption. But after the flood we see that the same sin that corrupted the whole world still lived in Noah and his family. Years later, the descendants of Noah build a big tower in direct defiance of God’s command. So, the whole human race had become an unfit means for bringing the Savior into the world. But God doesn’t go back on His Word. So, God chooses one family, the family of Abraham as the means that He will use to bring the long-promised Savior into the world. But Abraham and his wife Sarah don’t have any children and it’s hard to have many descendants when you don’t even have one. Abraham then takes matters into his own hands and has relations with his wife’s maidservant, Hagar, who gives birth to a son. But this is not the son who would carry the promise of the Savior.
Already we sense something here. Being an Israelite didn’t depend on physically being descending from Abraham. Abraham had other descendants who were not part of Israel. Later, as God promised, Sarah, Abraham’s wife has a child who they name Isaac. This son would carry the promise. Later Isaac and his wife Rebekah have two children, Jacob and Esau, who were also twins. But again God says that only one of them, Jacob, is going to be part of Israel. So this shows that having both the same parents and even sharing the same womb doesn’t make someone a true Israelite.
Jacob at one point after God has blessed him with many children wrestles with God and God changes his name to Israel, which means one who wrestles with God. Jacob’s family then moves down to Egypt where they live to survive a terrible famine and for 400 years the nation grows in Egypt separate from all other nations. God leads them out of Egypt and they wander in the desert for 40 years being led by a visible sign of God’s presence, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They were able to see God’s incredible glory and power on Mt. Sinai when God gave them the law for their good and for their protection. They made it to the Promised Land and God gave them a beautiful land to live in. But over the course of time many fell into idolatry and unbelief and the nation split into two. Then later the kingdom in the north was destroyed and the southern kingdom of Judah was taken to exile in Babylon. So we see again that being an Israelite doesn’t mean living in a certain geographical area.
Finally, God leads a remmant back to the Promised Land. And at just the right time God sent the Messiah, Jesus was born to the virgin Mary. Jesus lived for 33 years and publicly ministered and shared God’s Word for 3 years all over Israel, sharing the message of salvation in Him to all the Jewish people of Israel. But what happened? Many rejected him and with the help of the Romans put him to death on a cross. So, again, we see that not all the people of Israel were really people of Israel.
So what is it that makes someone a true Israelite? It’s not that you’re descended from Abraham or Isaac or Jacob, it’s not that you lived in a certain geographical area, it’s not that followed all the OT rules and regulations. What it’s always been is that a true Israelite is someone who believes in the Savior. True Israelites in the OT believed in the promised Savior. True Israelites today, you and me, believe in the Savior who has come.
But here as Paul considers his own people, the Jewish nation, his own race, his own flesh and blood, and considers how many of them are unbelievers, how many of them have rejected the Savior, how many of them went to hell were headed to hell, notice what he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” He’s deeply troubled. Then he even says, “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people.” See how deeply he cares about his own people, how deeply he cares that they would be brought to faith and not be lost eternally! So deeply that he says he could wish that he be lost, he be condemned, he lose out on salvation, if it meant his people would be saved.
They had so many advantages: adoption to sonship- they were considered children of God, divine glory – they saw the glory of the Lord, the covenants – they had precious covenants with God himself, the greatest being the new covenant of forgiveness and salvation in the Savior, they had the receiving of the law – they had the way to live a wonderful life in this world according to God’s laws, they had temple worship – all those signs, symbols, foreshadows of Jesus, all the sacrifices that pointed ahead to the one sacrifice on the cross, they had the promises of the Savior, they had the patriarchs, they had the human ancestry of Jesus! So many advantages and yet for the majority they turned away, rejected. Paul could wish himself condemned if it meant saving his people. Of course, Paul couldn’t do that. But Jesus did. Jesus was crucified on a cross taking the full punishment of all sins- Jews, Gentiles, Americans, everyone – on himself and suffering eternal death so no one would have to. But many turned away.
So what are our take aways? What should we learn from the past history of God’s people? Two things:
First, treasure what you have. Don’t despise the advantages that are yours. In incredible mercy God gave the Israelites advantage after advantage but a far majority turned away and were lost eternally. There’s a warning here for us. What advantages do we have? What high privileges do we enjoy? We have the adoption into God’s family through baptism. We have God’s Word readily available to us all around, we have the Lord’s Supper offered to us, we get to worship God in peace and safety, we don’t just have promises of the Savior, we have the fulfillments to see and enjoy. Germany once enjoyed a wonderful advantage – they had the likes of Martin Luther who rediscovered the truth 500 years ago, they were able to freely hear the unconditional gospel, the truth that our sins are forgiven in Jesus alone. But the gospel rain shower didn’t last long there. Today you go to Germany and Christianity is waning. The one church body that truly succeeds the Lutheran Reformation is only a hand full of churches and a few thousand members large.
But are we getting tired of the gospel? Are we getting tired because we’ve had it so good? Treasure what you have. Treasure the gospel, treasure your baptism, treasure your freedom to hear, read, and enjoy. Bring your children to this treasure by bringing them to the dayschool or Sundayschool or teaching them at home the truths of God’s Word.
The 2nd takeaway is this: have a heart for the souls of all people. Notice Pauls’ incredible desire for the salvation of his people. He describes himself having great sorrow and unceasing anguish for his people who have rejected Jesus. He even goes so far to say that he would pray that he himself would be cursed if it meant in exchange all of his fellow Israelites would be saved. Notice that. That’s the kind of desire he has. Do we have that? Do we have such a strong desire for the salvation of other people?
It starts right in our homes with our own families. Can I honestly say that my highest, my number one priority in my family is that my wife and children are in heaven? Who cares what sports they play! Who cares what grades they get in school! Who cares what university or college or scholarship they get! Is my number one desire that they end up in heaven? That’s going to affect and influence how I deal with them. Do I give them the impression that God’s Word isn’t really a part of my day-to-day life? Do I only give lip service to God’s directions for me in His Word? Do I honestly examine myself day by day to see what lies of Satan I’m believe, what sins I’ve accustomed myself to, in what ways my selfishness is controlling my life?
Paul is speaking about his kinsmen. What about our own “countrymen”? What about our fellow Americans, our fellow citizens of Bemidji? In the news there’s been a lot about racial tensions lately. But what does God say? There is no more important race than another. We are all the same, every person, sinners who deserve nothing but hell and eternal death. We are also all the same in that we all have a Savior who died on a cross and rose from the dead to win us our salvation fully and freely and offers it to all as a free gift. Have such a heart for the souls of all people. See each person as a soul for whom Jesus bled and died and who needs to hear the gospel just as much as you do.
In other words, have a heart like your God. That’s what we see when we look at the history of the Old Testament. God let nothing stop Him from sending His Son into this world to rescue you and me. That’s God’s faithfulness, that’s how much he desires your salvation. Have a heart for souls like He does. Amen.
11th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what a “deathtrap” is? Now that word can be used in any number of situations, but perhaps the most familiar we are with such a concept is in either movies or books. A “deathtrap” as I understand it, is a literary plot device that puts a good character or hero or actor that you sympathize with into a very dangerous and lethal situation. You know, it’s the scene where the person is walking blindly into a very precarious situation. You as the viewer see all the dangers and threats and schemes that the enemy has put into place to trap the unsuspecting hero or heroine. Such a plot device builds tension and creates anticipation and makes you almost want to yell at the screen, “Don’t do it! Go back! They’re going to get you!” It fills you with fear as you sympathize with the character or anger as you think, “Don’t be so dumb! Can’t you see what’s going to happen??” It’s a device used both in all kinds of literature and movies for both children and adults. A deathtrap.
But have you considered the fact that, in a way, we’re all living in such a “deathtrap”? There’s so much that we can’t see about our own lives. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, we don’t know horrible accident is going to happen to us or one of our loved ones, we don’t know what illness or disease or sickness is waiting for us, we don’t know what’s going to happen with nuclear bombs or threats of war, are we like the character in the movie walking around in the midst of danger? But, far worse, is the fact that we can’t see what Satan and all of his demons have planned for us. Every day they are planning and scheming and devising deathtraps not just for our bodies but for our souls! The devil wants nothing less than to rip us away from God, to get us to doubt God, to weaken in our faith, and finally to no longer believe, that’s his goal. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Lord’s Supper, said this, “Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him: a liar and murderer. A liar who entices the heart away from God’s Word and blinds it, making you unable to feel your need or to come to Christ. A murderer who begrudges you every hour of your life. If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as you can. The only reason we go about so securely and heedlessly is that we neither imagine nor believe that we are in the flesh, in the wicked world, or under the kingdom of the devil.”
One of the truths of the Reformation is that God does not lie. All of Scripture is true. Even when- and especially when – God’s Word seems to contradict our reason and logical skills. What we’re looking at is one of the most comforting sections of Scripture. We need to take it in all seriousness, to trust in it with all earnestness.
But at the same time the Bible also clearly states that we can fall from faith. The Bible does not teach the error “once converted always converted.” The Bible doesn’t teach that if we can prove that we were saved at one point in life, then we’re good, we’re safe. Perhaps functionally a lot of people live that way. They may call themselves Christian, they may have grown up in the church, may have gone to Sunday School when they were young, but have “outgrown” church, they have very little to do with God’s Word and are busy with their lives. They think, “I’m good with God. I’m going to heaven.” When in reality they’re going to hell.
Perhaps there’s also a warning here for us. The Bible makes it very clear that we can fall from faith. The Bible gives numerous examples of people who were believers but then fell away. The Bible tells us “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). The Bible describes people who believe for a while but “in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:13) The Bible talks about some who have “rejected… and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim 1:19). The Bible clearly tells us that we can fall from the faith and be lost eternally. It’s horridly scary to think about the deathtrap we’re in every day or to think about times when we have indeed fell away, when we’ve rejected God’s Word and knowingly and pridefully flung ourselves headlong into sin.
But the Bible also clearly teaches the truths of our verses and many others. The Bible tells us “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Cor 10:13). Jesus said, “No one can snatch them (his believers) out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6). And then words our text, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What are we to make of this?
On the one hand, God clearly says that we can fall from the faith, lose our faith, and die eternally in hell. On the other hand, the Bible also clearly states God’s promises that God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, no one shall pluck you out of the Savior’s hand, and nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!
Isn’t this a contradiction? It may be a contradiction to our minds, but it’s exactly what contradictory hearts like ours need to hear. Here’s the truth: The very person who is convinced that he can fall, that he may fall, that he is in great danger of falling away throughout his earthly life, can also be perfectly sure that he will never fall away.
Our hearts have such a contradiction in them. Our hearts are still terribly wicked, even though we’re Christian. There’s a part of us that wants to think, “I’m good, don’t worry, I’m fine, I can do it on my own, I’ll never fall away, I’ll never lose my faith.” So, we need to hear the serious and earnest warnings that God gives us: We can fall!
But our hearts are also timid, scared and weak and we desperately need reassurance. When I’m scared, when I think that I’m going to fall, when I’m afraid I’m not going to make it or afraid I’ll lose my faith and be lost eternally. My extremity is God’s opportunity. When I am weak, then I am strong. For when I know that I can’t stand on my own, that I cannot persevere on my own, that I am helpless on my own, then the Lord comes to me and says no one shall pluck me from His hand, nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We face many things, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. The word trouble is “pressure” anything that presses down on us, hardship is distress caused by pressures, sicknesses and surgeries, family problems and financial burdens, persecution – either physical or, perhaps more what we’re used to, psychological against you for believing God’s Word, danger and sword – constant threat to our bodies on the small scale- robbery or theft, and on the large scale to wars and nuclear threats. And all these threats are just like believers in the OT faced – deathtraps all day long.
But what is God’s blessed assurance for us? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “More than conquerors” that phrase implies a comparison. You take all the threats, all the dangers, all the deathtraps that our enemies have lodged against us on one side and weigh that against God’s love for us in Christ and we come out more than conquerors. God’s steadfast love for us demonstrated most clearly in sending Jesus to be crucified for our sins and raising him from the dead for our justification proves God’s eternal love for us and assuring us that the outcome for every believer is always and only victory.
And then 10 non-separators are listed as not being able to separate us from God’s love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, and finally, lest we think there was a loophole or lest we think something was missed, “nor anything else in all creation” will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What incredible comfort!
We might be the characters walking around with deathtraps designed by our enemies all over, but, look at the words that God, who does not lie, tells you, receive the assurance of God’s forgiving, pardoning, eternal love for you in the Sacrament this morning and be assured: NOTHING will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Ira Yates lived in the first half of the last century around the time of the Great Depression. He was a sheep rancher in Texas and was struggling financially. He didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage on his land and for a while had to live on government subsidy. Day after day Yates would tend his sheep and wonder how he was going to pay his bills. But one day, on a hunch, he had a crew of men from an oil company drill a wildcat test well on his property. What they found was a huge, huge, reserve of oil. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. More and more wells were drilled and, as I understand it, some 90 years later, there are still over 300 wells drilling on Yate’s old property. In one day he took in $180,000 in oil leases. When he had first purchased the ranch he was interested in sheep grazing. There he was living in poverty but sitting on this mammoth underground reserve of incredibly valuable oil. What was his problem? He simply didn’t know the oil was there. He thought grazing sheep was the way to make money.
We look at that and think, “Wow! If only he had known what treasures he had, he wouldn’t have been living in such poverty for many years of his life.” But even all of his land and all of his wealth don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, all of that wealth that he made doesn’t even compare to the real wealth that is yours and mine right today. When Jesus returns, what will all of that land, wealth, and oil really be worth? Nothing. Zero. In fact, what will all the things of this life really be worth when Jesus returns on the Last Day? What will our homes, our cars, our bank accounts, our degrees, our collections, our stuff, really be worth on the Last Day? Nothing.
What will matter on the Last Day? What will matter and what ONLY will matter on the Last day are the spiritual things, the eternal things. It will matter that we trust in Jesus as our only Savior. It will matter that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave. It will matter that we were baptized, that we heard the Word of God regularly and received the Lord’s Supper often so that our faith was fed, that we were in worship and Bible study hearing, studying, learning and taking to heart the Word of God. That we opened God’s Word in our homes. That’s what will matter!
And yet, how much “sheep grazing” do we do? How often do focus on the short-term visible things to the neglect of the long-term valuable and often invisible things? How often have we skipped worship in God’s house for work, for pleasure, for _______, or just because we didn’t think it was that valuable? How many times have we pushed our children in homework or sports but failed to take time to have devotions with them, read the Word with them, pray with them? How often do we focus on “sheep grazing” when true wealth is right under our noses? THE treasures in life, THE important things are the eternal things which God has given to us.
And in our text this morning, God gives us just treasure after treasure after treasure. What are these treasures God has given to you and me?
Verse 28 is one of the most well-known and favorite verses in all the Bible: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” What a treasure! In all things – in the good, the bad, the blessings, and the sufferings – all of it – you have God’s promise that it will be for your good. But there’s more treasure here. Look at the word “know.” In the Greek there are several words that mean to “know.” The one used in this verse is “to know something intellectually, but not necessarily by experience.” So, everyone here knows Donald Trump. You know he is our president. You’ve heard him speak. But I’m guessing that no one here has spent time with him, spoken to him personally. You know him, but you don’t know him. On the other hand, you know each other. You’ve spent time with each other, talked with each other, laughed and cried with each other. You have experiential knowledge of each other. In verse 28, the word “to know” emphasizes intellectual knowledge, not experiential. God is saying to us that we know intellectually that all things will work together for our good. Our minds know it, because God says it.
But we might not experience it. We might not be able to figure out exactly HOW something’s working for our good. We might not FEEL like something is working out for our good. Here’s God’s treasure: not only WILL all things work for our good, but we don’t have to worry about figuring out how! You don’t have to worry about feeling like it’s for your good. We simply trust that what God says is true, whether we understand it or not, feel it or not. Some have said it’s God is weaving this beautiful tapestry or rug, all these threads are being woven into God’s great plan to bring us to heaven, but we’re looking at the bottom side of the rug, all we see is an ugly picture of strings and threads, but God sees it from the top and one day we will too.
And why does God work all things for your good? Because you “have been called according to his purpose.” What is God’s purpose? God’s purpose is to take you to heaven, to save you eternally. And that’s been God’s focus…forever!
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” God “foreknew.” Interestingly, God now switches to the word “know” that means to know by experience. Before the world was created, God knew you. He didn’t just know you intellectually or know the facts about you, but he knew you. He knew you in all your sins, weaknesses, failures, He knew how much you and I deserved to go to hell. He knew where, how, when we would live. Before you could do anything positive, good or pleasing, God already knew you. He knew us personally and individually. And yet, what did he do? He “predestined” you. Here the Greek word pictures putting a fence around in advance. God chose you to be part of his “fenced in area.”
We, like all people, deserve only eternal death in hell because of our sins. Although God created us, our rebelling against him removed us from his property. We landed ourselves on the other side of the fence. But God determined beforehand to put his protective fence around us. Before God even created the world He saw you, He saw me and said, “You are mine!” I claim you as my child! He placed His fence around us. What a treasure!
And this could only happen by conforming us to the likeness of His Son. Jesus became our brother. The eternal Son of God in time took into his person our own flesh and blood so that he could make the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. Through faith in Jesus we are given a new birth. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice God chose you and me to be His children, to be brothers and sisters of God! Talk about an incredible status! Talk about a treasure!
Predestination – God chose you in Christ before the beginning of the world to be His forever. That means that if we’re going to heaven God gets ALL the credit, He chose us before we could even do a thing! The Bible also makes it very clear that if someone goes to hell, they carry all the blame for rejecting God’s grace in Jesus. But what if I’m worried or I’m troubled? Am I one of God’s elect? Am I going to heaven? That was Martin Luther’s struggle when he was a monk. He was greatly troubled by this doctrine of election. Until a close friend came to him and said, “Brother Martin, first find yourself in the wounds of Christ, then you can be sure of your election.” In other words, when I’m troubled or worried or concerned whether or not I’m going to heaven, I don’t go to the doctrine of election, rather, if I want to know whether God loves me, I remember that God’s Word says that God loves the world and therefore me. If I want to know whether Jesus died for me, I will go to the passages that tell me that he died for all. If I want to know whether he took my sins away, I will remember that the Bible says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If I want to know whether God wants me in heaven, I remember that God wants all people to be saved.
The doctrine of election is meant only to be comfort to the believer. God so fully chose us in Christ before the world began so that in time, “Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” He called you in your baptism, wrote His name on you, claimed you as His child. Every time you hear the Word or come to the Supper, God seals the status of His child on you, reminds you that you have been justified, declared not guilty, and invited to the heavenly banquet feast. And He’s glorified you. Notice that it’s the past tense. God considers you glorious, right now! God considers you an inhabitant of heaven, right now! You are glorious to God, right now!
What a treasure! God chose you before time even began, in other words, loved you before time began, and in time rescued you by sending Jesus to be your Savior, then in your life called you to faith in Him, washed your sins away, and has already made you an heir of eternal life! That’s real treasure!
It’s so easy for us to be like Mr. Yates and only see sheep grazing in the field and miss the large treasure underneath the ground. We do that when we focus on the temporary, the fleeting, the cheap and miss the rich and eternal treasures. Dig into God’s Word! And when you do God will give you blessing far better than oil, gold, or money, rather He’ll remind you that all things are working for your eternal good, that he’s conforming you to the likeness of His Son, that you are right in the eyes of God, that you are already glorious to God. And when you have those treasures you have true, real, and rich satisfaction and joy in life. Amen.