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17th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 14:5-9

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.


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16th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 13:1-10

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.


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9th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:26-27

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, how do you feel about prayer? What is your prayer life like? Are you content with the quality and quantity of your prayer life? As a Christian, you know the importance of prayer, but perhaps you carry around with you guilt about your lack of a prayer life or underutilized prayer life. Today we’re going to review what prayer is, then we’re going to look at the amazing promise that God gives about our prayers in our text, and lastly take a look at a few take-aways.

First, what is prayer? God doesn’t speak to us in our prayers. God speaks to us through His Word, He comes to us in His sacraments, He feeds our faith and as He does so He moves us to pray. Prayer is something only believers in Jesus are able to do. It is our way of talking with God. We talk to God about who He is, we praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us. We confess to him our sinfulness and unworthiness and our guilt. We come before God with thanks and gratitude most of all for the full and free forgiveness and salvation we have through Jesus Christ our Lord. We lay before God our hearts, our needs, our cares, our desires. Is prayer a duty or a privilege, a burden or delight? If a billionaire gave you his phone number and said, just call whenever you need anything at all- no matter how small or big – would you view that as a burden or a privilege? God, the almighty, powerful, ruler of the universe WANTS us to come before Him in prayer, LOVES to hear our prayers, and even promises to use our prayers, take our prayers into account into His masterful ruling of the universe. Our prayers are powerful and effective, they cause things to happen!

Perhaps one of the best illustrations that I’ve heard for prayer is that it’s like a loving parent’s relationship with their child. Every good parent wants their children to be able to talk to them about anything and everything. In fact, a good parent will be glad to hear their child’s voice at just about any time. A good parent will let their child just talk their ear off about the most inconsequential and mundane things and not mind it at all. But that same parent wouldn’t just let anyone do that, only his or her child, with whom they have a relationship gets that privilege. And a good parent will give their child not everything and anything their child wants, but always give their child what’s best, what’s needed. Why so? Because a good parent loves his or her child. That’s kind of like the relationship we have with God through prayer. He listens always, he loves to hear His children, and he always gives us what is best. There’s no reason NOT to pray.

Yet, there are times in life when we WANT to pray, but we just don’t know WHAT to pray for. And perhaps it’s most clear to us when we’re in the midst of very difficult suffering. On a personal note, when my father-in-law was fighting cancer, there were times when we didn’t know what we should pray for: should we ask god to give him a release from this suffering by taking him to heaven? Or do we ask God to give him the strength to go on bearing this trial? What should we pray for?

That’s exactly what the apostle Paul is dealing with in this section of Romans. He tells us “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” The Holy Spirit lends a helping hand to us in our weakness. Our weakness is that when it comes to our prayers we don’t know what we ought to pray for, we don’t know what is in line with the will of God.

It’s here, though, that God the Holy Spirit steps in. He pleads our case on our behalf. I’ve never had the experience of being the defendant in a court case. I’d be certainly happy if that remained that way. But I somewhat enjoy being a spectator of the court and court functions. Many of the shows that I enjoy often have something to do with the court. But I imagine that there’s a certain difficulty. Because of the court procedure, protocol, understanding of the law, if you were on trial and you had to stand before a powerful judge for a serious crime and had to speak in your own defense, if you didn’t have any training you’d be at a loss about what to say because you don’t know what the judge expects you to say. That’s why the government has established the 6th Amendment that says that every person has the right to an attorney.

What God is telling us here is that we have such a spokesman before Him. We have someone who stands up and says the right thing for us. In regard to our sins, we have a Savior who stands up for us. In suffering, we don’t know what God’s will is so we don’t know what to ask for. At such a time, the Spirit speaks for us and asks for the right thing on our behalf.

In a way there are kind of two components to our prayers. There’s a core part to our prayer and then there’s the dumb, ignorant part of our prayer. I’m sure this has happened to you and me many times in life, but to illustrate this I think of a situation that my younger sister was in. She had her heart set on the ministry, went through gradeschool, high school, and then went on to MLC to become a teacher in a school in our church body. She was a good student, worked hard, good grades. Since she wasn’t in a relationship or engaged or getting married at the time, she was able to go to any gradeschool in any part of the nation to teach. And I’m sure there were prayers to the Lord, fervent ones, she was ready to go wherever the Lord would send her. Call Day comes at MLC where they assign the graduates to different schools across the nation. And she was informed that there were not enough places to send graduates and that she was one of those who wouldn’t be assigned to any school. Do you know how devastating that can be to a recent graduate? She spent the next year working in an office and living at home with my parents. I’m sure there were many prayers that she said and her family said. But we didn’t know what to pray for. The following year she received a call to teach in a multi-grade classroom as one of the first teachers in a rapidly growing school in West Melbourne, FL. A position fit just for her, which she loved and not only that, but it was there where she met a wonderful Christian man and got married.

In a sense there are two parts to our prayers: there’s the core part and then there’s the ignorant part. In my sisters case the core of our prayer was: my sister is ready to serve you Lord, give her a place in your kingdom to serve full-time. The ignorant part of our prayer was: And this is the timetable that we want to see this happen. Then we wonder if God really heard our prayer when it doesn’t happen the way we want or prayed for.

But wouldn’t it be great if God always gave you what you would’ve asked for if you knew everything he knows? Wouldn’t it be great if God was so gracious that every time you prayed he would give you and only give you- thank goodness! – what you would have asked for if you knew every single thing He knew and you saw everything He could see?

The truth is, we do have a God like that. That’s what this text is telling us. It says, “Even when you don’t know how to pray the Spirit prays as you should be praying before the throne. That means you can come before God with confidence, to know he is going to give you what you would’ve asked for in spite of the fact that right now you probably don’t think that what He is letting you experience is a good idea, but he is going to give you what you would’ve asked for if you knew everything he knew.  God cares for you that much, that means you can approach God in prayer with incredible peace and calmness.

But how do we know for sure that God cares that much about us? Suffering is often that which prompts us to pray and pray hard, right? Perhaps we need to pray when we feel like it and even more when we don’t feel like it. We pray when we groan, we groan because we’re in pain. But here it says that the Spirit “groans” and the Father hears it and knows because the Father is on the same line of thought as the Spirit. In a way the Spirit shares our pain, picks up our groans and speaks to the Father on our behalf in a way that conveys the suffering we’re undergoing.

How can God understand the suffering we undergo? He can because he himself has suffered the epitome of all suffering. This word “groan” has the connotation of groan in pain and is also used for Jesus. Jesus “groaned.” He did so throughout his life but most severely when he hung on the cross and was abandoned by God the Father. He was plunged into suffering and groaning into depths no one has ever known. Why so? So that he could take the abandonment of God for all our sins in our place so that you can know that God will never abandon you. Because Jesus suffered and died and rose for you, God treats you like His very own child.  He loves to hear from you any time, any place, with whatever you want to tell him. He loves you so much that he will even take your prayers or even when you don’t know what to pray for and pray on your behalf so that in every instance He will give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything that He knew. So pray, talk to your Father in good times and in bad, when you feel like and especially when you don’t feel like it, the best way to pray is to pray and the way to pray well is to pray much. Amen.

The Christian’s Daily Battle

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7th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 7:15-25a

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, dissociative identity disorder is a mental condition also known as multiple personality disorder where a single person displays multiple distinct personalities each with its own set of behaviors. As I understand it, it’s somewhat of a controversial diagnosis among mental health professionals and although being very rare, it’s been popularized in our culture. About 10 years ago the NFL football player Herschel Walker wrote an autobiography in which he discussed his struggle with this dissociative identity disorder. Apparently, in order to deal with emotional distress as a child he began creating in his mind a different personality. And it wasn’t until after he retired from the NFL that he no longer could control his different personalities so he brought his tough football player mindset home and it ended up ruining his marriage and his life was out of control. Now, whether or not, dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder is a real thing or not, I’ll leave that to mental health professionals. But what I do know is that in a way each of us suffers with such a battle between two diametrically opposed personalities inside of us. It’s not a case where we are one person at one time and another person at another time, but both persons all the time.

But we’re not alone. It’s a battle that goes on inside of every single Christian and that, of course, includes the Apostle Paul who God had write the words of our text this morning. At first glance what Paul is saying here seems rather strange and confusing. But when we take a closer look…it seems all too familiar to our daily lives. Notice what Paul says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” What’s he talking about?

Let me illustrate it this way: We know the gospel. We know that we have a God whose love for us deeper than the depths of the sea and higher than the skies above. We have a God who loved us so much that He sent His own Son to suffer God’s wrath for all sin on the cross, making full payment for all our sins, washing us clean, and rising from the dead to assure us that we’re forgiven completely and totally by God and that eternal life is our home. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves it is the gift of God – not by works so no one may boast.” All of it is a free gift of God to you! That’s awesome! And what does it make you want to say to God? It makes you want to say, “Thank you.” It makes you want to live to say thank you to God, to do what He wants, to obey His will for you. A Christian’s life is a constant sticking the cross of Jesus in front of your eyes and living in response to it. When you’re focused on Jesus, his mercy, grace, and love for you, you can’t help but live differently, you can’t help but WANT to obey God’s commands. You know God’s will is good and is best for you, you know obeying God’s commands is the way to greatest freedom and the path to enjoying fully God’s blessings in this life.

So you look at the first commandment: Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And you think, “Great! I want to do that! I want God to be the very first priority in my life.” But then, you have a choice, should love for God influence this decision or love for making more money? And money wins out. Ughh! Second commandment: Don’t use God’s name to curse, swear, lie or deceive, but use it to pray, praise, and give thanks. And you think, “Prayer! What an awesome thing! I want to pray, to talk to God, to cast my cares on him.” But then, oh my, where did the time go? I forget to pray, I struggle to start, I don’t know what to say, it turns into more of a grocery list than a heartfelt, enjoyable talk with my closest friend. Ughh! Third commandment: Do not despise preaching and God’s Word but gladly hear and learn it. And you think, “God’s Word, what an awesome thing to have! God’s own voice to me. I want to hear it, study it, spend time in it.” But then weeks go by without spending any meaningful time pondering God’s Word. I gladly go to church but then I see that person and I start thinking about what they are up to, or I start thinking about my long to-do list and begin looking at my watch. Ughh! That’s just the first three! What about commandments 4-10??

You see, what Paul is relating to us is the very same battle every Christian feels in his or her heart. We have the desire to do what is good, but we cannot carry it out. What we want to do, we do not do, what we hate we do. We have the desire to do what is good, but cannot carry it out. We do not do the good we want to do, but the evil we do not want to do, we keep on doing. In fact, it’s true about every single thought, word, and action we have. Even the best things that we do, we can’t do them fully good, we can’t do them perfectly, we can’t do them with the right motivation and intentions. Why not? Because we have in us and will continue to have in us a sinful nature in which there is nothing good.

You see, by nature each of us was born lost in sin. Our hearts were black with sin. In fact, this is exactly how we would have remained unless God did His wonderful thing through water and the Word and worked faith in our hearts to believe in Jesus our Savior. When God worked faith in our hearts he created in us a new person, a new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Through faith the image of God that was lost in the Fall was re-created in us. So each of us has a new self and an old self and they absolutely do not get along with each other. This is the battle, this is the struggle that we face day after day after day. In heaven, we’ll finally be rid of the sinful nature and be totally new and done with sin. But until the day we die we face this struggle, this battle. In Martin Luther’s lectures on these passages he used the phrase simul iustus et peccator, which is Latin for “at the same time saint and sinner,” to describe what Paul is talking about here.

But in a way, the battle is good. Why so? Because it’s proof that we are Christians. Perhaps someone might say, “Well, why should I even fight this battle, why struggle against sin, why not just give in? Here’s the danger. If I give in to my sinful nature and sin and sin and sin, and pretty soon it’s not so much of a struggle any more, I begin to be ok with sin, things that maybe once bothered my conscience, I’ve come to terms with, if I give in to my sinful nature over and over, eventually my sinful nature takes over. I may not be struggling any more, but then I’m headed for hell. This is serious business. Each of us is in constant danger- not just from Satan who wants to destroy us and destroy our faith, not just from the sinful world in which we live that wants to drag us away, but right inside our hearts there’s a traitor that constantly attacking and trying to lead us away from God, into sin, and finally to hell.

So where does this leave us? Right with the apostle Paul: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” As he looks at this on-going, incessant, daily battle right inside of him, as he thinks about how often he’s lost the battles against his sinful nature, he throws his hands up and cries out in despair of himself, “Will anyone save me from this deadly situation?”

And thank the Lord there is an answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” There’s one answer and it’s not found in him, it’s not found in you or me, it’s not found in our strength or ability on our own, it’s found in Jesus. Remember what Jesus’ name means? It means “Savior.” It means He is our Rescuer. He came to be nailed to the cross to pay for every time you and I have foolishly given in to our sinful nature. He came to rise from the dead to assure us that our sins are fully and completely forgiven. Here’s my profound thought for you today, what’s the best thing about Romans chapter 7? That it’s followed by Romans chapter 8 verse 1. 😊 Which says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Did you hear it? Memorize that verse. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

So the battle rages on. You have the Christian dissociative identity disorder. A sinful nature battling against your new self, a sinner self and a saint self. Who is going to win? As we look at our past we hang our head in shame and see how many times our sinful nature has won the battle, how it terrifies us to realize the eternal danger our souls were in as we gave in to sin. But then we see: “It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” In other words, the real me, the real you is NOT the sinner self, it’s the saint self, the new you, the believer you. And yes the battle will rage on until the day we die. But if we look within ourselves, we’re only going to be filled with despair, but notice what Paul does- he looks outside himself to Jesus, we might lose battles, but Jesus has already won the war, He has delivered us and rescued us and won eternal life for us. But until He takes us home, we’re in the battle. And so, when you look back and see how many battles with your sinful nature you’ve lost, look to Jesus who has already won the war and rescued you for eternal life. And when you look ahead when your sinful nature tempts you to sin, when you have the choice to follow sin or follow the Lord, watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation, put on the full armor of God, turn to Jesus for the strength to overcome. Amen.


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5th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 6:1-11

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,

I like to fish. We didn’t fish much when I was growing up, but I’d say that since I’ve lived here in Bemidji for the last 6 years, I’ve fished probably ten times more in the last 6 years than I did in the previous 26 years combined. Last weekend we had some relatives visiting so we went fishing a couple of times and actually caught a few nice fish. We brought them home and cleaned them. So, afterward we were left with some nice fish filets and the unusable fish remnants. What do you do? The filets go in the fridge or freezer, but what about the rest of the fish? I’ve heard they make nice compost and since we have a garden I just threw the fish remnants in our compost bin. That was a mistake. Warm weather plus rotting fish doesn’t make a very nice smell, nor does it help reduce the fly population. Apparently, what I should have done, is bury the fish remnants in the ground. You see, that way, they’re gone, the stench is gone, the flies don’t find them, they’re gone. That’s the power in burial. We bury dead things, right?

The word that we’re focusing on this week is “buried.” You see each of us needed to be buried. We don’t like to hear this, but each of us was far worse than dead, rotting, stinking, fly-infested fish entrails. Remember how God describes our original state born into this world? We’re born dead in sins, hostile to God, enemies of God, we hated God, didn’t want anything to do with God, we were born into this world spiritually lost in our sins and condemned to eternal death. That is who we were. And God would have been perfectly fair, perfectly just, perfectly right in burying us in hell- out of his presence forever. I mean, you wouldn’t put a partially rotted, fly-infested dead fish on your kitchen counter, would you? Why should God do anything else rather than be done with us and our sinfulness forever?

But what did God do? He did the unthinkable. We’ve talked through it each week so far in this series: He atoned for our sins making us at one with him again, He reconciled us to himself changing our relationship from enemies to His own dear children, He clothed us with a perfect righteousness. How so? He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to live the sinless and perfect life in place of all people, to die on the cross for each and every sin, and to rise from the dead as proof of the world’s forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation have been won for all people. And God gives it as an absolutely and totally free gift.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone enjoys the eternal benefits of God’s saving work in Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Through faith I receive all the blessings God freely won for me in Jesus. How does God work faith? He works faith through the gospel. The gospel in Word when we hear in the Bible of God’s saving work. And the gospel in the sacraments. In the sacrament of Baptism, through water and the Word, God writes His name on that person, washes away all their sins, adopts them into His own family, clothes them with Jesus’ perfect robe of righteousness, and makes them an heir of eternal life.

In fact, describing the blessings of baptism Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism: “In short, the blessings of baptism are so boundless that if our timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true. Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon such a person! Because of the throng of rich people crowding around, no one else would be able to get near. Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps all people alive.” What a blessing to treasure!

But now, here’s the question: If God has saved us totally by His grace, freely, there’s nothing I have to do or can do, why not live any way that I want? Why live any differently than before? Why change? Why fight against sin? Or the Satanic thought will enter our minds, “God forgives me anyway, I’ll just do this sin or that sin, it’s not really a big deal.” “I’m just an angry person, that’s who I am, I can’t change.” “That’s just the kind of language I use, that’s who I am, I can’t change.” “My wife should have known that’s who I am, even though this causes huge problems in our marriage, that’s who I am, I’m not changing.” “I know I have this pet sin, I’ve tried to stop, I can’t, it’s no use, I can’t change.” What sins are you struggling with? What temptations do you continue to give in to? Which lies of Satan do you continue to believe? What rotting, stinking, maggot-filled fish are you carrying around with you?

See what God says: “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” And then God brings in baptism: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” You see, your baptism intimately connected you, united you to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Everything that Jesus accomplished is now yours. Think of it like this: a person becomes rich, how so? Through his or her own ingenuity, diligence, and effort. This rich individual then gets married. How does all that wealth then become the new spouse’s? By grace. By simply being married that person now has an equal share in all the wealth of the other. That’s what baptism did. Through your baptism you were intimately connected to Jesus. His death became your death to sin, His burial became your burial where your sins were left in the grave, His resurrection to new life became your resurrection to a new life.

Jesus came once to suffer for sins. The only reason people could lay their hands on Jesus while on earth was because He came to deal with our sins, He came to die for our sins, but now that our sins have been paid in full, now that Jesus has risen from the dead, Jesus has nothing to do with sin anymore. No one can harm Jesus any more, no one can lay their hands on him anymore, when Jesus returns in glory no one will be able to touch Him or put Him to death. He’s done with sins. That means we’re also done with sins, we’re dead to sin. “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”

Yes, we carry around with us a sinful nature. Yes, we have an old sinful self that clings to us and tries to bring us down into sin every day. But that sinful nature was drowned and buried in the waters of our baptism. And even though it springs to life every day because of what God has done for us in baptism we have the power to say, “No” to sin. We have the power in Christ to change hurtful, wrong, sinful behaviors. We have the power to bury the dead fish and be done with it. We are no longer slaves to sin. Our sinful flesh, the world around us, and Satan himself have lost their tyrannical power over our lives. How so? You were baptized, buried with Jesus in death and united with Him in resurrection.  You have the power to live a new and holy life.

One of the awesome pictures of baptism that God gives us compares baptism to a wedding. In Ephesians 5 God tells us how a husband is to love his wife and this is what God says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Whenever I read that passage I think about my own wedding day when Katie and I were married. On that day I didn’t see Katie at all until she was walking down the aisle with her dad. I have this image burned into my mind of that moment. I was standing up front and I saw her, my bride, decked out in a beautiful white wedding dress, hair done just right, make up on, no blemish, no wrinkle, no stain. And I remember thinking, “That’s my bride!” It took my breath away. Jesus says that He’s that bridegroom in front of church and you’re his bride. He washed you clean with His own blood shed on the cross, in the washing with water through the Word in your baptism He made you His, holy, blameless, without stain or wrinkle or any kind of blemish. He says, “You take my breath away.”

Now, would that bride, beautiful, no wrinkle, stain, or blemish on her wedding day, decide to go and clean out the pig pen and roll around in the filth and dirt and manure? No way! Just so, we who have been baptized into Christ, clothed with His garments of perfection, do we really want to roll around in sin, in selfishness, bitterness, jealousy, anger, envy, hatred, giving into sinful lusts and passions? No way! That’s not who we are! We’ve buried that stench in our baptisms!

This week, every morning when you wake up, remember what happened at your baptism. You were buried with Christ in the tomb, your sinful nature was drowned, although temptations may come, sin has no power over you, you can live a new life, washed, cleansed, and forgiven. So, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Amen (Titus 3:5, 7)

“No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire.” (Luther)


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4th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 5:6-11

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, what is it that makes life miserable? Now you might say, “There’s all kinds of things that make life miserable.” Maybe you think not having enough money makes life miserable. But the Bible says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil” and a little later “there was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.” Or, maybe you think, it would be miserable to be sick, to have some health problem. But again the Bible says, “Two are better than one…if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” You see, what really makes life miserable is broken, fractured, strained relationships. You can have great wealth, you can have great health, but be in incredible misery if you have no good relationships. And the opposite is also true. You see, in order to have a good life on earth, everyone really needs to have 3 things: A good relationship with God, good relationships with other people, and opportunities for meaningful service. Look at the Garden of Eden before the fall. Adam and Eve loved God, had a great relationship with God, God would come to the garden and talk with them. Adam and Eve also had a great relationship with other people. Adam first greeted his wife Eve by saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” And their opportunities for meaningful service abounded: rule the world, subdue it, take care of the garden. Everything changed, however, when they disobeyed God. Remember? They hid from God, they were scared of him, they were ashamed. What about their relationship to one another? They’re blaming each other, hiding from each other. And their opportunities for service were totally changed: thorns, thistles, pain and sweat. Where did it all go wrong? It was when they broke their relationship with God.

What about us? What is it that brings misery in your life? I would guess that the great majority of misery in our lives comes from broken, strained, fractured relationships with other people. Maybe it’s with our spouse, with our family, with our siblings, with our parents, with our children, with our coworkers, with our in-laws. There’s pain, there’s history, there’s words we can’t forget, there’s hurtful actions that we still feel, there’s anger, there’s resentment. And all of that makes life miserable and difficult. What we need is reconciliation. But before we have reconciliation with other people, we first need it with God. Our need for reconciliation, the method of reconciliation, the effects of reconciliation.

No matter how bad our relationship with another person may be, it doesn’t even come close to the brokenness of our relationship with our God. Notice that there are four words here in Romans 5 that God uses to describe our relationship with him: powerless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. First, God says we’re powerless. We all like to think of ourselves having some kind of strength, right? Mental, physical, financial strength. Something we can be proud of and boast in. But what does God say? To the world we might think we have something, but to God? We’re powerless, we’re weaklings, we have a total inability to do anything positive in our relationship to God. God also says we’re “ungodly.” That means we were godless, we despised God, we had no respect for God, we would just as well spit in God’s face if we had the opportunity. God also says that we’re sinners. That means people who are failures, people who over and over again fail to meet God’s standard of perfection. And God finally says here that we were His enemies. We were in a hostile relationship with God, our relationship with God could not be any worse than what it was. We desperately need reconciliation with God.

How does it happen? What’s the method of reconciliation? How does reconciliation work in normal human relationships? The word “reconcile” as we are used to means “bringing together again, uniting, bringing two people back to a mutual friendship.” And how does it normally work? You have an offender, the person who was wrong, did something bad, and you have the offended, the person who was wronged. Normally, the way it works in our human relationships is that the person who did the wrong realizes the wrong, is sorry about the wrong, goes to the person who was wronged, pays the price either through words or actions and the person who was wronged reconciles, that is, they accept the apology and the relationship is restored. But in the Bible this term “reconciliation” is a little different. In the Bible the one who does the reconciling is always the offended party, the offender can only be reconciled. In our case God is the offended party, it’s up to him whether or not he’s going to change the relationship between us and him. Literally, the word “reconcile” in the Greek has the meaning of “change.” Something is changed. But it’s not the nature of the person who has changed, it’s not God who has changed, it’s the relationship between us and God that has changed. Also, we notice that in human relationships there’s always a price to be paid, an apology given, something done by the person who has committed the wrong. But that’s not how it is with God. Notice what God says? “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” You see, God acted alone. There wasn’t a spark of good in us that led God to reconcile our relationship. Irrespective of us, God not only took the initiative, but He acted completely alone.

How is this possible? The offense has to be dealt with, sin has to be paid, the punishment has to be given. But what did God do? He sent His own Son, Jesus, who lived a sinless life, suffered the wrath of God on the cross, and died in the place of all people. That changed God’s relationship to the world of sinful people. God’s righteous anger against sin – all sin – was fully spent on Jesus. He suffered God’s full wrath for sin, he bore sin’s full curse as the substitute for the whole world. So there’s only room for God’s grace to people. So, it can never be someone’s sin that condemns them to hell, the only thing that will condemn someone is their rejection of God’s act of salvation on their behalf.

We didn’t change, God didn’t change, in Christ Jesus He changed our relationship to him. Here’s a brief illustration. This was a big thing a number of years ago, someone would change their relationship status on Facebook. Think about what that meant. Neither of the two people changed, their relationship changed. They went from being “single” to “being in a relationship” or “being in a relationship” to “engaged” or “married.” The relationship changed.

And that brings us to the effects of reconciliation. First and foremost, God changed our relationship status, God took us from being sinful, powerless, ungodly enemies of Him and He has made us not just former enemies, not just friends, but His own dearly loved children. In Jesus God has restored the relationship between Him and you. That’s reconciliation. In fact, God’s done that for everyone. 2 Corinthians states that “God reconciled the world to himself in Christ not counting people’s sins against them.” How do you know that you’ve been reconciled to God? He did it for all, therefore he did it for you! Second, your future is glorious. “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.” If, while were enemies of God, He sent Jesus to pay for all our sins, now as God’s children, how much more won’t he make sure we end up in heaven with him! Third, we boast, “we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” That means God fills us with such joy for being his children that we can’t stop talking about what God has done for us.

This has a tremendous effect on our relationships with other people. God has restored our relationship with Him. We were God’s enemies, now through faith in Him we’re His own dear children and heaven is our home. Everything is right between you and God. What is it that makes life miserable? It’s broken relationships with other people. How do relationships get broken? It happens when I think I have the right to be angry with someone because they treated me badly. I heard a pastor once tell this story. He said he used to get so upset with people who were late for appointments and meetings with him. Until something happened. He was supposed to conduct a wedding that he thought started at 7:30, but it really was supposed to start at 7. So, he arrived 15 minutes early only to find out that the wedding had been going for 15 minutes already. He felt awful. Fortunately there was a 2nd pastor involved who took over. Sheepishly he sat in the back tearing himself up- how could he?! On the way out, the couple healed him on the spot, they said, “It could have happened to anyone, we appreciate all the pre-marriage counseling, it helped us tremendously, come to the reception, we won’t bring it up again.”

You see, we’re so tempted to fill ourselves with anger, bitterness, rage, “Look at what he did to me!” But what we forget is what we did to God and what God did for us. We were sinners, powerless, ungodly, God’s enemies, and what did God do? He healed us. He died for us. He reconciled us to him.

When I remember who I was, when I remember what I did to my God and then remember what He has done for me, whatever grievances I may have against someone else, really don’t even compare. And if God could reconcile me to Him, how can I not be reconciled with someone else? Since I’ve been reconciled by God, it’s my job to reconcile relationships as far as it depends on me. If I’ve wronged someone, God wants me to initiate the reconciliation. If I’ve been wronged by someone, God wants me to initiate the reconciliation.  But what if I can’t? What if they’re unwilling? I can’t change them, but I can let go of the hate, the anger, the rage, the malice and always be ready to reconcile. Why so? Because God has reconciled me to Him forever. Amen.


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3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 4:18-25

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, we may have long winters in Bemidji, but you have to admit that we have for the most part gorgeous summers. Would you agree? I have had more than one person tell me that they live in Northern Minnesota for the summer. But here we are nearing the end of June and the question on my mind and on some of yours as well is: where’s the summer going?? It seems like it’s just flying by! Do you think so? I don’t think anyone has told me, “Boy, this summer is just dragging on, I can’t wait for winter and those -20 degree days.” So, why does it seem like summer goes by so fast? Here’s my theory: In summer you just want to be outside and do things outside. In summer my “to-do” list grows exponentially. There’s grass to mow, yardwork to be done, a garden to plant and weed and water, outdoor projects that have been accumulating, things to fix, sports practices to take the kids to, walks to take, fishing, swimming, going to the park, and the list seems to go on and on. We have all these things to do during the summer and before we know it, school is going to be back in session, summer is going to be over and snow flakes are going to begin to fly. And we’ll be wondering, “Where’d the summer go? I didn’t do this, didn’t get that done, didn’t finish that project, etc.” We’ll have unfinished business. But that’s the story of our lives, isn’t it? There are always these things that we want to get done, but we don’t. The truth is, you’re going to leave this world with unfinished business. When a loved one dies there will always be more that you wish you could have done, could have talked about, could have experienced with him or her. When you die, there will be unfinished business, people you wish you would have spent more time with, places you wished you could have seen, things you wish you could have done, even work for the Lord that you wanted to accomplish but had to leave undone. In fact, there’s a popular country music song by Luke Bryan called “Fast” that says, “All you keep trying to do is slow it down, soak it in, keep trying to make the good times last as long as you can, but you can’t.”
The reality is that the summer will end with unfinished business, our lives will end with unfinished business, things we wanted to do for ourselves, for our families, for the Lord. So how does it make you feel to have unfinished business, to not do everything you want to do, not accomplish everything you want to accomplish? I’ll tell you how it makes you feel: It makes you feel bad, incomplete, like you’re missing out on something. It also makes you feel judged. If you start a project and you never finish it, you’re judged by other people, what do people think? They will inevitably look down on you for starting something you never completed. But even worse, you look down on yourself. “I can’t believe I didn’t finish this, didn’t get this done, etc.”
That’s where this whole concept of righteousness comes in. Righteousness is a big word that carries with it the meaning of being complete and approved, finished and accepted, whole and wanted, to be right. If you apply to a certain college and they reject you, they’re saying, “Of all the candidates, you’re incomplete, you don’t have the grades or the skills or the talents we’re looking for so you’re unapproved.” If you’re accepted, they’re saying, “You are complete, you have what we’re looking for and you’re accepted.” If you apply for a job and are rejected, they’re saying, “You don’t have the qualifications we’re looking for, you’re incomplete, you’re not accepted.” Whereas, if you get the job, they’re saying, “You are complete, you have the qualifications, we accept you.” Righteousness is being both complete, finished, whole AND welcomed, received, accepted.
Now, it’s one thing to not finish everything we want to this summer or to be incomplete and unaccepted at a certain job or a certain college, but it’s a wholly different matter to be incomplete and unaccepted by God. You see, when we’re burdened, guilty, upset with ourselves for not finishing something here, it really is only a taste of what it means to stand before God incomplete. God is holy and just and therefore he will only accept totally and completely holy people in heaven. And while we might be troubled that we can’t finish our to-do list or that we might have to leave this earth with unfinished business, what ought to trouble us far more is failing to be what God demands.
Martin Luther understood this. He had been taught that righteousness was what God demanded from us, something we had to become by our own doing and the term “righteousness of God” meant that which God proves Himself righteous by punishing sinners, judging those who have done evil. So, Luther lived in constant fear. He strove and he strived to live a righteous life, he beat his body, he whipped himself, he spent all night in prayer trying to be righteous before God. But no matter what he did he was always incomplete, unfinished, he could not be perfect as God demands and so he was also rejected, unapproved by God.
Now, perhaps most of us don’t feel we struggle with knowing where we stand with God, like Luther, but what do we struggle with? Do we carry around guilt for unfinished tasks? Are we troubled because we don’t feel accepted by certain people? Do we feel we’re going to miss out on something in life? We need to hear what God says here in our text.
Abraham was missing out. God had promised Abraham incredible blessings and most of all the promise that from his children the Savior of the world, his Savior, would come. But Abraham was incomplete- he didn’t have a child. It was hard to have all those promises when he didn’t have a single child. So, God took him out on a starry night and showed him all the stars and said see if you can out them, that is how many descendants you’ll have. And contrary to everything else, Abraham took God at His Word, Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He had promised,” Abraham believed God’s Word and what are we told? “It was credited to him as righteousness.” In other words, through faith, not through something Abraham had done or accomplished or finished but through faith he was credited with the perfect righteousness that his future descendant Jesus would accomplish for him.
And the same is true for you and me. Through faith in Jesus two things have really happened to you. Your sins have been forgiven and you’ve been justified, that is, declared righteous. In other words, forgiveness means that all your sins have been removed, sent away from you, gone forever. Jesus took them on himself on the cross and buried them in his tomb, they are gone. That’s forgiveness, it’s a negative concept, something bad is taken away and removed. Justification is essentially a positive concept. Something good is given or credited to you. And what is that? Righteousness. Jesus was righteous in every way. Jesus left no unfinished business. Remember what he said on the cross? “It is finished.” He completed everything for your salvation, he was totally perfect in every way. And through faith God credits Jesus’ perfect righteousness to you. Because of Jesus God now looks at you and he sees someone who is whole and complete not lacking in any way and He approves of you. He says of you what He said of Jesus, ‘You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.” Because of Jesus you are righteous – complete and approved, whole and welcomed, received and accepted by God forever.
When Luther discovered this truth through God’s Word this is what he says, “The Gospel reveals the righteousness of God in a passive sense, that righteousness through which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just will live by faith.’ Then I felt as if I had been completely reborn and had entered Paradise through widely opened doors.” In other words, because of Jesus he was whole and complete, accepted and approved by God.
That’s also true for you! So what does this mean for your life? What does this mean for your day-to-day living? I know summer just officially began this last week and you don’t want to think about the summer being over already, but sooner than later it’s going to be over and you’re going to be left with unfinished business, things you wish you had done but didn’t. So what do you do? You can do your tasks, enjoy the summer, do things to the best of your ablility, but in the end not feel guilty or upset about what’s not done, because finally in what matters most of all- to God you’re righteous, complete and whole, accepted and approved. When you’re turned down for that job that you wanted or feel unaccepted by someone else, you still have peace, why so? Because in what matters most of all – your relationship with God – he has credited you with Jesus’ righteousness, you’re whole and complete, accepted and approved. When the end of your life comes and you’re looking back at all the unfinished things that you wish you would have done and you’re disappointed, remember, in what matters most of all, you’re righteous, when it comes to eternity, you’re whole and complete, accepted and approved by God Himself. Rest in the righteousness God has given you in Jesus, this week, this summer, and always. Amen.

Luther quotes:
“Man often breaks his promise (because he does not have the power to fulfill it, or because he is unstable), even if such breach of promise goes counter to his will. Man often cannot do what he has promised, because something intervenes which prevents it, since it lies beyond his power. But that cannot happen to God. He who believes God, glorifies God; conversely, he who does not believe God, refuses to give glory to him.
“Christ’s death is the death of sin, and His resurrection is the raising up of righteousness. For by his death Christ has atoned for our sins, and through His resurrection he has procured for us righteousness. Christ death does not merely signify, but has effected the remission of our sins. Christ’s resurrection is not merely the pledge of our righteousness, but also its cause.”


This service utilized an order of service from the hymnal, rather than a printed order of service.

Hymns: 239, 748 (see reverse), 311ff, 401
Liturgy: Common Service with Communion (page 15)
Psalm: 78 (page 95)
Readings: Leviticus 16:11-22
Romans 3:21-25a, 27, 28
Matthew 27:45-54

2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 3;21-25a, 27, 28

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, My brother-in-law loves to go to these estate sales, so this past week while we were on vacation in the Twin Cities area, since I had never been to an estate sale before, he took me around to 4 different estate sales. It was very interesting. You go to these people’s homes and literally just about everything that these people own has been marked with a price tag. The goal of the estate sale company is to get rid of everything and sell everything at a good price to make the person the most amount of money. You walk through their home and everything has a price tag. You look for things that you want for a price you want to pay and you purchase it. Maybe I’m too cheap but we walked through 4 different homes and I didn’t find one thing that I wanted at a price I was will to pay. In order to buy something you really need those two things, right? You have to want the item and you have to have the ability to pay it.

Now, we make such payment transactions not just at a store or a market, but actually in our relationships with other people too. If you’re married you know exactly how this works. In every human relationship at some point there’s going to be a problem. Why? Because we humans are sinners and we say and do things we shouldn’t. So, in a marriage for example, a husband and a wife have a difference of opinion, emotions are getting high and there’s this temptation to say something you shouldn’t say, something uncalled for, something cruel, and let’s say the man says it. What does the wife immediately do? She suddenly puts distance in the relationship, a boundary was crossed that shouldn’t be crossed between two people who love each other, a barrier comes up, maybe she even goes to a different place. When you love something you draw near, when you dislike something you pull away. The man is stewing and upset and after a while begins to understand that what he did was wrong, that the distance in the relationship is his fault. What needs to be done? What needs to happen? I think at some point we’ve all been here.

There has to be an atonement. You have to make an atoning payment. An at-oneing payment. An atonement is paying an appropriate price to make the two one again. A price is paid that covers the crime. The price that is paid has to match the nature of the violation. So, if it’s something that was said that was wrong, the payment that has to be made is saying something like, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I have no excuse for what I said, please forgive me.” But what if it’s more serious? What if there’s hurtful action or a hurtful behavior? If it’s an action there has to be even more than just a verbal atonement there also has to be a behavioral atonement. A change in a certain harmful or hurtful behavior. “I’m glad you’re telling me you’re sorry, but I also want to see it in your actions.”

Think about it even on a larger scale. What if you were feeding top level, highly sensitive information to terrorists who used that information to kill thousands of fellow Americans and you were caught. What’s the atoning payment going to be for the crime? What it won’t be is a verbal apology. You won’t be able to stand before the judge and say, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it” and then go on your way. No, what’s the appropriate atoning price for treason? Life in prison? Exile? Death?

Well, let’s go further. What’s atonement price for rebelling not just against the rightful authority of your country, but against your Lord, your Master, the King of the Universe, God Himself? What’s the atonement price for saying to God with our thoughts, our words, our actions, “Yeah God, I know what you say, but I’m going to do the opposite anyway. I know I shouldn’t do this but I’m going to indulge myself anyway, I know it’s wrong to have these kinds of thoughts, but I’m going to do it anyway, I know this is wrong, but God will love me anyway.” That’s cosmic treason! That’s an insult to the holy, just Almighty God! If we want to see a traitor punished, if we want to see the criminal pay for his crime, to make atonement for his crime, then we ought to expect no less a punishment from God than eternal death. A crime against the eternal God deserves no less than an eternal atoning punishment.

The first 2 ½ chapters of Romans spell this out. God is rightfully angry. It says that God’s wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness in this world, all are under sin, no one does good, no one seeks God, no one is righteous, the whole world is held accountable to God. You, me, everyone has committed cosmic treason against THE eternal King of all. And what’s the atoning payment? A verbal apology? A behavioral change? A pledge to do better next time? That’s not going to cut it. There’s a cosmic, universal barrier between us and God.

What is going to be the appropriate atoning payment? Blood. God was teaching this already in the OT. We read it in our first lesson. You see, in the OT worship building there were two rooms: the holy place and the most holy place. These two rooms were divided by a massive curtain. The Most holy place was the place where they were to picture where God was. No one was allowed in there, in fact, if you went in there, you’d die. It showed that our sin has put up a massive, cosmic barrier between us and God. But once a year, on the Day of Atonement, a goat died for the sins of the people, it’s blood was shed and its blood was poured over the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place. Remember that the ark was a wood box covered in gold and it contained the Ten Commandments. When God looked down at his people he saw how awfully they broke his commands. But on the day of atonement blood was poured over the ark so the blood covered it, the blood changed God’s view. But could a goat’s blood really atone for all the sins of the people? No. It was just a picture. A picture of what?

It was a picture of THE atoning sacrifice. What is it that’s going to make the entire sinful mass of humanity at-one with God again? What atoning price could be paid to cover cosmic treason, rebellion and revolt against the King of the Universe? What is going to make us at-one with God again? What will bring the barrier down? Only the blood of God, only the blood of Jesus Christ. God is just, sin has to be paid, God won’t just overlook our sins, but God is also love itself. God’s justice and His mercy met on the cross of Jesus. Instead of forcing us to pay the atoning price that we could never pay for an infinity of eternities, God poured his wrath for our sins on His own Son, forsook His own Son, pushed Him away, punished Him with an infinity of eternities of hell on the cross. And what happened? That curtain in the temple was torn in two, that which separated us from God was torn down, the atonement price had been paid. “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 by Christ Jesus. Go presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood.”

God paid the price. God made you at-one with him again. God brought you – His wayward and rebellious child – back into His family. Because of Jesus there is no separation, no barrier, no dividing wall between you and God. As the hymn puts it, “Just as I am, thy love unknown has broken every barrier down.” To buy something, to pay for something you both have the desire and have the ability to pay for it. God had both. He wanted you so much that He paid not silver or gold, but the precious blood of Jesus, to be at-one with you again. That’s what atonement means.

So what does this mean for us? Two take aways: First, what does this mean about our relationship with God? Today’s Father’s Day. We’re glad for good, faithful, loving father’s. But each of us has a reason to celebrate today whether you had a good father or a not so good one, because in God you have the ultimate Father, the Father who went to infinite lengths to make you His dear child. If that’s how much God loves you, if God is your Father, what do you have to fear or worry? He loves you that much, He will be with you care for you as His own child and finally bring you home. Second, what does this mean for our relationships with others? It means if we’ve hurt someone else in a relationship, since God has gone to infinite lengths and infinite cost to Himself to make us at-one with him again, we can repair what we broke, we can accept responsibility, verbalize an apology or change a behavior. It also means that if we’ve been hurt by someone else, if someone is in debt to us because of their hurtful actions, as people who have received the eternal benefits of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and payment for our sins, we can put the barrier down, accept the apology, forgive and restore the relationship.

The Christian faith is all about atonement. Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement has made us at-one with God now and forever. Amen.