Matthew 20:1-16

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 “The first will be
last and the last first.”

We usually hear these words as a joke.  When we have arrived late to the pot-luck and find ourselves last in line, “The first will be last and last first.”  These words are no joke though, and perhaps we ought not treat them as such.  Jesus is saying to you what he says to his disciples, “many of the first will be last and the last first.”  Jesus explains what he means.

The Reign of Heaven is like a householder who went out and hired workers for a set wage.  He hired early in the morning, in the
afternoon, and evening.  Then when it was late he told his Steward to gather the workers and pay them the wage.  He started with the last hired working toward the first and they all received equally, one denarius.  Those who labored through the heat of the day
grumbled against the householder.  And he answered them, “It is lawful for me to do with these things that are mine like
I want, isn’t it?”  In this way the last are first and first last.

There is the hard Word, “can’t I do what I want with what is mine.”  These are hard words to hear because YOU are the Lord’s.
That is right.  You are His Own.  Even Martin Luther reminds you in his catechism of this.  Does anyone remember the explanation to the 2nd article of the Apostles Creed?  “that I may be his own…”  Luther says.  You are God’s own possession.  You
were made his by your Baptism.  When water was poured over your head God took action.  He claimed you.  He sealed you in Faith and made you his own.  So, these are very hard words from Jesus.

They are hard words because you are used to being your own.  But now, God is butting in.  That is why I am here again
today.   God is exerting His rights over you, and your life and family, your thoughts and actions.  We hear a lot about rights these days.  We hear about citizens’ rights, women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, right to life, we even talk about the rights of the congregation to choose a pastor.  But here another voice cries out.  “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine?”  God’s rights.  The rights of the creator and Lord; the rights of YOUR creator and Lord!  This is why the first are last and the last are first.  God can do what he wants in His Kingdom with what is his, and the workers are His.  He has called them into the vineyard.  He has given them work.  He pays them in whatever order and all the same.  They all got the same!  You all get the same!  Radical!  Radical because it is new.

I do not have to tell you about the old ways and lies of this world.  You are bombarded with the language and ideas of “the bottom line” and “productivity” nearly everywhere you go.  The most productive are the most valued, best paid, most noticed.  If you show up late, you do not get paid and probably will get fired.  There is little to no generosity on behalf of employers and you are always in fear of termination, unemployment, and financial ruin.  So also in the church, we are led to think the first are first and the
last are out of luck.  The productivity of a person dictates worth and standing.  Think of the practices we employ here at St. John.  When a child is confirmed in this church what happens?  They are given voting rights, and offering envelopes, and they can take communion.  Does that seem strange?  What does that seem to confess about us?  I think it says we only want you to be a part
of this community when you are smart enough and productive enough to contribute in tangible ways.  This same attitude
extends to the handicapped and mentally retarded, those members who are chronically delinquent, even those shut in and unable to come.  But Jesus tells you today that in the Reign of Heaven the first are last and the last are first and that is because God can
do what He wants with what is his own. Isn’t that amazing?!

This Reign of Heaven is nothing like the reign of the World and you are caught up in THE KINGDOM!  Your Lord has made you His own.  And here again at this altar he will remind you of His decision for you.  He will again give you His Body and Blood.  What a proclamation from God!  “Here, you, this is my Body for you, and this is my blood for you! Take it and eat it and drink of it all of you!”  There is something new going on here.  A new covenant, a covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  It is a new Kingdom and a New Reign.  A Kingdom where the first are last and the last are first and we all get the same.  Isn’t that just Amazing!

Be careful though.  When you eat and drink this Body and Blood of Christ you are making a strong proclamation yourself.  You are declaring you are the Lord’s.  You are saying you are for the Vineyard.  You are saying you stand with all the workers of the vineyard together.  You are making confession that you side with the householder of the parable and not the grumbling workers.  You are declaring that in the Reign of Heaven God gets his way with his own things.  This is your declaration because it is the
Lord’s desire to have you here today, and it is his desire to feed you again today, and it is his desire for you to be one body, and here you will come to this rail, you will kneel and receive exactly what the Lord has to give, and you will all receive the same.
Forgiveness, Life, and Salvation.
Amazing!  Amen.

4th Sermon for St. John

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Samuel G. Beltz

August 18, 2011

Sermon:  Isaiah 51, Romans 11-12, Matthew 16

                Do you remember Abraham and Sara?  Do you remember their story?  God promised them that they would be the father and mother of a great nation that could not be counted.  Out of two very old people who thought that they were done a ready to die God made the nation of Israel.

            Isaiah is telling Israel their story again.  God is about to destroy Israel because of their unfaithfulness, but there is a remnant.  Within Israel there are still people who fear, love, and trust in God.  God is speaking through Isaiah to tell those people to remember.  “Remember what I did even through Abraham and Sara.  Remember that Rock that you were hewn out of.”

            Do you remember Peter?  He confesses Jesus to be the Christ but then betrays Jesus.  Did you hear what Jesus tells him?  Jesus says to him, you are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church. 

            I am not too sure if Jesus is hear speaking of Peter as the Rock, or if Jesus is calling himself the Rock, or if it is the words of Peter which are the Rock, because Jesus does tell Peter that what he has confessed is of the Father and not men.  I think it is helpful if we think of all three.  Upon Jesus, Peter, and Peter’s godly confession the Church will be built.

            Remember the Rock upon which you are built—Jesus Christ.  He came as a little child.  Isaiah tells us that there was nothing about him that was attractive.  In-fact, he was despised and considered cursed.  And yet even through him God worked amazingly. 

            Remember the Rock upon which you are built—Peter.  I do not think we remember the lives and faith of the saints as we ought.  Remember Peter and all the apostles.  They were fishermen and tax collectors.  They were men of low esteem and no great talent, wisdom, or promise.  But through them, and even through Peter, God worked to build his church.

            Remember the Rock upon which you are built—the Confession of Peter.  How insignificant this confession seems.  It did not really seem to do any great work for Peter and the Apostles back then, and sometimes today it seems rather unimpressive.  Do you remember this parable from Matthew 13?

 

“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

Yes, there are many times when the Kingdom of Heaven seems frail and weak and the King seems unfaithful to his promises.  This is perhaps the greatest point of tension we are currently experiencing here at St. John.  Perhaps many of you feel like the gates of hell are overcoming you.  I have heard many of you, and seen your thoughts in motion.  You are concerned for the life of this congregation.  You are worried about its size, you are worried about what this place looks like, you are worried it will not be financially solvent and that it will go bankrupt, you are worried it will die because there are no youth, you are worried that the identity of this congregation will remain a mystery to the larger community.  I think many of these fears and worries are legitimate because they might actually happen.  Because of their reality we fear that God has somehow forgotten us, that he has abandoned us, that we are left alone to defend ourselves from the world and death.  We are left in the very same place the author of Psalm 77 was when he wrote:

 3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
   I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[b]
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
   I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
   the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
   My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

 7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
   Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
   Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
   Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Your fears are legitimate.  This congregation might never be as large as it once was.  We might never have a large youth program, we might never have a beautiful building, we might be financially secure or we might go bankrupt.  We might never have any identity in Oskaloosa.  All you fears are legitimate to be sure and they all just might happen (Pause), but remember Abraham and Sara. 

God promised them parenthood, and gave them Isaac.  Out of Isaac came Jacob and from Jacob came all the tribes of Israel.  Remember Israel, God sent them into captivity but promised to bring them out.  So he went into Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria and brought his people home.  He then sent his Son to make all things righteous, and when all Israel rejected him and nailed him to a cross, even as Jesus lie dead in a tomb, God was faithful to his promise and raised Jesus from the dead.  All authority in heaven and on Earth is His, and he handed the keys of His Kingdom to Peter and the Apostles.

Dear people today we hear again, even despite your fears that somehow God has abandoned you and left you alone to figure out how to survive, He is here.  He is here molding you into the body of Christ.  He has not abandoned you or left you.  He is here so I am here.  And I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained Servant of the Word, announce the Grace of God unto all of you!  However, if that is not enough for you…

(Face the altar with waiting Bread and Wine)

            When I consider this, I can barely speak.

Sermon for the Baptism of Charlotte Evangeline Beltz, Aug. 14th 2011

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Samuel G. Beltz

Sermon for the Baptism of Charlotte Evangeline Beltz, August 14th 2011

Isaiah 43, Romans 9-11:24, Matthew 15:21-28

 

Read Romans 9-11:24 from the pulpit.

What I wanted to do immediately after the Baptism of Charlotte was to take the baptismal basin through the main isle there and fling water upon you all and as I was doing that say, “Remember your Baptism and be thankful.”  But then I asked myself the question, “why would I do that?  What is Baptism that it is to be remembered?”  When I was reading through Romans this week, I found a great answer.

In what I just read Paul is not speaking about Baptism when he tells the Romans that they have been grafted into the tree, or at least it does not seem to be his first thought.  For some time in the Epistle Paul has been evangelizing the Romans.  He has been reminding them how they too are now heirs of the treasures of Israel.  How they are included into the kingdom by their faithfulness to and belief in the God and Father of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s primary concern is this, so that the Romans might not become arrogant but always be thankful and humble toward God and one another.  They are to be thankful and humble because they are grafted into the tree not through anything they have done but through the activity of God the Father to graft them onto the tree.

Is God still doing this activity of grafting?  Yes.  Where?  Here.  We have all just witnessed again the mighty power of God.  He has worked here in these waters.  He has done the work we see him do in Jesus Christ in our Gospel lesson.  A woman and her daughter who had no right to the treasures of Israel are brought in according to the mother’s faithfulness in Jesus Christ and that He was the Son of God and could have mercy and help.  She had faith that this Jesus Christ was the one spoken of by Moses and the Prophets.  She heard of his mighty works and believed.  It was the activity of God in and through His Son that led her to cling to Jesus Christ.  So too all of you gather here.  Cling to the activity of God revealed here in these Baptismal waters. 

Today in Baptism You Charlotte Evangeline are brought into the kingdom of Heaven.  You are given the treasures promised by God.  Faith clings to the activities of God.  God has given us these waters as a sign and a specific place so that we might even see and remember what happened there.   What has happened to little Charlotte today has happened to all of you.  Your Baptism is the work of God to graft you into the tree of Salvation which has grown up out of the Stump of Jesse—Jesus Christ

You Charlotte Evangeline are now an heir of the Promises of God according to faith in the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  You are now a branch grafted into the tree of life.  You are now a child of God.  Today, I will not fling water upon you all.  Nevertheless, remember your Baptism this day.  And in the light of this Baptism, let us all continually be thankful for our own, and let us be constant in prayer that we might be kept in the faith of our Baptism until we inherit eternal life.  Amen.

Second Sermon for St. John Ev. Lutheran

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Samuel G. Beltz

August 6, 2011

Sermon Text: Job 38, Romans 10, Matthew 14.22-33

 

The God of the Whirlwind.  Who is this God?  Job has endured so much at the hands of this God.  This God has let Satan run wild in Job’s life.  In fact, as I read Job, it seems as if this God and the Satan sort of blend together.  Even Job seems to think this.  Job does not question Satan, He questions God about what is happening.  Then God answers Job.

What is interesting is what God does NOT say when he speaks.  He does not say, “You have the wrong guy Job.  You are barking up the wrong tree. Look to Satan, He is the one responsible for this.  It is not me. My hands are clean.”  No, God does not say that.  He takes full responsibility and asks Job, “Who are you to question me?”

So often, I fear, I have tamed God by my speech and thought of him, which does affect my action in this life.  Here is just one example.  In the face of the death of a loved one I have said, “God needed them more in heaven more than here.”  What is that?  What am I trying to do when I say that?  I think I am trying to speak how I would like God to speak.   I want our God to be safe, understandable, clear, comforting.  Rather than who he really reveals himself to be in Job.  I have had very recent struggles with this God. 

Just the other day my child was born to this world.  I began thinking before everything happened; “children and mothers still die in the midst of labor and delivery”.  While we, humans and modern medicine, are working to make this never happen it still happens.  There is no way to escape it.  Then I turned and looked at my wife who was about to give birth to my child and almost began to cry.    After a little while as I was lying there in the dark I started thinking of Joplin, Missouri, the floods in Iowa, the drought in Texas and other places, Katrina, Haiti, and the list goes on and on.  I thought, “What are you doing?  What kind of God are you that you would let these things happen?  Who are you that you have made all these things and people and then watch them be destroyed or destroy them yourself?”   Those questions screamed through my mind and I became terrified because I ran into the God of the whirlwind, “I am God, who are you?”  And at that, I was utterly destroyed.  I could not say anything.  All I did was cry out for Mercy from this God because all he seems to want to do is destroy me, my wife, my child.  Then, in the midst of all my fear, anger, and confusion about this God I started reading the Gospel lesson.

I read about this Jesus walk out of the Whirlwind, across the water and say to his disciples, “O you of little faith, don’t be afraid?” 

“What, just stop being afraid?  Aren’t you supposed to tell me everything will be safe and fine Jesus?  That is sometimes the message we like to think Jesus brings.”  I am afraid though that is the message we humans would like Jesus to bring.  But, Jesus just says to his terrified disciples.  “Don’t be afraid.”

Jesus can say that to his disciples you see.  He can say that because He is the Son of the God who speaks out of the Whirlwind.  That God who spoke to Job so mercilessly out of the whirlwind sent his Son to redeem His people and bring them into a new Kingdom.  The disciples in the boat realize this when He steps off the water, Peter in tow, and everything stops.  The whirlwind goes away and the disciples see clearly the one who speaks on behalf of God.  The wonderment of the disciples that led them to say a few chapters earlier, “Who is this that the winds and the waves obey Him?” is now no longer wonder it is this, “Surely, you are the Son of God.”  There seems to be no mystery about who Jesus’ is.

I say that because Jesus’ identity has been something of a question mark to this point in the Gospel of Matthew.  The disciples and the Pharisees seem to be equally confused about who Jesus is.  This point in the story, our Gospel lesson for the day, is very important because the disciples finally seem to see Jesus for who He is.  He is the Son of God.  What happens after this little episode? 

The disciples go on to enjoy great confidence in Jesus Christ.  They go on believing Him to be the Son of God but they seem to have their own ideas of what being the Son of God means.  A little later on in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus predicts that He will be handed over to the chief priests and put to death, but that after three days He would be raise from the dead.  To this Peter said to Jesus, “surely this will not happen to you Lord.”  Peter probably thought   Toward that statement Jesus responds, “Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”  Yikes!  What I realize is that as a poor miserable sinner I stand with Peter and not Jesus in much of what I think, say, and do.  I realize I want a safe, tame God rather than the one who is revealed in Jesus Christ.  That is because I would rather have a safe and tame existence getting along nicely with things.  After all, look at what being at odds with the kingdoms of the world and Satan got Jesus! 

If you think following this Jesus Christ will be safe, you are wrong.  Peter finds out, and so do we as the story goes on, that being the Son of God is not safe nor is following him.   Jesus is handed over to the chief priests.  He is betrayed into their hands by one of his own disciples.  Peter denies him, and all the disciples abandon him.  No, being the Son of God was not safe.  It led Jesus to death on a Cross.  But where do we fit into all this?

 Now, we say we believe this Jesus to be the Son of God as well, and we call him our Lord just as Peter and the other disciples.  We gather together here to worship Him, praise Him, Sing to Him, and hear His story.  And finally we will eat His Body and Blood.  What a declaration that is!  In that moment this Jesus Christ will immediately lay his hands upon us and again make us his own if we have strayed away from him.  Is it safe?  No.  But as our Lord says, “Do not be afraid.”

We hit those words from Jesus again.  “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus did not say these words so that I might make them into some very bad analogy like, “Jesus calms the storms in your life, don’t be afraid.”  Nope, Jesus sure might not do that.  But, what He DID do was walk across the Sea of Galilee to his disciples floating in a boat.  It was in the middle of a whirlwind.  The waves were beating the boat because the winds were strong.  Jesus walks to them and getting into the boat the winds and seas become still.  Everything stops.  Jesus can do this you see.  He has authority over the wind and the waves.  He has the authority of His Father to set things right in the world.  And so He began doing that.  And by his resurrection revealed He did have the authority to say and do the things He did.  Then he gave his Holy Spirit to those who believed and sent them out to be witnesses of this God and what He had done in Jesus.

That same Holy Spirit has gathered you here today.  That same Holy Spirit has given me the authority to tell you this.  This Jesus Christ is returning for you.  Until He comes there will be many storms and whirl winds.  There will be floods and droughts.  There will be sickness and death.  There will economic highs and lows, there will be divisions, bruised egos, and anguish.  This world is in labor pains, so He has given you this, a New Testament in His Blood.  Where He again immediately grabs you and tells you, “You are with me, do not be afraid.”

First Sermon at St. John, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

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I wonder what kind of preacher he will be?

Getting used to a new preacher is difficult.  I had the same one for 18 years at one point.  Many of the ones that came after him I was not very kind to.  So to start, since this is our first time together, I wanted to start by giving you some of my thoughts on what we are here listening to.

Here at St. John we use what is called a Lectionary to give us our readings.  A Lectionary is simply a series of readings from Scripture that the church has agreed are helpful for us to hear read and preached upon.  Why they are helpful to be heard and preached upon most likely has various answers based upon who you ask.  In my mind one helpful answer is this; the Lectionary readings give us different snap-shots of a very big story that is to shape our faith and life and thought.  I have come to this answer by asking several other questions about what we do and hear here like, “Why should we read the Scriptures in church, if at all?  Why come to church?  What reasons are there for still coming?  And, are those reasons ones that arise from the story of Scripture or the society we live in?”  By answering these questions, and struggling with the answers, I think I now have a good handle on how I am to preach.  Because I think that you and I are not too different.  I think that there might be some of you here and perhaps many people out around you, who are looking for good answers to those questions.   I hope then that my thinking might help you as we attempt to be faithful to this story we are brought into as children of God.

Today our lectionary has given us a snapshot of Jesus’ ministry to Israel.  The Evangelist Matthew has just given us a report of John the Baptizers imprisonment and death at the hands of Herod Agrippa.  Herod hears of what Jesus is doing and thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, which is strangely interesting.  What is even more interesting is Jesus’ reaction to all that John’s disciples go and tell Him.  Jesus leaves.  He goes away, by himself it says, to a desolate place.  Why Jesus would leave from that place is still a bit mysterious to me, but I think it is this reason.

Jesus time had not yet come.  He heard what happened to John.  I think I can say that it was not yet the time for Jesus to have his run in with the Rulers of Earthly Kingdoms.  This is snap-shot before our Gospel reading is one to remember though.  It is good to remember it because the death of John reveals to us just how far the Rulers of the earth will go to shut up the kingdom of heaven as it breaks in upon them.  All John said to Herod was that it was unlawful for him to do what he was doing.  What would be the kings reaction when heard Jesus message?  Jesus’ time was coming, but it was not yet, so he departs to a desolate place.  But He is not alone for long.

Thousands of people find Jesus.  The come out from all the villages and towns nearby.  Apparently they bring with them their sick folks.  Seeing this crowd, Jesus comes ashore.  And has compassion upon them.  And, after he is done healing something else happens.

Feeding five thousand people is not that big of a deal. Yes, it was 5,000 men beside women and children.  Yes, the place was desolate.  But, compared to some of the other events in the story of Israel, 5,000 people being fed is a little underwhelming.

Consider this; hundreds of thousands of people walking through a sea bed and into a wilderness.  These people live and survive in the wilderness for 40 years.  How did they live and survive?  The Lord of Israel provided them daily with bread, quail, and water.  Even water from a ROCK!  They were sustained for one generation by God, day in and day out.  As far as food miracles go I find this amazing.  However I highly doubt God the Father or Jesus were too worried with our impressions.  The Miracle is so that we might see the one doing the miracle for who He is.

The Lord God of Israel sustained his people in the wilderness and in Matthew we see this man Jesus Christ doing the same.  Jesus comes up from Egypt to the Promised Land to save his people.  He preaches to and teaches the Israelites with the authority of His Father; something the Israelites declare their Scribes do not do.  He heals the sick.  He restores sight to the blind and makes the lame walk.  And now, as His Father did many years ago for His people, Jesus feeds Israel out of his compassion and love for them.  Here we see that this Jesus Christ and the God and Lord of Israel are doing the same work.  The God of Israel is working in and through Jesus Christ to gather the people of Israel and call them to faithfulness.  This miracle is not about food, it is about the revelation that the Son of the God of Israel has come down to Rule and Reign over Israel in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And what is more than that, his reign and rule extends to a nation that did not know him as Isaiah tells us.

I do not know this congregation very well.  But, scanning through the names, I am fairly certain there is no one here of Israelite descent.  How is it then that we Gentiles now have a share in the Kingdom of Heaven brought to Earth by Jesus for Israel?  None of us has a right to this treasure.  None of us can claim to have Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob as our fathers according to the flesh.  How is it that the Kingdom of Heaven is extended to us then?  I will tell you how.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of his own disciples.  He was handed over to the chief priests and scribes of Israel.  His own people cried out for his death.   Israel again rejected the invitation of their God to be His people.  Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.  But, on the third day he was raised by His Father.  His resurrection reveals that He IS the Son of God.  That He IS the one sent from His Father to Reign and Rule over Israel and all creation.  What does He do then?  He shows himself to His disciples and then deputizes them to do and speak as He had been.  They are now to go out into all the world and make disciples.  Jesus opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all who believe, and He can do that because He is the Lord.  So His disciples go and report all they have witnessed.  They go out and retell the story of how the God of Israel sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They are sure that the Kingdom is indeed here because Jesus was raised from the dead and is returning.  They went out calling people to repentance and faith in Him and His Kingdom.

Here you sit.  This same Jesus Christ has gathered you here today.  He has gathered you here by His Holy Spirit to remind you yet again that you are His people. God has chosen You!  You ask why?  I will answer God knows why.  As God said through the prophet Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will call my people.”  And again as God spoke to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”   I am here to tell you, you are those of whom God is speaking.  Your Baptism has ushered you in and the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is a continued reminder of your election into the Kingdom out of the entire world.  But, there is so much around us in that world that attacks our confidence in Jesus Christ.

There are so many other stories which surround us daily.  They desire our allegiance.  We are surrounded by what seems to be an endless array of choices by which we might identify ourselves and have an existence.  We are so very prone as weak sinners to rebel against this Kingdom of God.  Look what the Israelites did to Jesus!  What will you do?  Will you rebel against God and cast his story away from you?  Will you claim another truth, which is indeed a lie, as the thing that shapes your thinking and action?

I am here to remind you dear people of God that the Lord has come to earth and has revealed the Truth.  It is a light to lighten even us Gentiles.  He has chosen You.  Not because you are children of Abraham according to the flesh.  But, it was the Lord’s pleasure to choose you and make you his own like he chose so many before you.  I am here to call you to faithfulness to The Lord Jesus Christ who revealed himself to be the Son of God when he fed 5, 000 people in that grassy place.  He has called you, and gathered you here yet again, and He desires your faithfulness in all things.  He has given me to you to tell you again; He is your Lord.  He is your King.  Amen.

Sermon for Easter 6

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The Holy Spirit has brought you here today.  He has brought you here to be reminded of this story…

The Son of God was born to a virgin and grew up in front of the eyes of men.  He began to teach and do all kinds of amazing things claiming to have authority from His Father to do so.  He was crucified by men because he claimed that authority making himself equal to God.  He was raised by God revealing to us men that He is who he said he was.  Jesus says immediately before our text for the day, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father other than through me.”  These words are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and by believing you might have life eternal in His name.  If this story is True; if the Evangelist John is telling the truth and He is a faithful witness; then these words in our text for the day are serious business for us 21st century modern Christians living in America.

Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments…”I thought that was impossible?  I thought Jesus needed to come to keep the commandments because we could not?  Well apparently, that is not the case.  Jesus himself tells us, before his death, “If you love me you will keep my commandments and words,” no ifs, ands, or buts.  This might seem like a burden—a heavy yoke—but, REMEMBER who it is saying these things.  It is the risen Lord!  He goes on to say that he will also send another helper, advocate, or paraclete.  This advocate is even the Spirit of Truth.

Jesus says, this Spirit is not given to anyone of the world.  He is given to those ones who God chose to be his own possession.  The world cannot see him and it does not know him.  What we hear Jesus say is that the world has no Truth in it.  REMEMBER, Jesus is the Truth.  He is saying the Spirit of Truth will be with his elect, among them, and even in them.  He will teach his people all things and bring them to remember all that Jesus says.  The Spirit works to remind them of the truth Jesus spoke and did.  And, remembering this Truth, the people of God follow the commands of Christ because he is their Lord, they love him and he them, and He is returning to judge them and all creation.  But, who are these elect people of God?  They are those washed in Baptism.  They are you!

Now, what can you say?  You are the elect.  You are in the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of Truth dwells with you, and even in you!  The Lord has claims on you now and no longer the world.  He has given you his words and commandments through the nurture of His Church.  Do you REMEMBER all that he has done and said?  Do you think those memories might have an impact on your life?  If you do not, then how can you know the truth in the face of all the falsehood of this world?  Take care, and listen again to what Saint Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 4:

“Therefore, having put away all falsehood, let each one of you speak the Truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.  Let the thief no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by who you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  Eph. 4:25-32

Paul is reminding the elect of Ephesus that their main goal as the elect people of God is to be faithful to the Lord, to his words and commands which are the Truth, over and against all the falsehood of the world.  As God’s elect people here in this place you are called to live lives of faithfulness according to the Truth of what has been revealed in Jesus Christ believing and keeping all he has commanded.

I have heard it said, “Beliefs are not things you hold to, but things you think with.”  I think this is helpful.  Belief is not captured in the amount of doctrine you know or Scripture you memorize.  If you believe Jesus is risen from the dead and your Lord, and He is the Truth over and against the world your life might look very different as your thinking follows.  For instance; what do you think about technology right now?  Helpful?  Harmful?  Whatever you think now, have you considered what story technology tries to sell us?  Usually as I hear it and see it on TV it is something like this, “without me your life is worse off, harder, and boring.  You should feel guilty for not having”…you can fill in the blank.  Through all this language of advertising, technology is portrayed as the thing that can save, ease, calm, help make sense of life and/or satisfy.  What kind of story is that?  I think the most striking example I have seen to date is a billboard in St. Louis, “Be you, be strong, be beautiful, be complete” St. Louis Cosmetic Surgery Center.  I find it insane that a Cosmetic surgery center can offer completeness to people!  This is just one small way the world entices you and me to reject the Truth of the Story of Christ even if it is only in a small way.  You have a different story and different beliefs.

As the Spirit works you might begin to think differently about commercials and technology and what they suggest to be true as your beliefs are normed by Scripture.  I am convinced you will think differently about what this world claims are the ways, truths, and lives you have to live, and finally you might be led to reject them.  These might just be some of the articulations of the help the Holy Spirit brings.  His help is keeping us in faith over the lies this world offers.  Saving money might not help us live better Wal-Mart!  Enough Already!  The Holy Spirit’s desire is the desire of the Son and the desire of the Son is the will of the Father, and the Father’s will is to have a Holy and Precious people to himself.  So here you are.

You are the elect people of God.  You are washed in Baptism which is the testimony of your adoption into the Kingdom of God.  Indeed you are not orphans!  But you are blessed to have the Spirit of Truth testify to you concerning whose you are yet again today.  You are the children of God called out of the World to be witnesses of the Truth.  There is only one Truth and He is Jesus Christ.  He was raised to life on the third day.  If you find yourself thinking with the lies of the world, now is the time for repentance.  The Spirit of Truth will not stand for any falsehood within you lest He be grieved and depart from you.  And do not fear, nor let your hearts be trouble, when you think what this world will do to you when you reject it and its lies.  Our Lord Jesus Christ says, “I have overcome the World.”  In the name and remembrance of Jesus, Amen.

Trinity 4-Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 8:18-23, Luke 6:36-42

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Our current sufferings often do not lead us to be merciful and forgiving to our spouses, children, brothers and sisters.  When we are hurt, betrayed, or slapped in the face, we seek vengeance rather than a turn of the cheek, a word of forgiveness, and mercy.  We prove we are no better than our earthly teacher the devil.  Repent.  Stop seeking justice by your own hand, seek mercy instead.

Joseph’s brothers hated him because of his father’s love for him.  They tried to kill him by throwing him in a well and when that did not work they sold him into slavery.  While in slavery Joseph escaped death and now stands in a high position of authority over his brothers.

According to our human justice system vengeance is a must.  It is the type of vengeance we seek when faced with our bullies at a ten year high school reunion.  It is the type of vengeance we seek in flaunting success or struggle to an ex-spouse.  When we feel like we suffered a cheap shot, we return in kind.  Nations rise up against nation in pursuit of that kind of justice.  We humans want sin punished.  Often not our own sin, but the sin of others.

Our justice system is similar to God’s in that way, which is funny to me.  God hates sin.  He wants it punished. Specifically He wants your sin punished.  While we humans punish by gossip, threats, jail time, war, and possibly death of the body; God wants sin damned to hell.  He hates sin so much He makes it as if it never existed to him.  So He put His Son on a Cross.

He took two planks of wood and made a Cross out of them.  He punished sin and damned it to hell in the body and blood of His Son.  Our sins slap the face of God but rather than raise a hand to you and me, God raise His hand to His Son.  Jesus suffered the punishment that is rightfully yours.  He died, because that is what must happen to Sin, it must die.  Such is the mercy of God to kill His Son rather than you for your sin.  But, your Lord did not stay dead.  He is resurrected.  His mercy is not just that He has punished sin in the flesh of His Son, but also that God rewarded the faithfulness of His Son by raising Him to life eternal.

His resurrection is your resurrection, because you are baptized into Him; His death AND resurrection. You and I wait for the final judgment in anticipation now.  Even though the last day will be a terrible day, it is a day you may look forward to.  Because when Jesus Christ returns the Sons of God will be revealed, and those Sons of God are all of you!

The children of God are not cast into hell because Jesus was cast there in your place.  You claim the reward Jesus won by His faith; a body free from death and decay and peace with God.  But you do not have that life and body yet in full.  And because of that we groan.  We groan because we are ready to be fully free of death and decay, we are ready to have them finally judged according to God’s justice.

We Christians have the advantage, we live in the knowledge that the war between death and God is ended and won in Jesus and we hope we will soon enter into the final victory party and no longer live with foretastes.  We groan to be completely full.  We groan for the full Mercy of God to be revealed at the last day; because, as you have already heard, when Resurrection happens death and decay is finally over for all creation.  Until then, we groan in anticipation of that final day.  We groan, not just you, we all groan, the whole church and all of creation.

Like children who are shown a cookie and then told they must eat Broccoli and Brussels sprouts before they can have the cookie we groan.  We are shown our future victory over the grave and death in the risen Jesus Christ and then we are told He will return again, and here we are; surrounded by death, decay, disease, and sin.  We can be very tempted by the devil to despair in our suffering.  However, as Saint Paul says, “our current sufferings do not compare to the Glory to be revealed.”

The final glory to be revealed is our full adoption as children of God.  We will fully be like Jesus in resurrection.  We will get, according to my very bad analogy, the cookie.  Our eternal life is not one of suffering and decay, but one of glorious real bodies of life just as Jesus body is real and glorious and living.  Just saying that almost makes me groan out loud in anticipation.  I must be careful though, as we all do, not to despair.

I love vegetables now, but as a child I hated Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts.  They always seemed to be on my plate.  Suffering never seems to end.  There is always something.  Cancer, Arthritis, Death and Disease, broken bones, broken hearts, hurt egos, and divided congregations.  We can despair in our current sufferings, it is an easy temptation to do so.  When I was young in my faith suffering seemed to be as wanted as vegetables.  Then I learned God works all things for my good, for our good, as His children.  Joseph tells us that very thing.  You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.

Do not despair.  In the face of all our sufferings of the present time we cling to Christ.  This is the nourishment that comes through our suffering.  We can kick and scream all we want now.  We can often be angry, unforgiving, and unmerciful in our sufferings here on earth. However, we learn through suffering that we are no better than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

He groaned on the Cross.  He cried out in a loud voice to His Father and gave up his life.  He did this for you.  He was judged by your sin and damned to hell so that you are judged by His righteousness and given forgiveness and life.  He was condemned so that you are not.  He was given up to the hands of sinful men, so that you might rest in peace in the hands of God.  Your God loves you.  His Mercy is His Son.  His Son is here for you again.  You can taste the final victory over death and disease NOW even though you might be in the middle of suffering.

Joseph told His Brothers, “Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”  Thus He comforted them and spoke kindly to them.  Your God says the same to you.  Do not despair.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  I have provided for you in My Son.  He is my love.  He is my mercy for you.  He gives you a full portion of Mercy today so that you may be full of joy and hope, no matter how full your plate is with suffering and struggle,  as you wait in eagerness for the promised Resurrection.  Amen.

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