4th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 10) LSB #’s 584, 577, 587
Text – Matthew 13:7
Other seeds fell among thorns, & the thorns grew up & choked them.
FALLING AMONG THE THORNS
There’s always a moment or two when I wonder if I’m going to end up falling among the thorns. It’s the season when blackberries are ripening & the patch has grown to such a point that it’s now quite difficult to reach into the center of it all.
If you’ve spent time picking fruit you know that the best looking of the crop always appears some place just out of reach. Picking blackberries, I will stretch & strain & strive to push through the tangled mass of vines in order to grab it. The danger is that solid footing is difficult to come by. The vines are incredibly entangled at the level of your feet.
If you’re not careful you can easily lose your balance & end up falling among the thorns. That would be a comical thing to watch & a painful event to endure. With the parable that was read in the Gospel lesson Jesus is addressing the pain that His disciples were probably feeling.
The religious leaders of the day were becoming increasingly antagonistic toward Jesus’ teaching. The crowds following Him were failing to grasp who He really was in spite of the miracles He’d performed. No doubt the 12 disciples were becoming discouraged by the lack of response among the people of Israel. As the Gospel of John put it in chapter 1:
“He came to his own, & His own people did not receive Him.” (1:11 ESV) Thus, the parable we read earlier is how Jesus answered the questions & doubts in the minds of those who were following Him. In the context of our culture, we’d ask, “Why isn’t the church growing?” So Jesus explains by likening the Word of God to seed that a farmer or gardener would sow.
Some seeds fall by the path & are immediately devoured by birds. Jesus wants His hearers to know that this stands for the sad fact that there’s a battle going on for the lives of men, women & children. Sometimes Satan simply takes away the message about the reign of God that Jesus proclaims. People who heard Jesus don’t understand His word or even begin to believe. St. Paul highlighted the urgency of believing when he wrote, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b ESV)
Next, Jesus teaches that some seeds fall on rocky ground & after springing up quickly they whither & die. This is a picture of those who hear Jesus’ preaching & initially believe & follow. Yet, for some reason, they don’t put down roots deeply into Jesus’ teaching. When they experience personal difficulties because they’re following Jesus they turn away & no longer live as His disciples.
Then Jesus describes how some seeds fall into ground where thorns are also beginning to grow. Some people hear Jesus, believe & follow Him, but they get distracted. Their faith is choked off when wealth seduces them, or the general worries of life in this broken world slowly asphyxiate the hope & joy they once knew by the power of the Good News of God’s reign in this world.
The end result – most of the seed which is sown never produces fruit. It’s one of the central mysteries of the reign of heaven in this sinful world. When God at long last enters His creation, Jesus comes in ways that are mysteriously lowly & weak & resistible. So at the end of this parable Jesus utters the urgent call, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9 ESV)
Those are the explanation parts of the parable. They teach us what is going on when our churches, efforts & people all seem to be failing. Then, the last part of the parable is meant to give us hope & joy. Some seeds fall on good soil & they produce great results.
In other words, some hear the Good News that God is coming to reclaim & forgive His people, including His creation. They hear & they understand. In their understanding they are fruitful for God, the Father of Jesus. Jesus has cast the forgiving Word of God far & wide. He is generous & extravagant in offering His mercy to all. He invites everyone who labors & is weary to find rest in Him. He has come to call even sinners to repentance. Hopefully you recognize that the parable is also meant for our benefit today.
The reign of God in our lives is also not what we expect, nor is it often what we want it to be. Yet, God reigns in & through, our doubts, our trials & our tribulations. Jesus teaches in parables in order to explain why this is the case. The parables begin by hiding the truth & then revealing it so we learn that we cannot know God of ourselves, but only by His revelation.
If we understood things correctly right away, we’d be left with the opinion that we were smart enough to figure it all out. In the narrative leading up to chapter 13 Jesus had been teaching the crowds with direct & simple truth. The crowds were not getting it. In response to this ongoing lack of understanding Jesus shifts His mode of teaching to parables.
This is somewhat like the prophet Nathan confronting David in a parable about his adultery with Bathsheba. First, the one who is guilty is hidden & David condemns the man. After that condemnation, God reveals to David that he is the guilty man. That led David to repent & to believe the Good News, that nevertheless, he was forgiven.
Jesus also taught in parables in order to conduct a sneak attack, to gain an opening in the hearer’s defenses. He tells parables to people who’ve been turning their hearts away from Him & from His message. The parables are to pull people up short & force them to think. Jesus hopes in some way to bring us to the truth about God’s reign in our lives & in our culture.
So the point of this parable has nothing to do with the kind of soil we are, or how we become good soil. Jesus teaches us, instead, that it is the Word of God alone that produces results. Granted, there are many people who resist God’s Word & deny it the fruit it deserves. Jesus describes their circumstances & how they end up rejecting any understanding of His rule in the here & now. That’s why our Lord ends with the words: “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9 ESV) Baptism & the Word of God have the power to change their heart into productive soil. Jesus tells this parable to encourage us that the OT reading is true:
“For as the rain & the snow come down from heaven & do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth & sprout, giving seed to the sower & bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, & shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)
What are the thorns in your life today? Is it wealth? Is our culture gaining an ear so that you find yourself compromising the Word of God? Are you buying into the lie that evolution is proven science & God’s story of creation is just a fairy tale? Is all the corruption in Washington DC causing you to lose hope in God’s wisdom & power to work all things together for our good?
Then this parable of Jesus has the answer for you: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word & understands it. He indeed bears fruit & yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, & in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23 ESV) Jesus is promising that His Word will yield abundantly in spite of all the problems we feel weighing upon us.
Jesus carried our thorns for us to the cross, as the Gospel of Matthew explains: “And they stripped Him & put a scarlet robe on Him, & twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head…” (Matthew 27:28-29 ESV) The result of Christ’s death in our place, & the power of the Word of God concerning that historical fact, is perfectly illustrated by the following event.
In 1994 a team of Christians visited Stavropol, Russia to distribute Bibles. A local citizen led them to an old warehouse that held many boxes of Bibles. They had been confiscated in the 1930s when Stalin was sending Christians to the gulags, & they’d never been moved. So the volunteers arranged to use them. Among those who showed up to help load the truck was a young agnostic student wanting to earn a day’s wage. But soon he slipped away from the job. When a team member looked for him, he found him sitting in a corner with a Bible he had taken from one of the boxes. The young man was crying.
The Bible he had picked up from the hundreds that were there was signed by his grandmother. She’d been persecuted for her faith yet no doubt had prayed for her family & even for this very grandson. Now the Holy Spirit was using her Bible to bring him to faith.
That incident really is the essence of the parable of the sower. Jesus gave it to us for our encouragement. God casts His Word throughout the world & it does not return to Him empty. It does yield a crop of faith many times over.
As a result, no matter how many times we may fall into the thorns, & no matter how often we wish our church would grow & do great things, by faith we know that our Lord already is accomplishing great things through those who believe in Him. Amen.
Almighty God, Your Word is cast like seed into the ground; now let the dew of heaven descend & righteous fruits abound. Let not the world’s deceitful cares the rising plant destroy, but let it yield a hundred fold the fruits of peace & joy. So when the precious seed is sown, life-giving grace bestow that all whose souls the truth receive its saving power may know. Amen. LSB 577:1, 3-4.
5th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 9) LSB #573
Text – Matthew 11:27
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, & no one knows the Son except the Father, & no one knows the Father except the Son & anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.
What does it mean to be chosen by the Son of God? The devil has spent a lot of time & effort in order to confuse the issue in the minds of God’s people. Satan works at creating confusion hoping that some will be lost. I’ll be working with the following illustration in the hope of clearing the confusion & of strengthening your faith in Jesus Christ & in Him alone.
The 7-year-old boy of the family was asleep in his upstairs bedroom when a fire broke out on the 1st floor of their home. As the family gathered on the lawn outside, they suddenly heard the cry of the 7-year-old from the window above: “Daddy, save me!”
They saw him outlined in the glow of the fire, but he couldn’t see his family below because of thick black smoke. He just heard their voices: “Frankie, jump! We’ll catch you!” Frankie crept to the edge of the windowsill, but was afraid to jump. “Frankie, you must jump,” came the plea from his father. “But I can’t see you, Daddy! I can’t jump. Save me.”
The family & the neighbors added their encouragement. “All of us can see you. Your father will catch you. Jump, Frankie!” The boy felt the heat of the flames inching closer & closer. He knew he had to do something. He knew his father was a big, strong man, & he believed that his father loved him dearly. He wouldn’t lie.
So Frankie closed his eyes, jumped, & fell straight into his father’s waiting arms. If he remained in his bedroom, Frankie was as good as dead, but His father’s love for him gave Frankie life, the life to surrender into the arms of the waiting father. Otherwise, Frankie’s fears would have paralyzed him & been the cause of his death. The same reality is true of us, so Jesus frequently tells His followers not to be afraid. Jesus demonstrated His love for you by dying a horrible death, even suffering hell, in your place. Jesus demonstrated His almighty power for you through His resurrection from the dead. He is totally capable of saving you.
Will you jump? Will you surrender yourself into the arms of your Savior? It sounds easy enough in theory, yet putting it into practice on a day to day basis never seems to go well. St. Paul confessed in the reading from Romans 7: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (7:18b ESV)
After the sermon, we’ll be installing members of our congregation who’ve been chosen to serve God in this congregation. Will those men & women gladly serve their Lord with the 1st fruits of the blessings God has given them? Will they serve grudgingly & only when they feel pressured to do so? Will you encourage them in their work even when they make mistakes?
A famous preacher named Jonathan Edwards described the predicament the people are in whom our Creator calls us to serve:
“The devil stands ready to fall upon them & seize them as his own. …They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession & under his dominion. … [The demons] stand waiting for them, like greedy, hungry lions. … [T]he old Serpent is gaping for them. Hell opens her mouth to receive them.”
Those of you who’ve been chosen, “How will you serve your Lord & Savior? When temptation comes calling, will you reject the effort needed to serve?” God will be empowering you to do His will, but the option is there to reject it. You will not be forced to surrender into His arms. Like Frankie in the 2nd floor window a time will come when you cannot do it alone.
If not for the father & his family, would Frankie have died? Certainly. He did not have
the wherewithal within himself to save his life. He would have curled up & died, frozen with fear, as hell opened its mouth to receive him. It was the father who chose to save his son. The father spoke words of encouragement that changed the boy’s fear into faith in the father’s arms. The rest of his family also spoke words of encouragement that helped to change his heart.
It was those words, as it is with the Gospel, that changed Frankie’s fear into faith & thus he was saved. The boy made no decision to save himself. In fact he had no ability to do so without the strength & love of his father. Frankie finally surrendered himself to his father. He entrusted his life to his father’s arms.
The text for today’s sermon is quite clear: “…no one knows the Father except the Son & anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” As Jesus reveals the Father to us, some of us surrender to Him & by God’s power we’re changed into His children. Others refuse to surrender & determine to go their own way. They reject the mercy of their Creator & remain in unbelief.
“Hell opens its mouth to receive them. … [The demons] stand waiting for them, like greedy, hungry lions.” Until Judgment Day arrives, Jesus calls out to them, & to us as well, “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest. …& you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 ESV)
Which is the more pleasant picture? Which scene offers life in abundance & which scene squeezes every last ounce of breath out of you? Jesus invites all people to come to Him. He offers to reveal the heavenly Father to them & such revelation has the power to change who you are, to transform you from death to life.
Some people reject that change which leaves them where they’re at – death. All of us begin our lives there, for all have fallen short of the glory of God, & the wages of sin is death. Will you repent & believe the Good News that your sins have been removed from you as far as the east is from the west? Will you surrender yourself into the safety of your heavenly Father’s arms? Will you accept the rest that Jesus offers? Those are questions that even children of God should be pondering, because every single day of our lives our hearts turn astray. We fall for the temptations of sin & in fear or shame we shy away from surrendering our lives back to Jesus.
We try to figure things out on our own. The world tells us that Christians don’t know what they’re talking about. We get caught up in that ourselves & forget that it’s our role to lean totally upon Jesus so that we can point Him out as Savior to the people we know who are lost in darkness. We are to encourage our fellow Christians with the Truth of Jesus Christ.
To save us, Yahweh chose the foolishness of the cross in order to shame the wise. In Biblical terms, the wise are people too proud to jump into the heavenly Father’s loving arms. The little children are those who recognize just how helpless they are. Like Frankie, they know they’ll die if they don’t surrender each day to their heavenly Father.
In the verses immediately before today’s Gospel lesson the wise & understanding, in their own minds, have been warned to repent. In the verses immediately after today’s Gospel lesson the Pharisees take counsel that this Jesus of Nazareth must be destroyed.
In between them, the reading for today reminds us that regardless of whether our ministry seems to be successful or not, God is God, & Jesus is a gracious Savior inviting everyone to come to Him for true & eternal rest. We do not choose Him. We are powerless to choose. Instead, Jesus chooses us for then our rescue is certain & sure.
Almost hidden in a secluded corner of a cemetery is a small gravestone, polished smooth by the wind & weather of many years. The stone no longer bears a name nor any date inscribed upon it. To the stranger passing by it tells nothing about the man, woman or child whose final resting place it marks; nothing except one thing! Still legible on the face of the fading stone, in letters that neither wind nor weather have been able to erase, is a single word – Forgiven! That is what it means to be chosen by God. He made the choice to send His Son to erase our sins. And as Jesus Himself said, “It is finished.” Amen.
Lord, ’tis not that I did choose Thee; that, I know could never be; for this heart would still refuse Thee had Thy grace not chosen me. Thou hast from the sin that stained me washed & cleansed & set me free & unto this end ordained me, that I ever live to Thee. It was grace in Christ that called me, taught my darkened heart & mind; else the world had yet enthralled me, to Thy heavenly glories blind. Now I worship none above Thee; for Thy grace alone I thirst, knowing well that, if I love Thee, Thou, O Lord, didst love me first. Amen. LSB 573:1-2.
 The Abingdon Preaching Annual 1995, compiled by Michael Duduit. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994, p. 227.
 Edwards, J., Sinners in the hands of an angry God – Sermon from the year 1741.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 8) LSB #541 to tune of #733
Text – Jeremiah 28:8
The prophets who preceded you & me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, & pestilence against many countries & great kingdoms.
WAR, FAMINE & PESTILENCE
On May 13, 1940, Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament as he was about to become prime minister. The troops of Adolph Hitler had already invaded Poland, & just begun their Blitzkrieg into France, Belgium & the Netherlands. War was crashing upon the world as Churchill stepped into leadership.
Unlike many politicians, Churchill did not promise a bright, optimistic future; he held out no hope of speedy victory or early peace. Instead, he electrified the parliament & unified his country with famous but difficult words: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears & sweat.” Can you picture any of our politicians campaigning on a slogan like that?
The prophet Jeremiah delivered a message similarly difficult: God’s righteous judgment was making itself known in the rising power of Judah’s enemy – Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s victory of was inescapable; captivity & long exile was looming – blood, toil, tears & sweat.
These were not only geopolitical realities, but as Jeremiah proclaimed, Yahweh Himself was directing events to judge His people & to call them to repentance. War, famine & pestilence are not pleasant words, but they were the reality facing God’s people because of their own unwillingness to submit to the will of their Creator & Redeemer.
It’s easy to say, “We believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,” but submitting to His will, that’s another issue all together. Making Him #1 in every aspect of our lives, good times & bad, that’s where we truly find out what it means to “believe” in Jesus. People believe in Santa Claus for he brings presents & gifts. People believe in the tooth fairy because she leaves money behind. People play the Mega Millions Powerball Jackpot because they believe they might hit it big. Who believes in war, famine & pestilence? It seems our heavenly Father does because He had His prophets preach that sermon on many occasions.
Jeremiah is often called the “weeping prophet” due to his persistent message of God’s judgment. Micah prophesied in the days of King Hezekiah, “…Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins...” (Micah 3:12 ESV) So when the false prophet Hananiah predicted victory & peace within two years, Jeremiah had to confront him.
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, & you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV) Lies are always used by Satan to enslave people. Why are we so tolerant of them? We’re not pleased with sermon titles about war, famine & pestilence, yet all of them spring forth from lies.
Jeremiah’s entire ministry was a type of martyrdom as his life was constantly being threatened by other men, yet Jeremiah followed the truth. He obeyed His Creator. You & I are to fear God & we are not to fear men. We should fear God in the sense of obeying Him rather than obeying the teachings of men.
In the OT reading, Hananiah was preaching the easy lies which men wanted to hear. Jeremiah was preaching the hard truth of God & his life was threatened for it. Discerning between true & false prophets is never merely an exercise in theory. Lies bring about war, famine & pestilence. Our Lord’s truth brings life. It creates life. It restores life.
However, it takes faith from God’s Holy Spirit to believe that, because Jeremiah’s prophecy made it clear that Babylon would conquer the nation of Israel, that such conquest was God’s will, & any would-be prophet who predicted otherwise was simply lying. It would be easier on us now if there was forgiveness without repentance, but we cannot return to God without actually returning to Him. The nation of Israel tried it & they died. All the worldly powers in our United States are trying it now. They will die trying as well. The false prophet Hananiah was offering the people false comfort. The elite & well-connected men & women in our culture are doing the same. They want us to give up the Word of God as outdated.
Rather than resist our culture & do battle against the lies of the rich & famous, who would not prefer a quick and easy peace? I’m sure Winston Churchill did as well. Our selfish nature just wants to live its own life, according to its own desires; which is exactly why the Lord God was sending His wrath & judgment on Israel. They only wanted the same.
Even Jeremiah wishes what Hananiah said were true. In verse 6 of the OT reading he says, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words you have prophesied come true.” Yet he also reminds Hananiah, & us, that God’s prophets are usually bearers of bad news: “war, famine & pestilence.” (28:8)
Even Jesus gets into the act in the Gospel reading: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 ESV) That is a startling warning coming from the lips of the Prince of Peace. The words of Jeremiah, concerning true & false prophets, help us listen to that much greater Prophet.
How do we know if any prophet speaks the truth? We know by seeing whether or not what he said actually happens. The sword of judgment from God really did fall on Christ on the cross. It was His blood, His toil, His tears & His sweat that satisfied Yahweh’s judgment & brought us peace. That is the rich, costly freedom of Yahweh’s saving love.
How do we know if any prophet speaks the truth? Our heavenly Father’s grace & victory for us actually did dawn with Christ’s resurrection. The new creation has come into being in the risen flesh & blood of Jesus Christ. Our resurrection too, will be part of that new creation. Then, war & famine & pestilence will be gone for all eternity. For today, speaking & showing the truth about how God loves life, & chooses life, may not bring temporal peace, but through faith we do see the all-surpassing hope & joy of living forever in Yahweh’s family.
Our Lord’s love of life not only preserves us in adversity but also reaches out & rescues those deceived by the devil’s lies. That category includes us, “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV)
What St. Paul wrote about in his letter to the Romans is not comfortable or pretty. Though harsh it is truth. The prophet Jeremiah holds out the same thought. And the 1st words of the Gospel reading from Jesus aren’t exactly how our culture would go about creating a safe space. The truth often hurts, but in God’s kingdom it also creates life.
We have the privilege of living our lives on the foundation of the blood, toil, tears & sweat of Jesus Christ Himself, our Lord & our Savior. That may seem old-fashioned, outdated & hopelessly unenlightened to our modern & progressive culture, but the cross of Jesus is truth –hard, solid, unchangeable & eternal. Jesus has rescued us from this body of death. Amen.
“Away from us!” the demon cried when Christ, the Lord, drew near. “Our dark, disordered world is lost when You, the Light, appear!” But Jesus spoke with God’s own power; “Come forth!” was His command; for evil cannot bear the Light nor sin the Truth withstand. O risen Christ, God’s living Word, to us, we pray, draw near. Come, speak the truth that cleanses sin with love that conquers fear. Drive out the doubt that cripples faith; expel our pride & greed that we, from powers that threaten us, may, by Your grace, be freed. Then help us, Lord, to greet each day with hearts & wills made new &, when You call us forth to serve, to rise & follow You. Amen. LSB 541
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 7) LSB #867
Text – Matthew 10:28
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul & body in hell.
TO FEAR OR NOT TO FEAR
Shakespeare is well-known for having written the words, “To be or not to be.” This morning we’ll be considering a variation of that from Holy Scripture, “To be afraid or not to be afraid. To fear or not to fear.” The Bible speaks of the concept of fear on over 500 different occasions. It seems to be aware that fear is common in the world in which we live.
In fact, it doesn’t take long for the concept to appear in God’s Word. Already in the 3rd chapter it shows up, after Adam & Eve had rebelled against their Creator. Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, & I was afraid, because I was naked, & I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10 ESV) What is it that makes you afraid? What causes you to hide yourself away?
Before the fall into sin mankind didn’t know what fear was. Neither did the animal kingdom. The wages of sin is death, but we could say that fear came along with it. Death strikes fear into the heart of even the most arrogant human being. How conscious we are of that fear does vary greatly from person to person.
To fear or not to fear? That’s the question we ponder for this day. Adam & Eve brought fear into God’s creation. Our heavenly Father demonstrated His love for us by sacrificing His Son to save us from sin & death & fear. Love is the antidote to fear as the Apostle John wrote:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, & whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV) I asked you earlier, “What is it that makes you afraid?” Based on the verse I just read it sounds like God is telling us that fear somehow revolves around the idea of punishment. Certainly it did when Adam 1st sinned. He knew he’d done wrong the moment he ate of that fruit. The fear of God is still at work, subconsciously driving the thoughts, words & deeds of countless people around the world. We know many of them – even ourselves. In order for our heavenly Father to restore the relationship He wants with each of us, His plan must 1st address the issue of our fear.
Since fear has to do with the expectation of punishment, the Gospel of John reaffirms that the reason Jesus entered our world had nothing to do with our punishment: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17 ESV)
However much our Creator loves us, & longs to recreate His perfect relationship with us, not all of God’s creation loves you & me. The Devil wants to devour us & he’s perfectly willing to use other human beings in accomplishing that goal. In the section just before today’s reading from Matthew, Jesus acknowledges that He’s sending His disciples out:
“…as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16) We are certainly to beware, but not fear, the kinds of hostility we’ll face on account of the reign of God that’s happening in this depraved world. Here’s a recent example from Great Britain.
In a public shopping area, in the city of Bristol, two men were explaining the difference between Islam & Christianity, using the Bible & the Quran. Bystanders began hurling insults at them so police removed the two men from the scene. The prosecutor in the case said, “To use words translated in 1611 in a very different context, in the context of modern British society, must be considered to be abusive & a criminal matter. To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they’re saying the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”
In their ruling, the court said, “We feel it has been proved that both defendants’ behavior went beyond preaching the virtues of their religion.” Both men were ordered to pay fines & they are appealing the conviction.
In a statement one of the convicted men said, “We want people to have access to the good news about Jesus Christ. I am shocked that God’s message of love is now considered hateful & dangerous. Today, speaking God’s truth seems to be a hate crime.”
He should not be shocked by the court’s ruling. Neither should we. Jesus warned us that
the world would hate us simply because the world hates Him. Jesus made it quite clear in the reading from Matthew: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:24 & 25b ESV) The Pharisees had called Jesus the prince of demons.
Jesus continues, “So have no fear of them…” (10:26) That’s easier said than done for the sinful creatures that we are. After encouraging us to continue proclaiming the truth, Jesus then says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul & body in hell.”
For now, our heavenly Father is all about grace & mercy, forgiveness & life. Yet, there is a day when that will end. For now, punishment is not in the picture at all. There is a day coming when that will return. Jesus came the 1st time in humility, as a helpless child, as one of us, that we might not be afraid. He did so that we might be drawn to Him by love.
When the appointed Day arrives, then our Lord will come in power & might & majesty. The earth & the heavens will be shaken & every knee will bow before Him. No human being, however powerful, can do any more than kill our already dying & corrupted body. For today, we have no reason to fear God, but for eternity all men do.
Peer pressure is real. It causes us, at times, to question our faith & even to silence our confession. Our Lord gives us, in this Gospel reading from Matthew, the eternal picture. We have nothing to fear in this life. It is the eternal life, which we cannot see, that matters far more than any suffering or glory of this world.
That death strikes fear into even the most arrogant human being reveals a glimmer of the gravity of our eternal existence. We shall continue, after death in this life, in one place or the other. Jesus warns us not to fear men & encourages us to put our trust in Him who died for us. Our Savior offers us the faith necessary to trust Him, to live for Him, & to reject the lies of Satan. By that faith, we do experience our Creator as the words we spoke in the Introit earlier today described:
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Following Jesus does not make this life easier. In fact, on a human level it will make life more difficult. Yet the child of God keeps this prayer always in heart & mind: O God, because Your abiding presence always goes with us, keep us aware of Your daily mercies that we may live secure & content in Your eternal love.
Even if that means death at the hands of men, we will prove to be ‘more than conquerors through Him Who loves us’ (Romans 8:37) because our Creator will protect us &, in the final judgment, will confess us in the presence of His heavenly Father. Jesus tells us, “You are mine” in the waters of holy Baptism.
In Holy Communion Jesus gives us His body & blood to demonstrate the lengths to which He would go to save us. The people of our country seem to be drifting further & further away from a relationship of humility with Yahweh. We ourselves may have opportunity to rightly fear retribution for our faith in Jesus. We should consider that a blessing from God.
In the OT reading, Jeremiah cries to God, “I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” In the Gospel reading, Jesus asks us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Those are His words of encouragement to us. They are also words of promise. We truly are worth more than many sparrows. Jesus is the only way to the Father, but He does everything necessary to get us to heaven. We only need believe that it is so. Amen.
Our sons & daughters we shall tell & they again to theirs that generations yet unborn may teach them to their heirs. O teach them with all diligence the truths of God’s own Word, to place in Him their confidence, to fear & trust their Lord, to learn that in our God alone their hope securely stands, that they may never doubt His love but walk in His commands. Amen. LSB 867:3-5.
 Jeremiah 20:7b ESV
 Matthew 10:29-30 ESV
2nd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 6) LSB #562:1-4, 6
Text – Romans 5:12
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, & death through sin, & so death spread to all men because all sinned.
THE SPREAD OF DEATH
It was early, this past Wednesday morning, when a man filled with hatred & rage attempted to kill a group of people whose politics he did not agree with. There was a highly disturbed human being pulling the trigger of the rifle, but his desire to spread death across that baseball diamond did not originate with him. Sin came into the world through Adam.
The wages of sin is death & it has infected everything in creation. It spread across the universe the moment Adam rebelled against the design of His Creator, as he ate the forbidden fruit. It was a simple act that many today would label a victimless crime, but it came with far reaching & horrific consequences. Yet, few people ever grasp the enormity of what Adam did.
St. Paul understands that, so the Holy Spirit guides him to point us in the direction of our Creator’s solution. In this 5th chapter of his letter to the church at Rome Paul does so not by zooming in on the details, as St. Luke does in his Gospel. Rather, Paul does it in the fashion of a big picture flyover, beginning with someone we would least expect.
The United States is a throwaway society. If something breaks we throw it away. If something gets old we throw it away. If the latest fashionable colors change we throw it away. You should thank your heavenly Father that He is not a throwaway God. Adam screwed up all right, but his Creator doesn’t just toss him into the scrap heap.
That’s good news for Adam. It’s good news for you & me as well. You see, Romans 5:12 isn’t exactly happy news. I’ll read it again to remind you: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, & death through sin, & so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Sometimes people get mad at Lutherans because we talk a lot about sin. It’s a depressing topic, & what St. Paul wrote in Romans 5:12-14 has a very dismal tone to it. Yet, in the midst of that, the Apostle concludes verse 14 with a glimmer of hope. He writes, “[Adam] was a type of the one who was to come.” And that is the unexpected part.
By now, you should know who is the One to come. It’s Jesus! Messiah! Savior! Lord! What you may not have been aware of is that Adam was the prototype for Him. That’s what St. Paul just wrote: “[Adam] was a type of the one who was to come.” Now, here’s a question for you. Why was Adam the prototype?
In case you’re stuck, here’s a clue – I already gave you the answer. Yeah, our heavenly Father is not a throwaway God. Even though Adam had just plunged God’s entire creation into the throes of sin His Creator calls for him & says, “Where are you?”
The Lord of the universe was looking for Adam, not to throw him into the scrap heap of history, but to put Adam to use as the prototype for an entirely new creation. St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
As Adam is the head of a race of mortal sinners, so Christ is the head of a new race – the redeemed & eternal people of God. St. Peter expands upon that as he writes to Christians experiencing the trials of persecution, & probably some doubt concerning their status:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have...” (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)
You too have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, & that’s not just any
light. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 ESV) At His resurrection from the dead Jesus is the beginning of the new creation. He is human flesh & blood recreated in the image of God for all of eternity. Where Adam failed Jesus succeeded as the son that Adam was supposed to be.
St. Paul mentions Adam in comparison to Jesus for the purpose of bringing out more clearly the magnitude of the work of Christ. In essence, Paul compares the Light of the world to the darkness of the world so we can more fully understand the incredible nature of our salvation. The New Living Translation words it this way:
“But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin & God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace & His gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:15) Adam’s sin involved us all in a situation of sin & death from which there is no escape other than in Christ.
Because of Adam death has spread to all mankind. Because of Jesus life is spreading to all who believe His Word. Still, the saving death of Christ is not something we need only for a single past experience of conversion.
Instead, Christ’s death once & for all is the ongoing power that overcomes our pathetic spiritual weakness, the sin that so easily entangles us, & the awful hostility toward God that lurks inside us, & sometimes springs forth even against our will. So how many of you are too busy?
You hear it in conversations every day. We run here, we run there, we always have stuff going on. Retired people wonder how they ever could have worked for a living. So I’m going to ask you point blank to name one thing you did this past week for God’s kingdom here at St. Matthew Lutheran Church. If you can think of one thing, how long did it take you?
Did you spend 2 minutes, 15 minutes, maybe one hour? If we go by the OT guideline of
10%, you would need to spend over 16 hours every week to be contributing what God considered the standard amount of financial support for His kingdom. Or, if you want to compromise & look at only a 40 hour work week, 10% is still 4 hours each week. How does death spread? It spreads in many cases one person, & one decision, at a time.
One child of God says, “I no longer want to serve.” They justify it by saying, “I’m too busy. I have too much going on,” & that’s all it takes for death to spread. You see, you don’t have to point a rifle at someone & pull the trigger to spread death. You simply need to be working for the darkness. Satan loves to have people on his side so he can devour them.
Nevertheless, “…as sin came into the world through one man, & death through sin,… much more have the grace of God & the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” What our Lord is teaching us is this: His forgiveness does not simply balance our act of sin, it overbalances it.
The old man doomed the world; the new Man recreates it in even more glorious splendor. The sins we commit, by what we have done & by what we have left undone, are completely erased & a new kingdom is being created in their place. What we miss through our sins is the joy of participating in God’s kingdom as Jesus saves lost sinners.
His work on the cross is finished, yet His work is never done. Jesus is constantly, & at all times, working to bring all things together for the good of those who love Him. As we are deceived into spreading death whenever we sin, Jesus continues to spread life even more abundantly. He is always creating new opportunities for us to join Him in service to others.
When it seems as if we’re too busy, we need to reorder our priorities so that Jesus is once again 1st in every aspect of our lives. Nowhere else will we find the strength & the ability to serve. It is Jesus alone who has overcome sin & all its effects. He is the Light & our life, yet the best news of all is that He is not a throwaway God. He loves to welcome us home whenever we turn our hearts back to Him. As the Gospel reading from Matthew told us, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed & helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 ESV) Amen.
Through all our powers corruption creeps & us in dreadful bondage keeps; in guilt we draw our infant breath & reap its fruits of woe & death. But Christ, the 2nd Adam, came to bear our sin & woe & shame, to be our life, our light, our way, our only hope, our only stay. We thank You, Christ; new life is ours, new light, new hope, new strength, new powers. This grace our every way attend until we reach our journey’s end. Amen. LSB 562:2, 4, 6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet