4th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 6) LSB #693
Text – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Something that really hit me this year is that high school graduates are like a calendar. They’re showing me how much time has passed away since I arrived at St. Matthew. People like Nea Harris & Reid Thelen were only four years old when I became the pastor here. They weren’t even in kindergarten yet. Now, they’ve graduated.
Every day another day passes away, but taken 24 hours at a time it’s barely noticeable. If you take it in 14 year chunks, a lot of things have changed. For example, I’ve officiated at 64 funerals in that time. As seen by the world, there hardly is a greater change for any human being than transitioning from life here on earth to life in the hereafter.
Several prominent people have committed suicide recently so the media is all over that issue. It’s tragic because for the world there is little hope for a person once death arrives. That person’s creativity & gifts, whatever they may have been, are gone forever!
When it comes to important people, the world wishes it could stop such senseless loss. However, unimportant people die every day & the news media does not blink an eye. Further revealing a heartless nature, powerful forces in our culture encourage death as an answer to suffering. Assisted suicide laws are promoted & held up as the answer to your pain & misery.
On the other hand, Jesus taught, “…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) God’s Son does not close a blind eye to our suffering, & He does not encourage us to die just to get away from it. Instead, He tells us to take heart. He encourages us not to be afraid because He has overcome world. What Jesus means by that is this – He has overcome everything that brings suffering in this life. Whether that is cancer or mental illness, selfishness or greed, tyranny & war & betrayal, all of them have been overcome. Name the worst thing that has ever happened to you, or the worst thing that ever could. Jesus has already overcome that very thing.
It’s not that difficult to agree to in theory. It’s when trying to put it into practice that problems arise. Emotions get in the way. Other people get in the way. Satan begins to stir the pot. You start to feel like you’re being taken advantage of. You feel as if life is starting to slip away because old age takes its toll on your abilities.
It’s just human nature in this broken world – we tend to focus so much on what is passing away, on what we are losing, that we totally ignore & miss what it is that we are gaining. There’s a saying meant to help us come to grips with that: “If one door is closing, another one is opening.” Don’t kid yourself, it is a battle not to lose hope because of the effects of sin.
You experience that warfare on a daily basis even if you are not consciously aware of it. Even if you do not connect the dots from the problems of life to the Word of God, the Bible is all about the spiritual warfare going on in your life. But the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write so you would be encouraged in your daily walk with Jesus.
Paul wrote that the old things of sin, death & the devil have passed away, because they are only temporary. They have nothing at all to do with the glorious life that awaits us in heaven. Don’t bother your soul by worrying over the things that are passing away. Stay focused on the things to come, & then consciously be about the work of God’s eternal kingdom.
Everything you spend money on in this life will one day be gone. Yet, the talents & abilities that our heavenly Father has given to you will not be gone once you die. We will have all of forever & ever to put them to use to the honor & glory of Yahweh who created us. So if you believe God’s Word that your old self has passed away, that the self-centered you is dead, then what is alive within you? Our Creator tells us: “[Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died & was raised.” Does your living bring honor & glory to the One who rescued you from sin & death?
When thinking about the calendars you are using to evaluate the blessings of life, do you mainly focus on that which you are losing, or on that which you are gaining? Do you focus on the past, or do you focus on the future? Jesus Christ is the same – yesterday & today & forever! He is there with you no matter which calendar you measure your life by.
Whether we realize it or not, we choose our attitude on many occasions throughout each & every day. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That is what Baptism, in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit, has done to you. The new has come.
The specific problem that St. Paul is addressing in the reading from 2 Corinthians is twofold: some Christians have not accepted the responsibilities of being an ambassador of Christ; others have lost sight of the reason for their serving as an ambassador of Christ. Without a proper focus on Jesus, it becomes easy to do nothing at all, or to serve for the wrong reasons.
Jesus love, demonstrated by dying for us on the cross, is the source of our reconciliation to God. As Jesus passed away, so did the old life that we used to live. We are no longer afraid of our future, nor are we afraid of losing our past. In Jesus they are the same, forever! That is true because our identity is defined by our Lord’s love for us.
You & I are not defined by what we do, nor by what we fail to do. Either of those would leave us without our Creator for all eternity. We are defined by the fact that Christ Jesus chose us to be His own in His kingdom, & He made that costly choice by shedding His blood. Taken 24 hours at a time His choice is barely noticeable to us. If you take it in 14 year chunks, the almighty God has accomplished a lot of things through you. The entire Sonshine Childhood Center program did not exist here 14 years ago. The enrollment at Holt Lutheran School has gone down & up & down & is currently on the upswing again.
Many people that were with us 14 years ago have now safely reached the shores of eternal life instead of the shores of eternal death. The entire, eternal future of children who’ve gone through our programs has been changed dramatically. Vacation Bible School has become Soccer Camp. A congregation of Ethiopian Christians is worshipping God in our building.
Members have grown in their faith through serving on boards & committees, as well as through serving in hundreds of different ways in meeting all the needs of operating a school & childcare center. People of all ages have gone on mission trips to foreign countries; & served right here in Michigan, or other areas of the United States.
Members have gone on to be pastors & teachers & family life ministers. Members are raising children to know Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior. They are also caring for aging parents, or aunts & uncles. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
And the new keeps on coming, each & every day, new life, new faith, new blessing! Yes, we still see our sins. We feel them. We suffer from them & with them. But we also know that they do not define our lives. We now perceive the world differently because we are secure, no longer driven by fear. Such faith is of God & belongs to His new creation.
You see, salvation is not merely a matter of bookkeeping. Yes, your sins have been erased, but the effect of that is so much more than just an entry in God’s ledger book. It changes your heart & you see things differently, in a way that was not possible before Christ saved you. When God reconciles us to Himself by forgiving our sins, He is not employing an accounting trick. He is giving us a new identity. You are a new creation because He says you are. A new identity brings with it a new way of looking at the world. Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 5:16a ESV)
What sort of things serve as calendars in your life? What do you use to measure the passage of time? Then, how do you respond to it? Certainly, all of us are getting older, every second of every day, which means we are getting closer to passing away. We can focus on, & regret, what we seem to be losing. Or, we can focus on & look forward to what we are gaining.
Just one chapter earlier St. Paul wrote:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Amen.
Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar & will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, & I myself will plant it on a high & lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches & produce fruit & become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, & make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, & make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it.” Amen. Ezekiel 17:22-24
 2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV
 2 Corinthians 5:16-18 ESV
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 869, 615, 689
Text – Mark 3:28-30
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, & whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
THE ETERNAL SIN
I was visiting at the county jail, in Rugby, ND, & as we were discussing the ways in which God had blessed one of the men there, one of the other inmates started scoffing & laughing: “God & the Bible, all that stuff’s a crock. It’s just a bunch of myths & fairy tales. Where’s God? What good has He done you? You are in jail!”
That 2nd inmate is an obvious example of unbelief, & most of us in the church seldom encounter unbelief that blatant, because we don’t hang out with that sort of person. It was rather surprising to me because even at the jail, it was the 1st time I’d had the opportunity of talking to someone that willing to outright condemn God & Holy Scripture.
Listening to this man, you quickly find out that he’s very intelligent & not afraid to speak his mind. However, he lacks the fear of the Lord that brings wisdom according to what Scripture so clearly teaches. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to talk to him because of his honesty. He wasn’t playing games trying to convince the “pastor” that he’s actually a good guy.
Yet, beneath all the facade of his gruff attitude, it seems that he really was interested in learning what our church teaches. That’s actually a lot more than I can say for many so-called Christians I have known. As C. S. Lewis wrote, many Christians seem to have been inoculated with just enough religion to keep them from getting the full-blown variety.
The unbeliever at jail wasn’t afraid of sin because he did not believe in it. Many
Christians though also live their lives without fear of sin; at least of certain sins – ones like failing to keep the Sabbath day holy, or failing to hold Scripture sacred & gladly hear & learn it. Those sins bring no fear to many Christians I know, & it hurts to watch them recklessly endanger their spiritual lives in that way. At least the inmate at the jail was honest about it, & willing even to discuss it openly. In only two one hour sessions, he asked me far more questions about theology than a lot of church members have in 19 years of being a pastor.
I don’t believe that’s because those other people already know everything they need to, & given their general lack of interest, their actions prove them no better than a rank unbeliever, locked up in jail.
Unbelief is an insidious problem. It creeps into even the lives of baptized children of God. It sneaks in & when we’ve been seduced into thinking everything is okay, when we’ve become complacent & disconnected from our Lord, then it strikes with a vengeance. Its victims often have no idea where to turn, because they are no longer familiar with God.
For 8 years, Sally had been the Romero family pet. She was only a foot long when they brought her home, but she grew & grew until eventually reaching a length of 11 feet & weighing 80 pounds.
One day Sally turned on 15 year old Derek & strangled the unsuspecting teenager to death. Police said that the Burmese python was quite aggressive, hissing & reacting when they arrived to investigate the boy’s death.
Sin, is like that snake. When a particular one first enters our lives, we think of it as harmless, almost cute. Yet, it doesn’t stay small. Sin has a way of growing, & though we think we can handle it, in fact, it begins to handle us. And it always leads to death; sometimes physical but often to emotional death.
If sin & unbelief are not confessed & forsaken, they will bring spiritual death. That’s why James warned us that sin, when it’s full grown, brings forth death. His purpose in saying that was not to spoil our fun, but to preserve our lives & the fun that God alone can give. The fun that our heavenly Father gives is the true joy, peace & contentment of being in Christ.
Are you living your life in Christ, connected to Him daily? Have you drifted away, unnoticeably? Is your Bible in mint condition? Is the snake growing in your life, waiting for that opportune moment to strike for the kill? When is it that a Christian crosses that line from belief to unbelief? How close are you to that line?
Most of us are closer than we care to know. I don’t believe there’s that much difference between you & me & the inmate who was scoffing about fairy tales in the Bible. Today’s gospel lesson speaks of Jesus’ own family thinking He was out of His mind. If His own family thought that, it shouldn’t surprise us to find ourselves in the same boat.
What kind of priority does the mission of your church take in your daily schedule? Or, does it seem ridiculous that God should expect you to make painful sacrifices in order to serve Him? Does God’s command to worship Him every Sunday seem like a fairy tale? Maybe that inoculation against the effects of true Christianity has taken hold in your life.
Even though you may be a Christian, unbelief still exists in your heart. The seed is still there, waiting to be watered, waiting for the opportunity to grow & take over your soul. Have you been taking for granted the forgiveness of your sins? Have you been abusively taking advantage of Christ’s death through an unfaithful life?
The pastor at my home congregation once attended the funeral of a young man who’d been living life in the fast lane. His priest said that he knew little of the man because he was seldom in church. This man’s life ended on a fast note, crashing into a train while leaving 91 feet of skid marks on the road behind him.
The danger of ignoring God, & continuing in your sin is that when you live your life that
fast – & you suddenly realize you are heading for a train – 91 feet of locked up brakes is not enough to turn your life around. Unbelief can take over your soul, & eventually, God gives people over to their sinful desires. He will only brook rejection for so long.
Where do you stand today? Is God just a crock in your life? Do you believe His promises are nothing more than fairy tales? Are His laws just the words of some kind of self-righteous control freak?
The teachers of the law, in the Gospel reading, claimed that Jesus was casting out demons by the prince of the demons, rather than by the Holy Spirit. It was some kind of set-up to deceive people. No one could truly drive out demons. That idea was only a myth. As such, those teachers were blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
That sin is eternal because refusing to accept the Holy Spirit means that you’ve rejected God’s means of grace. Yahweh has chosen to create faith in a person’s heart only through the work of His Spirit. As long as you reject that Spirit, you remain in unbelief. No man is able to come to faith of his own accord, & without faith, a man is truly dead.
Thus it is at the end of the gospel reading as Jesus’ family comes looking for Him again. Jesus answers, “Who are my mother & my brothers?” Here they are, as He points to those seated around Him, intently listening to His words & following His teaching.
They believe in Christ as their Savior, unlike His mother & brothers, who consider Him crazy, & unlike the Pharisees who claim that Jesus is in league with the devil. They are lost in their unbelief & will remain there as long as they continue to reject the work of God’s Spirit.
The same is true today of anyone who rejects the Spirit God. Our Lord has promised to send Him through the preaching & the teaching of His Word, through the waters of baptism & through the body, blood, bread & wine of His Holy Supper. That Spirit, working through those
means, teaches you who Christ is. Who is this Jesus? That’s the main theme of the book of Mark. As of the 3rd chapter, the Pharisees & Jesus’ own mother & brothers cannot answer that question accurately. Jesus rejects them as His own. They are guilty of that eternal sin called unbelief.
Though you have been brought to faith through the power of God’s Word & God’s baptism, you can fall away & Scripture records that such a person is worse off than before they were ever converted. That’s a fearful thought, & entirely opposite of God’s will for His children.
This morning, Jesus is pleading with you to gather around Him faithfully, listening to His Word & partaking of His body & blood for the strengthening of your physical & spiritual selves. He’s calling you to forsake your sinful desires, to persevere in the race to the crown of life. He’s gone there ahead you. He’s defeated the powers opposed to you.
But, He does not treat you like a slave & control your obedience. He allows you to respond willingly to the love that He’s shown you. He guides you, He protects you & He blesses you, all out of love for you – His creation. He’s awaiting you at the final resurrection, & He has already guaranteed you a room in His mansion. Will you believe?
Don’t wait until the train of death is only 91 feet away. Jesus has already sacrificed His life. Will you believe that the blessings of Jesus are more than a fairy tale? Amen.
Then is our comfort this alone that we may meet before Your throne; to You O faithful God, we cry for rescue in our misery. Amen. LSB 615:2.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost – B TLH #’s 227, 422, LSB # 731
Text – Mark 2:27-28
And [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
LORD OF THE SABBATH
Due to the vast changes in our culture the past 100 years, there’s a lot of debate in churches today. Much of that debate has to do with how congregations worship. A large part of the argument, for those proposing the changes, centers on getting more people in the church. The Gospel reading this Sunday looks at God’s motives behind this Day of Rest – the Sabbath.
One day, while walking through the fields, the disciples of Jesus pluck some heads of grain in order to eat them. Seems like a pretty minor crime, if you’d even call it that. Yet the Pharisees jump all over them. They say to Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 ESV)
If you’ve been listening, you’ve no doubt heard similar law-oriented comments in the church of today. A man in the seminary class after mine was labeled the antichrist for some of his actions regarding worship. Maybe you know of someone who’s left a particular congregation because of changes in the worship style.
At any rate, many of the arguments revolve around what is considered lawful, & what is not. Also, in spite of the many heated arguments & harsh words, actions that betray the truth, few are willing to see their position as extreme. The vast majority of people involved will be sure to tell you that they are moderates, not liberal & not right wing. That would be bad.
But with all the animosity & defending of one’s rights, it’s clear that the arguments are frequently based upon what individuals perceive to be the rules. What can we get away with, & what are we supposed to do. Those two extremes commonly form the outline of the debate & we find the Pharisees to be no different: “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 ESV) Much of human disagreement centers on what is allowed & what is not. Too often we focus on limitations rather than possibilities.
My nephew used to say of his sister, “She always, & I never.” Wouldn’t you agree it’s our sinful nature to seek & demand that limits be placed upon others, but not on ourselves? Legalism is the natural attitude of mankind, so Jesus addresses it head on. To paraphrase a little, He replies:
“You want to debate what’s lawful. Okay! Let’s talk about David. He was your great king whose glory days you’d like to recreate for the nation of Israel. When he & his companions were in need, what did he do? He entered the house of God & ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.” (Matthew 12:3-4)
The great King David broke one of the laws of the Sabbath. That’s kind of like saying, what about your sports hero, the one caught with a corked bat. You idolize him even though he broke the rules. So why are you being inconsistent with, “But the law says?”
Haven’t you ever caught yourself, or had someone else catch you, being inconsistent? You know, not practicing what you preach! If you can’t relate to that question, you must not spend much time considering your motives & your actions. The way we live our life leaves evidence everywhere of our self-centered nature.
When my nephew whined, “She always & I never…” you don’t think he was complaining that his sister got the short end of the deal, do you? No! It was his selfish nature speaking. Now he was only 5 years old, & not yet aware of how obvious it was when he complained that way.
People older than five have learned to hide their selfishness with clever disguises. The
Pharisees’ trick was to make it look like they were concerned with the ‘precious’ Law, which God had given – “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
I find it difficult to believe that they were really concerned about God getting hurt through the breaking of His law. Seems more likely they were trying to maintain control of things for their own selfish desires. The law was simply a useful tool in their bag of tricks.
Or so they thought, but Jesus takes the Law right out of the picture when He tells them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, we are not servants to any law concerning the Day of Rest. This Day of Rest was created for our benefit. It exists to be a servant to God’s children, & is not to be used for making them feel guilty.
God’s motivation for giving us the Sabbath is found in His love for us. Today is to be a blessing, & not a burden to keep. By Jesus’ time, the Jews were finding their identity in laws & ritual. Jesus was reestablishing our identity in freedom, because of, & through, the payment of His life for our sin. That payment fulfilled the Law.
For this reason, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. That’s why Jesus’ disciples were able to do what was supposedly unlawful on the Sabbath; Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He created it, gave it to us for our benefit, & fulfilled the laws regarding it for our benefit.
In His debate with the Pharisees, Jesus was establishing that He is Lord because He rescues us from our inability to keep the Law. It’s on that basis that He has authority to determine what is, & what is not, appropriate on the Day of Rest.
If you look at the Gospel reading you’ll find that it closes out chapter 2. At the beginning of that chapter we also find the Pharisees questioning Jesus’ authority. At verse 7 it reads, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus answered, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” Authority, & who has it, is what the anger of the Pharisees is actually about. And that leads to the question, “Can you feel at peace & at rest, even when you are not in charge, when you are not the authority?” Remember, rules are often used to hide our selfishness.
What if someone else is in charge? Then the safety that rules provide, goes out the window unless the One in charge can be trusted. The Pharisees couldn’t find rest, because they did not trust Jesus, but only themselves. That’s why their argument revolved around what was lawful, or not. The Pharisees were unwilling to concede that Jesus had the authority of God.
And that’s where arguments about worship practices also fall apart. They fail because they are often constructed upon the concept of rules. The true authority, Jesus Christ, is frequently left out of the picture completely, even though He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He’s the One Who created it & Who gives it to us for rest.
Rules & obligations are also where our church attendance practices fall apart. It would be a pretty sad relationship if the time you & your best friend spent together was merely determined by rules. Far better to get together because you want to, rather than “have to.”
So what are God’s motives behind the Day of Rest? The OT reading says: “…remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, & the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand & an outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV) The Lord of the Sabbath wants us to remember that He has rescued us from slavery to sin & death.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Galatia: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1 ESV) In their approach to the Sabbath, the Pharisees were burdening the people with a yoke of slavery. Yet God has given His only Son to set us free so we might find rest on the Day of Rest.
When declaring Himself the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus makes the point that His work is
the defining characteristic of our identity, not our work. And if our actions do not define us, then we can stop chasing after the winds of self-fulfillment.
The last Sabbath under the ceremonial law was held as Jesus was resting in the grave on the Sabbath after His crucifixion. Therefore, the Day of Rest is also a shadow of the things to come, that which we were saved for, the Great rest in Christ at the end of the world, not merely the end of the week.
The Sabbath is meant to help you focus on something besides what you “have” to do. It’s meant to prepare us for heaven, which is something that we will want to do. Can you imagine saying, “I don’t think I’ll make it to heaven this morning. I have too much to do.”
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 ESV)
Those are the words of Jesus, & at some point we have to face the fact that we too are not willing. Put all the excuses aside. The reason we do not seek out God on a regular basis is only because we do not want to. Our love for God is lukewarm at best.
The cheerful little girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them, a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box.
“Oh Mommy please, can I have them? Please, Mommy, please?”
Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box & then looked into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl’s face. “A dollar ninety-five. If you really want them, I’ll think of some extra chores for you & in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday is only a week away & you might get another dollar bill from Grandma.”
As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank & counted out 17 of them. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores & went to the neighbor, Mrs. McJames, & asked if she could pull dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill & at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up & grown up. She wore them everywhere, Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was to go swimming or take a bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.
Jenny had a very loving father & every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing & come upstairs to read her a story. One night, as he finished the story, he asked, “Do you love me?”
“Oh yes, daddy. You know that I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh, daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess, the white horse from my collection, the one with the pink tail. Remember, daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my very favorite.”
“That’s okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night.” And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
About a week later, after the story time, Jenny’s Father asked again, “Do you love me?”
“Daddy, you know I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She’s beautiful & you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper.”
“That’s okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Your Father loves you.” And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when her Father came in, Jenny was sitting on the bed. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling & one silent tear was rolling down her cheek.
“What is it, Jenny? What’s the matter?”
Jenny didn’t say a word but lifted up her little hand, & when she opened it, there was her pearl necklace. With a quiver, she finally said, “Here, daddy, this is for you.”
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny’s Father reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, & with the other hand he reached into his pocket & pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls & he gave them to Jenny.
He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store imitation so he could give her the genuine treasure.
So it is, with our Heavenly Father. What dime-store excuses keep you from receiving God’s eternal treasures? “Come to Me, all who are weary & heavy-laden, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NASB) That is God’s motive for giving us the Sabbath. Amen.
I love the habitation of Your house, O Lord, & the place where Your glory dwells. Amen.
Holy Trinity Sunday – B LSB #849
Text – John 3:3
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
SEEING THE KINGDOM
Oak trees are one of the last types of tree, each spring, to sprout their leaves. We have one behind our home & the leaves are just beginning to push out & open. In the fall, when the frost kills the leaves, even though they fall off the other trees, the oak leaves cling stubbornly to their branches, even though they are as dead as any of the other leaves already on the ground.
Then come the sharp winds of winter, but they also are powerless to shake the hold of those stubborn oak leaves. Later comes the snow & the ice but their efforts are equally futile. Then comes spring. In the heart of those oak trees the sap begins to rise, new leaves push out & the old, dead ones finally drop away to make room for the new.
That picture is very similar to what happens in a human being as faith in Jesus comes to life. The old fruit, of the father of lies, is pushed aside & drops away to make room for the new fruit once you get connected to the Vine, which is Christ Jesus. Being grafted into the Vine causes the branch to bear good fruit from the Father of life.
After the long, cold winter plants begin to signal the renewed life & warmth of spring. When people begin to see the blossoming of flowers & the sprouting leaves they recognize that more vivid color will once again return to the landscape. Seeing that in the plant kingdom brings joy & peace & hope that new & refreshing times will arrive.
Since the heavenly Father created human beings to be in relationship with Him, C. S. Lewis likened The Fall into sin as a long, cold winter. In the Narnia Chronicles, he likened the coming of Christ to the warming of spring & the return, once for all, of summer. Because human beings were created to be in relationship with our Father, the saintly nature in us longs to see the kingdom of God. We want to see evidence of God at work in our lives, but sin has corrupted our ability to see. Satan takes advantage of that desire to see, & of our corrupted vision, in order to deceive us, & to manipulate us, into doing his will instead of the will of our Creator.
So a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus had come to Jesus & said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Like all human beings, Nicodemus wanted to see, but Jesus warns him that the gift of sight only comes from God. Seeing never comes by our own effort or doing.
The Gospel of Matthew states, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 3:1-2 ESV) He announces the arrival of Jesus by stating that the kingdom of heaven is near.
Kingdom of heaven & kingdom of God are basically interchangeable terms. So the words of the Baptist teach us that wherever Jesus goes, so goes the kingdom of God.
Next, we’re going to consider the words of Matthew in his 25th chapter. There, Jesus is telling us where we will see the kingdom of God:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry & you gave me food, I was thirsty & you gave me drink, I was a stranger & you welcomed me, I was naked & you clothed me, I was sick & you visited me, I was in prison & you came to me.’”
He is looking ahead to Judgment Day, & Jesus is connecting the dots for those who believed in Him. He tells them that when they fed the hungry they were feeding Jesus. When they gave something to drink to the thirsty they were doing it to Jesus. When they welcomed strangers or visited the sick they were doing it to Jesus. Now, if all those things were being done to Jesus that means the kingdom of God was there in those very moments. In other words, when we encounter people who need our help, we are encountering the kingdom of God.
The question is this: “Do you see, or do you recognize, God’s kingdom in people who need your help?” In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches that you need faith in Him as your Savior in order to see the kingdom of God. Some people don’t see the kingdom at all because they do not believe in Jesus as Savior.
Yet there are many times that those of us who do believe also do not see. Being too selfish will blind us to God’s kingdom. Being too busy will blind us to God’s kingdom. Being too self-absorbed will blind us to God’s kingdom. Those sinful attitudes do not automatically make us unbelievers, but those attitudes do turn our hearts away from God.
Being turned away from Him makes it really difficult for us to ‘see’ God. Being turned in upon ourselves makes it really difficult for us to ‘see’ the kingdom of God. That doesn’t make us unbelievers, but it should make it clear to us that we’re heading in the wrong direction. Seeing God’s kingdom has as much to do with our heart as it does with our eyes.
St. Paul wrote: “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6b-7 ESV) What Paul tells us is that as long as we live on this earth it is really difficult to live, as a child of God, by sight. We are too corrupt, too sinful, too self-centered, to clearly see the kingdom of God with our physical eyes.
Sinful human beings too easily get caught up in the glitz & glamor of Hollywood, or the power & wealth of Wall Street, or the success & the growth of Mega Churches. Nicodemus had sought out Jesus because of the miracles that he saw Jesus do. Because of those tendencies of our sinful nature our heavenly Father most commonly chooses to reveal His kingdom in the downtrodden, in those who are lost, in those who are poor or hungry, in those who are sick or in prison. One time God revealed His kingdom in a wealthy man named Zacchaeus, but he was a tax collector repenting of cheating people on their taxes.
Sickness can be a gift to us just like health. Poverty can be a gift just like wealth. The reason for this is our sinful tendency to worship the gift rather than God who is the Giver. We are less likely to worship sickness & poverty, than we are health & wealth. We are less likely to worship failure than success. We are less likely to worship repentance than righteousness.
After all, it was Jesus who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Holy Spirit has to change our heart from one of stone to one of flesh before we can see the kingdom, or the things, of God.
Nicodemus had seen the signs, other Gospel’s call them miracles, but apparently his heart had not yet been changed because, according to Jesus, he did not see. If Nicodemus desires a sign of God’s kingdom, he will need to be confronted with the cross. St. Paul says “We preach Christ crucified” because it is in weakness that God chooses to reveal His kingdom.
We look for kingdoms in power & in signs of strength, because they are easier for sinners to worship. Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified” because it is the consummation & the meaning of all the other signs performed by Jesus. Jesus crucified is the greatest sign of all; the greatest demonstration of God’s power & glory & kingdom.
Yes, it is a grisly sign, a scandal & offense to the eyes. But to them that believe, it is the greatest sign & miracle of all. “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) If you can see The Kingdom of God in His Son’s crucifixion, then you can find rest & peace in Jesus. And that is God’s will for you, so the fruit, which was produced in you by the father of lies, would be pushed aside & drop away by the new fruit coming forth after your connection to Christ Jesus the Vine.
The goal of Christ in this text from the 3rd chapter of John is to move us, His “born from above” people to confident living in Christ, by His power, as we focus on Him as the One who was lifted up in our place. “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.” Amen.
Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming storms & feeding thousands with the very Bread of peace. Let us praise the Word Incarnate, Christ, who suffered in our place. Jesus died & rose victorious that we may know God by grace. Let us sing for joy & gladness, seeing what our God has done; let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one. Amen. LSB 849:1, 3.
 Matthew 25:34-36 ESV
 John 3:17 ESV
Pentecost – B LSB #502
Text – Ezekiel 37:3
And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
CAN THESE BONES LIVE?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the one Ezekiel just painted is strikingly relevant to what happened on Friday in Texas. The hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel & as he was set down in the middle of a valley that was full of bones. God’s Spirit led him around among the bones & they were very dry. It was a valley full of death.
Ten people were killed in Santa Fe, TX. In just the count of human bodies – a far cry from a valley full of bones, but the ten who were murdered, though on a smaller scale, present the same picture that Ezekiel saw in his vision. Two days ago, that high school in Texas was full of death. Ten people murdered out of the twisted confusion of sin.
People want to ban guns. They want to blame parents. The suspect might have been bullied, or he could be mentally ill. Do you think maybe our heavenly Father knows what caused the slaughter? Will anyone in the realm of politics dare to name the real cause? I hope that people are hearing about it in churches this morning.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Romans 6:23 gives the answer – plain & simple: “The wages of sin is death...” Whether brought by cancer, or by accident, or by premeditated murder, the underlying cause is always the same. Everything in God’s creation has been poisoned by sin. Because of it, everyone living is at the same time on the road to death.
No matter what road you are traveling in life, each & every one of them winds up at the same sign – Dead End. This universe, this planet, & the human beings occupying it, are so corrupted & poisoned by sin that you & I – like Ezekiel’s valley of bones – are full of death. Antietam & Gettysburg, Normandy & the Battle of the Bulge, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, each of those names is well-known for death on a massive scale, not as punishment for any specific sin, but simply as the result of human sin in general. God’s creation has been poisoned, & because of it – people die. Because of sin you & I will die.
Yahweh is the source of all life & rebellion against Him always brings death, no matter what form. The plain & simple truth is this – “The wages of sin is death.” The crazy thing is this – the answer to death is just as plain & simple. 2 Chronicles 7:14 provides that answer:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, & pray & seek my face & turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven & will forgive their sin & heal their land.” Would you say that our land needs healing? When Jonah finally went to Nineveh to warn them of God’s impending judgment they believed Him & repented.
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, & He did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10 ESV) It hardly seems possible that the people of our nation will turn from their evil ways. The Israelites never turned more than half-heartedly from their evil & eventually lost their place as God’s people.
Will any of the leaders of our nation dare to place the blame where it truthfully belongs? Will any of them dare to address the real issue? Anymore, would our people even vote for the truth? History tells us the answer will be no. There just won’t be enough people voting for you if your campaign slogan is, “Repent! We are all a bunch of sinners.”
That has to be done by the people of God. It is not just our job, it is our calling from the very moment the heavenly Father says to each of us individually, “You are mine!” It is God’s design, & tremendous blessing, that Christian parents always bring their children to Him for Baptism at an early age. Listen to what God said to Abraham in Genesis 17, & I want you to
focus on His use of the word covenant:
“As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you & your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me & you & your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, & it shall be a sign of the covenant between me & you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.” (17:9-12a ESV)
At a mere 8 days of age, parents are instructed by God to bring their sons to Him that they too might personally be called into covenant with their heavenly Father. Covenant is not a common word for us, but basically it means to create a relationship with someone. As we see with the command to circumcise at 8 days, God doesn’t wait for the child to decide on his own.
In OT circumcision Yahweh was creating a relationship between Himself & the male children. Today, in Baptism, Yahweh creates a relationship between Himself & all children – male & female. In a real way, when God creates that relationship, He is bringing us out of the darkness & in to the light. Our Lord is bringing us out of death & in to life.
In the context of Ezekiel, what was left of God’s people was exiled in the pagan nation of Babylon. In a sense, for a time, they were a dead people. They had wandered from their heavenly Father & followed pagan gods, so Yahweh gave them their heart’s desire. He did so that they might see the folly of their ways. Ezekiel describes how they felt while in exile:
“Our bones are dried up, & our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (37:11b ESV) They were a people unable to rescue themselves. It was as if they were a valley full of dry bones. Their future looked hopeless & destitute. They were, like the people in Santa Fe, TX are this morning, surrounded by darkness & death.
In Ezekiel’s day, the people of God, like Christians in our nation today, are surrounded by the darkness & death of a culture that is wandering away from their heavenly Father. In the 33rd chapter, the prophet Ezekiel was instructed to write: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way & live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV) It is our calling, as the people of God, to be taking that message out into the valley of dry bones.
The Spirit of the Lord took Ezekiel & set him down in the middle of a valley that was a sea of scattered, disconnected bones, & He said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Had another human being asked the question, it would have been laughable. As you & I look at the culture we live in, might God be saying to us, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
To be honest, we’d have to answer, “By our efforts & commitment there’s no way!” It’s why, for several years now I’ve held the 1st confirmation class of the year at a cemetery, & I ask, “What is the problem with cemeteries?” The answer is that everyone there is dead! It’s like a garden of very dry bones, yet we put them there as a sign of hope!
All the school shootings are a sign that our culture is rapidly becoming a valley filled with very dry bones. “Son of man, can these bones live?” It is a laughable question were it not for the fact that it is the Lord of life who is asking. For thousands of years, Christians have been burying bodies, & now ashes, in cemeteries in the sure & certain hope of the resurrection!
In the coming days there will be families in Texas burying their dead. I pray that they are Christian families who have that same sure & certain hope of the resurrection of the dead that is to come. Romans 6:23 begins harshly enough, but it does not leave us in despair: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sin is the cause of all the suffering in this world, whether it be the horror of a school shooting, or a terrorist attack, from the brutal action of war, or simply death by illness or a freak accident. If we as the children of God had been following our calling with confidence the media, & our politicians, would be talking about the true cause of those deaths in Texas. If we had been the salt of the earth as we were called to be, the leaders of our nation would not be turning attention away from the truth & placing blame on guns or parents or mental illness. You & I & our culture have become like a valley that is full of very dry bones – hopeless & full of death.
And still, Yahweh asks, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And He does not ask out of foolishness or sarcasm. Our Lord asks because He wants to assure us that the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” At the death of Lazarus Jesus told the man’s sister, “I am the resurrection & the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25 ESV)
The problem with cemeteries is that everyone there is dead. For that reason some people are very uncomfortable with being there. Yet, God does not take Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones in order to frighten or depress him. Yahweh takes the prophet there in order to give him hope. Yes, these bones can & they shall live! So the last words of the Gospel reading proclaim:
“Therefore prophesy, & say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves & raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, & raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, & you shall live, & I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:12-14 ESV)
After thousands of years of history, the Israelites eventually lost their place as God’s people. That is how completely they failed. They would become like a valley full of very dry bones. Jesus became the New Israel. He took their place in order to rescue them from the exile of sin because without Him God’s people were unable to turn from their wicked ways.
“Repent! We are all a bunch of sinners,” would certainly fail as an election campaign slogan. Unfortunately, even as God’s children we fail to repent perfectly, & when we do repent we almost immediately fall back into our sins. If the truth be told, you & I are unable to turn from our evil ways. Murder & disease & war will always be with us in this life.
Sinful human beings, & the plans of sinful human beings, are just not capable of rescuing
us, no matter what any politician or even religious leader may promise. This reading from the book of Ezekiel, with the valley full of dry bones, is about the full-fledged rescue of sinners from sin. And it is not merely a generic rescue of all them bones, but an intimately personal rescue of individual sinners from each of their individual sins.
Jesus, the true Israel, has taken the place of His people that we might be holy in the sight of our Creator. Jesus was raised from death to eternal life, that our bones might no longer be dry. Finally, Ezekiel tells us why our God does all these things: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, & I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:14b ESV)
May you all know the Lord from this day forth forevermore. Amen.
Holy Spirit, the dove sent from heaven, ever one with the One who is Three, from the Father you came, words of peace to proclaim, come & comfort us, speak tenderly. You, the fragrance of life we are seeking; fill Your temple, Your altar make clean. Joyous shelter of love, gracious friend from above, in Your care we are resting, serene. Holy Spirit, the fire celestial, Who on Pentecost came as foretold, to descend from on high & the Church occupy as the cloud filled the temple of old; all the baptized You seal with Your promise, all believers Your gift there receive, so that all the elect – all in Christ – may expect to enjoy what by grace they believe. Amen. LSB 502:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet