5th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 9) LSB #’s 816, 761, 704
Text – Romans 7:17-18
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
SIN LIVING IN ME
A man & wife were walking through the mall & stopped to watch the puppies & kittens in the front window of a pet shop. A multicolored parrot was perched near the door as an attraction to passerby. “Hey buddy!” said the parrot. “What?” the man replied. The parrot squawked, “You’re ugly & so is your wife.” “What?” the man said in disbelief.
So the parrot repeated, “You’re ugly & so is your wife!” The man was so offended that he stormed into the pet shop & demanded an audience with the manager, who was appropriately embarrassed & apologized profusely. He took a leather glove, grabbed the parrot, & severely disciplined the bird for his rude remarks. The customer, satisfied, turned to leave.
He’d walked only a few steps when he again heard the parrot’s shrill voice: “Hey buddy!” In disbelief the man turned & said, “What?” The parrot threw a quick glance toward the manager & then said to the departing customer, “You know what!” PAUSE
And just like the parrot our tendency to sin is so deeply ingrained that no amount of discipline, effort, willpower or prayer will break us free. The sin we try to avoid rears its ugly head & trips us up day after day, hour after hour, moment after moment. The burden of that struggle between my saintly nature & the sin living in me, that burden, makes me weary.
At least it makes us weary if we are fighting the battle. Many a person in whom God has created faith & new life has given up on the battle of that new life. They’ve slowly drifted away from God, & been gone so long, they no longer believe in their status as children of God. That failure to believe then condemns them. That failure to believe makes all of God’s blessings ineffective & renders them useless in their lives. And what wretched lives those become, because they no longer receive the strength, the peace or the forgiveness available to them from their Savior.
Other people still believe in God & His blessings but for some reason fail to use them. They find substitutes though poor ones at that. A woman once complained about how narrow-minded older people can be. I replied, “Well, they get set in their ways & they really can’t change anymore.” It is tough for an old dog to learn new tricks.
She replied that they could change, they just don’t want to. I had to agree with her, but later on the irony of her statement occurred to me as I remembered that she spent the afternoon burning down about three packs of cigarettes while becoming drunker than a skunk. She was blind to her own unwillingness to change, as she turned to things other than God for peace.
Rather than fight the battles of her life through prayer & meditation on God’s Word, she’d turned to nicotine & alcohol to relieve the pressures created by her battles. She may still believe in what Jesus has done for her, but she fails to make use of the blessings He gives. God intends, & allows, those struggles for strengthening our faith. They are spiritual exercise.
But that strengthening only occurs if our faith is being fed through God’s means of grace. If we are not feeding on His Word & Sacraments, then the battles weaken our faith instead of strengthening it. And a weak faith makes for a wretched life in this sin filled world. The battles never end, but many hopes & dreams do.
That brings us to you & me – the people who do attend church regularly. If you know my sermon style by now you know where I’m going with this. This is the point where I call y’all a bunch of sinners. This is the point where I include myself along with you. And this is the point where the Apostle Paul includes himself along with us. He wrote, “…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) That is the realization that even faithful Christians easily forget or choose to ignore.
We so easily recognize & lament the sin living in others, even legitimately feeling sorry for the plight of some, yet all the while failing to account for the sin living in us. How often do we volunteer for something that never quite seems to make it to the top of our list of priorities? How often do we make derogatory remarks about others who fail to keep their word?
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind & making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:22-23 ESV) We can feel that law of sin as it works on us. I have an illustration from one of the mission projects in Tijuana.
It was our 4th day of building. We’d finished one house the day before & the 2nd home was down to needing just the shingles. It made perfect sense to complete the project that evening, but I’d already been up & working for 12 hours. My body was waging war against my mind. My legs were tired, my arms were tired, & my emotions were tired.
I just wanted to quit. We can come back tomorrow. It’ll be a short day. To top it off, I had 4 teenagers working with me, none of whom had any real experience with roofing. The rest of the crew was on the ground just hanging out waiting for us to finish, & the sin living in me said it was all so unfair. Why did I end up having to carry the load until the very end?
Sin living in me, the only thing it listens to or obeys is pain & suffering – kind of like taking cash out of a person’s wallet is often the only thing that gets their attention & gains obedience, however grudging that might be. What hope is there for Christians like us? Often, the harder we try the more our frustration grows, & the more apparent is our failure. The burden of that struggle between your saintly nature & the sin living in you, that burden makes you weary. So God sends, & allows struggles into our lives in order to bend us low, to weaken our pride that we might finally turn to & be closer to Him.
Have you felt in your marital or family relationships that you aren’t being treated fairly? How about in your career or even your congregation; by the coach on a sports team or by your supposed friends? Those are all battles caused by the sin living in you, & yet our Heavenly Father uses them to open our eyes to the reality of how certainly we need Him.
I’ve always liked this verse from the gospel lesson, “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV) But for years I had a major misunderstanding of what that text is speaking of.
I assumed it meant weary & tired from things such as long, hard hours of physical labor, like building houses for 12 hours or more per day on a mission trip. But I’ve since learned that Jesus was talking not just of the physical burdens of life. More importantly He was speaking of the spiritual burdens & the warfare that make us prisoners of the sin living within.
People end up prisoners to addictions like alcohol or work. They end up prisoners to a belief that God either doesn’t care, or does not exist. Men & women end up enslaved to false teachings like Islam or reincarnation. Christians can end up as prisoners to a false sense of security, just because they were confirmed, or because they attend church services regularly.
When life is going well, it takes more effort on my part to focus on prayer & I don’t long for my devotional readings as I do when God is bending me low. I can’t say I enjoy the pain of the battle, or of God’s discipline, but I do miss the sense of closeness to God that comes along with them.
It is possible to take comfort in the fact that our Lord uses the weariness caused by the burdens of life to draw us closer to Himself: “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you & learn from Me, for I am gentle & humble in heart, & you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) He’s speaking of rest from the sin that lives within us & desires to control us.
Like Paul, we may not understand what we do. We have all experienced not doing the good that we want to, & doing the evil we hate. That tension & struggle can make us weary to the point of desperation; turning to almost anything we can find to relieve the pressure, the strain. It’s easier to surrender & give up than to fight the battle. What wretched people we are!
Who will rescue us from this body of death? Zechariah answered that question in the OT lesson, as he predicts the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous & having salvation is he, humble & mounted on the colt of a donkey.” (9:9)
Thus Paul ends his 7th chapter to the church at Rome with these words, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He has rescued me from the sin living within. Rather than surrendering to that sin & to that battle I can now surrender to my Savior, because He proved His victory through His resurrection from the dead.
Jesus also had the desire to do what is good, & He did carry it out, in your place. On the Last Day each of God’s children will be raised to a new & glorious body with not a single ounce of sin living in us. The battle will have ended & there will be no more tears or sorrow. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water & the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt & power. Amen. LSB 761:1.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – (Proper 8) LSB #’s 590, 589,
Text – Romans 7:5
For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
BEARING FRUIT FOR DEATH
The title is an ominous sounding phrase. The underlying text isn’t nearly as famous or well-known as Psalm 23 for example, or John 3:16. Clearly St. Paul is warning us of danger because our thoughts, words & deeds can bring about death rather than life. If we take stock of our lives honestly, there is reason for concern. Our conscience is not perfectly clear.
There are details of our lives we do not willingly share with others. And, there are details in the lives of other people that we all too willingly share. Problems & brokenness are a dime a dozen. The fact that some people make their living by giving motivational speeches says something about that state of human affairs. The human race is in trouble.
Have you heard of a particular solution that motivational speakers will highlight? I’m thinking of the idea that in order to be happy & successful you need to discover what you are passionate about & then do it! In Romans 7:5, the Word of God is sounding a warning in regards to what we are passionate about:
“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” We’ve seen quite a bit of law breaking across our nation this past month. Much of it was aroused by the law & those sinful passions were at work bearing fruit for death!
A police officer in Minneapolis was, at the very least, coldly indifferent to the life of another human being. According to the video, he snuffed that life out & didn’t even flinch! I’m guessing that he’s passionate about that sort of work.
In response, other people have discovered something they are passionate about. In normal times we refer to them as pyromaniacs, & they love to see things burn. There were also plenty of live videos showing people looting & rioting with passion.
According to the Word of God in Romans 7, such people are not following Jesus. Those thoughts, words & deeds are not perpetrated by those who have found life in Christ. At the Mount of Olives, Peter cut off the ear of a servant & Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. Beware of your passions! That’s what God is teaching us here through the Apostle Paul.
He is also teaching us that, because of sin, the law can only bring death. That’s why so many people in this world hate authority. When confronted with someone else who is in charge, they literally feel how powerless they are, & that makes them angry.
While the Law of God is good, & we are not, the Law does have a problem. The Law leaves us in a state of helplessness. It very accurately points out our failures & shortcomings, but offers us nothing in the way of the ability to keep the Law. The Law condemns every single human being as a failure & gives you & me not one ounce of hope for our future.
During His life on earth, Jesus had the power & the ability to keep the Law perfectly. He chose to do so on our behalf because He knew how powerless & desperate all of His creation was. Romans 8:22-23 tell us:
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Since the culture & the government of our nation no longer accept the love & forgiveness of Jesus, all they are left with to operate is the Law. The culture today, in spite of their hatred for Christian teaching, is trying, as unbelievers always do, to live by, & to make life better through, the law. There are all kinds of new & politically correct laws that the culture wants us to keep in order to be pure. Laws like the legalization of abortion or of gay marriage are meant to be making life better for people. Yet, because of sin all that the law can do is kill. That’s true whether it is the good & holy Law of God, or the corrupt & twisted laws of mankind.
The Law kills, so Jesus came to suffer that death for us, in order to fulfill the Law. He also came to live the perfect life which would fulfill the Law. As we are alive in Christ we are then able to bear fruit for something other than death.
As Psalm 1:3 (ESV) says of the child of God, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, & its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” As children of God we do yield fruit for life rather than death even when we are not aware of it.
Yes, we still sin. That is an abomination to God, but for Christ’s sake He forgives our sins. We are washed & made clean by the blood Jesus shed on the cross. By that same blood Jesus calls us back to life every time we turn to Him. By that same blood He enables us to turn back to Him. By Jesus’ blood we are set free from bearing fruit for death. Amen.
Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens, let Your Word to me come near; newborn life & spirit give me, let each promise still my fear. Death’s dread power, its inward strife, wars against Your Word of life; fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor that I cling to You forever! As I pray, dear Jesus, hear me; let Your words in me take root. May Your Spirit e’er be near me that I bear abundant fruit. May I daily sing Your praise, from my heart glad anthems raise, till my highest praise is given in the endless joy of heaven. Amen. LSB 589:1, 4.
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 7) LSB #761
Text – Romans 6:12 NLT
Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.
PUTTING SIN IN CONTROL
Do you remember from the sermon last Sunday, one reason all of us struggle to repent of our sins? Repentance involves recognizing & acknowledging that we will surely die. In fact, it involves recognizing & acknowledging that you & I are already, here & now, dead! We have no life in us apart from Jesus Christ. None! Not one ounce of life.
Jesus is the only answer to death. All the looting, rioting & arson that went on – it’s because people are already dead. Jesus is the only answer. The “officer involved killings” going on – they’re because human beings are already dead. Jesus is the only answer. Climate change & the unequal distribution of wealth, they’re signs of the obvious – you & I are already dead.
Jesus is the only answer. There is comfort & hope in that, but this Sunday, St. Paul, in writing to the church at Rome applies that answer & that comfort to our daily living. What do we do now that we are dead in sin & yet also alive in Christ? When we put sin in control of daily decisions trouble arises – every time, even if we don’t reap the consequences immediately.
It hasn’t gotten nearly as much coverage in the media as the looting & rioting, but there are people asking, “What is the way forward out of all this mess of racism & lawlessness & brutality?” You know the answer! You have the answer, but you are afraid to say it! You are afraid to tell people that if they do not follow Jesus, racism, lawlessness & rioting is their future!
As you heard in the sermon text, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.” That is how people who follow Jesus move forward out of the mess of racism, lawlessness & brutality. They begin by acknowledging that without Christ they are dead & therefore helpless. They need their Creator’s power even to breathe, let alone to help the world move beyond its self-destructive impulses. Verse 13 makes clear that once God claims us at Baptism, we face an on-going, moment by moment tug of war – obedience or bondage, saint or sinner, new creation or old creation: “Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin.” (Romans 6:13a NLT)
Paul is urging us to actively & continually oppose a return to being enslaved to sin. Rioting, looting & burning is a perfect picture of slavery to sin. People who do so are putting sin in control of their lives. They are selling out to the Devil. Police officers who use excessive force are selling out to the Devil & putting sin in control.
People who pollute the water or the air are selling out to the Devil & putting sin in control. People who practice sexual immorality are selling out to the Devil & putting sin in control. People who kill innocent children just to make money are selling out to the Devil & putting sin in control.
Those who judge others based on their skin color are selling out to the Devil & putting sin in control. And why do people live like that? Because they are dead. Paul wants us to recognize that, acknowledge it, & then stop trying to live on our own. In order to actually live we need to surrender & repent as often as we put sin in control.
In Galatians 5, Paul speaks about nine fruits of the Spirit & one of them is self-control. It is a gift, given to us at Baptism by the Holy Spirit, & we need the Holy Spirit’s help to develop that gift. You might have a gift to make music, but you still have to develop that gift through practice & hard work, & many people do.
Many Christians develop the gift of self-control, but it doesn’t happen by accident, or by magic. Parents are given to children by God in order to be their authority until the child has learned to develop & to put into use the gift of self-control. “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.” (Romans 6:12-13b NLT) If that sounds like you should be willingly making sacrifices, you are correct. Later in the book of Romans Paul wrote:
“I appeal to you therefore… by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy & acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (12:1-2 ESV) Living the new life that Christ has given us is to worship our heavenly Father. We don’t worship Him to earn His favor; we do so because we already have God’s favor. In Christ, we are alive!
In Christ, we do not put sin in control, but we practice self-control. Does that look pretty? Not at all. It is warfare, because the Devil is taking this battle to the death. You may not like warfare, but it is a reality & the losers are those who refuse to acknowledge that apart from Jesus they are dead; that apart from Jesus they will never have success that lasts.
And yet, the moment we begin to look for success is the moment we get into trouble again. Spiritual success is not something we can see in this life. We don’t have the eyes for it. Our vision is far too worldly focused. The very thought of trying to see if we are spiritually successful comes from the Devil himself & is based entirely upon the law.
Our “success,” if we can call it that, rests completely in eternal life, which has been given to us by the heavenly Father. We cannot see because we are not there yet. Many of the screaming people in our culture seem to want heaven here on earth, the perfect life with no looting, no brutality, no racism, no climate change, and no unwanted children.
They are not willing to believe the reality that sin has completely & totally corrupted our world. Nothing will ever be perfect in this life & sin will never be eliminated. The best we can do still requires us to repent each day of our sin. God has mercy on sinners who repent, yet the screaming people in our culture want everyone else to be perfect or die. That’s kind of the bottom line for them. They feel superior to those who are not politically correct & they have no problem being judgmental even as they accuse Christians of being nothing but that. And certainly there are Christians who fall into that sin – each of us at one time or another.
Sodom & Gomorrah were dead in their sins. It seems clear that our nation is rapidly approaching that as well. Jesus is the only answer. Repentance is how we reconnect with Jesus whenever we go astray. It’s simply acknowledging that we are dead & then turning back to God’s Son for renewed life. Like self-control, repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
It takes practice & hard work to develop that gift. It takes the power of God’s Spirit too, because on our own, none of us has the power even to repent. We do have the power to refuse that gift, however. That’s called putting sin in control. It’s an active refusal of God’s grace & mercy. It is rebellion at its heart.
Dirty cops are putting sin in control. Racists are putting sin in control. Rioters & looters & arsonists are putting sin in control. Power hungry politicians are putting sin in control, & they are on both sides of the aisle, Republican & Democrat. Jesus is the only answer. Even you & I, daily put sin in control. Thank God we have been taught to repent of our sin.
That fixes everything because it is the path to heaven. In this life we will have much trouble & sorrow. The message Jesus taught is that He has overcome this world. Those who follow Him do everything in their power to make it a better place, but we’re also realistic. This world will never be rid of sin. Jesus is the only answer.
It’s not easy to live like that. It’s not easy to wholeheartedly believe that message every day. It requires surrendering our will to Christ. God’s Spirit works that in us as well, but if you are still trying to be in control of your life the reality is you are putting sin in control! Until we reach heaven, our sinful nature will always be stronger than our saintly nature. God allows that to keep us humble, to keep us turning back to Him, again & again each hour of every day. The good news is that, although Paul knows you & I are sinners, he is not lying when he writes:
“You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin & have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness & result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:21b-23 NLT)
Yes, both are true, we are at the same time, saints & sinners, 100% of each. Yet, Jesus has conquered sin & death. Those who trust in Him to lead shall follow in His footsteps to heaven. Amen.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water & the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure: cleanse me from its guilt & power. Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy Law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, & Thou alone. Amen. LSB 761:1-2.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 6) LSB #’s 790, 571, 830
Text – Matthew 10:15
Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom & Gomorrah than for that town.
SODOM & GOMORRAH
When Jesus says it is more bearable on Judgment Day for Sodom & Gomorrah than for you, what comes to mind? That is the gist of the sermon text this morning. Those are not the words we want to hear from Jesus. We’d prefer those recorded by Matthew in chapter 24: “Well done, good & faithful servant.” (24:21a ESV)
However, to hear those words first we have to receive the messengers of Jesus & hear their words. To reject those whom the heavenly Father sends to us is to reject life itself. That is a message we don’t hear often enough. Turning away from God’s Word is to reject life. It gets lost in all the confusion of sin, & of course that is the best & the only plan of the Devil.
Adam & Eve had the word of God, “…of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17 ESV) The Word of God was very simple & very direct. There was nothing confusing or vague in its language at all. The Lord was very clear: “You shall surely die!” And that they did. And so shall you!
On the bare face of it that is an extremely uncomfortable truth to face. For the most part people just do not enjoy talking about death. Many avoid that conversation at all costs. Even most Christians do not bother with planning for their funeral. All of which is why we struggle so mightily against the idea of repentance.
Repentance involves recognizing & acknowledging that we will surely die. In fact, it involves recognizing & acknowledging that you & I are already, here & now, dead! We have no life in us apart from Jesus Christ. None! Not one ounce of life. And Jesus is the only answer to death. All the looting, rioting & arson going on – it’s because people are already dead. Jesus is the only answer. All the “officer involved killings” going on – they’re because human beings are already dead. Jesus is the only answer. Climate change & the unequal distribution of wealth, they’re just signs of the obvious, you & I are already dead. Jesus is the only answer.
Human beings cannot stop climate change anymore than we can control the weather. We are not god, & in fact we are already quite the opposite. We are already dead, & Jesus is the only answer. That is the point of shaking the dust off their feet. It was to tell the people who did not receive the disciples, or hear their words, that they were already dead!
It hasn’t gotten nearly as much coverage in the media as all the looting & rioting has, but there are people asking, “What is the way forward out of all this mess of racism & lawlessness & brutality?” You know the answer! You have the answer, but you are afraid to say it! You are afraid to tell people that if they do not follow Jesus, racism, lawlessness & rioting is your future!
What we see happening across our nation, because it’s the majority of what our news system is portraying, is a tiny little glimpse of hell. And what bothers you most when seeing it is that you have the answer & you are afraid to speak it! You are afraid that people will laugh at you, or refuse to receive you, or refuse to hear your words! “Jesus is the only answer.”
That’s the whole point He is making in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew! Where Jesus’ disciples go, & where the words of God are heard, there there is life! If you refuse to receive them, or their words, you will remain dead for all of eternity. With all the unrest & division across our nation people are wondering if the United States are in decline.
There’s no reason to wonder! The answer is clear. These United States of America are already dead! Our nation is done. It is finished. Even now, you & I should be, so to speak, shaking the dust off our feet. The people of this once great land are already dead & someone needs to tell them about it. That our nation is dead is why there is police brutality. That we’re dead is why there is racism. That we’re dead is why people are looting & rioting & burning. Those are not the actions of people who are alive in Jesus Christ!
“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom & Gomorrah than for that town.” That town, today, used to be called the United States of America. They are no more! Jesus is the only answer.
The rich & famous certainly have no idea how to solve this. Even as they ‘sympathize’ with the idea of defunding the police, what do they have surrounding them at all times – private security! Our politicians have no idea how to solve this. They are only fanning the flames for their political gain, & none of them are refusing the security which our government provides.
The “free” press that is so necessary to a government for the people & by the people is now nothing but a propaganda machine for Satan himself. It is filled with half truths & lies throughout. And what does all that tell you? You got it! As a nation & as a people, we are already dead. Jesus & Jesus alone brings the reign of God. All else is damnation.
No one can reject Jesus Christ with impunity. No one can declare independence from Him & have life. That’s because Jesus is the beginning of the new creation, the one that will never be marred by any of the divisions created by sin. Jesus is the cornerstone upon which that creation is being built.
The current creation reeks of death & brokenness because it has alienated itself from its sinless & loving Creator. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the Twelve as missionaries to announce & actually bestow the reversal of death & brokenness. Those who reject the peace of Christ are also rejecting the life without sin that heaven will bring. By shaking the dust off their feet, the disciples are not causing those people to be damned, they are actually warning them of the deadly road they have chosen for themselves. Jesus is now sending you & me out to the world to share the Word of God with them that they might have peace in their heart & soul.
If they reject God’s peace it will be worse for them than for Sodom & Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment. Those cities were vaporized in an instant. Hell will last forever. It is the great mystery of the ages that anyone would reject life. What that rejection reveals, however, is the completely perverse nature of sin. Heaven will have none of it.
Every day of your life should begin with the sobering thought & acknowledgment that in this life you are already dead except for the blood of Jesus. Then, & only after that beginning each new day, can you ever begin to live. There is no other reality upon which to base your life. Any other reality is only more death.
Jesus is not instructing His disciples to shake the dust off their feet out of a sense of superiority or righteousness, but out of profound sadness for those who have rejected His words & thus chosen condemnation. Shaking the dust off their feet was not an act of Judgment. It was simply an act of warning from which any person can be saved through repentance.
It is Yahweh’s great desire that everyone should be saved from sin. He Himself has paid the price of our rebellion. He’s offered us a way out of the confusion of sin & death that we have brought upon ourselves. All we need to do is to acknowledge that we are already dead & then turn to Him for life. God has sent His Spirit to accomplish that work of love in you. Amen.
God loved the world so that He gave His only Son the lost to save, that all who would in Him believe should everlasting life receive. Christ Jesus is the ground, Who was made flesh & suffered death; all then who trust in Him alone are built on this chief cornerstone. God would not have the sinner die; His Son with saving grace is nigh; His Spirit in the Word declares how we in Christ are heaven’s heirs. If you are sick, if death is near, this truth your troubled heart can cheer: Christ Jesus save your soul from death; that is the firmest ground of faith. Amen. LSB 571:1-3, 5.
Holy Trinity Sunday – A LSB #’s 979, 578, 801
Text – Genesis 1:9
Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, & let the dry land appear.” And it was so.
THEN GOD SAID… AND IT WAS SO
What is your ‘go to’ when it’s time to unwind & relax? A fair number of people will drink a beer. Others go for a walk out in nature. Working around the yard or the garden is good for some. Playing golf & other sports help other people wind down. For me, when I’m too exhausted for any physical activity, yet still need to unwind, I listen to music.
It helped me to cope with life on a submarine. It encouraged me to keep plodding through the trials & struggles of seminary. It got me through the several years of loneliness I spent serving as a pastor in North Dakota. In music I find peace & rest for my heart & my soul.
During the time of the reading from the book of Genesis, God’s creation is still a perfect place, without sin or any of the corruption that it brings. There’s no rioting or looting, no murder & no brutality. The Words of God coming from it are like a song that’s being carried on the wind from a very far place. It is a world that you & I have never known.
The report about God’s creation is the truth & nothing but the truth, with no spin or bias applied whatsoever. And in spite of the corruption in our hearts, the saintly nature God created in us recognizes the opening notes & longs to hear the song in full. Shepherds once heard the prelude to that song when “out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)
And when the trumpet sounds as Jesus returns to His creation to recreate all of it, in all of its beauty, then you & I will hear the song of Jesus’ words. We will hear them in person, & it will be the most beautiful song we have ever heard. Unlike now, where the Word of God is spoken & people are allowed to disobey, then our hearts will not have an ounce of disobedience in them. The Word of God will never be corrupted again in our hearing nor in our speaking. For eternity it will be as it was in Genesis 1 & 2, “Then God said… & it was so!” We look forward to that beautiful music with longing.
Yet, for now, our corrupted hearts & ears only hear the Words of God like a song that’s being carried on the wind from a very far place. In a similar way, St. Paul wrote of that in regard to our vision, when he stated, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then ace to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully...” (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV)
Knowing of that perfection to come helps us to keep going in the utter imperfection of our lives now. And it also gives hope, not simply for eternity in heaven. It gives us hope for the trials & the tribulations of now, because though our eyes & ears see & hear evil on every hand, the Word of God is still working out His perfect will in spite of our rebellion & sin.
“Then God said… & it was so!” applies just as much today as it did in the 1st creation & as it will during the 2nd. It’s just that for now, we cannot see & we cannot hear the totality of what our Lord is doing right before our very eyes. Take Good Friday as an example. Everyone who was there thought that the ministry of Jesus was over, finished, done!
No one suspected, even though Jesus told them in advance, that the will of God was being done through the crucifixion of God. Yet, “Then God said… & it was so!”
Or, how about the long past trials & struggles of your lives? Most of us are willing to admit that we can look back now & see the good that our Lord brought out of them. “Then God said… & it was so!” While they’re happening, however, no one wants to hear that our trials & suffering are part of the heavenly Father’s plan, but the Holy Spirit assures us that they are.
He inspired St. Paul to write: “And we know that God works all things together for good to those who love God…” (Romans 8:28 NASB) If we don’t believe that the Holy Trinity can overcome the effects of sin then there is no point in believing in God at all. Human beings have proven billions of times over that the human race is not capable of overthrowing the power of sin. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about science or engineering or urban renewal, all human solutions fail to address the core issue. We cannot cure someone who is dead!
Ecclesiastes tells us in chapter 3 that “God has made everything beautiful in its time!” (3:11a) Do you know what that it is? It’s just another way of expressing, “Then God said… & it was so!” And all of it was very good, until rebellion brought death into creation. The 1st emotion Adam & Eve expressed was fear. Their 1st reaction was to run & hide.
Because of His love for them, the Holy Trinity went after Adam & Eve, not to punish, but to rescue. As Yahweh had created everything in the universe from nothing, He could now create a renewed relationship with Adam & Eve where nothing existed after their fall into sin. “Then God said & it was so.” They could once again be His children if they simply believed His Word.
Here in Michigan, we’ve been going through the season of spring. One of the places I see God’s beauty is in the initial sprout of the garden plants & flowers as they 1st poke through the soil & reach out toward the sun! There is beauty in that evidence of God’s design & plan. Those plants do not grow by random chance or accident.
In verse 11 of the reading from Genesis, Moses wrote: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, & fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so.” Those ancient Words of God are still powerful & effective even today.
Even after sin, the earth is still fulfilling God’s promise, & obeying His Words. It’s true; there are thorns & thistles & mosquitoes to make our work far less pleasant, & the crops are far less bountiful, yet the Father in heaven still provides. As the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer is explained: “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this & to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” (Martin Luther’s Small Catechism) “Then God said… & it was so!”
It is a refrain that echoes throughout the Creation narrative. Ten different times we hear the words, “God said,” & ten different times what God said came to be. Because of sin we only hear it like a song that’s being carried on the wind from a very far place. Yet, because of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts we are drawn to hear more of that beautiful love song.
Jesus highlights that desire & longing as He speaks in the Gospel of John at the 10th chapter: “My sheep hear my voice, & I know them, & they follow me.” (10:27 ESV)
God’s song tells us how the world should be. Our struggles & trials tell us a different story – one of sin & death, one of sorrow & tears. Those who do not follow Jesus believe only in the story of sorrow & tears. They have no hope for God’s mercy & love. Without God’s love & mercy we could never survive the disconnect between those two different versions of reality.
God does not deny the story of our sorrows & tears. Neither does He tell us to be strong & just ignore the story. In fact He joined that story in the person of His Son, who took on human flesh so He could suffer & die the death we deserved for our rebellion. It is harmful to deny that story, so as Lutherans we confess it in every worship service, with words such as these:
“I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto [God] all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You…” (LSB p. 213) You & I are able to confess that story freely & openly only because of the great love of the Creator God for us. Confessing our sins is an integral part of turning back to Him, & back to His never ending love for all His children.
Then, on behalf of, & in the stead of the Lord Jesus Christ, & by His command, children of God rejoice in being able to declare that all your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. In the absolution – “Then God said… & it was so!” – Our sins are gone. That itself is part of the creation of the new heaven & the new earth that is to come. Hearing those cleansing words of forgiveness is like hearing a song that’s being carried on the wind from a very far place.
As we close, listen once more to the opening words of that song: “At the first God made the heaven & the earth. And the earth was waste & without form; & it was dark on the face of the deep: & the Spirit of God was moving on the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: & there was light. And God, looking on the light, saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:1-4a)
I pray that you hear beauty in those words, & that come the Last Day, you will be there to see the new heaven & the new earth. Until then, the Son of God & Lord of the universe promises that through thick & thin, through sorrow & joy, He will be with you always, to the end of the age. Amen.
Thy strong word did cleave the darkness; at Thy speaking it was done. For created light we thank Thee, while Thine ordered seasons run. Thy strong word bespeaks us righteous; bright with Thine own holiness, glorious now; we press toward glory, & our lives our hopes confess. Give us lips to sing Thy glory, tongues Thy mercy to proclaim, throats that shout the hope the fills us, mouths to speak Thy holy name. Alleluia, alleluia! May the light which Thou dost send fill our songs with alleluias, alleluias without end! Amen. LSB 578:1, 2, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet