Stewardship 3 – 2018
Text – 2 Corinthians 8:3-5
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, & beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – & this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves 1st to the Lord & then by the will of God to us.
embracing a lifestyle of giving joyfully & generously
Do you ever think about how much in life you take for granted? I can tell you some of the things I take for granted – clean water, good health, personal transportation, food, clothing, shelter. Yet one of the problems with taking things for granted is the fact that, by definition, we are not aware of the things we’re taking for granted, or we would not be taking them for granted.
I’ll tell you what else I often take for granted… it is the things God is doing here at our church through all of you – through your faithful gifts of time, through your talents & abilities, through your offerings, through your love & concern for other people. I decided to take a look & see what our Heavenly Father is accomplishing through you, His dear children.
However, in each of those situations, the power of our heavenly Father’s almighty word is coming to bear in the lives of real, living & eternal children of God. The central problem of our very existence is not that we take church for granted, or the schools, or Sunday morning Bible study. The heart wrenching pain that Jesus Christ has to suffer with is the fact that we take the universe creating, & eternal life-giving, Word of God for granted! As unbelievers we were dead in our sins & dead people can never earn eternal life.
To save us, our Creator had to give us that gift by His mercy & grace. Since we did nothing to earn it, it is natural for us to take it for granted. Often, I completely forget that without Jesus – life here on earth, & especially life after death – would be a source of fear & hopelessness. Isn’t it the same for you? Life gets busy. We forget Jesus!
It’s a blessing to hear the news of our forgiveness every day, because every day we forget to cherish it. So here is that Good News.
Jesus humbled Himself to be born as a baby in Bethlehem. He lived a perfect life in our place. He paid the price for every one of our sins on the cross of Calvary. He died there on our behalf. He defeated death for us when He rose again & ascended into Heaven. He promised to return & take us to be with Him. Who is Him? It’s the only-begotten Son of God, our Savior.
Just like everyone else, I need to be reminded every day that my eternity, my “forever & ever, amen,” has been changed because of Christ Jesus. Sinful beings take things for granted. We need reminding that every good thing comes from our Heavenly Father.
How do we get that reminder? It is through time spent in God’s Word. It is through deliberate action, led by the Holy Spirit, to be a disciple – to be striving to be more & more like Jesus. When that takes place, the feeling of entitlement, which Satan works within, will be turned into its opposite – Gratitude.
When God’s Word turns me away from my sinful attitudes I am grateful for all the things, large & small, in my life. I am grateful for my redemption & salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. And I am grateful TO someone: to our Heavenly Father. Living a grateful life is what this stewardship series, “Embracing Great Commission Stewardship,” is all about. It is about the connection between discipleship & stewardship.
In week one, I spoke with you about our calling as disciples of Christ. Last week, we talked about committing ourselves to God’s strong Word. By the power of the Holy Spirit, those things lead to a life of joyful, generous giving. That kind of giving flows out of gratitude. Gratitude is not taking things for granted.
Gratitude gives thanks & celebrates what God does for us every day of our lives. And then gratitude responds in a meaningful way as we embrace a lifestyle of giving joyfully & generously. A grateful heart is a gift that our heavenly Father longs to give to all His children.
One way I’ve seen that in action these past few months is the volunteers who’ve been helping to change out all of the old fluorescent lighting. It’s been a joyful & generous group that has put in many hours to retrofit so many light fixtures. And yesterday there was the group of people working for church cleanup day. Again & joyful & generous group.
There are literally hundreds of other projects being done, each & every day, to keep the school & the childcare programs running, & the building functioning. Offerings are being given & bills being paid. There are people praying for all of this. There are people doing all of this. It’s like the picture St. Paul painted for us in 2 Corinthians 8:3-5:
“For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, & beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – & this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves 1st to the Lord & then by the will of God to us.”
You could define discipleship by the last verse – gave themselves 1st to the Lord & then to us. Discipleship led to what we read in verse 3 – they gave beyond their means. They gave generously. And in verse 4 – begging earnestly to take part, they gave joyfully. Discipleship leads to gratitude, which leads to joyful generosity. God ties all those together in your heart through faith in Jesus as your Savior.
As we become more & more like Jesus, our lifestyle becomes one of giving joyfully & generously. That is the gift of life that our Creator gives. It’s not something to be afraid of. That’s what it is to trust in God. Here’s a story which I hope will build trust in your heart that the work God is doing through all of us here is powerful, effective, & eternal.
A young man graduated from one of our Concordia Universities. He started as a missionary in Southern California & was working with a boy named Enrique. Enrique was about 12 or 13, & most of his family had been into drugs & gangs. There were two or three success stories in his family, but eventually most of the family members got into drugs.
The missionary got to know many of the gangbangers in the area because some were part of Enrique’s family. It’s a crazy & dangerous life. Enrique’s dad was deported 5 years ago & he talked about him all the time. They used to go fishing & motocross riding.
The missionary found that he made the biggest impression, & the best opportunity he had to share Jesus, when he took Enrique fishing. It was the 1st time since his dad was deported. The relationship changed, & Enrique began attending church faithfully.”
There are two points to take from that story:
That is what God does through each of us & all of us at our church. We have much to be grateful for, the offerings, the commitment of time, the gifts God has given us which we freely share within the ministries here. Consider what’s happening: Children, young people, couples, families, grandparents, all are hearing the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ every single day. In all different ways, the Holy Spirit, through us, is carrying the Gospel into the world.
Let’s pray: We praise you forever, Lord! You are king of the universe, & You rule with strength & power. We thank You & praise you, but why should we be impressed that we have given You offerings? They belong to You, & we’ve only given back what is already yours. Lord God, we bring offerings for the blessed work of church & school. They belong to You, & You gave them to us. We share the love & the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ with great joy, knowing it is Your Holy Spirit who is enlivening & blessing our work. Heavenly Father, always make us eager to give, & help us be faithful to You. We pray this by the mighty power & in the holy name of the One Who saves us, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord, our Savior & our King, unto life, joyfully & generously, everlasting. Amen.
Stewardship 2 – 2018 LSB #’s 707, 578:1-2, 4, 6, 696:1-2, 4, 6
Text – Isaiah 40:8
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Thy Strong Word
This is the 2nd week of our emphasis titled “Embracing Great Commission Stewardship.” Today’s focus is “Embracing a Commitment to God’s Word.” Yahweh’s strong word will stand forever. God’s strong word cleaves the darkness! Praise to Thee Who light dost send! That’s a forceful hymn isn’t it?
Given its power, similar to “A Mighty Fortress,” you may guess that it came out of the Reformation. Surprisingly it was written not too long ago. It’s not as old as many of us are. This hymn, written in 1961, by a man named Martin Franzmann, highlights two things we’re focusing on in this morning’s theme.
The 1st is the topic for today’s Stewardship emphasis: “Embracing a Commitment to God’s Word.” Point 2 is for us to celebrate & embrace our Lutheran schools, child care centers, high schools, Universities, & our two seminaries. Embrace God’s Word. Embrace Lutheran Schools. God’s strong word cleaves the darkness! Praise to Thee Who light dost send!
You should readily see the connection in this hymn to God’s Word: it’s in the title of the hymn. But what is the connection to Lutheran Schools? Well, the man who wrote the lyrics to this hymn was a Lutheran school teacher. And he used the motto of his Lutheran school as the theme for the hymn.
Martin Franzmann was a Lutheran school teacher, but he was called ‘professor’ because he taught at Concordia Seminary in St Louis. The motto of that seminary is Anothen to Phos, which means “light from above.” That motto was his inspiration for writing the hymn “Thy Strong Word.” Thy Strong word did cleave the darkness! Praise to Thee Who light dost send!
In the six stanzas of this hymn, a Lutheran school teacher summarizes all of Scripture beautifully & poetically. If you have a hymnal it’s number 578.
Stanza one – Creation from His strong Word.
Thy strong word did cleave the darkness;
At Thy speaking it was done.
For created light we thank Thee,
While Thine ordered seasons run.
Stanza two – The Fall & the Promise of a Savior from His strong Word.
Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,
Dark as night and deep as death,
Broke the light of Thy salvation,
Breathed Thine own life-breathing breath.
Stanza 3 – New creation in Baptism & in Jesus righteousness, literally through THE strong Word.
Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous;
Bright with Thine own holiness,
Glorious now we press toward glory,
And our lives our hopes confess.
Stanza 4 – The most amazing statement in all of history – It is finished! The strongest Word delivered from Christ crucified that brought Light to all.
From the cross Thy wisdom shining
Breaketh forth in conquering might;
From the cross forever beameth
All Thy bright redeeming light.
Stanza 5 – Until now it was all about what God had done for us. In this stanza, it is the Church’s response: let that Gospel Light shine as you share it with those still in darkness.
Give us lips to sing Thy glory,
Tongues thy mercy to proclaim,
Throats that shout the hope that fills us,
Mouths to speak Thy holy name.
And then finally Stanza 6 – We look forward to that good, glorious & light-filled day when we will stand & bask in the Light of our Triune God in a new creation, void of any darkness of sin, death or the devil!
God the Father, light-creator,
To Thee laud and honor be.
To Thee, Light of Light begotten,
Praise be sung eternally.
Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
Glory, glory be to Thee.
Mortals, angels, now and ever
Praise the holy Trinity!
God’s Strong word cleaves the darkness! Praise to Thee Who light dost send! Embrace God’s Word. Embrace Lutheran Schools. Let’s have a quick show of hands. Who here has attended a Lutheran school, or taught in one, or has a family member who has attended one? Look at all those hands.
It’s easy for us to embrace our Lutheran schools: we love them. They are such a blessing where God’s Light shines & His Word is taught… daily. But here is a more difficult question to ask. Who here has studied the Bible daily, every day in this year? Not so many hands now are there, including mine. Why is it so difficult for us to embrace the Word of God?
Why do we struggle to embrace these words from God our Father in heaven? All Scripture is breathed out by Yahweh. Why don’t we constantly want to inhale this breath, this LIFE, of God? The answer is that while we truly are holy saints of God, we are also poor miserable sinners. That is why we struggle to embrace the Word of Life.
My encouragement on this 2nd week of our stewardship emphasis is that you truly make an effort to embrace this Word, this breath, this light of God on a daily basis. And when you fall short, which will happen, come back again & embrace this strong, forgiving Word again & again. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.
For the Word of God is living & active, sharper than any two-edged sword or maybe to tie into this message – sharper than any cleaver. It will cleave the darkness. God promises that. Living & active words – it truly is the case. These words breathed out by the Spirit of God through more than 30 individuals over a period greater than 1500 years compiled in 66 different books. As I write sermons I am so often reminded of how these words still speak loudly to us today. They frequently cut to my heart bringing death & then life at the same time. The words of God truly are living & active; they truly are “a lamp to your feet & a light to your path.”
God’s Strong word cleaves the darkness! Praise to Thee who light dost send! And all God’s people said: Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding, & cleaves all darkness from your soul, will guard your hearts & minds in the light of Christ Jesus. Amen.
Stewardship 1 – 2018 LSB #’s 835:1-3 & 6, 829, 830
Text – Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross & follow me.”
EMBRACING YOUR CALLING AS A DISCIPLE
When we speak of taking up our cross, so often it’s in terms of suffering – bearing a burden as we serve the Lord. Who here is left-handed? Brothers! Sisters! When people say to a friend of mine, “I didn’t know you were left-handed.” He always says, “It is the cross I bear.” I’ll bet you’ve said something like that from time to time.
Is that what Jesus meant when He tells us to take up our cross & follow Him? In the Bible & in the Lutheran confessions we can see three different aspects of this phrase, “take up your cross.”
First & foremost, in this passage, in chapter 10, & others, Jesus is talking about being ready to die, to give up this earthly life, rather than renounce our faith. He points to this when He asks the rhetorical question in verse 26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world & forfeits his soul?”
That is pretty heavy stuff, but it also makes sense. Why would anyone choose a temporary life instead of an eternal one? When people stand here before the altar & confirm the vows taken at their Baptism, we ask: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession & Church & to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”
They answer, “I do, by the grace of God,” because it is only by grace through the gift of faith that we would be able to do such a thing. The same applies to suffering or persecution. Jesus promises that we will be hated on account of our faith. We see some of that here in the U.S., but there are brothers & sisters around the world who live each day in fear of physical harm or death, just because they have faith in Jesus as their Savior. We will continue to pray for them – they are our brothers & sisters in Christ.
Now, it’s important to note that Jesus always starts off with words like, “If anyone would come after me…” or “would follow me…” Jesus never asks us to do something that He hasn’t already done. He never says, “I’ll be right behind you.” He always says, “Follow me. I’m going ahead of you.”
So when He asks us to be ready to suffer or to die for the faith, it is because He has already suffered & died on the cross of Calvary for each & for every one of us. He has already felt the sting of death as punishment for our sins. And He did not stay dead as Easter morning has proven that God’s promise to defeat sin, death & the Devil has been fulfilled.
The 2nd person of the Trinity ascended into Heaven with the promise of returning to bring us home to be with Him. Jesus always leads. Before He asks us to take up our cross, He carried His to Calvary.
Another aspect to the phrase “take up your cross” ties in with “Embracing Your Calling as a Disciple.” It is living your faith. Taking up the cross means lifting HIGH the cross as we serve people around us, as we share God’s love & gifts that we received through Jesus Christ. We lift high the cross as we serve in the different vocations given to us by our Lord.
Let me ask this: Do you see the work you do as holy & sacred, or do you get to work on Monday morning with the deep desire that it was already Friday? Before the author entered the ministry, he worked with a secretary named Mary who would always, ALWAYS talk about the countdown to Friday. Monday was the WORST. By Wednesday, there was some hope.
On Friday, the hour-by-hour countdown began. When she’d say something like, “only one more hour until the weekend!” people would tease her by replying, “And just think, only 63 more hours until we’re back to Monday morning!” Mary never laughed at that. Aren’t we all guilty of that from time to time – getting caught up in the routine & mundane part of work – losing sight of the bigger picture of what we’re doing as a team, as a congregation – even more, losing sight of the fact that our everyday efforts reflect our love for God?
The work we think is mundane or routine truly, truly matters to God’s people whom He puts in our lives! Whether you’re transplanting a heart or sweeping a floor; repairing a furnace or balancing a budget, making high-level decisions at a company, or making sure your household is running smoothly – in God’s eyes, every vocation is equally important.
In everything we do in this world, God is at work in us & through us, through the tasks we accomplish, for the benefit of the world He loves so much. When we serve each other in a way that glorifies God & points to Christ, we are taking up our cross. We are lifting the cross of Jesus Christ & carrying it into the world. We are embracing our calling as His disciples.
What I’m hoping you’ll see, what I’m praying you will live, is the very real calling each of you has. You don’t have to be a pastor or Christian teacher to serve God. With every tiny act, every conversation, every cost breakdown sheet you submit, each time you clean up after one of your children – or yourself – you are serving the Creator, Redeemer & Sustainer of the world.
Are you still skeptical? Listen to the Apostle Paul as he writes by God’s inspiration in Colossians chapter 3:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)
“Whatever you do...” This is not a Sunday-only thing. All the big things, all the little things, ALL the things that we do, matter to God. They are holy & sacred. They are making a difference in the Kingdom. And I really, really want you to know that, truly KNOW & embrace that, in your heart.
It is nice to look forward to a weekend when we can rest & spend time with family & friends. It is also comforting & encouraging to know that when we’re at work 5 days (or more) of the week, we are serving our Savior. We are bringing His Kingdom into the world He loves SO much that He suffered & died for every person here. And He did not remain dead!
Here’s what I’d like to do. Each year, we install, we dedicate or rededicate, workers for service in God’s church – the Council, the Elders, the teachers. Today we’re going to have a service of consecration, a setting apart of everyone present today, for the work each of you does in this world. Every vocation is sacred, & God wants you to know that. He wants you to live it.
Everyone who is able, would you please rise.
Slide: Service of Consecration (based on Colossians 3) Seven Slides
P: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Since, then, we have been raised with Christ, we are called to set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
C: By God’s grace, we will set our minds on things above, not on earthly things.
P: For we died, and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God.
C: When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then we also will appear with Him in glory.
P: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, we will clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
C: We will bear with each other and forgive one another, just as the Lord forgave us.
P: And over all these virtues we will strive to put on love,
C: Which binds them all together in perfect unity.
P: Through the faith God has given us, in whatever we do, whether in word or deed,
C: We will do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
P: People of God, I now consecrate you – set you apart – for service to God in everything you do. God calls upon each of us in all that we do to work at it with all our hearts, as working for Him.
C: It is truly the Lord Christ we are serving. Dear God, work through us so that we carry the cross of Jesus Christ boldly in all we say, in all we do, in every way we serve in this world. Amen!
Let’s remain standing, & close out the service of Consecration by singing “Lift High the Cross.”
REFRAIN: Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world adore His sacred Name.
All newborn soldiers of the Crucified
Bears on their brows the seal of Him Who died. REFRAIN
O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee. REFRAIN
So shall our song of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified for victory. REFRAIN
Now may the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, keep your hearts & minds in Christ Jesus as together we embrace our calling as disciples, unto life everlasting. Amen.
23rd Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 26) LSB #’s 605, 740, 392
Text – Mark 12:28
One of the scribes came up & heard them disputing with one another, & seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
WHO’S NUMBER ONE?
Who’s number one? It might be the most common question in all of sports. We’re number one may be the most common answer. This might put some of you grandparents in hot water, but I’m going to ask, “Who is your number one grandchild????” Don’t flinch! Don’t move! And don’t you dare smile! Your grandchildren will be looking for any sign to tell them.
No matter how perfect they are, in the heart of every grandchild is the desire to be number one. It’s the same desire that was in the heart of the church leaders of Jesus’ day. They wanted to be number one & when Jesus refused to acknowledge that it made them angry.
King Herod had that same desire & once he found out that Jesus was born Herod tried to have the Son of God killed. When it comes to being number one, our sinful nature has a tremendous desire to push aside or eliminate any & all competition. Even grandchildren, cute as they can be, have no natural interest in sharing the limelight.
In the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus had just finished plainly telling some of the church leaders, the Sadducees, that they were quite wrong in their thinking. The Lord even told them why they were wrong – because they “…know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Mark 12:24 ESV)
At that time, one of the Scribes came to Jesus because he was impressed with the way in which Jesus had answered the Sadducees. This Scribe seemed to have a genuine interest in the answer to his question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus responds by telling the man which commandment is number one. Americans like to know who’s number one. The sports pages & websites list, every day, the standings for all the major sports so we can easily look it up. During 1984 Major League Baseball season, the Detroit Tigers went ‘wire to wire.’ That means they were in 1st place after every single game of the season. They were number one all year long.
In our own daily living we have to admit that’s a pretty rare thing. We hardly ever feel like number one for anything approaching even a week, let alone an entire season. Do you remember how the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes describes life?
“…there is a season, & a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, & a time to die; a time to weep, & a time to laugh; a time to mourn, & a time to dance; a time to seek, & a time to lose; a time to keep silence, & a time to speak…” (ESV) King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, understood that there was a rhythm to life – a constant cycle of ups & downs.
Even if God grants you the privilege of being number one at something in life it will only be for a time. 1984 was a great season for the Detroit Tigers, but they haven’t gone ‘wire to wire,’ or won the World Series, in the 34 years since. Being number one in something of this life can be a blessing, but like all other things of this earth Matthew 6:19-20 applies:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys & where thieves do not break in & steal.” (ESV) The Scribe asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” & Jesus answered:
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind & with all your strength.’ The 2nd is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV) What Jesus is saying is this: the only way, the only way you can truly love your grandchildren is to first love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your mind & with all your strength. If you are not loving the Lord your God in that way, then any love you have for your grandchildren is idolatry, because it is fruit from the wrong tree.
It is only the Tree of Life that gives life. The tree of the knowledge of good & evil – it brings death. If Yahweh is not the center of our existence you & I are eating of the forbidden tree. That is what sinful creatures do, & it’s why so much of what we pursue in life does not satisfy – it is our nature, in this world, to put the wrong tree at the center of our existence.
Do you recall the words of confession we spoke earlier? We say to God, “We have not loved You with our whole heart.” (LSB p. 151) And because we have not, it flows from that sin that “…we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” We don’t properly love our neighbor, or our grandchildren, because we don’t properly love God.
So, is your mind arguing with me yet? “Pastor, it’s impossible to love God like that! You can’t seriously be saying that we don’t love our grandchildren just because we don’t love God with all our heart & with all our soul & with all our mind & with all our strength. You’re making us feel like bad people.”
If you’re feeling like bad people you should know that is what the Word of God does to us when we hear the Law correctly. The Law convicts you of your sin. Once that conviction happens then the Good News of God’s Word is there to create repentance in your heart & your soul & your mind. The Good News can then turn you back to your Creator.
If you aren’t convinced that you’re a sinner, then the good news is pointless to you. If you are not a sinner then you don’t need Jesus. That’s the whole point of what Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (NLT) Being a sinner should make us feel bad, but we don’t have to stay there wallowing in our sins & in our feelings. The far more powerful word of the Gospel makes God’s children rejoice. As St. Paul wrote:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16 ESV) That’s why, in the worship service, immediately after we confess our sins, the pastor pronounces the Absolution: “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you & for His sake forgives you all your sins.” (LSB p. 151)
To know the power of God is to know & believe that even your most reprehensible sins have been erased by the blood of Jesus. To have the guilt of our sins removed is far better than having cancer or dementia cured, but the devil works overtime against the joy of being forgiven. So we need to hear the message of that joy over & over again.
For it is in that joy of having our sins & our guilt erased that we truly discover love for our heavenly Father. He knows we cannot love Him with all our heart & soul & mind & strength as we should. That’s why He sent His perfect Son to live in this world. Jesus kept all of the Law & He kept it perfectly so He could credit that perfection to every sinner including you & me.
Jesus loved God perfectly so that we can love Him imperfectly & still enter heaven. Jesus loves your grandchildren perfectly so that you can love them imperfectly & still enter heaven. Jesus put Himself last, even to the point of death on a cross, so that when we push others aside, in our desire to be number one, that sin too is forgiven & we receive life instead.
When you grasp the incredible power of the good news about your sins being forgiven, you can’t help but love God in return. And when you love God in that way, then you find in Jesus the power to love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest struggle for Christians is to keep their love in the proper order, God 1st, grandchildren next. If we get the order turned around, love for grandchildren is turned into idolatry. God is number one because He is the source of all life, & light & power & love. Keeping Him number one is a battle we fight every day, but His Holy Spirit is with us to strengthen us, to guide & direct us, & to turn us back to God in repentance whenever we lose our way.
Who’s number one? The 1st commandment tells us, & the blood of Jesus cleanses us when we get that mixed up. There is no greater blessing than to believe that Good News. Amen.
I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am; for my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my needs & well provides me, loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name. Day by day, at home, away, Jesus is my staff & stay. When I hunger, Jesus feeds me, into pleasant pastures leads me; when I thirst, He bids me go where the quiet waters flow. Amen. LSB 740:1-2.
20th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 22) LSB #’s 420, 423, 433
Text – Hebrew 2:9
But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory & honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
It’s impossible to know what the American people think. They’re just too many of us to ask. And yet, if you listen to any of the mainstream news outlets there can be no doubt who is the absolutely most hated human being in our nation today. The bitter obsession with Brett Kavanagh has been on full display for a month, as his nomination has to the court has played out.
I realize it’s an extremely divisive issue, but for the sake of this sermon I have no interest whatsoever in choosing sides. I’m not looking for a Spartacus moment, & I’m certainly not campaigning for President in the year 2020. However, as someone called by God to be a servant of His people I simply have to address the hatred & bitterness, along with the obsession of it all.
Brett Kavanagh is a man that well over 300 million of our citizens have NEVER personally met. Yet the vile hatred for him that has played out on television, & in Washington D.C., has a clear & direct word from Jesus that applies to those who are screaming & even calling for death. In the 5th chapter of Matthew Jesus taught:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (5:43-45a ESV)
In Ephesians 4, the Word of God gives this guidance: “…do not let the sun go down on your anger, & give no opportunity to the devil.” (4:26-27 ESV) There are many people in our country who are currently giving all kinds of opportunity to the devil. And considering Jesus’ words, “…love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven,” it appears that many people in our country are in grave danger of NOT being sons of our Father who is in heaven. After all, that is Lucifer’s goal, convincing us to disobey, to disavow & to disown our heavenly Father. Finally, in His explanation of the 5th Commandment Jesus stated:
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; & whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22 ESV)
Now, I don’t expect many of the rabid protestors against Justice Kavanagh to be concerned about the Word of God. As long as they are unbelievers it is not our calling to be sitting in judgment upon them. However, I do believe that their actions & attitudes make for a good illustration of the dead end that sin brings in this life.
Many of the people opposed to Justice Kavanagh are filled with hatred & anger. Their sinful nature wants to vent those feelings & it tells them they are perfectly justified in doing so. They are told, by the devil, to hold onto that bitterness & never let it go. Satan wants them to trust in their own righteousness without question.
Do you think Lucifer’s main goal in all this is to destroy Brett Kavanagh? Or, could it be that Satan is trying to destroy the protestors through their very own thoughts, words & deeds? If Kavanagh is guilty of all that they say he is, while he fervently denies it, the devil probably already owns him. And you can bet that Satan wants to destroy the protestors as well.
Lucifer could care less about seeing to it that Brett Kavanagh faces justice. The protestors, however, want nothing less than the destruction of Mr. Kavanagh, & everything he appears to stand for. Since they couldn’t get their way with a reasoned argument, they’ve simply resorted to screaming louder. That is the world’s idea of striving for justice – if you don’t get what you want simply escalate your behavior. He said, she said turns into a screaming match. After that it escalates to not listening to the other side at all, which often morphs into emotional & physical abuse or other violence. The path down the road of ‘you hurt me so I hurt you’ ends up at the Hatfields & the McCoys – a never ending cycle of violence.
That is the way of the world left to us by Adam & Eve – the wages of sin is death. Cain killed Abel as revenge became the rule of the day. Get them before they get you is the #1 guideline. It’s the only answer to sin that sinful creatures are capable of. We cannot destroy death so we destroy each other instead.
This totally typifies the extent to which mankind can deal with sin & death. The policy ushered in by the advent of nuclear weapons is called “Mutually Assured Destruction.” Basically, it states that you better not attack us with nuclear weapons, because, although you can certainly destroy us, you can also be assured that before we die we will destroy you as well.
Rather than simply erasing the existence of God’s fallen creation, He chose to salvage it by working through it. Thus, the Holy Trinity sent the Son to take on the actual physical nature of the creation in order to purify it:
“But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory & honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrew 2:9 ESV)
The phrase ‘tasting death’ is not one that you & I use in everyday language. Just the sound of it is strange & uncomfortable. If effect, it says Jesus must taste death so that we can taste life. Jesus would bear the brunt of mankind’s solution for sin & die. He would take the place of Abel, & shed His own blood, to break mankind’s cycle of violence.
The basic image held forth by the reading from Hebrews is one of a journey. It is the
ritual transition of Jesus through death to His coronation as God’s Son & His ordination as High Priest. Our Lord leads God’s children on that same journey, if we follow Him. That journey is the process by which they all share in the holiness & glory of Christ. If Justice Kavanagh is a child of God, the ordeal he has just been through is for him a very personal part of that journey.
If you & I are children of God, we too shall endure the accusations, trials & suffering of life in this broken world. Because we too are sinful, much of that suffering is of our own making. It’s not always that the devil is out to get us. Our own hearts are poisoned & corrupted by sin such that death is exhaled with every breath.
Therefore, Psalm 34 calls us to “…taste & see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (v. 8 ESV) Psalm 119 responds to God, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103 ESV)
Jesus came to break the mankind’s cycle of violence that our sin has brought. In that regard, the author of Hebrews encourages us in this way:
“But you have come to Mount Zion & to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, & to innumerable angels in festal gathering, & to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, & to God, the judge of all, & to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, & to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, & to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24 ESV)
The Word of man speaks of retribution & punishment for sin. Abel’s blood calls for vengeance. We’ve seen that clearly in the whole episode with Justice Kavanagh. Those who hate him want destruction. Whether he’s guilty or innocent, nowhere in that debate did I hear one word about forgiveness. That’s the thing that bothered me most about the whole ordeal.
The blood of Jesus speaks a better word, because in His Son, God has forgiven my sin & your sin. You & I need that word as much as Judge Kavanagh, & as much as those who hate him & would destroy him. That is why Jesus came to taste death for everyone: “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV) And Jesus tasted death so that Romans 5:8 would be directly applicable to any accusations against us, & to any suffering caused by our sins, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)
Jesus tasted death so that you & I may taste life – eternal life. But He also tasted death that we might become, once again, glorified men & women, our bodies & minds freed from the ravages of sin.
Through His resurrection from the dead Jesus became the 1st human being to realize the glorious destiny that Yahweh had designed for human beings. Today we serve ourselves instinctively & that is made obvious in our thoughts, words & deeds. In heaven we will serve Yahweh as He created us to – in holiness & perfection – & we will love everyone. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet