July 27, 2014 Sermon Text

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 27, 2014
Romans 8:28-39

Dear Friends in Christ,

Life as we know is full of questions. Some questions are important but not life-changing. Other questions are life-changing: What college will you go to? Will we find a new church home when we move? Will you marry me? Doc, is it cancer?

There are also faith questions. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” This question is colored by another: “Do you trust me?” These are the sorts of questions that will really change your life, even your eternal life. It’s real life-changing questions that our text today raises. But because God is for us through Christ, we have . . .

The first question raised by Paul in our text is simply this: “What then shall we say to these things?” (v. 31a) What things? All things. Lots of things aren’t pretty in this fallen world. What does Paul say about that, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (v. 28)

We often quote this to those who are suffering. But the sufferer can hear, “don’t sweat it – it’s going to be okay.” Which really is no comfort at all. The real point of the verse is: “We know that God works in all things.” God isn’t the cause of bad things; we live in a broken world because of sin. The good news is this: God works in all things for our good.

Look at it this way. Try to eat the individual ingredients of a cake individually, things like flour, shortening, salt, baking powder, spices, even sugar and they are not very tasty. But mixed them together and bake and the taste buds come alive. Each event in our life is like one ingredient in a cake. It may not seem good by itself, but when mixed by god with other events, it will surely produce what is good.

Since God causes all things to work together for good, we can’t judge the goodness of God’s work until his program is finished. Ever been hasty in testing the cake batter? The result can be unsatisfactory. Until God’s recipe for our lives is complete, we dare not judge God’s cooking.

Another life-changing question posed is “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31b) It’s not simply “Who can be against us?” You can answer that one. Disease, taxes, exhaustion, media elites, unbelievers, the politically correct. We can easily list our foes, but that is not the question. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The thrust of the text, “Since God is for us.” Paul reminds us that since God is for us, it doesn’t really matter who is against us. All of our enemies together are no match for God. Please remember God is for us as you go about your daily business.

Now to the pivotal question: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (v. 32) How far is God willing to go for us? He has no limit as He did not spare His own Son, but sent Him to the cross because of His great love for us. God is for us!

We have that phrase “all things” again in this verse. The Lord graciously takes away the worry about the things of this world. He goes to the cross so that we can have the joy of living. He hears and answers our prayers. God is for us!

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” (v. 33) The prosecuting attorney in the courtroom scene turns up the heat with his accusations. Our answer: Since God is for us, what other opinion matters? Every voice that accuses us, even our own voice, holds no court in the presence of a God who spared nothing for us. God is for us!

“Who is to condemn?” (v. 34). Go back to Rom. 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The only one with the right to condemn is Jesus and he has already answered the question with the offering of his own life. Sitting next to God is the one who died for us. Our defense attorney continues to speak to us. God is for us!

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (v. 35a) Paul makes a list: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (v. 35b). This list can do us no harm if we remember God’s love for us. We die with him to our sin, and we are raised with him. Nothing, “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vs. 38-39).

Since nothing can separate us from Christ Jesus, God is for us – the answer to all life-changing questions.


July 20, 2014 Sermon Text

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
July 20, 2014
Isaiah 44:6-8

Dear Friends in Christ,

Many of you have probably visited or are at least familiar with the “Build-A-Bear Workshop.”The first one got started at the Galleria Shopping Center in St. Louis. Today there are over 400 workshops mostly in shopping malls in 46 states. If you have never gone to a workshop with squirming young people on a sugar high from birthday cake and Mountain Dew, let me tell you the rules. First, you get to choose from over 30 different bear models. Then you take your bear and stuff it, stitch it, fluff it, dress it, accessorize it, and name it. You then have your “berry own bear!” And to prove it, you receive a customized birth certificate. It is your creation. Ta da!

Israel in Babylonian captivity wasn’t building bears; they were building gods. That’s why the Lord reminds them in the first verse of our text that there is only one God. God says to stop building others gods because . . . .

There is no god besides this God! He is the solid Rock (v. 8). But because of their idolatry, the exiles were slow to believe these claims. Why? They were spending time in Babylonian build-a-god workshops. Isaiah describes the tools of the trade later in this chapter. They were building gods as idols to be worshipped. They would burn half of it to roast meat and be satisfied. The other half would be bowed down to and prayed to so that they would be delivered.

The prophet tells the names of these Babylonian gods, “Bel” and “Nebo” (46:1). Bel is the tile of the god Marduk. He was allegedly the “King of the Universe.” Nebo was the son of Marduk and, as the god of writing and wisdom, was keeper of the Tablets of Destiny. Babylonians believed Nebo gave them knowledge and understanding.

Just as Israel was slow to trust their God, we find ourselves at times in a similar predicament. We delight in, shall we say “creative craftsmanship.” We conceive it in our minds. We build it with our hands. We choose how it looks. We personalize it with our preferences. It’s just what we want in a god. This god likes what I like and hates what I hate. This god shares my opinions and increases my standard of living and happiness. This god gives me what I want and stays out of the way the rest of the time. Luther states in his Large Catechism, “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (LC I 3)

What are some the idols we are building? Careers, houses, investments, children, government, friends, abilities.

In Isaiah 46:1 the word “idols” is actually translated to mean “pain.” The same Hebrew word is used to denote the pain of Eve in childbirth and Adam’s pain in working the ground. Idols bring the same misery, heartache, and pain experienced by our first parents.

Another Hebrew word that Isaiah uses for idols can mean “nothing.” Isaiah maintains that those who follow idols believe in nothing of substance, care for nothing that matters, seek to know nothing of importance, find purpose in nothing that lasts, live for nothing that endures, and remain alive because when it comes to something to die for there is absolutely nothing!

Why do idols have such power? They have such magnetizing power to imprison us of our God-given humanity because Satan is the spiritual reality behind every addiction, every compulsion, and every obsession. It is no wonder then that David writes in Psalm 16:4, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.”

So what is the answer?

In the context of this massive idolatry, we have a Word from God. Isaiah 44:6: “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’”

All of these titles are embodied in Jesus. He is our Lord and the King of Israel. In the weakness of the cross the Church likewise asserts that Jesus is the “King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37). There he is enthroned, bleeding, and dying for all humanity. His kingdom is truly not of this world. Jesus is Redeemer because he has come to give his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus is the Lord of hosts because he has great power. He is the ultimate Warrior who defeats every enemy of his Church. The Lord is also “the First and the Last.” Monotheism could not be stated with any more clarity. This title is given to Jesus throughout the Book of Revelation as a testimony that he is God in the flesh.

Because he bled and died in our place, Jesus demonstrates that he alone is able to heal our hurts, forgive our filth, and defeat our death. No wonder the Bible says that idols are nothing and chaos, and only compound our pain because a cross-less god is no god at all. A god who doesn’t suffer, a god who knows no agony, a god who doesn’t die – this is a god without grace, a god who cannot deliver, and a god who offers no hope and no future.

But this is not Jesus. He is crucified, but risen indeed. So it is time to turn in our tools, stop building substitutes, throw away the idols, and never, ever again do business at a build-a-god workshop.


July 13, 2014 Sermon Text

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
July 13, 2014
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Dear Friends in Christ,

People often use the same words but have entirely different meanings in mind. Johnny Carson, the former host of The Tonight Show, on the day after a World Series in the mid 1970’s, asked band member Tommy Newsom: “Well, Tommy, what do you think of the Cincinnati Reds now?” Tommy answered, “I just don’t like Communists! I don’t care where they live!” And who can forget the classic Abbott and Costello routine: “Who’s on first; What’s on second; I Don’t Know’s on third”? When someone is trying to have a meaningful relationship with someone else, though, such misunderstanding is not funny. It can be devastating. Communication experts tell us that filters often inhibit meaning between the sender of a message and the recipient. The filter of sin can prevent us from a relationship with God.

We need to be active listeners of God’s Word and that is the crux of the matter. How can we better understand what the Lord is saying especially when He speaks in parables?

Jesus knows his audience well. He is teaching the disciples and us that even though the Word of God is powerful, in our sinful state we can resist it or even misunderstand it. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him; faith is a gift. So what does keep us from hearing?

Jesus says one challenge is the devil. He is like the birds who snatch the seed off the path. We know the devil exists because he can pervert our thoughts even while listening to a sermon. What are you thinking about right now? What you did last night? What you have planned for today? The devil can shorten your attention span and bring thoughts into your minds that have no business inside God’s House.

Jesus says another challenge is your flesh. Our sinful flesh looks for the next spiritual high. As long as things are sailing along we are all for God’s Word. But when problems arise we can be quick to abandon. This is the seed on rocky soil. We avoid suffering and substitute something more in line with our thinking.

Another challenge Jesus puts forth is the world. We have many cares that take away the joy of just listening to the Word. We have the toil of work. We may become concerned about our income or kids or parents. We may have health problems or life decisions looming before us. These all make it difficult to relax and just listen to the soothing voice of God.

These three: the devil, the world, and our flesh are the unholy trinity that challenges our hearing. The meaning to Commandment Three calls on us to not despise preaching and God’s Word. Yet when we fail to listen and understand this is exactly what happens.

But when the Word is heard – oh, what blessings! Jesus said to the Twelve, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (vs. 16-17)

How does that happen? Jesus answered it this way: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (v. 11) Did you hear that? Hearing and understanding God’s Word is given; it’s a gift.

You have been gifted. Just now. Again. For many it first happened at Baptism as your eyes were opened to see that Jesus truly is the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world by dying for you on the cross. You continue to hear God’s word that kills the sinner inside and raises the new man to life – just like the seed that dies in the ground and then sprouts and grows and eventually bears fruit. It is the listening to God’s Word and his preaching that does this.

Jesus death conquered the devil, the world, and our flesh. With the Lord’s Spirit we can overcome these and through faith we can meet the challenge of hearing God’s Word.

God, who has given you ears to hear and understand, has also given you abundant, fruitful ears of crop to sow for the spreading of his kingdom. You can be active in supporting the public proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments in our congregation. You do this each time you make worship a priority for you and your family. You can sow the seed in your day-to-day life. Don’t be afraid to share the truth of God’s Word as He gives opportunity. The Lord says to expect an extraordinary harvest when you do.

So when you have trouble listening to the sermon, don’t blame the message or messenger, but examine yourself. What is challenging you to hear God’s Word? Put to death those thoughts in your heart as the Lord Jesus heals you.

Every chance to hear God’s Word is a blessing. We need the strength and power that it can provide. It does not return void. The account of God’s redeeming us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection works wonders on us.