Sermon for Sunday, September 17, 2017: “The Lord Can Transform Evil Into Good.”

September 17, 2017                                                              Text:  Genesis 50:15-21

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

As human beings we enjoy stories of sweet revenge.  My dad tells the story of being on the JV basketball team in a small south central Illinois town in the late 1950’s.  The team he was on was pretty good.  They would win some games by quite a lot.  My dad, his friend and a few other teammates were the bench players.  Unfortunately, even in their blowout wins, they would not get a lot of playing time.  The coach liked to keep his starters in the game.

During their last game at home that season, they had another game where they were way ahead.  With very little time on the clock, the coach started to empty his bench and send the bench players into the game.  My dad’s friend took his warm-up off, checked into the scorer’s table, and then proceeded to run not into the game, but straight into the locker room.  The coach stood there dumbfounded.  He had no idea what was going on.  This was the player’s chance to get back at the coach for never getting him into a game.  I laugh every time my dad tells this story.

If someone had the right to sweet revenge it would be the main character in our text – Joseph.  We will get into his story and see how . . .

“THE LORD CAN TRANSFORM EVIL INTO GOOD”

Our text today is actually the end of a long story about Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph was the eleventh of twelve brothers and the most beloved by his father Jacob.  Joseph did some things to his brothers they didn’t like so they conspired to kill him and throw him down a pit.  The brothers made it look like Joseph had been killed and Jacob grieved for his dead son.

Except, Joseph wasn’t dead.  He was sold and served Potiphar.  He ended up in prison but interpreted some dreams for Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, and then for Pharaoh.  Pharaoh put Joseph in a place of leadership and he controlled the flow of grain during the famine and the years of plenty.  This is what brought Joseph’s brothers to him.

With that background then, our text, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’” (v. 15)

Do you ever have those thoughts?  You want to get back at someone who has wronged you?  A co-worker takes credit for your work and it puts you in a bad light with the boss.  Later, that same co-worker struggles hopelessly with a project due tomorrow.  What do you do?

A fellow student bullies you mercilessly.  Later, she’s accused of cheating on a test, but you know she’s innocent.  What do you do?

Your sister talks your aging mother into giving her a precious heirloom that she promised you many years ago, and then she sells it.  Now your sister needs help with groceries for her family.  What do you do?

The music director asks you to sing a solo for Christmas Eve.  After practicing for several weeks, he asks his grandson to do it.  Months later, with only a week’s notice, the music director wants you to sing several solos for Easter because his grandson backed out.  What do you do?

Joseph brothers threw him in a pit, let his father think he was dead, and now they come to him for much needed grain.  What will he do?  These brothers had lived with guilt and had never had a good talk with Joseph about what they had done to him.

Sometimes instead of talking with our families or friends, we have the idea that past hurts and sins will just go away if we don’t bring them up again.  They are not confessed and forgiven, just forgotten…for a while.  But if the topic comes up again, the scab is picked and the bleeding starts all over.  Even if we cover it up with “That’s okay,” or “don’t worry about it.”  The healing never happens.

The brothers make up a story about Jacob to Joseph and how the father wanted Joseph to forgive them.  Their contrition is not genuine but a desperate attempt to save themselves.

Do we play this game with a cake or flowers or a trip away?  That’s bribery, not repentance and forgiveness.  We need to articulate the wrong and be forgiven.  Hearing the words of absolution from the Pastor in church, as well as remembering our Baptism and receiving Christ’s body and blood “for the forgiveness of sins,” is hearing the voice of God loud and clear that God has forgiven us through the sacrifice, the cross, of our Savior Jesus.

This is the truth that Joseph knew.  He wasn’t in the place of God, but God could bring good out of evil.  From a blood-stained cloak and the bottom of a slimy pit to a leader in Egypt with his brother’s future in his hands.  He could have gone to the scorer’s table, checked into the game and then kept on running away, leaving his brothers standing there dumbfounded.  But He didn’t.  Joseph explained that the Lord had a purpose in the brother’s evil.  God meant it for good so that this family could be reconciled and many people would be kept alive.

Those who hated and killed Jesus meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, the saving of many souls.  The persecution and unjust treatment and the killing and the burial and the emerging from the tomb were all part of God’s greater plan of ultimate good for you and me.  Our sins are no more!

Jesus speaks to us today through Joseph.  Can we see the good that can come from the evil in our lives?  Do you have relationships still hanging in the balance?  Through the power of the Holy Spirit make that phone call, write that letter, let go of your anger and be reminded of the precious love the Savior has for you.  You have been reconciled to Him and He wants you to be reconciled to others.  The Lord can transform evil to good and we were blessed to see it today.

Amen.

 

Sermon for August 27, 2017: “What Are We Doing With Him?”

 

August 27, 2017                                                                    Text:  Matthew 16:13-20

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Dorothy Leigh Sayers has been described as “a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist.”  She died in 1957.  Concerning our Lord Jesus Christ she wrote the following which I have always found interesting:

“The people who hanged Christ never accused Him of being a bore; on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe.  It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with the atmosphere of tedium.  We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.  To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggested a milk and water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand…But He had a ‘daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,’ and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him.  So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.”

But have things remained quiet and peaceful when it comes to Jesus?  Hollywood, part of the scientific community, the humanists and liberal “theologians” can’t do enough to do away with Jesus!  And us?

“WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH HIM?”

Jesus is traveling again this morning and He comes to Caesarea Philippi.  He gets into a discussion with the disciples about who He is.  You know the answers they gave of what people thought – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah.  Maybe the soul of one of these entered Jesus.  Ridiculous, you think?  No more so than the ridiculous thoughts of our day.  Jesus the example.  Jesus the “son” of God in the sense that we are all sons and daughters of God, goes the liberal drivel.  Maybe a womanizer.  Maybe a lowlife.  A liar.  A scam artist.

There now.  The genius of human wisdom can reduce Jesus to a zero – with little or no scholarship – and thus safely, or so it thinks, ignore His Words:  “You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

The world is evil and sin has made it so.  Why doesn’t someone step up and say those words when we have all these killings and disasters and people hating one another?  Because that is too simple, and anyway, everyone has their own thoughts and are not afraid to express them.  God help us!

The world is going to be in the world in their unbelief.  What is before us is:  What are we going to do with Him?  Who is this Jesus?  On this day, Peter seems to know.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

God the Son Who is God in the flesh.  He comes to pay for every sin and secure eternal life for those who believe.  Human wisdom will never, ever make this reasonable to sinful thinking.  Listen carefully:  It’s a matter of faith.  Hebrews reminds us:  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1)  That is what brings us here:  faith.  Saved by grace through faith, say Paul.  The greatest miracle you could ever receive in this world and you possess it.

Jesus accepts Peter’s confession of faith at face value.  Not a word is disputed.  God put these words into Peter’s mouth.  The Lord then says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Please hear this:  Jesus is not building the church on this smart theologian Peter.  If he was, he would have said, “Upon you I will build my church.”  The church of Jesus Christ is not to be built either on a man or on the confession of a man, but on the saving revelation of God’s grace in the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  This is not Peter’s church; it is the Lord’s church.  Christ is the builder.  He builds His church so solidly on the Gospel revelation of his grace that all the forces of hell, huffing and puffing combined, will never destroy it!

What are we doing with Him?  This prayer request came across the desk of one of the Pastors at my home church in Decatur.  It stated:  “She thought she had allergies and sinus problems and whamo!  She has cancer in her sinus, colon, gall bladder, numerous other places.  She had gone to Barnes, St. Louis, but they are sending her home tomorrow and she will be on hospice.”

Life can do a U-turn just that quick.  No plans for next year’s vacation or birthdays or…whatever.  Just the reality of what this world is and our need of God’s love through Christ.  The Holy Spirit guides and lifts us through the sacred Word and Sacraments.  Allows our faith in Him to grow and prosper in spite of the mud and crud that people want to throw in our face.  Peter had his challenges after this wonderful confession.  We too will have ours.  We will prevail through “Christ, the Son of the living God.”               Amen.

Sermon for August 20, 2017: “When Life Doesn’t Work the Way You Think It Should.”

 

 

August 20, 2017 Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Dear Friends in Christ,

One subject that we all have an opinion about is parenting. And the reason for that is because we are parents or we have had parents. We’ve experienced the good and bad and form our thoughts. You know how I feel about being a parent but my experience might be different than yours.
One thing we probably do agree on is the care of our child. When they were sick when they were younger, especially in the middle of the night, you agonized over whether to take them to the emergency room or medicate them at home. Not an easy question but certainly easier than what the Canaanite woman faces in our text
Her daughter is possessed by a demon. Emergency rooms don’t quite have the answers for that. If you have a child that is physically or mentally challenged you know how you agonize over their care. What should I be doing? Lord, please give me some answers. Where should we be turning . . .
“WHEN LIFE DOESN’T WORK THE WAY YOU THINK IT SHOULD”
It’s a wall we run into quite frequently, isn’t it? When life doesn’t work the way you think it should. The facts are these: Change and disappointment and heartache are familiar scenarios. They make up those moments we find ourselves “up against a wall.”
The Canaanite woman is “up against a wall” with her daughter. She is desperate for help. She has probably sought help and not received it but she does not give up hope.
She turns to Jesus for help and hope. She seems to be a God-fearing person by the way she addresses the Savior. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.” But she doesn’t expect help because she is a Canaanite, ancient enemies of the Israelites. Jesus has come to the region for rest. The disciples want to turn her away.
Jesus responds by testing her faith. He seems a little cool to her request when he says he was only sent for the “lost sheep of Israel” and he should not take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. “Dogs” is a reference to the non-Jew, which this lady certainly is. Why is Jesus treating her this way?
Do you ever feel like the Lord is treating you like a dog? Run here and there and everywhere chasing your tail until you spin out of control. Like Norm said on Cheers, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m wearing Milk-Bone underwear!” We laugh because it’s true. We pursue the things of this world that end up biting us in the backside. Why isn’t life working out the way I think it should?
The mother could have had that pity party right there in Tyre and Sidon but she didn’t. She stayed persistent in her humble and confident faith. She seems to understand the point Jesus is making but she is more than willing to settle for a few crumbs from the master’s table. She believes it would take just a few crumbs of His power and kindness to make her daughter whole again.
Of this situation it has been said, “…as Jesus looked on the woman, He did not see her as an interloper as did the disciples – an unwelcome intruder on His time and energy. Rather, he saw her as a woman of great personal faith, and His conversation with her was designed to test that faith . . .”
She passed. “’O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (v. 28)
The Lord tests our faith when life isn’t going the way we think it should. He may be silent for a time. He may be waiting for the right time to respond. He may be strengthening our faith. He wants us to be persistent in faith and prayer and to know His mercy and help. He often speaks in the midst of silence.
The silence of His miracles. The silence before His accusers. His silence on the way to the cross. His silence that was finally broken with, “It is finished.” His silence when He came out of the grave. His silence when He forgives and loves and heals. “Have mercy on Me, O Lord.”
Several years ago the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association sponsored a hymn-writing contest. One entry that never won a prize and probably never made it into any hymnal was entitled “God’s Grip Don’t Slip.” That is not good grammar, but the message is clear. No one can snatch us from the grip of our loving and powerful Savior. Jesus has rescued us from the grip of Satan through His perfect life, victorious death, and triumphant resurrection. We are safe and secure in His almighty grip, now and forever.
We live in confidence with the assurance that “God’s grip won’t slip.” He will never let go of us even when life doesn’t work the way we think it should.
Amen.

Sermon for July 23, 2017: “What’s In An Anniversary?”

July 23, 2017                                                                          Text: Romans 8:19

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

A nation.  A family.  An individual.  Each punctuates its life with anniversaries.  They point to the past and define the present.  When did you last observe an anniversary?  Last year I had two milestones my 25th year in the ministry and our 25th wedding anniversary.  I look back and find it hard to believe that I have been a called and ordained servant of the Lord for that long.  Toni looks back at our anniversary and probably thinks, “How have I lived with this guy for 25 years!”  These are happy moment in our life.

Anniversaries can also be sad.  This past week on Monday my mom would have been 75.  You have your own dates of loved ones birthdays or dates of death that you remember when the dates come and go.

This is an anniversary year in the Lutheran Church.  The Reformation – 500 years ago.  What do such moments mean?  Are these moment’s in the church’s life no different than other anniversaries?  Are they simply the church’s equivalent of 1776 or a 25th wedding anniversary?  St. Paul, speaking as an apostle of Christ, calls us to a very different type of observance.

“WHAT’S IN AN ANNIVERSARY?”

Our text for this morning.  “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”  There is a different dimension to the church’s observance of the Reformation.  More than just a remembrance or an observance it is a confession.  A confession of Christ.  Christ’s resurrection has changed everything.  For those who are in Christ, there is a new calendar and a new creation.

This confession began in our baptism.  “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we to may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)  When the church marks its moments, it confesses that every moment is now lived out in the light of Christ’s resurrection.

We still live though with the oppression of death.  Luther knew about it.  We know about it first-hand, up close and personal.  Death touches each of us.  It arches over all the structures of this world.  The years teach us that creation is caught.  Ultimately death devours every emperor and nation and family.  Pride and self-indulgence is no match for its power.  Our culture’s technological glitz and entertainment lifestyle can disguise the reality of death.

One of the most sophisticated of planned communities in Southern California, Irvine, has bicycle paths, golf courses, and swimming pools beautifully placed amidst the homes.  But nowhere, nowhere, in this state of the art, planned city is there a cemetery.  But, you and I know, the disguise doesn’t work.  It too needs a cemetery.

The years, and months, and days envelope every project, even the planned community.  Time can be managed.  It can be spent wisely or foolishly.  But, all too soon, it is gone.

Into this trapped world, however, comes another way to measure time.  “In the year of our Lord.”  A church anniversary is an affirmation that Christ has defeated death.  And, now every year, and month, and day is a confession of His holy name and life.

United to Him in baptism, guided by His living voice in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, and nourished by His very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, we confess His presence as the living Lord.  As Luther wrote in a hymn, “Sin, death, hell are now undone.”  This is why St. Paul can write, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Nations will come and go.  Corporations and tycoons will fade.  But the church, the body of Christ, will live life and “live it to the full” (John 10:10) because “Sin, death, hell are now undone.”

Join this confession.  Join her Pastors who at the font, before the altar, from the pulpit, by the bedside, on the street, in the classroom, beside the casket make this confession with their lips by God’s grace:  “In Christ, sin, death, and hell are now undone.”

“With angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven,” that is our confession.  With creation we wait with eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed.  We seek to bring this confession to the world.  As we work and wait for His coming, confess Him in your observance of this Reformation anniversary.  Confess Him in your prayer and your homes and your daily walk with Thee.  Such a confession will not fade.  Such an anniversary will not pass.  Rather, this confession will continue until each child of God beholds the face of Christ.

Lastly, pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who make this confession in fear and silence.  In the end as our Gospel lesson from Matthew 13 reminds us, all will be revealed, and God’s children will receive their reward.

May the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – grant such a life and confession of Christ our Savior.

Amen.

Sermon for July 16, Text Form

Again, we apologize for the camera problem.  Curt got it fixed and all should be well for this Sunday.  Here is the sermon in text form.

July 16, 2017                                                                          Text:  Isaiah 55:10-11

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

How much water did you drink this past week?  Because of the heat and humidity I am going to guess you drank more than normal.  Did you find that cool glass of water refreshing?  Did it energize you?  Was your thirst quenched?

Drinking water can initiate all kinds of chemical reactions in our bodies that are a great benefit to us.  The Word of God acts in the same way.  By God’s design and desire, his Word can energize and refresh us.  It can even “cool us off” when the heat is turned up in our lives.  It also provides great benefits to our spiritual health.  We inhabit a planet thirsting for hope and salvation.  God pours out His love on us through the water of His Word.  Come to the living waters and . . .

“DRINK UP!”

Water is vital for life.  Science proves it.  Our bodies know it.  If we don’t get enough a kidney stone or dehydration can put us on our knees on the floor of a local emergency room.  Water is needed for plants and animals and humans.  Almost every living organism needs water to survive.  People can go 20, 30, even up to 40 days without food, but do that with water and you end up a statistic at the local morgue.  Even a camel and cactus need a reasonable amount of H2O.

We need the water of God’s saving Word to survive spiritually.  Without the Gospel of Christ in our lives we die spiritually and eternally.  Water saves and so do the words of our Lord.

God provides life-giving water in abundance for his creation.  In my lifetime I have seen drought in California and the Southeast and the Southwest and here in the Midwest.  But at some time the showers or snows come again.  In the mountains of California they were shoveling snow in early June after years of parched lands.  We junior agriculturists in the middle of prime farmland know that water is needed to grow the food we depend upon.  The effects of this watering are ongoing.

God’s love is shown to us as he gives us our “daily bread” in verse 10, “bread to the eater.”  The watering causes the earth “to bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower.”

God sends out His Word in the same way.  Watering His creation with its life-giving effects.  God’s Word is the saving message of the Gospel.  Jesus is the Word that has come in the flesh.  His death and resurrection are God’s ultimate provision for his children.

At times our days are parched.  We need something, anything to get us out of the malaise of daily tasks, kid trouble, parent watching, job unrest.  The water of Jack Daniels or Miller Lite is not the answer.  We can’t quench our thirst by binging on Netflix or winning a string of computer games.  Our phones can’t energize us for the days ahead.  We are like the plant we bought Toni for Mother’s Day that adorns our front yard.  Without water it droops, loses its color and has no life.  But we can water that plant and in an hour or so it is standing at attention, happy to be at 2707 Essington and ready to beautify our landscaping.

When Christ comes to us in the waters of Holy Baptism, we receive the gift of faith for eternal life.  The very Spirit of Jesus is in our hearts.  The effect of His Word in our lives is ongoing.  We are granted salvation through this Word.  We have abundant life that we can drink up through the fruits of the Spirit, the fellowship of believers, the peace of Christ.

Water as we have all experienced can be powerful.  Last Sunday returning from Ohio, we were near Danville when a downpour hit.  One of those where you can’t run the wipers fast enough.  We found ourselves in the left lane next to a semi-truck.  We could see the sun in the west so we knew we would drive out of it, but when?  Thankfully and with God’s help I knew the road, we kept going forward and within a few miles, Eden was upon us and tragedy averted.

God’s Word has power.  It can bring us from death to life.  It can squash sin and the devil in our lives.  It can bring us through the rainstorm to the safety of God’s loving arms.  It brings comfort and freedom.  It can accomplish the purpose for which the Lord sent it.  It is His doing.  He held that steering wheel last Sunday.  We are never without hope, even in seemingly hopeless situations, because God’s Word assures of our ultimate victory in Christ.

Enjoy that cool refreshing water provided by your Savior.  In His Word He is pouring out His love for you.  Step to His altar and DRINK UP!

Amen.