Pentecost 18 – "The Greatest" – Mark 9:30-37


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imagesJesus wanted to get away from the crowds so that He could be alone with His disciples to teach them. He wanted their undivided and undistracted attention so that they would understand what they must understand. They must understand what is going to happen before it happens so that when it happens they will understand.

“He said to them, the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

“But they did not understand…”

It would have been nice if they would have ‘understood’ that God was about to redeem the whole world through the suffering, death and resurrection of His only-begotten Son- their teacher.

But as is the case with us too, ‘understanding’ the ‘mysteries of the Kingdom of God’ is rarely gained in a classroom or on a retreat. ‘Understanding’ comes by the experience of trial and error; by falling and being lifted up again; by failing and forgiveness; by dieing and rising to life again.

And so off to Capernaum they go. Back into the real world. And along the way the disciples, thinking they are out of ear-shoot of Jesus, argued amongst themselves about who is the greatest. And we wonder – the greatest what? The greatest fisherman, the greatest tax collector, the greatest student? No, the greatest disciple of Jesus.

How do you measure ‘greatness’ when it comes to ‘discipleship’ anyway? John and James would later ask Jesus for a seat on his right and left hand into His glory. Maybe this is how the discussion got started. “Who do you think will get the top spots in His kingdom?”

It’s probably too much to think that any of them would have actually been so crude as to blurt out, “I’m the greatest” and then state the reasons why they thought so. Only a very few are that obnoxious, and they tend to be limited to boxers, wide receivers and political candidates. BUT NOT DISCIPLES OF JESUS.

But we all know how these arguments go. It’s much more subtle than that.

Parents talk with other parents about the accomplishments of their children. There is a steady volley of one-upsmanship until there’s only one left standing and they’re the greatest parent.

Students compare the colleges they attend or have been accepted at or hold degrees from. Those who can’t compete with prestige argue for greatness based on having the best football team or being the best party school.

Pastors do the same thing and it’s all very subtle. Usually it’s a complaint that this is such a tough job because my congregation has gotten so big. Everyone gets the point. Sometimes the criteria is the size of the most recent building addition. Those of us who can’t compete usually call a foul for unnecessary roughness and ask who still studies the scriptures in the Greek and Hebrew for sermon prep.

The point is, we all know what the disciples were “discussing on the way.”
Continue reading

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Holy Cross Day – "The Way of the Cross" – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25


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grunewaldcrucif1Today, we celebrate the Holy Cross “on which the Prince of Glory died.” (LSB #425) To be sure, the cross is not 'holy' in and of itself.
• In fact, in and of itself, the cross is just two pieces of wood joined together with rope and nails.
• In and of itself, the cross is a terrible instrument of torture and execution invented by the Persians, developed to cruel excess by the Romans to inflict the maximum amount of suffering and pain over the longest period of time. When the Jews said that anyone hung on a tree had to be cursed by God, the 'tree' that they were referring to was the cross.
• In and of itself, the cross is offensive and repulsive.

But we call it 'the HOLY Cross' because the Holy Son of God was crucified on a cross. And by His suffering and death upon this wood used for the cruelest torture and punishment, Jesus Christ has brought life and salvation to the world.

What a paradox the HOLY cross is. The very instrument by which sinful and fallen man use to shame and humiliate the most despised and rejected among us, God has transformed into His instrument to bring glory and honor to His Son, and to all who, through faith, honor and worship this Jesus Christ – the crucified One.

It’s only because ‘the Holy Son of God’ was “despised and rejected by men” and suffered the shame and humiliation THAT IS RIGHTFULLY OUR, that we have the audacity to sing as we do, “Drawn to the cross, which Thou has blessed, with healing gifts for souls distressed, to find in Thee my life, my rest, Christ crucified I come.” (LSB #560).

The date of September 14th was originally established for this Festival Day based on the supposed recovery of the actual cross on which our Lord was crucified. A woman named Helena, who was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, conducted extensive archaeological excavations in and around Jerusalem. In September of 320 a.d., the site that had been called “Golgotha” was presumed to be found. And on that site, three crosses were discovered – one of which was presumed to be the one on which Christ Himself was crucified. A basilica was built on that site, and in 335, the remnant of that 'cross' on which Christ, our Lord was crucified, was housed in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

A couple of hundred years later, the cross was stolen by the Persians, only to be recovered by the Roman Emperor Heraclius, who reset it in the basilica on September 14th which became the date for the annual celebration of the Festival of the Holy Cross.

To be sure, we do not hold any superstitious fantasies about a piece of wood on which our Lord may or may not have actually been crucified – any more than we hold any superstitious thoughts about the crucifix on our altar or the crucifix I wear around my neck or the cross jewelry we wear. These are only 'symbols.' And the purpose of 'symbols' is to point to something beyond themselves, and not to the thing itself.

It's not the cross itself that we worship and adore – but all that the cross points to – which is the ineffable love of the almighty God that He was poured out onto this fallen, corrupt and sinful world through His perfect, innocent, holy Son, who suffered the punishment that we deserve, by bearing them in His body unto death, even death on a cross.

In the cross of Christ, we see how God works to accomplish His purposes. HE WORKS THROUGH THE OPPOSITE. He accomplishes the renewal of His entire creation by this instrument of death and destruction. The antidote to sin and death that God administers to His dying world and dead people is the death of His Son on the cross. And by His death, we have life. He has used that which is most shameful and reviling, to reveal His glory – and we ABSURDLY sing, “in the cross of Christ, I glory.”

To say that this is not the way that we would go about things, or maybe better put, the way we would have expected that God would go about the business of “reconciling to himself all things…” is far more than just an understatement. (Col. 1:19) To us, the whole thing is offensive. It’s offensive PRECISELY BECAUSE this is not at all the way we would go about the business of “making all things new” and “making peace” with this fallen world and all its’ fallen people.

• Whereas we would readily and gladly look to God to rescue and deliver us from our sin and death BY HIS ALMIGHTY POWER, He gives us WEAKNESS, SUFFERING AND HIS OWN DEATH. And then declares, ‘that’s enough,’ “It is finished.”

• Whereas we would fully expect that we will HAVE TO CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING to our rescue and deliverance, even if its’ only the desire of the heart that wants to be forgiven and saved and amend our sinful lives, He gives us salvation by our rejection- “crucify Him, crucify Him.”
• Whereas we would look for the confirmation and proof of His love for me in the successes and advancements and achievements and securities and the comforts that He graciously gives me, He shows us the confirmation and proof of His love for me in the shame and humiliation of suffering and pain and gruesome death that He endured for me.

Most of all, the cross of Christ crucified is so offensive to us – because in our heart of hearts, we don’t really believe that such drastic measures were really that necessary. Yes, we confess that we’re bad – but we’re not THAT bad. Yes, we confess that we are sinners – but with God’s help, we can improve and become BETTER SINNERS. We are, by nature, a ‘hopeful people,’ even if our ‘hope’ is in ourselves.

And quite frankly, I resent the fact that God HAS NO HOPE IN ME, and that He doesn’t believe in me.

So the very idea that our condition before God is really so bad and so hopeless as to require such a remedy as the Cross – is offensive, repulsive, degrading. We have a higher opinion of ourselves than God does – and that bothers us.

Christ crucified for our redemption and the salvation of the world is GOD’S TOTAL AND COMPLETE REJECTION AND CONDEMNATION OF ALL OF OUR WISDOM AND ALL OF OUR WAYS AND ALL OF OUR PROGRAMS for how we think we should be saved.

In fact, the cross of Christ actually INCREASES OUR SIN.
• The cross shows us that God is more tormented and wracked with grief because of our sin than we are.
• The cross of Christ shows us that God has determined that our condition is so utterly hopeless and beyond repair that there is no possibility that we might be renovated or reformed, but that we must be put to death and buried and then raised up again a whole new person.
• The cross of Christ shows us that He must do it all FOR US, on our behalf, in our place, even while we are still sinners and enemies of God. (Romans 5:8-10).

The cross of Christ crucified for the sin of the world is God’s ONLY ANSWER to His own question, ‘how shall I redeem my creation?” There is NO OTHER OPTION. And that also bothers us, because we are used to having ‘options.’ We like having the freedom and the dignity of making ‘CHOICES’ and ‘DECISIONS.’ We hate the premise that THERE IS NO OTHER WAY BY WHICH WE MUST BE SAVED than Christ and Him crucified for us. (Acts 4:12)
So, rather than helping us feel good about ourselves, (which is all that we really want from our religion, isn’t it), the cross of Christ bothers us, even infuriates us, because there are ONLY TWO RESPONSES we can have to it. We can either REJECT IT ALTOGETHER for the foolish and shameful thing that it is and for what it says about us – OR – fall down in utter grief and sorrow and tears – that my wretched life was the reason and the cause of such pain and suffering and even death of my Lord.

And it is THIS RESPONSE to the cross of Christ that the Holy Spirit desires to work in you and me and in all people. By the foolishness of the preaching of the cross of Christ, crucified for the sin of the world, the Holy Spirit wants to conform us into the image of God’s Son, SO THAT that we might have the same heart and mind as Christ
– to the end that we might be as utterly tormented by our sin and aware of just how turned in on ourselves that we are AS HE IS
– to the end that we too might willingly, even gladly, suffer the humiliation and shame that is rightfully ours, and willingly, even gladly die to our sin as Jesus did
– to the end that we might live for Christ.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

So, which is it for you? The folly of God or the wisdom of God?

Listen, that the ‘message of the cross’ should bring you to ‘UTTERLY DESPAIR’ of yourself before God – is the very reason that you should have great hope and be of good courage. For ‘UTTER DESPAIR’ is the opposite of ‘ULTIMATE DESPAIR.’ The ‘UTTER DESPAIR’ in ourselves before God is the PARADOXICAL REMEDY to the ‘ULTIMATE DESPAIR’ that is the end for all who continue to hold out hope for themselves before God, apart from the cross.

Only when we are brought to the hard facts of life – which are that we have been bitten by the fiery serpent and that we cannot cure ourselves – and that, as absurd as it sounds, the only way to be saved is to look to the very thing that is killing us – our sin held high on a pole – only then does ULTIMAGE DESPAIR give way to UTTER DESPAIR.

By the power of God that He has PLACED INTO the “foolishness of what we preach,” the Holy Spirit gives us this holy and wonderful gift of UTTER DESPAIR in ourselves before God.

And then, by the same power of God that He puts into the water of baptism, and the “foolishness of what we preach,” and the bread and wine of the Supper, that holy gift of UTTER DESPAIR blossoms into the holy gift of the UTTER JOY – the utter joy of knowing that we have a God who loves us more than we can comprehend.

As we will sing in our closing hymn today:
“Faithful cross, true sign of triumph, be for all the noblest tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thine equal be;
Symbol of the world’s redemption, for the weight that hung on thee!” (LSB #454)

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Pentecost 16 – "O For A Crumb" – Mark 7:24-30


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The text for our consideration is the first half of our gospel reading that begins, “And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.”

crumbs-rightThe thing you’ve got to know about “the region of Tyre and Sidon” is that this is NOT ISRAEL! This is Gentile country. And the thing you've got to know about the Gentiles, is that they're NOT ISRAEL. They don't have the Holy Scriptures. They’ve never been catechized or confirmed in the faith of Abraham and Moses and David. They’ve never heard the word of the Holy Prophets speaking their “thus says the Lord.” And maybe most significantly, they have no reason to expect that a Messiah, whatever that is, is coming to give life and salvation to “ALL NATIONS” – even the Gentiles.

So, if you want a break from your phone and e-mail and text messages and Facebook friends, the best thing you can do is go somewhere where there’s no cell reception. So, when Jesus wants to go somewhere to get a bit of a break from the constant press and demands on Him, He goes to Gentile country. “And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, YET HE COULD NOT BE HIDDEN.”

What seems quite clear here is that word about this Jesus of Nazareth is beginning to “leak out” from Israel into Gentile country. Just as they had done throughout their whole history, Israel wanted to keep word about their God from ‘leaking out’ from their borders into Gentile territory. But when the NEW ISRAEL comes onto the scene, (and Jesus Christ is the ‘new Israel’) word about Him ‘leaks out’ into ALL NATIONS, like the sieve that Israel was always supposed to be. And like the CHRISTIAN CHURCH today is meant to be.

So, was it a crowd of people who heard that Jesus of Nazareth was in town and who came to this “house where he did not want anyone to know”? Or was it just this one woman? OR…was it just this one woman whom Jesus came to the region of Tyre and Sidon to meet?

Whichever the case may be, let’s let the Holy Spirit lead us into this house in the region of Tyre and Sidon and listen in on the incredible meeting that takes place. Continue reading

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Martyrdom of John the Baptist – Mark 6:14-29 – 9/2/18


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grunewald1515John the Baptist stands at the end of a long line of Old Testament prophets whose job it was to point men and women, boys and girls to the Messiah, the Christ. He did so with words.

• John pointed people to Jesus with words of WARNING – “He comes to judge you. Therefore repent before it’s too late.”
• And with words of COMFORT AND ASSURANCE – “He comes to make all things new. Therefore take heart and be glad.”

John’s special place in this long line of prophets is that he is the one who gets to point to the Messiah, not only with words but also with his body – first, his finger. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” actually pointing to this One who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin, Mary, who was “dwelling among us in the flesh.”

John had the unique privilege of baptizing the Son of God. He saw the Spirit of God descend onto his Savior and remain on Him. He heard the Father pronounce His blessed benediction onto this Man – “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11)

When others asked John how he could be so sure that this Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Messiah, because He sure didn’t look like they expected the Messiah to look, John replied, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:31-34)

So, John is the one who gets to announce that the ‘FUTURE’ HAS BROKEN INTO THE ‘PRESENT.’ The ancient promise that the ‘OFFSPRING OF THE WOMAN,’ who would come into the world to crush the head of the devil and establish the ‘new creation’ that “all creation had been groaning for as in pangs of childbirth”- is now fulfilled before their very eyes. Continue reading

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Pentecost 14 – "Christian Marriage Counseling" – Ephesians 5:22-33


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12441The text for our consideration today is our Epistle reading, Ephesians 5:22-33 – where St. Paul gives us a picture of marriage as it can only be seen through the eyes of faith. No Sociology text book or Political playbook is ever going to describe 'marriage' the way Paul does here.

Paul calls marriage a 'mystery.' And 'mysteries' can only be understood by faith. 'Mysteries' point to something beyond themselves. In other words, the marriage of a man and a woman is about MORE than the marriage of a man and a woman.

As Paul puts it, the 'mega mystery' of 'marriage' is really all about “the communion between Christ and His bride, the Church.”

And as such, Paul has singled out two verbs that describe the two 'actions' that take place within this 'holy communion.'

One describes the 'action' of Christ towards His bride – He 'loves' her. The other describes the 'action' of the Church towards Christ, Her husband – She 'submits' to Him. These are two 'actions' that constitute the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church – and that THEREFORE, are to constitute the relationship between a husband and wife in Holy Matrimony – because marriage is like a parable – it's supposed to be AN EARTHLY PICTURE OF THE HEAVENLY REALITY.

“As the Church SUBMITS to Christ, so also wives should SUBMIT in everything to their husbands.” “Husbands, LOVE your wives, as Christ LOVED the Church and gave Himself up for her.” 

This “picture of the communion between  Christ and His bride, the Church” was first painted for us ‘IN THE BEGINNING’ when God made the man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.  But the ‘man’ was not complete on his own. (Something we men prove to be true over and over again.) Or better put, the man on his own was not the complete “picture of the communion between Christ and His bride the Church.” 

And so, the Lord God put the man into a deep sleep and opened his side, and from what came from the man’s side, He formed a ‘woman.’  And the Lord God walked the woman down the aisle and presented her to the man.  And for the very first time, the man was able to ‘love’ not just God, but HIS NEIGHBOR as well – because you can't love your neighbor as yourself until there's a neighbor who is 'like' yourself.  
 
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man.”  Continue reading

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Pentecost 13 – "Soul Food" – John 6:51-69

Another nice sermon from Rev. Fischer.


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Pentecost 12 – "I'm Ready To Die…" – 1 Kings 19:1-8

Another very nice sermon from Rev. Fischer on the meaning and purpose for our life in its later stages.


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Pentecost 11 – "Grumbling In The Wilderness" – Exodus 16:2-15/John 6:22-35


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image“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel GRUMBLED against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”

Which is a shame really, because Moses never really wanted to be a pastor to begin with. He didn't like public speaking and was content simply shepherding his father-in-law's sheep. But the Lord called him, even from a burning bush, and the Lord can be pretty persuasive when He wants to be. And Moses went from shepherding sheep to shepherding people.

And sadly, God called Moses to one of those 'problem' congregations. One of those congregations that are always griping and complaining about one thing or another and when things don't go exactly the way they think they should go, or when when they have to suffer a little hardship or even pain because of their faith, they blame their pastor, because that's what you do when you're mad at God.

And I suspect that Moses must have prayed more than once, 'Oh Lord, why did you send me to this congregation?' To which the Lord would have certainly replied, 'because it's the only one there is.'

It'd been 45 days since Moses led the congregation of Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea. And they'd run out of food. And they're in the wilderness. No Shaws or Hannafords. No McDonalds or Burger Kings. And their bellies started to growl. Continue reading

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Pentecost 10 – Traumatic Peace – Genesis 9:8-17


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trauma2017“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” is a term that we’ve become familiar with as we learn more about the effects that ‘TRAUMA’ can have on a person. Those who serve or have served in the military are particularly vulnerable to PTSD because of the TRAUMATIC things they have seen and experienced – and ‘trauma’ has its effects.

But you don’t have to be in the military to experience TRAUMA. It happens in lots of ways – sexual abuse, emotional abuse, bullying, personal tragedies. I recently read a little bit about the post-traumatic effects that ‘burn victims’ typically deal with. Something as simple as being near when someone who strikes a match to light a candle can set off all kinds of bad thoughts and reactions.

Natural disasters are also packed with potential for creating post-traumatic stress. Just think of those who are trapped in collapsed building caused by an earthquake or swept away in a tsunami. I’ll quote from one web-site, “The emotional response to any trauma – is intense fear, horror, and helplessness to affect the outcome.” (https://www.phoenix-society.org/resources/entry/psychological-and-emotional-impact)

I don’t think that we think much about Noah and his family and what it must have been like for them to experience the worst natural disaster the world has ever known. In fact, it was a ‘super-natural’ disaster.

God tried to prepare Noah and his family for what was coming by telling Noah ahead of time about the totality of the death and destruction that he would witness. Before it began to rain however, God assured Noah that he and his family would survive. “I will establish my covenant with you…” (future tense) (Gen. 6:18).

But you know how it is. We never believe that it’ll really be as bad as God says it will. What actually happened was far beyond anyone’s worse nightmares. Continue reading

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Pentecost 9 – "He Had Compassion On Them" – Mark 6:30-34

A very good sermon from Rev. Fischer, oozing with comforting gospel.


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