Pentecost 2 – "Teaching, Proclaiming," Healing" – Matthew 9:35-36

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sheepToday, we begin a new season of our life together in the Church – the season of Pentecost. Today marks the beginning of the second half of the church year. During the first half of the church year, our attention was focused on all of the ‘famous’ events in the life of Christ – His birth, His Baptism and Transfiguration, His crucifixion and resurrection on the 3rd day, His ascension into heaven and the fulfillment of His promise to send the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, was the ‘grand finale’ to the first half of the church year – which is sometimes referred to as the FESTIVAL HALF of the church year because its filled with all of those BIG and FESTIVE events that deserve special services and celebrations and the colors are always changing from blue to purple to white and red – each with their special meaning and significance.

Now as we move into the second half of the church year, things settle down a bit. There aren’t any FESTIVALS to celebrate per se. Here in this half of the year we follow a path that leads us through the ministry of our Lord that takes place in between His Baptism by John in the Jordan and His crucifixion on the cross at Golgatha – lasting about three and a half years.

This half of the year is sometimes referred to as the GRAZING TIME of the year. It’s when the flock of Jesus graze on His Word and grow in their faith. And so, the color is green for grass and it stays green all season long.

This year we’re in the “A” cycle of readings, which means that St. Matthew’s will be our guide for the next 24 Sundays. And we begin at the end of the 9th chapter of Matthew’s gospel – which seems like an odd place to begin. Why there? Actually, where we begin is really determined by where we want the journey to end – which is always with Jesus’ preaching about the ‘end times,’ which is Matthew 25, right before Matthew’s account of our Lord’s passion begins. And so it’s simply a matter of counting back from there 24 stops along the way – which this year, that puts us at the end of chapter 9… Which, as it turns out, is an excellent place to begin this new season of Pentecost. Continue reading

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Trinity Sunday – "The Incomprehensible God" – Athanasian Creed

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The Nature of Creeds
A. Creeds and Conflict

Creeds and conflict go together. When there is conflict over doctrine, you need a creed to set things straight. Some say God is like this – some and some say God is like that. Some say Jesus was good – some say Jesus is God. Some say it doesn’t really matter – some say it’s the only thing that does.

So why don’t we all just agree to agree on what the Bible says? Because some say the Bible is the Word of God and some say the Bible only contains Word of God and some say that Bible is the word of man. Some say its Scripture alone, some say it’s scripture plus reason, some say it’s scripture plus the pope.

When there’s conflict over doctrine, you need a Creed to set things straight. Creeds and conflict go together. Creeds say, “this is what the bible says about God and therefore what we can say about God – and what we cannot say about Him.” A big part of what Creeds do is they SEPARATE. And they separate the Christian from the non-Christian. Continue reading

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Pentecost – Acts 2 – "The Day of Pentecost"

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In our opening hymn, we sang, “Come Holy Spirit, God and Lord. With all Your graces now outpoured on each believer’s mind and heart.” (LSB #497:1)

peter-preaching Martin Luther wrote those words to our Opening Hymn this morning for the Day of Pentecost. Luther wrote lots of hymns for the church because hymns are a good way to teach the faith and carry right teaching and right praying from one generation to another. I’ve never had anyone ask me to preach a favorite sermon again or give me a list of sermons that they’d like to hear preached again. But it’s not unusual for someone to give me a list of their favorite hymns (hint, hint).

Of all of the great holidays on the Church’s calendar, the day of Pentecost may be the most mysterious and the hardest to comprehend.
 Christmas is easy. A baby was born. We all know how that happens. Happens all the time.
 Good Friday is all about the death of that child. We all know more about death than we care to.
 Easter is all about the resurrection of that man from the dead, a little more mysterious than birth and death maybe but we see it all the time in nature – especially this time of year.
 The Ascension of our Lord may seem strange at first. We used to doubt that man actually fly to the moon. But now that he has, heaven doesn’t seem that much further away.

But Pentecost?
• How are we supposed to understand “a sound from heaven,” that sounds like a WINDSTORM that is going on in a particular house?
• And what looks like “fiery tongues” resting on the disciples and no one gets burned?
• And then those on whom these “fiery tongues” rest, speak in foreign languages than they had never learned how to speak.
How are we to make any sense of that?

As you can imagine, it was the kind of spectacle that attracted a lot of attention. It was the ‘sound’ that caused them to come. “At the sound, the multitude came together…” God was drawing people into His church by their ears. Continue reading

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Easter 5 – "Remedy for Troubled Hearts" – John 14:1-14

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The text for the sermon this morning is based on our gospel reading for this 5th Sunday of Easter from John’s 14th chapter beginning with this word from our Lord, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me.”

“Troubled hearts” are not something that needs much explaining really. We all know what THAT’S all about.

And so does Jesus. In his gospel, John tells us…
• That when Jesus saw Mary bawling her eyes out because of her brother, Lazarus’ death, “he was deeply moved in His spirit and GREATLY TROUBLED.” (Jn.11:33).
• There was something about the visitation of some Greeks who came to see Him that upset Him. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No but for this hour I have come into the world.” (John 12:27).
• As Jesus was sitting with His disciples in this Upper Room, “[He] was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (Jn. 13:21)

• His heart was TROUBLED by the emotional pain seeing those whom He loves suffer;
• and by the thought of the physical pain that He would soon have to endure;
• and by the deep disappointment of a friend’s disloyalty.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with or weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Continue reading

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Easter 4 – "Life Abundantly" – John 10:1-10


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The text for our consideration this morning is the gospel appointed for this 4th Sunday of Easter from St. John’s 10th chapter, where our Lord compares His holy, Christian Church to a flock of sheep, and compares Himself to the door of the sheep pen and the shepherd who enters into the pen and calls His sheep and leads them out to pasture.

It would be an ideal and perfectly pleasant picture, if there wasn’t interwoven in it some thieves and robbers and strangers whose interest is to lead this holy flock of Jesus astray to steal, kill and destroy them.

I don’t know if you noticed or not, but that’s always the way it goes with every story in the bible. You never get an ideal and perfectly pleasant picture where everything goes well all the time. Even when the sheep do everything they’re supposed to do, it never goes the way that it should. There are always thieves and robbers and strangers lurking around. Every story has its share of trials and troubles and problems – and some degree of pain and suffering.

So when Jesus announces that He has come so that His holy flock of little lambs “may have life and have it abundantly,” we wonder, what does this mean? What does this NOT mean? There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what Jesus had in mind when He said this. What is this “LIFE” that Jesus promises that His holy flock will have “abundantly” as they “hear my voice and follow Me”?

If there’s one writer in the New Testament who seems to want us to understand what this LIFE that Jesus has come to give to His holy flock is all about, it’s John.
• John begins his gospel by telling us that “in Him,” that is, “in Jesus,” “was LIFE and the LIFE was the light of men.” (Jn.1:4)
• John quotes Jesus who says that even His holy flock who have died, will one day, “Hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has LIFE in himself, so he has granted the son also to have LIFE in himself.” (John 5:25f).
• He records Jesus’ words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the LIFE. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he LIVE.” (John 11:25).

Whatever this LIFE is, it’s LIFE that even DEATH does not diminish. Continue reading

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Easter 3 – "We Had Hoped" – Luke 24:13-35


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"That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.”

Had Hoped“That very day…” is Easter Sunday. The women went to visit the tomb in the early morning and returned all out of breath with their incredible story about the missing body and the angels and THEY SAW HIM and HE SPOKE TO THEM and Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves and returned with their report. AND NO ONE KNEW WHAT TO THINK. What would you have thought?

Two of them headed off for a village called Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem. It was most likely where they lived, as we’ll see.

“And they were talking with each other about all the things that had happened.”

I sometimes wonder what you talk about on your way home from church. Do you “talk about all the things that happened” here? Do you talk about the Adult Bible Study? Do you ask the kids what Sunday School was about? Do you talk about the sermon – ‘I didn’t get it – do you? What was his point?’ ‘What’d you think of that closing hymn?” Or don’t you talk about “all the things that happened” because you’re already off to whatever is coming next?

“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. And He said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’”

Just try to picture it. You’re driving home from church, talking about ALL THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED, and suddenly you realize that there’s someone in the back seat of the car. And He says, “what are you talking about?” And you wonder, ‘who is this guy’ and ‘where did he come from?’

“They’re eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” We’ll come back to that. Continue reading

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Easter 2 – "Jesus is Here" – John 20:19-29 – 4/23/17


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ThomasOn the day that we call “Maundy Thursday,” Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples in the Upper Room and transformed the Passover meal into the Lord’s Supper. After the meal was finished, Jesus led the 12 disciples minus Judas to the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s about two miles from Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives to the Garden. It would have taken them about an hour to walk that distance.

As they walked, Jesus had a lot to say to them, a good deal of which has to do with the fact that He is about to be taken away from them, but that He will return. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again in a little while you will see me. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

He compares what they are about to experience to a woman in labor. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-23).

He knows what they are going to go through when He is handed over and taken away from them. And He’s more concerned for them than for Himself. He knows exactly how this is all going to end.

But they do not. They’ll be confused and full of doubts and afraid. As often as He’s told them how this is going to go, they haven’t really listened. They didn’t really believe it. They still didn’t believe it.

But then it happened. The shepherd was taken away from them and they were scattered like frightened, little lambs.

Their distress however was only short lived. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’

He had told them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again in a little while you will see me.” And sure enough, just as He said, three days later, there He is. Present with them – alive as ever. His promises never fail.

Evidently, they still can’t believe what they’re seeing and hearing. It was “for fear of the Jews” that they were huddled together behind locked doors. We’ve all seen the WWII movies of the Nazi’s going door to door looking for Jews to arrest and sent to the camps. This was their fear. Whoever this man was, he had found their hiding place and gotten through the locked doors. It had to be terrifying. His word of “peace be with you” fell on deaf ears.

But “when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. THEN the disciples were GLAD when they saw the Lord.” It was the marks of His crucifixion that broke through their stunned disbelief – and turned their fear to “gladness.”

This is Jesus, the crucified Jesus, the “and he breathed His last” Jesus. The Good Shepherd has returned for His sheep – just as He said He would. “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

The world has still a dangerous place and there are still tears and disappointment, BUT JESUS IS HERE. MY JESUS IS HERE. IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.

A second time Jesus speaks His Word of peace. “Jesus said to them AGAIN, ‘Peace be with you.”

With His first word of “peace” He TRANSFORMS their fear into ‘gladness.’ Now, with the second word of “peace” He SENDS THEM out into this world gone mad.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is His ‘little Pentecost,’ 50 days before the ‘big Pentecost.’

Here, in this ‘little Pentecost,’ Jesus gives them the authority to speak on His behalf. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” He is sending His apostles out into this crazy world with His Word and His authority to speak it.

They’re to walk right into a world of lost and frightened people who lock themselves behind all kinds of doors in an attempt to hide from whatever it is they’re afraid of – others, themselves, their God.

They’re to announce His peace to them. “The peace of the Lord be with you.”

And then they’re to say, “as a called and ordained servant of the word and by His authority, I forgive you all of your sins…” And when they hear them speak this absolution into their lost and frightened lives, it will be hearing the crucified and risen Jesus Himself. And it will transform their fear into gladness because JESUS IS HERE, MY JESUS IS HERE. IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.

The first one that the apostles go to is their fellow apostle, Thomas, who wasn’t with the others on that first Easter night; which just goes to show you what you miss when you miss church.

“The disciples told him, ‘we have seen the Lord.’” That’s the first recorded sermon that the disciples preach after their ordination. It’s short and sweet. After the ‘big Pentecost’ sermons get much longer. But here, it’s simply a matter of the eyewitnesses saying what their eye has witnessed. ‘We have seen the Lord.’ It’s an incredible sermon really. It’s what every sermon should be really – the telling and retelling of what the eyewitness saw when the saw the Lord.

“But Thomas said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

Thomas has a problem. Thomas doesn’t believe what his fellow APOSTLES are telling him. He doesn’t believe the APOSTOLIC WORD.

In the Nicene Creed, we say that we believe in “the one, holy Christian and APOSTOLIC church.” That means that we believe the word of the Apostles – which is what the New Testament is.

But Thomas wasn’t ready to confess the Nicene Creed just yet. The APOSTOLIC WORD is not enough for Thomas. Thomas is a charismatic. The preached Word based on SOMEONE ELSE’S EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY is not enough for him. He’s got to feel it, touch it, see it for himself before he will BELIEVE.

We call him, ‘doubting Thomas’ but that’s a bit too charitable. Even Jesus doesn’t even call him a ‘doubter’ but a ‘disbeliever.’

Which kind of makes you wonder why this account is even in the bible let alone the reading for the 2nd Sunday after Easter every year – even in the 3 year cycle. You’d think that Thomas might be discreetly kept out of sight. Every family’s got a crazy aunt Gertrude who’s behavior is an embarrassment to the family whom you hate to bring out in public.

What is it that we are supposed to see here? Why did the church read John’s account of Thomas’ disbelief every year on the Sunday after Easter? How is Thomas’ supposed to strengthen our faith?

One of the early church Fathers, Gregory the Great, answers our question like this.
“The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.” “In a marvelous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief.”

In other words, Thomas is someone in whom we can all find ourselves. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s nothing to be proud of, that’s for sure. How often have we issued our demands and spelled out the terms which our Lord must meet before we will believe in His Word of promise that never fails, and put our trust in Him, and let Him transform our fear into joy?

But John, who was one of those Apostles who was there, directs our attention, not to so much to Thomas’s disbelief, as to how Jesus responds to His dear, little lamb.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

A full week has gone by and the troubles and trials of life in a world gone mad have eaten away at that joyful confidence that they had just last Sunday. Once again they’ve LOCKED THE DOORS.

Don’t kid yourself! You’re not as strong as you think you are. You need to be RENEWED every week by His word of “peace be with you” and “absolution.”

And then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

The crucified and risen Lord of Lords and King of Kings humbles Himself and meets Thomas’ demands. He literally takes Thomas’ hand and puts it into His body. Just as He humbles Himself with you here today – as He literally thanks His body and puts it into your hands so that you will “not disbelieve but believe.”

“Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God.’

This is an AMAZING confession of faith that we dare not miss. What springs from Thomas’ mouth goes beyond what his eye has seen or his hands have touched. The early church Father Augustine says, “he saw and touched a man and confessed God whom he did not see or touch.”

Jesus is not nearly as impressed with Thomas’ confession of faith as He is with yours. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Earlier, we heard the apostle Peter, who was also in the congregation that day, say to the Christian Church in every age, “Though you have NOT SEEN HIM, you love him. Though YOU DO NOT NOW SEE HIM, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1Peter 1:8-9).

This is how our Lord send us out into this crazy world, where all hope and confidence is based solely on what can be felt and touched. To base your hope and confidence on feelings and what is tangible and is so fragile. Sooner or later feelings change and the tangible collapses and leaves you lost and uncertain and afraid.

But when we live by faith in MY LORD AND MY GOD, we base our hope and confidence on what is MOST REAL AND TRUE AND UNCHANGEABLE. The tears, the pain, the disappointments, even the suffering, are still there. But rather than cause for doubt or disbelief, they are now reminders that our Lord has sent us into this world as the Father sent Him. And we know where it’s headed and how it’s all going to turn out.

Even though He is unseen, we hear His voice – “Peace be with you.” Even though He is unseen, He puts His body into our hands – “Take and eat.” And we know that JESUS IS HERE. MY JESUS IS HERE. And it is well with my soul.

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Easter – "The New Creation" – Psalm 98:1 – 4/16/17


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bc07b-new_creationThe text for our consideration this Easter Sunday is Psalm 98, the first verse. “Oh sing to the LORD a NEW SONG, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” (Ps.98:1)

We have come here this morning to hear the story about Jesus Christ – who claimed to be the Son of God, who was crucified, died and buried, rose again from the dead on the 3rd day. It’s a strange story to say the least. And yet it’s a story that those who believe that this Jesus Christ really is who He says He is – the very Son of God – hold to be the greatest story ever told – and just as importantly, the greatest story ever heard.

For as strange a story as it is, we believe it to be absolutely true – not just ‘hypothetically true’ or ‘true in some symbolic or spiritual sort of way’ – but literally and concretely true.
• He really is who He says He is.
• He really was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
• He really did die on the cross.
• He really did rise from the dead in both body and soul on the 3rd day just as the Scriptures describe it.
• He really was seen by the men and women whom He visited during the 40 days before He really did ascend into heaven.

This is the story that we believe to be absolutely true – as strange a story that it is. And we love to hear this story over and over again, not simply because it’s so remarkably true, but because we believe that in some profound and mysterious way, the dying and the rising of this God/man, is the single event to which world history was moving from the beginning of time, and the single event that determines where this world is headed at the end of time. Continue reading

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Good Friday – "The Man in the Garden" – John 18-19 – 4/14/17


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I. The Man in the Garden

The curtain on St. John’s account of the Passion of our Lord opens on a garden. John arranges the characters on the stage in such a way that all eyes are focused on one Man in the garden. He is a perfect man – a man in the image of God – a man whom the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…” (Heb.1:3)

THIS MAN has come to THIS garden many times before. In fact, His coming here has become very predictable. For Him, this place has always been a peaceful and safe place for prayer and meditation and rest. On this night, He comes to pray.

Other gospel writers are interested in THIS MAN’S friends who come with him and how they behave while he prays. But John is not interested in any of that and barely even mentions them. Nor is John interested in the content of His prayer OR the tears and the drops of blood that mingle with His prayer as others are. John’s only concern is with that serpent that is making its way up the hillside towards the garden – its long tail of fiery torches slithering towards its target. Continue reading

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Maundy Thursday – "Last Will and Testament" – Hebrews 9:13-15 – 4/13/17


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“For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:13-15)

The “new covenant” of which the writer to the Hebrews speaks here is the same “new covenant” of which the prophet Jeremiah announced some 600 years before its time. “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” (Jer.31:31).

 It is not that this “new covenant” gives anything different or more than the “old covenant” gave. The “Old Covenant” gave ‘forgiveness of sins’ and the ‘promised eternal inheritance’ just like the new covenant does.
 And it’s not that what is being introduced here a “new and improved” version of the old and outdated version of the Covenant. It’s impossible to IMPROVE on God’s promises no matter how long ago He made them and no matter how much this world has changed because God doesn’t change.
 And it’s not that what God had promised all along was finally going to happen as if to say, “Now, this time, I really, really mean it.”

No, when it says that Jesus is the “mediator of a NEW COVENANT,” it means that unlike the OLD COVENANT that was sealed and ratified by the sacrifice and blood of lambs and goats, the “NEW COVENANT” is sealed and ratified by the sacrifice and blood of the Lamb of God. “This is the cup of the new covenant in MY blood,” He says.
Continue reading

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