Pentecost 15 – "Forgiven to be Forgiving" – Matthew 18:21-35


I bet you didn’t know that when silk fabric for the textile industry was shipped from India to Europe, it was inspected for its quality. And if any flaws were discovered, that piece was marked by tying a small string to the bottom of it. This would alert the buyer that this piece of material was defective. So when a tailor wanted to purchase a few yards of material without flaws, he would ask for cloth, “with no strings attached.”

It’d be nice if things still came with ‘strings attached’ so that we might know if it’s really as perfect as it sounds or if there aren’t some hidden flaws. It’d be nice to know if that ‘great deal’ that sounds too good to be true, really is, or if it has ‘strings attached.’

We might even wonder if the grace of God FOR ME and His forgiveness for all of my sins might not also have ‘strings attached.’ After all, doesn’t Jesus says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48).

You mean to tell me that when I was born again and forgiven all of my sins in my baptism – “I baptize you into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit;” and in the holy absolution – “I forgive you all of your sins,” and in the eating of the Supper – “given for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins;” do you mean to say that since I received all of this grace upon grace that now I’m expected to BE GRACIOUS to others and FORGIVE others who sin against me? You mean there were ‘strings attached?’

Peter gets it. SINCE God has been gracious to me, I am obligated to be gracious to my neighbor. SINCE God has forgiven me all my sins, I am expected to forgive my neighbor when he sins against me.

But Peter is still searching for clarity as to how to complete the sentence, ‘the kingdom of heaven is like…” Last week it was the question about ‘greatness.’ “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Today it’s a question about forgiveness. Not whether or not I must forgive my neighbor, but to what extent. How far must I go? Peter simply wants to know where the boundaries in this KINGDOM OF HEAVEN are. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Continue reading

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Pentecost 14 – "The Greatest In The Kingdom of Heaven" – Matthew 18:1-20 – 9/10/17


“The Kingdom of heaven is like…” Finish the sentence. No, on second thought – don’t. It could be pretty embarrassing.

greatnessWhen Jesus finished that sentence by saying “the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the 3rd day be raised,” Peter took Him aside and said, “This shall never happen to you.” (Mat. 16:21-22) That’s NOT what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. How embarrassing.

Earlier, Jesus finished the sentence by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” And “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Which of us would have ever finished the sentence like that?

Just before our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus, for a 2nd time, told His disciples, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mat. 17:22-23). Matthew, who was one of them, writes, “They were greatly distressed.” That’s not what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

None of this was lining up with the way that they would finish the sentence, “the Kingdom of heaven is like…” In fact, the further along this journey with Jesus they go, the more confused they get. One of them will drop out altogether because this is NOT what he thought the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is like. The others who stick around won’t ‘get it’ until the Holy Spirit opens their minds on the Day of Pentecost, nearly two whole months after the Kingdom of Heaven has come.

In their GREAT DISTRESS, “the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus seems to be turning every one of their PREconceptions into MISconceptions and now, they’re not sure what to think or how to complete the sentence, “the kingdom of heaven is like….”

And so they ask, “who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

No one’s sure what their tone of voice is or how we’re supposed to hear their question.

Have they been arguing or bickering among themselves, maybe ever since Jesus singled Peter out with His “blessed are you Simon, bar Jonah…” Are they asking from a spirit of jealousy or competition?

Or, are they genuinely confused? Are they honestly trying to understand what this Kingdom of Heaven is like and how it actually works, and they need some more data to go by?

Clearly, Jesus doesn’t scold them for asking their question.

“And calling to him a little child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

There’s your answer. Jesus answers their question in two ways.

First, he says, ‘let’s back up a bit here.’ ‘Before I answer your question about who the ‘greatness’ in the Kingdom of Heaven is, let’s talk about how one ‘enters the kingdom of heaven’ in the first place. Any talk about ‘greatness’ in the Kingdom before ‘entrance’ into the Kingdom is putting the cart before the horse. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never ENTER the kingdom of heaven.”

It kinda reminds you of that time Jesus’ told poor Nicodemus, “Unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is confused. “How can a man be born again? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb?” (John 3:3-4)

The disciples of Jesus have to be just as confused. How can big adults become little children?

But Jesus DIDN’T say that they need to BECOME LITTLE CHILDREN. He said they need to “become LIKE little CHILDREN.” To become LIKE a CHILD, means to become ‘CHILD-LIKE,’ which is not necessarily ‘CHILD-SIZED’ and its definitely not ‘CHILDISH.’

There’s a couple of strange ideas out there about what children are like that we need to take off the table so that we’re not we’re not chasing something that doesn’t actually exist.

To be ‘CHILD-LIKE’ does not mean to be ‘INNOCENT.’ Children can certainly be pretty ‘innocent’ at times. But as any ‘honest’ parent will tell you, children can also be some of the scheming, devious little creatures in the world. And according to the doctrine of ‘original sin,’ even the tiny fetus, from the moment of conception, is not ‘innocent’ and needs the gift of Baptism as soon as possible after birth. To be ‘CHILD-LIKE’ does not mean to be ‘INNOCENT’.

To be ‘CHILD-LIKE’ does not mean to be ‘TRUSTING.’ It’d be nice if children trusted their parents and other authorities, but who’s kidding whom? What child, when he or she hears mom and dad say, ‘trust me, we know what’s best for you,’ doesn’t at least think if not say, ‘no, I don’t think you do. I don’t trust you – at least not as much as I trust me.’ (Or at least that’s the way it sounds most of the time.) To be ‘CHILD-LIKE’ does not mean to be ‘TRUSTING’

The point is, we sometimes try to understand this word from our Lord here as though He grabbed this particular child he OR she, was a ‘perfect child,’ as though He were saying, ‘unless you become ‘INNOCENT’ and ‘TRUSTING’ like this particular child, ”you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I think it would be much more honest and whole lot safer if we were to picture a REAL BRAT, demanding, strong willed, hard to please, disagreeable child. Now we’ve got a ‘REAL CHILD’ to deal with.

And now we’ve got a good picture of the ‘CHILDREN’ that God calls ‘MY CHILDREN’ throughout the Old Testament. The ‘people of Israel’ are the ‘CHLILDREN OF GOD.’ And in God’s own words, His children are stubborn, rebellious, stiff-necked, children who refuse to TRUST Him. And they’re clearly NOT INNOCENT.

The thing that this child that’s standing before the disciples had in common with ALL CHILDREN was its utter DEPENDENCE. Babies and little children are helpless and vulnerable, DEPENDANT on mom and dad to provide for all that they need. Even when something is wrong, babies and little children don’t know what the problem is. They only know they’ve got one.

The only thing that they are able to do is CRY. CRYING is their only weapon in their battle for survival. I read an article in the New York Times just this past week that summarizing a study on the effectiveness of a babies crying in getting the attention of adults. The researchers studied animals and noted that the babies in trouble got almost no response from the mother no matter what they did until they cried. Every parent knows how impossible it is to ignore their child’s crying.

The prophet Isaiah tells the people of Israel to act like LITTLE CHILDREN before God. “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of YOUR CRY. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.” (Isaiah 30:19).

“Unless you turn, and become like a child,” you’re not going to ‘CRY OUT’ to your Father in heaven in your time of need. You’ll try to DIAGNOSE and FIX your problem YOURSELF because you’re AN ADULT – not a CHILD.

Unlike little children who grow up and outgrow their dependence on their parents, we never outgrow our helplessness and dependence on God. We never become autonomous, self-sufficient, adults before God. We’re always CRYING, as dear children cry to their dear Father in heaven, “Lord have mercy upon me.”

In fact, real ‘GROWTH’ in the Kingdom of Heaven, if you want to call it that, actually goes in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION. The older and more mature we become, the more we realize how UTTERLY DEPENDENT on God we really are, the more ‘child-like’ we become.

So, the Kingdom of Heaven is populated by nothing but ‘CHILDREN,’ those who are utterly dependent on their heavenly Father for everything – and who KNOW IT, and CONFESS IT, and REJOICE IN IT. ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Now, Jesus goes on to answer His disciple’s question more directly. “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

“Greatness” in this ‘kingdom of heaven’ is a matter of ‘humility’ before God – which simply means that we recognize our utter dependence on God to take care of us and give us all that we need for this body and life and the life to come.

Once again, there’s a dangerous disconnect between the ‘THINGS OF MAN’ and the ‘THINGS OF GOD’ to be careful of here. In the ‘KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD,’ we fully expect our children to ‘grow up’ and act like adults – and this is right. We all want to be self-supporting, independent people who can take care of ourselves – and this is right too.

But in the ‘KINGDOM OF HEAVEN,’ the GREATEST never grow up. As we said, we just become more aware of what babies we really are and how dependent on God we really are and cry out to Him more and more.

We are not only simultaneously saint and sinner but also adult and child.

Needless to say, none of this comes NATURALLY – and what doesn’t come NATURALLY never comes EASILY. Which helps explain why the disciples are so confused and find it so hard to finish the sentence, ‘the Kingdom of God is like…’

It’s the same way for all of us. We come into this world wired to believe that “we can be like God.” We can take care of ourselves just fine and even atone for our own sins by our own good works. We’re grown-ups, independent, self-supporting. And we can’t see it any other way.

Which only means one thing – WE REALLY ARE TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON GOD – we really are like little children. Unless HE ‘turns us,’ unless HE ‘humbles us,’ we never will “turn” and “humble ourselves.” And we will never know who the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is.

Like little children, we learn our lessons very slowly and very often, we learn them the hard way. So when we hear Jesus say, “unless you turn… unless you humble yourself…we know that He’s not just talking about a one-time event in our life but a constant and daily ‘turning’ and ‘humbling ourselves,’ a daily realization that we are totally dependent on Him to become like the child of God that He would have us be.

This daily ‘turning’ and ‘humbling ourselves’ is nothing else but a daily turning to Jesus Christ, in Whom we have the answer to the question, “who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

He is the One who “humbled Himself” and became a ‘LITTLE CHILD,’ even a fetus in Mary’s womb; a new born infant lying in a manger, totally helpless and dependent upon Mary and Joseph to hear his crying and figure out what He needed.
With ‘child-like’ faith in His heavenly Father, He ‘humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,’ for you and for me and for all of the big, grown up people in this world who, in our quest for ‘greatness,’ still don’t know how to act like the ‘little children’ that we truly are before God. (Philippians 2:8).

“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” Stop being ‘childish.’ Fix your eyes on Jesus, and Him crucified for you. It’ll turn you and humble you until you cry out to Him like the baby that you are

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Pentecost 13 – "The Things of God" – Matthew 16:21-28 – 9/3/17


Your Leader must be rejected by all, suffer many things and be killed in the most humiliating way, and if you want to be a ‘follower,’ you must deny yourself and remain faithful to Him and follow Him even if it costs you your life – which it most certainly will.

6a00d83451dcd469e201bb0924cbb8970dNow there’s a religion that’s never going to amount to anything.

No wonder Peter pulls Jesus aside for a little counseling. He thinks that Jesus has lost His mind and Peter is just the man to help Him find it. “Far be it from you Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Peter had just correctly answered Jesus’ big question, like if you don’t get this one right none of the rest matters, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a trick question. A ‘trick’ question because Jesus already knows that NOBODY knows the answer to this question. Everyone always gets this one wrong. The only way anyone will ever answer this question CORRECTLY is if someone gives you the correct answer.

Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “And Jesus answered him, ‘blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven.”

But now the Christ, the Son of the living God, needs to be corrected. The heavenly Father may be ‘inerrant,’ but evidently, the Son of the living God not so much. If the “Father who is in heaven” revealed to Peter, Jesus’ true identity, then maybe He also revealed Jesus’ faults to Peter. “He takes things a little too seriously sometimes.”

Or maybe Peter was just responding to Jesus’ announcement like any of us would – AND DO. Who actually believes that God, IF HE REALLY IS GOD, would actually call it a matter of DIVINE NECESSITY that He be rejected, suffer and die in order to carry out His purposes for coming into this world? And who in their right mind would ever say, ‘now that’s the kind of God I want to trust my whole life to?’

We’re all theologians to one degree or another and we all have certain EXPECTATIONS based on our BELIEFS about what God is like and the way God carries out His work in this world and in my life – and although we all have DIFFERENT BELIEFS and EXPECTATIONS OF GOD – on this we all agree, “the message of the cross is folly….” (1 Cor. 1:18)

God, IF HE IS REALLY GOD, works in power and glory and success – and rewards all those who follow Him with power and glory and success – and who follows Him more faithfully than “the Son of the living God”? “SON OF GOD” and “SUFFERING AND DEATH” simply do not fit together. Surely what Jesus meant to say is that He is going to Jerusalem to establish His Kingdom and claim His rightful place as the new David, even the Son of David, to bring prosperity and success and to make Israel great again. (Sorry.)

Sigmund Freud said that all religion is ‘wishful thinking, born from man’s need to make his helplessness tolerable.’ Maybe so. But if so, what are we to make of this thing called ‘CHRISTIANITY’ with its claims that God carries out His gracious and loving work in this world through rejection, suffering and death – and NOT APART FROM IT.

Who would ever have conceived of a religion as ridiculous as this one that has at its very core, the rejection and suffering and death of its Lord as the only hope this world has?

And that is at least part of the point. The central event of Christianity is too offensive and runs too sharply against the grain of human reason to ever have been conceived by man. If you want a religion that is ‘reasonable’ and runs at least somewhat parallel to you’d expect a REAL RELIGION to look like, that is, OF THE THINGS OF MAN, you should consider Islam or Buddhism or Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Unitarianism.

The Muslims have a high place of honor for Jesus but completely reject the thought that He was crucified – how ridiculous. Buddhism and Hinduism have carefully mapped out ways for you to reach Nirvana with no ‘word of the cross’ for either leader or follower. The Buddha’s crossed legs and folded arms and wisp of a smile is far more sensible and appealing than the outstretched and tortured figure hanging from a cross to the mocking ridicule from men and the sound of silence from the Father in heaven.

Who builds their trust and hope and confidence for life and salvation on “the stone that the builders rejected”?

Peter’s response to Jesus’ perfectly natural. In the words of one theologian, ‘we all want a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (H. Richard Niebuhr)

What Jesus is proposing both for Himself and for His followers is ‘scandalous’ to people who live in a culture that’s all about doing what ‘feels good,’ and who expect that God, IF THERE REALLY IS A GOD, is there to help them achieve ‘their best life now’ which whatever that is, certainly does not include “denying oneself and taking up my cross.”

Isn’t this the reason that we’re so confused about how to tell others about Jesus? Dare we tell them that He is the ‘rejected,’ ‘suffering,’ ‘crucified’ One who says “if anyone would come after me let him take up his cross and follow me…”? No, who would ever say, ‘that’s just what I’m looking for in a religion. How do I sign up?’

So we say that if they will follow Jesus, He’ll make them happy and fix all their problems – whether we really believe it or not, because the truth is just too absurd.

Isn’t this why people walk away from their baptism? They just didn’t get anything POSITIVE out of it. It didn’t do anything for them. When they really needed Him, He let them – He didn’t do what He should have done if He is REALLY GOD and REALLY GOOD.

We all have our minds set on THE THINGS OF MAN and NOT THE THINGS OF GOD – whose mind is set on going to Jerusalem to suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribers, and be killed, AND ON THE THIRD DAY BE RAISED.

Peter was so shocked by the first part of this announcement that he never heard the bit about “the third day be raised.” And neither did the others. But even if they had heard it, it wouldn’t have made any more sense to them than the bit about rejection, suffering and death, because these things are also “not revealed to you by flesh and blood but by my Father who is in heaven.”

And that is precisely what “my Father who is in heaven” did on the 3rd day. He raised His rejected, suffered and crucified Son from the dead and crowned Him “with all glory and honor and dominion and authority before all time and now and forever.” (Jude 25)

God has turned the tables on PETER and the ELEVEN and ON US ALL. He has done a NEW THING. An UNHEARD OF THING. A completely UNEXPECTED THING. “The stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”

Of all the scandalous and offensive things, this one tops the cake. GOD HAS VINDICATED the One who WE REJECTED. GOD HAS DONE THINGS GOD’S WAY. And in so doing He has pulled the mask off of our way and revealed it for what it truly is – the things of man and not of God.

We wanted to make God in our image – our fallen and dying image. But He has exposed all of our false gods for what they truly are – the things of man and not of God. He has become the great ‘stumbling block’ and CRISIS for all of us who refuse to consider that maybe, just maybe, the things of God are actually “the way and the truth and the life” after all.

Which may at least partially explain why these disciples of Jesus were more frightened than joyful when they heard the Easter news from the women that He was alive. What will it mean for all who COUNSELED Him and REJECTED Him and SUFFERED Him and CRUCIFIED Him when “he comes with his angels in the glory of his father to repay each person according to what he has done”?

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” With that little word, “anyone,” Jesus places US squarely with Peter and the eleven who rebuked the Lord for not doing His job the way we think it should be done.

Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and He has done the DIVINELY NECESSARY THING to rescue and deliver you from sin and death and the devil – and redeem you and make you His own – and bring you to His Father in heaven to present you to Him as His precious bride “in splendor without spot or wrinkle – holy and without blemish.” (Eph.5:28)

He entered into our ‘rejection’ and ‘suffering’ and ‘death’ that we, by our sin of worshipping the ‘things of man’ above the “things of God” deserve. He owned it all as though it were all His – because you are His.

So, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Face it. God’s ways are not our ways. Its time to stop trying to force the “things of man” onto God. Be done with it. The game is over. Give up.

There is nothing left for you to cling to but Him. Whatever the folly of the cross is, it’s now your folly and you’re the fool who delights in your foolish Lord.

As absurd as it sounds, your greatest delight is in knowing that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I, with all of my false hopes in all of my false gods, who live, but Christ, the ‘rejected, suffering, crucified and risen Christ, who lives in me. And the life I now life I live by faith, not in the ‘things of man,’ but in the Son of God who whole loved me and gave himself from me.” (Gal.2:20)

Today, the rejected, suffered, crucified and risen Lord comes to you, not in glory but hidden under bread and wine, to “repay you,” not “according to what you have done,” but “according to what He has done for you.” “Take and eat, this is my body.” “Take and drink, this is my blood.” These are the “things of God and not of man.” So even if you were to “taste death” today, you have “seen the Son of Man come into His kingdom.”

This is the 13th Sunday after Pentecost and our gospel reading opened with these words from St. Matthew, “From that time Jesus BEGAN to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things… and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

This is just the BEGINNING. We have 13 more Sunday’s to go in this journey with St. Matthew, and a lot to learn along the way.

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Pentecost 11 – "A Mother's Prayer" – Matthew 15:21-28 – 8/20/17

This is a good sermon preached by Rev.Robert Fischer:


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Pentecost 10 – "Do You Know What You Have?" – Matthew 14:22-33 – 8/13/17


antiqueEvery once in a while I’ll turn the TV to the “Antiques Roadshow.” It’s fun to watch folks bring in something wondering if it might just be something valuable. “It’s been sitting in their basement for years,” “It was passed down from my great, great grandparents.” They were going to throw it away but wondered if it might not be worth something. And then the expert will either say something like, ‘it’s really not worth anything,’ or ‘you don’t know what you have here.’

It’s like that with us and Jesus. “You don’t know what you have.” “You don’t know what you’ve been given in your baptism.” “You don’t know what you’ve boxed up and stored away for years – and you thought of throwing it all away how many times now?”

The primary goal of Matthew’s entire gospel – like if you get nothing else out of it you need to get this – you need to know who this Jesus is. You need to know what you’ve have when you’ve have Jesus. You need to know what you have when Jesus has you.

TO THAT END, Matthew has bracketed the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with this question from the devil – “If you are the Son of God…” to the end of Jesus’ ministry with this confession of faith from the Centurion at the cross, “truly this was the Son of God.” (Matt.27:54).

Everything in between these two points in his gospel is purposed to move us, teaching by teaching, parable by parable, miracle by miracle – the mystery rolled back further and further until we too confess – “truly this is the Son of God.”

This is the goal of our gospel reading for this morning.

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Pentecost 9 – "The Feeding God" – Matthew 14:13-21 – 8/6/17


I. God Satisfies Our Physical Hunger / Thirst
A. God Feeds His Children
Product_OFE10147_Image_1If there’s one thing that becomes obvious the more you read the Scriptures, it is that God loves to feed His people. He hates to see dear children go hungry. He’s like a mother whose always checking to see if we have enough to eat and always putting more on the table that we could possibly stuff into our mouth.

It’s been like this from the very beginning. The first thing He shows His Adam in the Garden of Eden is the food pantry. “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Gen. 1:29).

And in the background, you can almost here the angels chanting, “mange, mange.” (Well, the Italian angels anyway).

B. Jacob to Egypt.
When Jacob couldn’t feed his family because of a famine, God put Joseph in charge of the food supply in Egypt and Joseph stockpiled enough food to feed his family and the whole world all that they could eat.

C. Manna in the Desert
As the children get bigger they get harder to feed. 70 people went down to Egypt with Jacob to eat. 2 million people left Egypt to return to the land God had promised through Abraham which is described in ‘edible’ terms as “A land flowing with milk and honey.”

Along the way, they get hungry. It takes a lot of food to satisfy 2 million people with an appetite –especially the teenagers. The land can’t support that kind of demand and the locals get stingy about sharing their bread with 2 million travelers. Continue reading

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Pentecost 8 – "Do You Understand?" – Matthew 13:44-52 – 7/30/17


Our Pentecost journey continues today with a series of three parables from Matthew’s 13th chapter. Today marks the 7th Sunday we’ve been on this journey. Which means there are only 17 more Sundays to go and only 21 more weeks till Christmas.

We’re taking this journey together as those for whom Matthew wrote his gospel – NEWBIES TO THE FAITH. This is instruction for those who want to know more about this Jesus Christ – and what this thing called ‘Christianity’ all about – and what does it mean that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?

This is the POINT OF PERSPECTIVE that is critical to remember as we travel. We’re NOT on this journey as ‘PROSPECTS’ whom Matthew is trying to recruit or persuade to make our decision for Jesus. We are NEWBEES who have been baptized, in whom the Holy Spirit has planted His Word, in whom the Word/Seed has fallen on GOOD SOIL and has taken root. The ‘journey’ is all about nurturing and watering and cultivating that seed so that it bears its crop of saving faith.

The key word that Jesus uses to describe this ‘cultivation’ of the seed sown in us is the word, “UNDERSTANDING.” The 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is a collection of Jesus’ parables that are all about UNDERSTANDING.

Parables are effective ways of teaching someone who is ALREADY A BELIEVER – already in the mansion – what life in the Kingdom of Heaven is all about. To those on the outside they are just silly little stories – and ‘what’s your point?’

It will be helpful if you have your bible out and opened to Matthew 13 this morning – page 818 in the pew bible.

The GRAND OPENING to this collection of parables is the one about the Sower who sows His seed. Some grows and some doesn’t – and Jesus makes it clear why some live by faith and some fall away.
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St. Mary Magdalene – "The Captive Set Free" – 7/23/17 – John 20:1-18


Last Sunday we heard our Lord’s parable about the Sower who sowed seed in the hope that it would all take root and grow and produce an abundant harvest. Some did and some didn’t. On this ‘feast day’ of St. Mary Magdalene, we give thanks to the Sower for the rich harvest of saving faith that His seed/word produced in this humble and beautiful woman.

196975Between the four gospels, there’s enough written about Mary Magdalene for us to put together a rather complete sketch of this woman.

Let’s begin with her name. For the most part, the women that we meet in the Scriptures are typically identified by the name of their relationship to another person – typically a man. There’s “Mary – the mother of Jesus,” and “Mary the wife of Clopas,” “Joanna, the wife of Chuza,” and “Mary the sister of Martha” and certainly after the resurrection, “Mary the sister of Lazarus.”

But “MARY MAGDALENE is NOT known by her relationship to another person, only by her hometown – ‘Magdala’ – which probably means that there was no husband or brother or sister or certainly child in her life. And maybe the reason for that has to do with THE CONDITION OF HER LIFE before Jesus.

In the 8th chapter of his gospel, Luke tells us that “[Jesus] went on through the cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities… And then from all of these women, Luke singles out one in particular – Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.” (Lk. 8:1-2)

SO, WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT JESUS CAST OUT SEVEN DEMONS FROM MARY? These days, we’re not too sure what to make of this whole business of ‘demons’ and ‘demon possession.’ So, it might be helpful to think of it like this. Without denying the existence of ‘demons’ and ‘demon possession,’ I think we can also say that with the help of modern science, we may understand some of the things differently than people used to. For instance, some of the ways that the bible describe the way that ‘demon-possessed’ people behaved, looks an awful lot like what we might today attribute to ‘seizures’ due to ‘neurological’ or ‘chemical’ disorders.

What’s true NO MATTER HOW YOU DEFINE IT is the fact that the person who suffers from these things is like a ‘CAPTIVE’ who is unable to escape. They neither choose to act like this, nor can they simply ‘SNAP OUT OF IT.’ Mary was a CAPTIVE to these terrible forces. They CONTROLLED her. Continue reading

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Pentecost 5 – "Soul Rest" – Matthew 11:25-30


Our Pentecost season journey began a month ago at Matthew’s 10th chapter. And after leading us on a methodical, three-week tour of Matthew 10, our lectionary suddenly jumps clear over a big chunk of the 11th chapter and lands us on the last five verses.

little childrenBut context is everything. And so I want to ask you to take out your bible and turn to Matthew 10 – page 815. Matthew has organized his gospel in such a way that it’s a steady progression of teaching about this thing we call the life of faith in Jesus Christ. Matthew is like ‘confirmation class’ for beginners and newbies to the faith. And no matter how long you’ve been a Christian, it’s always best to come to the holy scriptures and let the holy scriptures come to you like a ‘newbie.’ Or as Matthew records Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

So, let’s take a quick look again at Matthew 10:5: “then Jesus sent them out instructing them…” He sends them out first of all to PROCLAIM that the “Kingdom of heaven is at hand…” And to back that up, He gives them His authority to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.”

And He INSTRUCTS them that not everyone will receive them like LITTLE CHILDREN. In fact, most will not. Continue reading

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Pentecost 4 – "A Sword and Real Peace" – Matthew 10:34-42


“These 12 Jesus sent out, instructing them…” We come now to the third Sunday of our three Sunday tour through the 10th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel – Jesus’ ‘Missionary Discourse’ where He sends His 12 apostles out into the community to “proclaim as you go, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Fable-blades-exampleAnd then to back up this amazing and shocking proclamation with some authority that should make people realize they’re not just talking out their hat, He gives them His power to, “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”

As He sends them out, He warns them that they are not to expect a warm welcome. He sends them out “like sheep in the midst of wolves…” He tells them, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake…” They’ll be like innocent refuges on the run. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next…”

So, conspicuously absent from Jesus’ instructions to “these 12” are words like, ‘safe,’ ‘fun,’ ‘enjoyable,’ ‘comfortable,’ ‘good time.’ And also as we DID NOT just hear, ‘peaceful.’

No, He says, “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” These are hard words to hear from our Lord – Whom Isaiah once called, “the Prince of Peace,” and the angels at His birth, sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace…” (Lk. 2:14). (How would you guys who were on the Missions Trip to Boston reacted if Nick told you he was sending you out into the community not to bring peace but a sword? Sorting rotten yams doesn’t sound so bad does it?)

“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” This is just the kind of verse that folks like to use against us. “See, your Jesus says right here that He advocates violence” – which of course is not at all what He means – as in, “Peter, put your sword in its place. For all who take the sword will die by the sword.” (Mat. 26:52) But it’s a ‘hostile world’ that Jesus enters into – and all who enter it in the name of Jesus are bound to face the same hostility.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” Let’s take a moment to explore this. The word for “peace” in the Greek of the New Testament is “eireyney,” which comes from the root word, “eirow,” which means, ‘to join’ as in ‘to join two things together into one.’ You are at ‘peace’ with something or someone when you are joined to it and are one with it and it/he/she becomes one with you.

“Swords” on the other hand, do just the opposite. The work of a sword is to separate – as in Peter swung his sword and separated the soldier’s ear from his head.

So Jesus instructs ‘these 12’ that He has not come to JOIN men and women to this world so that they may be at PEACE with it. That would be a ‘false peace’ because this is a sinful and fallen world that is dying and is destined for destruction. Rather, He has come to SEPARATE them from this world. The Greek word for ‘church’ is “ekleysia.” Which literally means, ‘those who have been CALLED OUT.’

At the end of this Pentecost season journey, Jesus will INSTRUCT THESE 12, saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then He will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will SEPARATE people one from another as a shepherd SEPARATES sheep from the goats…” (Matt.25:31-32) When He comes again in glory, He will come with a SWORD.

This ‘separation’ from the world that Jesus comes like a ‘sword’ to carry out is PAINFUL and GUT-WRENCHING and oftentimes, HEART-BREAKING. And that’s because the places where Jesus targets His sword are terribly CLOSE TO HOME. We’d be totally on-board if He pointed His sword to the drug dealers and human traffickers and porn merchants and cruel dictators and radical terrorists, and the like.

But He points His sword at those who are NEAREST AND DEAREST to us. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

These are the ones to whom Jesus sends ‘these 12’ into the community to “proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come.” They are to be the ‘sword of Jesus’ as they proclaim His Word to their own families. And as they themselves hold to God’s Word for their own lives, there are times when it will cause a painful SEPARATION between themselves and family members.

There are times when they will have to ‘separate themselves’ from family members who want them to be at peace with their sin. There are times when they will have to be the sword of Jesus to their own family members to ‘separate’ them from the ‘false peace’ that they have made with this sinful world.

But this is the very nature of God’s Word. Listen to how the writer to the Hebrews puts it. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

And then Jesus directs ‘these 12’ to the toughest, most resistant people that they will encounter – and the ones who will oppose their message the most vehemently – themselves. “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

If “peace” is your BOTTOM LINE and if “peace” and “harmony” is ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS, it’s not such a hard thing to accomplish really. Just ‘join’ yourself to this world and make your ‘peace’ with it – even if it is a ‘false peace.’ And the temptation to settle for a ‘false peace’ is incredibly strong. Because really, which would you rather be, a ‘peace maker’ or a ‘sword swinger’? Didn’t Matthew record Jesus’ earlier as saying, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called ‘sons of God’”? (Matthew 5:9)

But, says Jesus, “do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth…” At least, not this kind of ‘peace’ that is a ‘fake-peace.’

This is the back-story to our Old Testament reading where we heard a bit of the exchange between God’s prophet, Jeremiah and the court-appointed prophet, Hananiah. The court-appointed prophets have been preaching that ‘everything is just fine’ and there is no real need for a ‘sword.’ No need for ‘repentance.’

But Jeremiah accuses them of preaching a ‘false peace.’ He repeats this refrain, “they have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.’” (Jer.6:14; 8:11).

“They have healed the wound of my people LIGHTLY.” They’ve just ‘glossed over’ the sin and called it, ‘ACCEPTABLE,’ for the sake of ‘PEACE’ – ‘false peace’ that it is. Jeremiah tells Hananiah that the true prophet will be the one who both prophesies REAL PEACE and through Whom it actually “comes to pass.” (Jer. 28:9).

When you hear the prophet who proclaims a ‘peace that this world cannot give,’ then you will have ‘His peace’ and you will know that THAT prophet is truly from the Lord – and you should listen to HIM.

This is the ‘REAL PEACE’ that Jesus Christ has come to give and has sent ‘these 12’ out into the world to announce. It’s the peace that begins with the sword.

First He separates you from THE SIN OF THE WORLD by the ‘sword’ of His Word that exposes the sin that is in you and all around you. His Word opens your eyes and your mind to see how ‘deadly’ sin is and despite all attempts to justify it and accept it. And we long to be ‘separated’ from it.

And then He ‘joins’ you to Himself, who is the very peace of God come down from above in Whom there is NO SIN. He is truly good and sinless and holy – and ‘JOINED’ to Him we become one with Him and at peace with Him – and at peace with God – a PEACE WHICH THIS WORLD CANNOT GIVE. And that THIS WORLD cannot TAKE AWAY from you.

The hard truth is, REAL PEACE never comes without a REAL SWORD. That’s what the cross of Christ is all about. Our Lord could have avoided the SWORD and the nails and the pain if He was only willing to settle for a FALSE PEACE with this sinful world. But then that’s all that you and I could have hoped for from Him – mere acceptance of and accommodation with the sin of the world – no forgiveness or separation from it.

But the PRINCE OF PEACE is no ‘sham prince.’ When He walked through the doors into the room where these 11 were huddled in fear and announced – “peace be with you…” – He showed them the holes and the wounds that He suffered that His word to them might be the REAL THING – the peace which this world cannot give – that they would know that the TRUE PROPHET has come to them.

The PRINCE OF PEACE BOTH ‘separates’ us from sin – AND – ‘joins’ Himself to you and you to Him – in ONE, INSEPERABLE ACTION that is called, HOLY BAPTISM. Today, Charlotte Kathleen Klipp was ‘separated’ from sin and ‘joined’ to Christ. She has become a member of the “ekleysia.”

She has the only REAL PEACE there is – a true ‘SHALOM’ – ‘peace’ even in this world that is so hostile to the PEACE OF GOD IN JESUS CHRIST. Eric and Kimberly, you’re going to have to keep swinging the sword of Jesus at her – especially as she gets older and grows up and wants to make peace with this sinful world.

And you’re also going to have to keep reminding her that in her baptism on July 2, 2017, she was joined to Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace – and that in Him, she has a REAL PEACE that this world cannot give.

And you’ll know you’ve done your job as parents well when one day, Charlotte swings the SWORD OF JESUS at you and reminds you – or reminds you that you too have been baptized and joined to the PEACE OF GOD that surpasses all human understanding.

And of course, the same applies to all of us. And whether we’re on the receiving end of the SWORD OF JESUS, or the receiving end of the PEACE OF JESUS, let us be thankful – thankful that Jesus sent “these 12” out with instructions, and His Word has come to us through them, all the way into our own day – that we may have REAL PEACE.

“The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The true prophet is here. “The PEACE OF THE LORD, be with you always.” Amen.

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