Sermon for January 29 2017 The Fifth Commandment p.321

The Fifth Commandment

You shall not murder.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our

neighbour in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

Bible translations often give us a skewed understanding of this commandment.  Depending upon which one you read, you will hear it stated as “You shall not kill”.  Sadly, our modern understanding of English misses the point of how “kill” is used here and thus many people will argue that we are not allowed to kill ANYthing whether human or animal; driving pacifists and vegans almost to the point of killing those who disagree.

This misunderstanding was also quite common in the early church, and led to many Christians having to choose between their profession of soldier and their faith.  This mistaken prohibition against killing in general has extended through the reformation and even today, causing pastors to appeal to Dr. Luther’s treatise “WHETHER SOLDIERS, TOO, CAN BE SAVED” to give comfort to those sworn to serve and protect.

But the Hebrew gives a much clearer understanding of this commandment stating simply, “You shall not murder.”  Now this is no accidental act; murder isn’t something that happens by chance.  Murder is quite simply “the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought “ Not a lot of wiggle room there! But notice that word “unlawfully.” It implies that there is actually a type of “lawful” killing.  You see there is only one who has the right to take life, namely the author of life himself.  Consider God’s words through Moses, ““‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”  Yet, as we mentioned briefly last week, our Lord has given us government, military, police, et al, for our care and protection.  Thus by the Lord’s sanction these entities are empowered to take life in order to protect life.  A soldier who kills in the line of duty is not a murder; the jailer who executes a criminal isn’t either, nor is the police officer who shoots a suspect in defense of others or himself.

But this commandment isn’t speaking of killing for protection and preservation is it? No it is speaking of murder.  I bet if I took a quick poll here this morning of how many of you have murdered someone, not a single hand would be raised, right?  Yes, our Lord does prohibit killing another person unlawfully, but have we again held to tightly to our own definition of words? Consider Jesus words, “

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I bet if I were to take the same poll now, a few hands might be raised. You see Jesus points out that murder goes far beyond pulling the trigger or plunging the knife.  We can and do murder another person by our anger itself, as Jesus says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” You see our angry thoughts, words, and actions, belie what really lies beneath, our old Adam seeking to harm another for our benefit. Thus our angry words and actions are akin to murder itself!  Should I take the poll now?

These aren’t easy words to hear are they?  It makes it harder still when the Apostle John states, 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” And “19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Therefore as Christians, as those who purport to love each other, we should and must endeavour to help and support him in every physical need.  This then requires us not only NOT to plunge the knife into our neighbour, nor allow angry thoughts and words to come from our hearts, but we are also to do good to our neighbour, to prevent, protect, and save them from suffering bodily harm and injury.  It is our duty take every opportunity to give food to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned. For our failure to do so is indeed allowing harm to come to our neighbour, therefore we are called to help our neighbour live, and not die, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Luther writes that “it is God’s intention that we should allow no one to suffer harm but show every kindness and love. This is directed especially at our enemies.” Just as John says, “21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother…“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

You see Almighty God himself has gone even beyond this commandment!  For He, the author of life, has the right to both give and take life at will.  Just as in the time of Noah, when the world was so wicked that Almighty God sent forth a flood to wipe evil off of the face of the earth, he was not murdering those people, though many would think that.  Instead Almighty God was executing his justice, his righteous wrath on his enemies, those who themselves had violated all of the commands even before they were given.  In the same way our world could also be described as just as wicked.  Yet, while Jesus said, “ Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” He himself came to lay down his life for his enemies.  While you and I deserved death and destruction for our sin, Jesus himself was killed in your place. The Father poured out his wrath upon Jesus, who bore all of your sin and mine, and the sins of the whole world, including our sins of hatred and murder.  Your sins are forgiven!

 

In his mercy, Almighty God ensured that he did not hurt or harm his enemy in our bodies, but help and support us in every physical need. Therefore Jesus himself loved his enemies, and prayed for those who persecuted him, in order that all who believe in him may not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Even now he at every opportunity to give food to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, in his own Holy Supper.  Even now he continues to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, in the waters of Holy Baptism granting you the Robe of Righteousness.  Even now he comes visit to the sick and imprisoned, who suffer spiritually and physically.

 

Beloved in Christ, Almighty God has given us this commandment for our benefit and the benefit our friends and our enemies.  He calls on us to daily protect others in their bodies and help and support them in every physical need. He himself for you even by the hands of those gathered here this morning.  Amen!

 

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Sermon for January 22 2017 The Fourth Commandment  p.321

The Fourth Commandment

Honour your father and your mother.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our

parents and other authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

The first three commandments we have looked at have focused our eyes and hearts on our relationship with our heavenly father.  Now the remaining commandments point us to how we are to relate to one another.

It seems as though every generation complains about this.  “Kids these days just aren’t as respectful as we were when I was a kid.”  What is interesting is that if each generation says this, what does it say about our own generation? What makes this all the worse is that those who are responsible for teaching each generation are the ones who are complaining. In other words we complain about the generation which we have taught to behave in the way we don’t like! Therefore Proverbs 22 is right, train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.

This then should give us an interesting understanding of the fourth commandment, shouldn’t it.  “Honour your father and your mother…” Our heavenly Father completes his statement saying “that it may go well with you and you may live long on the earth.” Luther writes that the fourth commandment is the first one with a promise.  To be fair this was quite a practical statement; when we consider some of the latter statements made by our Heavenly Father regarding treatment of parents such as

9If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his blood guiltiness is upon him. (Exodus 20:9) & “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. Exodus 21:17 & ‘Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:16 & He who curses his father or his mother, His lamp will go out in time of darkness. Proverbs 20:20 & “They have treated father and mother lightly within you. The alien they have oppressed in your midst; the fatherless and the widow they have wronged in you. Ezekiel 22:7

We can safely say that Almighty God took the honour for our parents quite seriously.  These statements were made because there are times when no matter how hard we try our children may drift away and our relationships might be strained at best.  So God calls on us, no matter the relationship we have with our parents, no matter how strained it is, to still treat them with honour and respect, even if it is undeserved. Thus Luther reminds us that we are honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  For we were given to them to be stewards over us, that they might raise us up, not only to be good citizens in the temporal realm, but that we might be good citizens of the Kingdom of God, therefore they are to teach us the faith and bring us to God’s house.

But notice also in his explanation that Dr. Luther also references “other authorities.”  Just who are these? Luther refers to these as a second type of father; our civil servants, local, provincial, and national, are to be honoured and respected, not because of themselves, but because of the offices they hold.  Hear the words of St. Paul in this regard, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” & St. Peter, “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[b] whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”  Therefore, we are to speak well of them, even if we don’t like what the premier or prime minister is doing, and to pray for them that they might serve faithfully.  This puts a damper on our ability to complain and calls on us instead to but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

The police, military, emergency crews, are to be honoured and respected as those who sacrifice of themselves for the needs of others.  As such we are to do everything we can to support and encourage them in their service.  This means we are to obey city ordinances, pray for these individuals, and strive to be faithful residents in support of our community.

Under this commandment, Luther also includes a third type of father; one often referred to by many as “father.”  For Luther sees your pastor as your spiritual father, who just as your parent is charged with your stewardship; and undershepherd of God whose privilege it is to care for you, as the author of Hebrews tells us, “ 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” This man of whom it is said, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God… He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness” is given to you to be a  sheep dog of sorts, obeying only the commands of his master to protect and to correct.  But these too are sinners, and are subject to weakness,  and though the man inhabiting the office may be poor, the office itself is still God’s gift to you, therefore we are to honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  In fact, St. Paul goes so far as to say, “ Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.”

Wow, pastor!  Seems like you are talking yourself and all of the authorities up, like ya’ll are better than us!  No; no. Sadly, your pastor and those in authority over you are no better, and in some cases even worse.  Yet, these are ones whom God has placed in authority over you, for your benefit.  Parents are given to raise you up as faithful Christians and good citizens, and to provide for your needs.  Government is given to you to support and protect you from harm and danger.  In these two institutions Almighty God provides for you all of the physical and material blessings you need.  Therefore he gives you his pastors to address your greater needs, your spiritual needs.  In this office, Almighty God pours out on you the blessings of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you, forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Through His Word Almighty God, through the mouth of a sinner, forgives you all of your sin, he comforts you with words of peace won for you by the blood of Jesus and he calls you to repentance of your sin.  Through the hands of this sinner, Almighty God lavishes you with Holy Water, washing you clean of your guilt and iniquity, pour over you an unending flood of grace.  By the hands of this sinner, Almighty God feeds to you the very body and blood of Jesus’ given for you, upon the cross, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Beloved children of God, in his mercy, your heavenly father has given you stewards in his place to care for you, in parent, parliament, and pastor, therefore We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. Amen!

 

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Sermon for January 15 2017 The Third Commandment p.321

The Third Commandment

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching

and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

What is your favourite holiday?  Christmas, with its coloured lights, festive music, metre long shopping lists, and family gathered around an overflowing table? Easter, with its chocolate bunnies and sleeping late? Interestingly many people who love these holidays miss just what that word holiday means, and so they only choose those days out of the year to attend church.  But in the 3rd Commandment the Lord gives us a very different understanding of holiday, the purpose of which is to give greater gifts than any than presents and chocolates.

God’s command in the 3rd Commandment is to Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, or as Luther would translate it You shall sanctify the holy day. You see the phrase Holy Day is where we get our word Holiday.  A Holy Day was a special day, set aside by the Lord, for his purposes. The first such Holiday was the Sabbath, given to the people of God in the land of Egypt, in order that they might rest from their labours under the oppression of Pharaoh, and worship the Lord God. Over the centuries, the people of God had lost their most favoured nation status and become slaves of the Pharaohs who feared their increasingly large population.  While they were forced into bitter slavery God’s plan of redemption began with a call for them to rest and worship him.  So insistent is Almighty God that his people worship him, Pharaoh’s repeated refusal to allow this, caused the utter destruction of his kingdom as the Lord God severely punished the nation of Egypt for preventing his worship by His people.

The purpose of God’s Holiday, the Sabbath was two fold; first, it allowed the people a day off of their labours, a break from the daily, arduous grind.  Second, it permitted them to worship their God, not for His benefit, but for theirs.  For the true God is not some pagan deity, some ethereal Olympian made in man’s image and morals, nor is He some manufactured idol needing to be ritually fed and clothed  Rather the true God is one who has made his people in His image and indeed feeds and clothes them.  So for the Hebrews of Moses’ day, as well as the Christian of ours, worship is not intended as gathering to serve God, but rather to be served by him.  It is for this reason then that God would have to issue such a command to his people, because just as we are largely the gods in whom we fear love and trust above all things, so also do many of us take every opportunity to avoid true worship.  Thus God commands his people to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

However because of Jesus’ own Sabbath rest in the tomb, there is no more Sabbath for the Christian.  But this doesn’t mean that Almighty God would not have a Holy day, a day set aside for rest and worship.  In fact the early Christians simply moved this day to Sunday, to reflect on and celebrate the end of Jesus’ Sabbath rest in his resurrection from the tomb. Consider how St. Luke describes this, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe[a] came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favour with all the people” Sounds amazing doesn’t it?!

This coincides well with how Dr. Luther explains the 3rd commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” “Therefore this is the simple meaning of the commandment: since holidays are observed anyhow, such observance should be devoted to hearing God’s Word, so that the special function of this day should be the ministry of the Word for the young and the mass of poor people; yet that the resting be not so strictly interpreted as to forbid any other incidental work that cannot be avoided.”

 

Unfortunately, in our world today, many are not inclined to celebrate the Lord’s kind of holiday, and worship the Lord according to his will.  Instead, we often use Sunday as a day to sleep in, to watch TV, to celebrate our kind of holidays, all the while, despising preaching and God’s Word and failing to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  While so many fail to keep God’s command to worship, focusing only on themselves, so many others participate in “time clock” faith, showing up for their hour to fulfill their obligation to God only to have his service and sacrament slough off as soon as they walk out the door. So many others seek to be entertained or seeking motivational speakers to make them feel good about themselves.  Dr. Luther addresses it this way:

 

Therefore not only those sin against this commandment who grossly misuse and desecrate the holy day, as those who on account of their greed or frivolity neglect to hear God’s Word or lie in taverns and are dead drunk like swine; but also that other crowd, who listen to God’s Word as to any other trifle, and only from custom come to preaching, and go away again, and at the end of the year know as little of it as at the beginning. For hitherto the opinion prevailed that you had properly hallowed Sunday when you had heard a mass or the Gospel read; but no one cared for God’s Word, as also no one taught it. Now, while we have God’s Word, we nevertheless do not correct the abuse; we suffer ourselves to be preached to and admonished, but we listen without seriousness and care.

Yet, our Lord gives you this Holiday, this day of rest and worship, not simply that you might snore the day away, or be lead in cheers, rather He gives you this day in order that he might serve you, in word and sacrament, granting you forgiveness, life and salvation.  Sadly, many people think their pastor urges them to God’s house because he wants the numbers to go up, to help his ego, or to boost offering numbers.

Your pastor urges you to go to God’s house because YOU need too. As undershepherd, your pastor knows that God calls you to his house so that he can care for you, and feed you, and nourish you with his Word and sacrament. If you think that coming to God’s house is unnecessary because you “can feel it in your heart” or choose not to come because you “don’t get anything out of it, the hymns are boring, the sermon isn’t upbeat and inspiring,” then you really need to go to God’s house more than ever. Your pastor urges you to God’s house because you need forgiveness, your need to be fed, you need your wounds washed, and your guilt removed.

As if this weren’t enough, when you gather in God’s house, you gather with other believers, others who face challenges and struggles, who experience joy and pain.  This too is a blessing of gathering in God’s house, being joined together with the body of Christ, enjoying the true fellowship of believers, for whom Christ also died.  As you continue to meet together, as the bonds of friendship and faith grow, a congregation begins to understand truly what it means to be the body of Christ, moving together for the same purpose, those strong or weak, in body or in faith, working together for mutual support and edification.  Truly the church becomes your true family, as Jesus himself says, ““Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”49 And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.””

Beloved in Christ, God commands that you worship him that he might cleanse you by the blood of his crucified son, crucified and risen FOR YOU.  He commands you to worship him that he might strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting. This is an ideal holiday.  For, beyond Christmas, with its coloured lights, festive music, and metre long shopping lists; beyond Easter, with its chocolate bunnies and sleeping late, your Lord calls you to regularly sanctify his holiday and gather in his house without fail that he might give you more peace and comfort than any two week trip. Amen

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Sermon for January 8 2017 The Second Commandment p. 321

What is the Second Commandment? You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use

satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and

give thanks.

What are some of the promises or vows you have made in your life?  Have you kept them?  Have you tried?  Consider the vows you made when you brought your child to be baptized: “pray for your children, support them in their ongoing instruction and nurture in the Christian faith, and encourage them toward faithful reception in the Lord’s supper, be examples to them of the holy life of faith in Christ and love for the neighbour. Or how about the vows you made when you were confirmed: to hear the word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully, live according to the Word of God, and in faith word and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy spirit, even to death? Continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. Consider even the vows you made on your wedding day: to be wedded to your spouse, to have and to hold them from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death parts you.

How you doing on those by the way?  Kept them all?  Keep them all perfectly?  By breaking these vows we have broken this commandment.  True, we often focus on the cursing, using satanic arts, but these vows fall under the swearing, lying, and deceiving.  You have sworn, as God is your witness, to fulfill these vows, and by not keeping them you have violated God’s law. By your failure you have lied to God and deceived others.  Pretty harsh isn’t it?  What is more is that this isn’t the only way that we have broken the 2nd commandment is it?  There might be some gathered here this morning who have violated God’s command in other ways.  How often has our “little white lie” been followed with the words, “I swear to God”?  How often do we call upon God’s name in anger or disgust?

You see the truth of it is that our violation of the 2nd commandment goes far beyond saying “G-O-D” or “OMG”.  Indeed we sin against this commandment in thought, word, and deed.  Because of this, we would never have hope of fulfilling this command, let alone the other 9; and thus we would have no hope at all.

Yet, Dr. Luther points out in his explanation that, “In his mercy our Lord has given us his name and therefore we are to but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” You see the Lord HAS given you his name, indeed he has placed his name upon you in baptism, and therefore you are bearers of his name.  As bearers of his name, you are called to live as a name bearer, with honour and pride in this glorious name.  This is what it means to call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Here the words of St. Paul, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Therefore You are to joyfully and continually pray in the Lord’s name, no matter the circumstances, but especially in times of trouble, as the lord says through Asaph, “and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  He who delivered you from sin, death, and the devil, will also deliver from the troubles of this world.  But you are also called to call God’s name in times of joy, with praise and thanksgiving, not giving yourself credit for the good things which happen to you, and not simply stating, “it’s a God thing;” sincerely and joyfully giving thanks in prayer to the God who cares for you and provides for you.

 

You are also called to gather in God’s house to receive his blessed gifts in word and sacrament, and then in joyful response call upon his name in thanksgiving for what he gives you.  “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Your Lord lavishes you with forgiveness, life, and salvation here in his house, through his holy Word and in his holy sacraments, and for that it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.

 

You see, You do have God’s name, the name he placed on you in your baptism into Jesus death and resurrection, the name by which you were marked, the name in which have life.  You are not your own, you belong to Almighty God and therefore you are His alone.  Just as you made vows in baptism, confirmation, and marriage, so also has your God, made promises to you; though your God does not fail in his vows! Even now your heavenly Father, supports you in your ongoing instruction and nurture in the Christian faith, and encourages you toward faithful reception in the Lord’s supper.  He gives you examples of the holy life of faith in Christ and love for the neighbour. He calls you to his house to hear the word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully that he might cause you live according to the Word of God, and in faith word and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy spirit, even unto death.  He promises to help you continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. Like a good husband, he has vowed to have and to hold them from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish you with the promise that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!

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Sermon for January 1 2017 The First Commandment p. 321

What is the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Which is your favourite god?  Please don’t look so surprised.  If we are honest then we would admit that the truth is that you and I have a pantheon of gods.  Granted there are times when we worship each separately, and times when we seek to combine our worship of them.  I would hazard to guess that the Lord of our pantheon however is our self.  That’s right, the truth is that more often than not we not only have other god’s but we ultimately fear love and trust in us above all things.  Dr. Luther puts it this way, “ a “god” is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need.”  Unfortunately, we often look for all good and seek refuge not in the true God, but in ourselves.

Perhaps you are wondering just what I’m getting at.  The simple fact is that we are in large part just like King Ahaz, who though on the face of it was a devotee of the true God, nonetheless had built in the temple an altar to a foreign god and worshipped there with regularity. Still at a loss as to what I am speaking of?  Dear beloved in Christ, you and I regularly fear love and trust in all sorts of things above our God.  Whether it is business, work, the busyness of our jobs; whether it is money; whether it is pleasure, holidays, camping, or just a general need to take a break from church; whether it is our need to be elevated or recognized by God in our worship, or whether it is our need to be recognized for all we do for God in our church, each and every one of these is a demonstration that we do indeed worship other gods.

Sadder still is that we are not pagans.  We are baptized Christians, those who have been called by God into his family, we who ought to know better.  But then, we are often little different from our Israelite forefathers, who shortly having been called out of slavery in Egypt by the true God, ultimately begged Aaron to fashion them a new god to worship. Sadly, though we are saint by the blood of Jesus, our old Adam still bobs up his ugly head.  Therefore that temptation in the garden, to be like God, is ever present in our lives, as is the question which helps lead us away from our Lord, “did God really say?”

But if a god is something in which the heart trusts completely, then our pantheon of gods, including ourselves as chief, is worthless.  For if we trust in our business acumen, our intellect, our pleasure, or any other such thing, then we are doomed.  For these things have no real power to protect or ability to provide refuge.  Instead, your Lord has made you his own, and has redeemed you, you are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.

Therefore, dear beloved, as Christians it is simply a matter of your condition that you will not have any other gods.  Nothing, not even your own will and desire will come between your father and yourself. There should be no difficult then for the Christian to set aside your love and worship of these false gods and trust that He himself will care for you. But what does this look like?

Quite simply, because we have no other Gods, because we fear, love and trust in the true God above all things, we are able to cheerfully return to God a blessed portion of what he gives to us in our offerings.  We have no fear that we ourselves will run low on money for he himself has provided it for us already.  We look forward to every occasion to gather in God’s house, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, recognizing that it is here that he lavishly pours out his blessings upon us.  We rejoice in the opportunity to receive from God these blessed gifts and sing his praises rather than telling him what and how things will be done. We seek out opportunities to serve our Lord in his congregation, not seeking our way, or our will, but rather celebrating every opportunity to serve according to God’s good and gracious will.

Thus, our Lord says quite simply, You shall have no other Gods.  The truth is that there is only one true God; all of these other things to which we cling are not gods, but rather gifts of God.  Therefore we should not worship them, but rather the Good God who gives them to you.  This God, our Triune creator, is the one who by his word called you by his gospel, enlightens you with his gifts, sanctifies you and keeps you.  It is this God, therefore to whom we owe all worship and praise, and it is only he in whom we should fear, love, and trust.  For this God could rightly have condemned us poor and sinful creatures.  He would be within his rights to pour out his wrath upon us who would seek to be like God.  Yet this God instead, out of his mercy, called you out of your slavery to sin, redeemed you and purchased you through the blood of Jesus, that you might be his own.  He has made himself your god and you his people.  For this reason then, though he provides physical and material needs for all people believer and unbeliever alike, he provides spiritual needs only for you his people.  He provides for you heavenly treasure beyond measure.  He provides for you all that you to be sustained in the true faith unto life everlasting.

Beloved in Christ, the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, would lay before you a pantheon of gods all demanding your devotion and worship.  Yet the true God has crushed these false gods, has rescued you from bondage to them and has made you his own, in order that you should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Amen!

 

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Sermon for Christmas Day 2016 “The Saviour who speaks” Hebrews 1:1-6

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

A blessed Christmas to you all! It may seem odd that we aren’t focusing on the Gospel reading for this morning, especially because it is tradition to do so. While indeed the Gospel reading is more than appropriate for our Christmas celebration, our Epistle reading is no less appropriate!  The author of Hebrews begins his sermon by pointing us to the very purpose and power of Christmas itself!

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.”  Our God and father spoke to his people through intermediaries, mortal, sinful men, who spoke only with the authority given them by God, and only that which they were given to say.  These men called God’s people to repentance, to set aside their false gods, to turn away from their evil ways, to return to the God who had created them, chosen them, and rescued them.  These men were also called to proclaim a promised peace, to foretell the messiah, the anointed one whom God would send to redeem and restore his wayward people.  Yet a promise unfulfilled can seem like only a pipe dream, and for God’s people this was the case.  Long had they awaited the coming one, many growing tired of the wait, and rejecting the promise itself, resolving that salvation could only come through their own works. However, this day of all days, we celebrate God’s promise fulfilled, for while long ago God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  This was no disembodied voice, this was the Word made flesh, who came to dwell among his people.  This was no angel nor demigod, but God himself, the second person of the Trinity, in whom all the fullness of the deity dwelt, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.  This Son, Jesus came among his people to call his people back to repentance, but also to announce that the Promise made was now fulfilled in him.  Jesus, did not come as yet another prophet, not as a law-giver, not as a moral teacher, not an encourager to earning salvation.  Rather Jesus came, to make purification for sins.  Yet it was not for his own sin, it was for yours and for mine.  Jesus, as your high priest, made the atoning sacrifice, not of the shedding of an animal’s blood, but the shedding of his own, once for all, that in his death you are made pure and holy.

For this reason our author states but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Jesus words were those same words from Isaiah on which we spent the last four weeks meditating, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,     and cry to her that her warfare[a] is ended,     that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand     double for all her sins.” Into our world of woe, into our despair, into our hardship, into an era when self-proclaimed prophets promise power and wealth, only to provide doubt and disappointment, Jesus himself comes today with healing.  His words of peace, call to you that your warfare with God has ended and that through your defeat, you have won the victory! Jesus himself has through his apparent defeat on the cross, defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil, and you now have been released from bondage and servitude to Satan.  You see Christmas isn’t simply about Jesus coming, it is about Jesus coming FOR YOU!  Jesus has come, to speak peace, to pardon your iniquity, to grant you double for all your sins. This same Jesus we celebrate laying in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloth’s is the same Jesus hung on the cross to pay for your sins, and wrapped in linen garments and laid in a stone cold tomb, For You!. This same Jesus who took into himself your flesh is the same Jesus who was raised in that flesh, For You! Therefore these aren’t figurative words simply intended to encourage.  Almighty God himself speaks performative words by His Son, the Word; words which indeed make peace, pardon iniquity and repay you double.  You hear these very words every time you gather in Almighty God’s house.  You hear Jesus himself speak to you saying, “I forgive you all your sins!”  You hear Jesus himself speak to you saying, I have come FOR YOU.”  You hear Jesus himself speak to you saying “Take eat, this is my body; Take drink, this is my blood…given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins.” And this is no one-to-one trade!  For Jesus pours out to you his very forgiveness drowning your sins in holy baptism, the lavish washing of your soul, and never stops pouring!

Therefore it is this Jesus, whose coming we celebrate this morning, who, after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” This is no Jehovah’s Witness Jesus, one of the angels whom God sent as an example. “For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?”  It is no Mormon Jesus, one of heavenly father’s sons, who came to be your example.  It is no Jewish or Muslim Jesus who came to teach you the right path.  This is the only begotten son of God, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power,” of whom the Father says “Let all God’s angels worship him.”  This Jesus is He whose coming we celebrate, as a child, God Incarnate, the fullness of God dwelling in your flesh, who has come indeed to speak peace to you, the prince of peace, who has come to be your peace.

Yet let us not forget that this Christmas day we do not simply celebrate the Christ who has come for you in the flesh, or the Christ who still comes for you in his flesh and blood, but we also celebrate the Christ who will come again.  For we are, and have been, in the last days.  So in this Christmas season we also celebrate that very soon, Christ will come again to bring peace that will have no end.  He will come with Angels and Arch-angels and all the company of heaven, when he brings the firstborn into the world.  Jesus will speak peace to all his people, he will proclaim that your warfare on this earth is forever ended, your living in this world of iniquity is complete.  Jesus will gather you into his heavenly kingdom, where you will receive from the Lord’s hand double for all [your] sins.”

Beloved in Christ, while it may seem odd that we aren’t focusing on the Gospel reading for this morning, our Epistle reading is no less appropriate!  The author of Hebrews point us to the very purpose and power of Christmas itself, that at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to YOU by his Son.  Amen!

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Sermon for December 18 2016 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign” Isaiah 7:10-17

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”

Everybody wants a sign of things to come.  The TV preachers read signs of the future in everything in the news.  We see signs of our future in the media, our doctors office, and in our families.  We are not alone either.  St. Paul himself says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.”  But have you ever been given a sign that you didn’t want?  Through Isaiah, the Lord does just this thing; he gives to King Ahaz a sign he didn’t want, in order to show a future he didn’t desire.  But from this sign he has also give you a sign that you need.

Ahaz was King of Judah during the time of Isaiah.  Descended from the line of David, nevertheless Ahaz was not a man after God’s own heart.  During his reign Ahaz tried to play both sides against the middle and ended up building an altar to one of the Assyrian gods in the temple of the true God.  Having affirmed idolatry and false worship among the people of God, Ahaz made his place between the nations of the world and his place as king of God’s people tenuous. God’s confrontation with Ahaz took a dangerous turn as God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people.  You might think that Ahaz would have taken God up on this challenge, at the very least requiring something seemingly impossible in an attempt to prove God wrong.  You may think that Ahaz would have requested something amazing out of the hope that God would be proven true.  But neither is the case!  No, Ahaz already knew the truth of God’s claims. He already understood the profound implications of asking for such a sign.  So he did what most of us would do; he feigned humility.  Hear again Ahaz’s  words, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”  In his mind refusing to play God’s little game. He rejects God’s challenge.

Yet Almighty God is playing no game.  His fidelity and glory is at stake.  Therefore the father gives Ahaz the sign that he chooses to give, a sign given for God’s people then and now.  “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  There are many so called theologians who have attempted over the years to deconstruct this sign of God; to diminish its validity and power by saying that God was not promising that a virgin would give birth, but only a young woman, or saying that God was speaking only of a girl of Isaiah’s time, not a girl 700 years in the future.  But reading the text not through man’s imperfect lens, but through God’s perfect lens, we can only come to one conclusion; the young woman, indeed the virgin of whom God speaks can only be Mary, and the son she bears can only be Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, Immanuel, God with us!

Now it would seem strange to us that God would promise to send a sign so far into the future, a sign that Ahaz will never see.  Yet our Lord knows what he is doing, he understands who will hear, see, and believe.  Therefore his promise will be fulfilled in his time, not Ahaz, and thus Ahaz will be prevented because of his sin from seeing the very glory of God himself.  Rather Assyria and it’s successive empire Babylon, will utter destroy Israel and Judah, leaving little behind, the people of God yet another casualty of imperial expansion.

Now before we shake our heads at silly Ahaz, before you cluck with derision at those silly Jews, let us not forget that we to require signs.  Rather than simply trust God with a child like faith, we too need signs to show us that God is faithful.  Fortunately for us, the signs we seek, are not the signs God gives.  We seek signs in the heavens, we seek answered prayers, we seek miraculous moments.  Instead, our Lord gives us first the sign to Ahaz; a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a son.  This isn’t the kind of sign we would desire is it?  Where is the flash?  Where are the lights? Where is the media?  Instead a humble virgin girl has conceived within her womb, by the Holy Spirit, a child who is Christ the Lord.  Yet this sign is more than a simple omen or portent of things to come.  This sign is that which is to come.  God himself taking into himself your flesh, being born under the law, that he might redeem those under the law.  This sign is the expansion of the heavenly empire into our world that Christ might conquer sin and death and the power of the devil.

This sign therefore demonstrates God’s faithfulness as he himself takes on your flesh and your burdens and dies your death upon the cross.  It is for this reason that Christians for two thousand years have adored their churches with a crucifix, a corpus of Christ, affixed to a cross.  Not as another altar like King Ahaz, but as a sign of what God accomplished through His virgin born son.

Yet for some, these signs are not enough.  They desire more and greater, more glitz, more flash, more media attention.  They celebrate the baby doll in a manger as a sign of Christmas, but reject the greater signs which God himself gives saying, “You can’t put God in a box.”  But these signs are in no box, and these signs are given by God himself.  Jesus himself has given you signs of your forgiveness both in Holy Baptism and in Holy Communion, ordinary earthly materials of water, bread, and wine, joined together with God’s Word by which he forgives you all your sins, through which he bestows on your forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Beloved in Christ, during this season, there are many who are seeking signs of God’s faithfulness, but like Ahaz refuse the very sign which God gives.  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign”  Come to his altar and receive the very body and blood born to a virgin 2000 years ago.  Come and behold him, born the king of Israel.  Amen!

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