Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

To You I Have Committed My Cause - September 24, 2017 - Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: Isaiah 55:6-9

Our text for today is another one that reminds us of what a great God we do have. We have a God who is omnipotent as we learned in confirmation that is He is almighty, He created all things out of nothing; He is omniscient, again as we learned in confirmation, that is He is all knowing, He knows all things. He knew how to create human beings that are so complex that doctors and scientist are still trying to figure out how everything works. We have a God that does not need anything from us, as if He would be so wimpy as to need anything from us, rather, He gives us all things. We are born with nothing and we leave this world with nothing. Everything we have and use while we live in this world is given to us by God to use and to use to His glory. And He even puts up with us when we think we are so wonderful as to come and worship Him once a week, if that. Our text for today reminds us that we have a God who’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways but His thoughts and ways are so much higher than our thoughts and ways. How small of a God would we have if we could fit Him into our little minds. Our God is as big and as great as the universe He created.
Our text begins at verse six where we are told to, 6“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (v.6). You have heard me say many times that we do not go looking for the Lord, yet, our text tells us to seek for the Lord and to do so while He is near. So, how can it be that we seek the Lord. When we put our text into its proper context, and that is the key to this text and all texts of Scripture, never to take one verse out og context, but when we put it into its context we see that Isaiah is speaking to the people of God. He is not speaking to people who have never known God, which is what many people view as “seeking” the Lord. As a matter of fact, Scripture is quite clear that, according to our sinful, unbelieving nature we do not seek the Lord. Thus we see that this text is speaking to believers and so this text is a text of sanctification, that is this text is speaking about our growing in our Christian faith, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has already redeemed us, now He wants to continue to strengthen our faith in Him by encouraging us to seek for Him in His Word and Sacraments. This “seeking” the Lord is so important because the second part of this verse reminds us that there will come a time when the Lord will no longer be near, when we will no longer be able to seek for Him and that time is judgement day. Very often in a sermon you will hear me say to you that our desire as Christians is that we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, those means through which our Lord comes to give, strengthen and keep us in faith, until Christ comes again. This making regular and diligent use of the means of grace is how we seek the Lord.
Our text reminds us of our need to remember our baptism. We are to daily remember our baptism, daily to take up our crosses, daily to follow Jesus. We are to daily live our lives in such a way that we show forth our faith in Jesus as our Savior through our thoughts, our words and our actions. It is our baptism that reminds us that we belong to the Lord, that He has recreated us, that He has put faith in our hearts, that we wake up every day knowing that our sins have been forgiven and we have a new day to start from scratch. This is how we are to live out our vocations as a part of the priesthood of all believers.
Our text is very much reflected in Paul’s attitude in our Epistle lesson. Paul’s desire was to be in heaven with the Lord, but because the Lord had more work yet for him to do on this earth, he will remain and do what God wants him to do. Normally we would not think so lightly of this life and this world, but Paul has the right attitude. Paul’s words remind us that the important things of this world are not the things of this world, but are a right relationship with the Lord. Indeed, in eternity this world and the things of this world will be a mere blip on the screen, a mere snap of the fingers. It is the Lord’s salvation, made ours through faith in Jesus Christ which makes heaven ours which is the most important thing in this world. Again, it is our spiritual well being which is much more important than our worldly well being.
God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. We read verse seven, “7let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (v.7). What are the thoughts and the ways of the wicked? They are the thoughts and ways of this world. They are the thoughts and ways of fortune and fame, of accolades from this world. They are very often the thoughts and ways of doing what is contrary to God’s will and Word. Our thoughts on what to do with the wicked would be to condemn them. We would stick to the letter of the Law. We would want an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
On the other hand, when the wicked repent and turn from their evil thoughts and ways, the Lord is ready to abundantly pardon them. We may want an eye for an eye, but the Lord, in His infinite mercy, which far out weighs His harsh justice, is always ready, willing, and able to forgive, because of the death of His only Son, Jesus. We especially see this difference, between God’s thoughts and ways and our thoughts and ways in our Gospel lesson. We would begrudge new Christians of the gifts God has to give, especially if we have been a Christian for a long time even all our life. This is not God’s way.
God’s mercy is shown to us in that “when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10a). While we live our lives in direct opposition to God, He is there, giving the life of His Son for our forgiveness. This shows us how God’s thoughts and ways definitely are not our thoughts and ways.
What are God’s thoughts and ways? We read verse eight and nine, “8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (v.8,9). God’s thoughts and ways are heavenly thoughts and ways. God’s thoughts and ways are the thoughts and ways of paying for our sin. Thus, God’s thoughts and ways are to send His Son humbly, born poor and in a manger. God’s thoughts and ways are to send His Son humbly, riding on a donkey. God’s thoughts and ways are to send His Son to be disowned by His own family and friends.
God’s thoughts and ways are to take ours sins and to put them upon His one and only Son. God put our sins on Jesus, who was innocent, who was perfect and holy, who was perfectly obedient for us in our place because we cannot be perfect and obedient. God’s thoughts and ways were to put our sins on Jesus who deserved none of what he got. God put our sins on Jesus and then looks at Jesus as if He were the only one to ever sin against Him and sin to such a degree that He takes all His fury and righteous judgement out on Jesus. God’s thoughts and ways are to punish His Son for our sins. And the punishment with which Jesus is punished is total absence from God’s love, which is eternal spiritual death, hell.
God’s thoughts and ways are to make Jesus suffer and die the most cruel and horrid death for us, in our place. God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and way. If it were us, we would probably want to make every individual person responsible for their own sin. According to our human thinking, that would only be fair. And that would mean that we would make each person responsible for suffering the eternal punishment which each of us deserves.
God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. Last week we learned that God’s thoughts and ways were such that in all things, the good and especially the evil, God works out the best for us. We were reminded of passages like Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Rather than allowing us to suffer the eternal consequences for our sins, and rather than let us always suffer all of the temporal consequences for our sins, the Lord works through any and all situations to bring out the best for us.
This working out the best for us is now being seen in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria and the earthquakes in Mexico. As I said last week, hurricanes, natural disasters and the like are not God’s will, they were not a part of God’s plan, but they are a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Because of their sin in Eden, the earth has been cursed, such that thorns and thistles grow in our gardens, the earth groans with earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Thanks be to God that because of His great love for us, His children, He works out the best for us, even through what might appear to be the worst. What that best is, I cannot tell you, but God knows and He will work out the best and that is where our faith is strengthened. Here again we see that God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways.
Looking again at the Gospel lesson for today, did you notice that even those hired late received the same wages. Jesus told this parable to make a point that it does not matter when you come to faith, as long as it is before judgement day. Here we are pushed back to verse six of our text, which reminds us that there is a time when it will be too late to come to faith.
We are glad that God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than our thoughts and our ways. It is God’s thoughts and ways that have rescued us from death and the devil, from sin and temptation, from everlasting life in hell. It is Gods’ thoughts and ways that have rescued us from some torment that we might have concocted for us to suffer.
Our text for today is one which reminds us that it is our Lord who comes looking for us, who searches and finds us. It is our Lord who puts His name on us at our baptism. He puts faith in our hearts, He makes us His very own. It is our Lord who continues to work through His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments to draw us closer to Him so that He might strengthen us in our faith, again through His Word and sacraments. It is the Lord who is the initiator. It is the Lord who continues to be a part of our lives, working through all that happens, the good and the bad to bring out the best for us. It is the Lord who knows what is best for us, according to His infinite wisdom. It is the Lord who comes to us to give us all things according to what He knows we need, according to His omniscient wisdom. It is the Lord whose thoughts and ways are so much higher than our thoughts and ways, that moves Him to give the life of His only Son to pay the price for our sins so that we might have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness, eternal life with Him in heaven. It is the Lord who initiates in us, moves in us, so that we respond to all that He does for us. And even when we decide that we have responded enough, He continues to give out His good gifts and blessings. What He gives does not depend on how we respond. In other words, just because we do not respond, or because we respond poorly to all that He does for us and gives to us, does not determine how much more He does for us and gives to us.
God has given us faith. In our text He comes to us to stir us to exercise that faith. We exercise our faith by our thoughts, words and actions, by making regular and diligent use of His means of grace, by  reading and hearing God’s Words, by remembering our baptism, by confessing our sins and hearing his most beautiful words of forgiveness, and by receiving His sacraments. We exercise our faith by responding with works of service as the Holy Spirit moves us. And to think, even in all that we do, God is still the prime mover. What a great and awesome God we do have. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

You Intended, God Accomplished - September 17, 2017 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19) - Text: Genesis 50:15-21

Our text for today reminds us of what a great God we do have. Maybe you have heard someone say, or maybe you have said it yourself, “God allows bad things to happen to us so that we are strengthened in our faith.” After the past two weeks of Harvey and Irma we might perhaps have wondered about bad things happening in our own lives. There has always been and always will be the question of why do bad things happen? Do bad things just happen? Does God make bad things happen? Job and his friends attempted to tackle the problem of evil in the world. There are times in the Bible when we do read of God causing bad to happen. Although we may never fully understand the evil in this world I do believe we can say that God allows bad things to happen as a result of the fact that we live in a sin filled world and it is sin in our world which causes the evil with which we have to live. With that said, our text shows us a God who goes beyond just strengthening us through our trials. I believe we have a God who also works through our trials to bring out the best for us through all the evil that is happening in our sin filled world. Francis Pieper in Christian Dogmatics says it this way, “Concerning the concurrence of God in the actions of moral beings (men and angels) we must distinguish between good and evil actions. As to evil actions, Scripture, ... tells us ... 3) that when they occur, they must serve His good purposes, as when Joseph was sold into Egypt (Gen. 50:20).” In other words, God always works the best out for us in any and all circumstances, according to what He knows is best for us even if we may not see it right at that time. Let us get to our text and see what it says.
The background of our text is that Jacob had just passed away and the twelve brothers had taken him to the promised land in order to bury Him. Now we come to the fear of the eleven brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery. We read verses fifteen and sixteen, “15When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’ 16So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died’” (v. 15-16).
There are several possible reasons why the brothers were afraid of Joseph. One reason is that they may not have truly repented for selling Joseph into slavery. Another reason is that they did not believe that Joseph had truly forgiven them. Maybe he just said he forgave them because their father was still alive. Another reason for their fear could have been that their father made them repent because they were not truly repentant. This is like when we as parents make our children lie. Did you know we make our children lie? When one child hurts the other what do we say? We tell them, “Tell your brother your sorry.” They may not be sorry and probably right then they are not sorry. And so they say, “Sorry” (said rather unwillingly). Anyway, all of these reasons show their lack of true repentance as well as their lack of faith that their sins were forgiven. If they were not truly repentant and if they do not believe they are forgiven, then they have refused true forgiveness and they should feel guilty and afraid.
They were no different than we are today. They feared human vengeance more than they feared God. How often do we get that gut wrenching feeling when we know, or at least feel like, we have done something that we should not have done, which is our conscience telling us we have done something we should not have done? We tend to be more afraid of the people involved, what they might think of us, than any fear of God and what He might do to us. Our fear makes us forget our need to repent and be given forgiveness from Him.
Our text tells us that the father died. At this point the brothers wanted to “fix” the problem. And here is the question about which we are not sure. Did the brothers make up the story about Jacob asking Joseph’s forgiveness, or did Jacob really do so? That question I believe is the minor question. The real question, the question behind the question is, was this a true confession or more deception? It would appear that Jacob had heard Joseph’s words of forgiveness to his brothers and believed it was true, thus for him it was a shut case. It would appear this way because Jacob says nothing about any of the past events in his blessings on his sons. Which means that the “fear” lies in the brothers, that they had not truly repented and that they had refused Joseph’s earlier forgiveness.
Now the brothers face the issue with a true confession. We read verses seventeen and eighteen, “17Say to Joseph, ‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you. And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’” (v.17-18).
This time the brothers were truly repentant. This time they acknowledge that what they did to their brother was wrong, was sin and they are seeking his forgiveness. And this time they believed and they received forgiveness. For all these years they had been letting this sin fester within themselves. Now they were ready to make things right.
This time the brothers did not go through their father. They did not have to ask for forgiveness. This time they came on their own to their brother Joseph to ask him for his forgiveness.
This time they let God “fix” the problem. They realized that they had not been truly repentant and with out that repentance they had not received God’s forgiveness. Now they come to Joseph, and they stand before him and before God to ask for and to be given forgiveness.
And with true confession comes true absolution. We read verse nineteen through twenty-one, “19But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (v. 19-21).
Joseph hears the brothers confession and immediately speaks words of God’s forgiveness. What else could he do? Certainly he was surprised at his brothers, that they were so slow in being given the forgiveness which had been given so many years ago. And notice, even though their confession years earlier may not have been sincere, and may have even been coerced, Joseph had still forgiven them. In our Gospel lesson for this morning Jesus reminds us that we are to forgive unconditionally, even if there is no sincerity of confession. Then the onus is not on the one forgiving but on the one confessing.
Joseph knew that God worked out the best through the wrong of this brothers. The brothers just did not get it. Joseph never put himself in the place of God, but he did understand what God was doing with him in his life. Joseph could see quite well the good and great things God had and was working through the bad things that had happened to him through his brothers.
    Joseph tried to explain all these things to his brothers and he spoke words of encouragement to them. He also promised to continue to provide for them and their children. A sure sign of complete forgiveness is shown by his actions.
Now, let us go back and have another look at verse twenty and twenty-one (20-21). Ever since the creation of the world and the fall of Satan, the devil has been searching for ways to get rid of Jesus. Everything he does he does to harm Jesus. For us that means that he continually tempts us to harm Jesus, with our thoughts, words and deeds. Working through the crowd in Jerusalem the devil urged them to ask to have Jesus put on a cross. Daily the devil tempts us through our thoughts, words, and actions to put Jesus on the cross. Yes, according to our sinful nature, everyday, everything we do is intended to harm Jesus.
But what we intend as evil, God uses for good. When it comes to Jesus death on the cross, that was not a good thing, at least it was not good for Jesus. Death was never a part of God’s plan. Death came as a result of sin. Because of sin, death entered into the world. The threat of the punishment of sin, the threat of death was upon us. However, what Satan intended as evil, to kill the Savior of the world, God used as good. God used Jesus’ death on the cross for our good, for our forgiveness. If Jesus had not died on the cross then we would be left to pay for our own sins, the cost of which is eternal spiritual death. If Jesus had not died on the cross we would still be in our sins. If Jesus had not died on the cross we would be lost, we would only be able look forward to eternal life in hell. And yet, every day, what we think, say and do whether intended or not, what we intend for evil, God uses for good. God used Jesus’ death to pay the eternal price for our sins, so that we do not have to pay it. God used Jesus’ death to earn eternal life in heaven for us so that we will not have to worry about not going to heaven.
When we sin, we are very much like the brothers of Joseph, we are afraid, or at least we should be. We are afraid when we are not repentant as well as when we refuse God’s forgiveness. Yet, our text reminds us that we do not need to fear, be afraid of the Lord because He provides for us. God turns the bad into good. In the New Testament that comes out in verses like Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even though we live in a sin filled world, even though every inclination of our heart is evil all the time, even though we do sin, God has ultimate good planned for us in our lives. And we praise Him because He can and does work through the evils of this world and our own sin to bring good for us even if we may not see it at the time.
This week we are reminded of what a great God we do have, what a loving God we have, what a gift giving God we have, one who works the best out of the worst. And again this week we are reminded of the importance of confession and absolution. We are reminded of how important are the words we speak on Sunday morning, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). And we are reminded of how wonderful and powerful are the words we hear when we hear “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When we hear those words of absolution then we know that we have exactly what these words say, forgiveness of sins. And with forgiveness we know we have life and salvation. Praise the Lord for His forgiveness and for His goodness. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Can We Trust God? - Opening Devotion, Texas Confessional Lutheran Free Conference - September 8, 2017

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. As I have said before in having the opening devotion, I do not know what our presenter plans to present, so I pray my devotions neither steps on his toes nor steals his thunder, and considering our theme, pun intended.
October 31, 1517 marked a day in infamy. October 31 2017 continues to mark the struggle. Around 6 to 8000 years ago Lucifer, the light-bearer, approached an innocent, naive perfect Eve and Adam and asked a question, “Did God really say?” Of course, his question was not so much a question as a challenge. His challenge was a challenge to God, to challenge God’s Word, as well as to the authority of God. Did God really say whatever it was He said and did He mean it?
About six hundred years ago a man name Jan Hus questioned whether or not the Pope, or any human being for that matter had the authority to speak for, in the place of, or above God. In particular Jan Hus questioned the leader of what was the church at the time. He questioned the Pope, the seeming vicar of God on earth. He also questioned human councils that had declared certain teachings the Word of God, even though they were not the Word of God, but were rather the word of humans, fallible humans at that.
Five hundred years ago a man named Martin Luther questioned the authority of man over against the authority of the Word of God. As Luther so well pointed out, Councils and Popes have long contradicted themselves and have been know to be wrong. Now please understand, neither Jan Hus nor Luther questioned God as Satan did. No, Jan Hus and Martin Luther questioned the words of fallible human beings who attempted to speak in the place of God and as they so well pointed out, human beings who often spoke incorrectly.
Today we continue to hear similar such questions. We hear questions challenging the Word of God as truth and as authority. We hear questions such as: “Did God really mean . . . ?” “God did not know about such things as ‘committed homosexual relationships’?” “Are you sure your are interpreting the Bible correctly?” “Who gives you the right to speak for God?” “Truth is relative.” “There are no absolutes.” “My God is not like that.” And on and on it goes as the Word of God and the authority of the Word of God is questioned still today. But it is no wonder; when you have a good thing that works, keep doing it. The devil is in the details and the details continue to question God, His Word and His authority.
At one time it seemed as if it was the world against the church and one knew who their enemies were. Now the devil is attaching the church not just from without, but within as well. Churches today are tempted to question the Word of God and His authority by seeking to be relevant, by seeking to be tolerant, by seeking to be contemporary, which means for the time as in here today and gone tomorrow, by seeking to be fun, entertaining, engaging and just about any other adjective you might think to use, rather than simply seeking to be faithful.
When the church agrees with and looks like the culture is it really any different than the culture? And we know the devil thrives in the culture which acquiesces to the morals and values of the least of them.
Five hundred years ago as Martin Luther hid at Wartburg as Knight George, Andreas Karlstadt continued the reformation, at least in his own mind. However, his reformation went beyond reformation. You see, Luther never intended to throw out the church, just remove those false teachings and obstacles to God’s grace. Karlstads’s reformation was more of a gutting of the church. Karlstadt believed his doctrine pushed him to new practices, practices which would have changed the faith of the church. Karlstadt removed images, vestments, labels, anything and everything that said “church,” as many would do in our world today.
Luther understood the direct connection between what we believe, teach and confess and how we practice what we believe, teach and confess. Luther knew that doctrine and practice, style and substance, confession and mission, and however you want to state it, go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other and you cannot change one without changing the other.
Back in my day we would hear such expressions as: “Momma always said, ‘Practice what you preach.’” Today, or at least a few years ago you would hear, “If you’re going to talk the talk, then you better walk the walk.” Yes, even our culture of today understands the direct connection of belief and practice.

So, the fight for the authority of the Word of God over the authority of man, church and councils continues today. Today we hear man butting in suggesting that certain changes to our practices are merely adiaphor, or simply changes in style, or are mission minded. Worse scenarios are those that would have the so called scientific fact of evolution added to the Bible simply because there is no recognition of how to defend the Word of God. How often have I spoken with those who attempt to resolve the tensions of the Bible by simply human logic, such tensions as predestination, election and decision theology, even when the Bible leaves these things in tension. Humanity would solve bread and wine, body and blood in a logical way rather than believe the Word of God. Humanity would solve God’s desire to save all and yet knowing some are not saved by a logical fallacy of double predestination.
Perhaps you have heard it said, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” There we go again, putting ourselves in the mix and that is where we get messed up. “God said it. That settles it.” My belief, my understanding or misunderstanding, my logical explanation resolving the tension are not what makes it so. When we have difficulties with God’s Word we say what He says. We do not add nor take away. If we still have a problem, the problem is ours, not God’s.
God’s Word is a Word with authority. God’s Word is efficacious, it does what it says, it gives the gifts it says it gives and we rejoice whether we get it or not whether we understand or not.
At what point do we in the church return to the position of Hus and Luther and challenge the word of man over and against the Word of God? Of course, this challenge is a dangerous and frightening challenge as humanity continues its slide into moralism, humanism, and all other kinds of isms focusing our attention away from God and on to us.
I would contend that the fight of Martin Luther is the fight we continue today. The symptoms we face today, homosexual lifestyle, transgender lifestyle, abortion, euthanasia, family break up, all these are mere symptoms of the problem and the problem is the question of the authority of the Word of God.

Either human beings are right or God is right. Either human beings never get anything wrong, or God never gets anything wrong. I’m going with God on this one.
Just as God got it right in Genesis when He told us how he created the world, after all He was there, so we can count on Him getting it right as He tells us how He saved the world in the Gospels. He gets it right, even if we may not fully comprehend it, when He tells us how He gives us faith through water and His Word, how He forgives us our sins through confession and absolution, how He strengthens and keeps us in faith through Bread and Wine and His Word, giving us His body and blood to eat and drink, and how His Word is a Word with authority to do what it says and to give the gifts of which it speaks.
We get it right when we point to God and specifically when we point to Jesus. We get it right when we recognize the authority of the Word of God. God speaks most sure through His Word, through Holy Baptism, through confession and absolution and through His Holy Supper. Through these very means God gives to us all the gifts and blessings He has to give and pointing to Him we recognize that as God gives, we are given to. There is nothing we do on our part, simply we are given to. God said it and that settles it.
So, I would encourage you to know that God’s Word is His Word, He said it and that settles it. Through His Word as well as through His Sacraments He gives you the gifts He offers and we give thanks that we are given to. Your greatest need is the forgiveness of sins and Jesus says, Your sins are forgiven, go in peace. And we say, Amen, and thanks be to God and to Him be the glory for His Name’s sake. Amen.

I Have Made You a Watchman - September 10, 2017 - Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Ezekiel 33:7-9

Last week Jeremiah helped us answer the questions of: who am I?, what is my purpose in life?, and who is God? This week Ezekiel helps us even more with the question of our purpose in life. Our purpose in life, as we have said many times before, is first and foremost to be loved by God and to be given to by Him. He is the one who created us, and He is the one who strengthens and keeps us in faith. He is the one who gives us life at conception and new life through Holy Baptism. He is the one who gives us everything that we have. In response to all that our Lord does for us and gives to us, our purpose in life is to live our lives to the glory of God, but even more, to be our brother’s keeper so that our brother might also live his life to the glory of God. Yes, society might like you to believe that what a person does is no one’s business but their own, that as long as what a person does is not hurting anyone else, then they should be allowed to do whatever they want. But God tells us that we are our brothers keeper. I believe there is a saying that goes something like, “my right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins.” Unfortunately, we forget that the swinging of my arm is not an isolated thing. We do not live in a vacuum. What we do does affect others. The swinging of my arm, the right for me to swing my arm does affect others, not only those I might touch or hit, but also those who see me swing my arm. I can never do anything that does not affect someone else in one way or another. With that in mind, let us get into our text and see what God has to say.
Please keep in mind, that as we hear all the Law in this text, that there is forgiveness of sins. Please do not fail to hear that there is only one unforgivable sin, that is dying in unbelief. And to make sure you will not forget I will remind you of this fact again later.
Our text begins with God’s gift of pastors or as our text calls them watchmen. We read verse seven, “7Son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (v. 7). This verse reminds us that pastors are given by God. Conversely, pastors are not given by man, nor are they self appointed. Just because someone says, “I feel like a pastor,” or “I feel like I want to be a pastor,” or “I feel God has called me to be a pastor,” or some one says, “I will be a pastor,” does not make that person a pastor. A person is a pastor whom the Lord makes, or sets aside as a pastor. And the Lord does that through the church. In other words, a man is a pastor who has been set apart by God and called by God through a congregation.
God calls pastors through the church for a specific purpose. God calls pastors so he might preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments, and forgive and retain sin. God calls pastors so that he might speak His Word through pastors. That Word which God gives to pastors to speak is His Word, the Bible and pastors are not to add to nor take from God’s Word, but are to speak it as God gives it. And as members of a congregation we are to hear the Word our pastor’s speak as God’s Word. Not only are members to hear God’s Word through the pastor they are to believe and obey God’s Word as well.
God also gives the responsibility to recognize sin. This does not necessarily mean to judge, but it does mean to recognize that what someone is doing is against God’s Word. We read verse eight, “8If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (v. 8). God’s Word tells us what is right and what is wrong. The Ten Commandments tell us what we are to do and not do. The Ten Commandments tell us how we are to be in relationship with God and with each other. The Ten Commandments show us what is right and what is wrong.
Often after hearing about recognizing sin someone will say, “but God’s Word tells us not to judge.” Certainly it does, but it also tells us that we are to recognize sin. It tells us that if a person fails to repent of their sin then we are to judge that person, not for the sake of condemning that person, but so that person might recognizes their sin and the seriousness of their sin so that they might repent and be given forgiveness before it is too late. That procedure is laid out in our Gospel Lesson for today.
Our text reminds us that God holds the watchman, that is the pastor, accountable for not recognizing sin. Yes, I am my brother’s keeper, it is my business. The question we might ask ourselves when deciding whether or not to speak to someone concerning their sin is, which is more important, our spiritual welfare or our earthly image.
As a pastor, I breath a sigh of relief to know that God always holds the right person accountable. We read verse nine, “9But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul” (v. 9). To sin and not know is one thing, but it still condemns. I think in our world it is stated as ignorance of the law is no excuse and that is the same with God. To sin in ignorance is still sin.
To sin and to know we sin is one thing, that is deliberate sin. To sin and to not know we sin is another thing, and yet it still condemns. How often does a person think, I know what I am doing is wrong, but I will do it anyway and later I will pray that God will forgive me. Continual living in sin is to refuse God’s forgiveness. God can see in our hearts and He does know if we are repentant or if we are looking for cheap grace.
According to our text, the pastor who does what God says, that is proclaims right and wrong, is not responsible for the one who will not listen. My job is not to hound you, but to show you God’s Word. My job is to preach the Law and to make that law personal so that you know that I am singling you out, that I am talking to you, or better stated, that God is talking to you, that is the job God has given me, as a pastor, to do. If you do not hear the law, if you do not believe I am speaking to you (and here I would rather say, if you do not believe God is speaking to you) then I am not doing my job. It is after I have shown you God’s Word, only then am I off the hook if you fail to recognize your sin, if you fail to repent, and if you remain in your sin. This is were my humanness comes in, I am not patient like God. I speak God’s Word and give up. God is patient and longsuffering, He continually works in us to bring us to repentance before it is too late.
Our text also implies that it is our responsibility to listen to the pastor when he shows us our sin. We need to hear these words now before we are in the midst of our sinning, because when we are in the midst of sinning is when we do not what to hear or listen to the pastor tell us that we are sinning.
This whole text is very much like a parent disciplining a child. When your child does something wrong you tell your child not to do it again. When your child does not listen but does it again you have to disciple him, for his own good. This is not something you enjoy doing, rather it is something that is most difficult to do. And your child does not like being disciplined, so the whole while you are trying to do something good, to do what is right for your child, he is calling you names, rebelling against whatever discipline is being meted out. Your child does not want to talk about what they did wrong, but about how unfair you are, even telling all their friends how bad, unfair and uncaring you are. Likewise, when we do something wrong, we do not want to hear about what we are doing wrong, rather we want to talk about how what I do is no ones business but my own and how I have the right to do whatever I want to do as long as I am not hurting anyone else, and we are back to the beginning and see that everything we do does affect others because we do not live in a vacuum.
Getting back to our text. Our text does speak specifically to the watchman, to pastors. Because we are not all pastors does that mean our text does not speak to you? No, our text speaks to us all as members of the church. Our text reminds us all that we all have a responsibility to act accordingly. Our responsibility is not to be holier than thou. Our responsibility is not to judge someone, to say, “you’re going to hell.” That would be judging. Our responsibility is to recognize sin and to say, “what you are doing is not right, according to God’s Word.” Our responsibility is first, for ourselves. Yes, we are to take the plank out of our own eye before removing the speck in our neighbors eye.
Second, we are responsible for our Christian brothers and sisters. Just as God holds pastor’s accountable, so too He holds us all accountable. God speaks some tough words to us today and He expects us to take them to heart. When we see and hear of our Christian brothers or sisters breaking any of the commandments, for us to sit idly by and watch and listen is a sin of omission. When we hear or see our Christian brother or sister break any of the commandments we are to show them their sin so that they repent and are given forgiveness which is more loving than allowing them to remain in their sin and not have forgiveness. In our Gospel lesson for this morning Jesus tells us how we are to do this, that is that we are to speak to the one who has sinned. This is truly loving and caring for others. To do otherwise really is not loving.
But there is good news in all this. The good news is that Jesus died for our sins, so we are not accountable for them. This means that unless we refuse to acknowledge and confess our sins we are given His forgiveness. Our sins have all already been forgiven, even those we have yet to commit. Jesus made Himself accountable for our sins. Yes, we can refuse Jesus forgiveness, by refusing to repent and change and instead by continuing to live in our sin. But Jesus forgiveness is there waiting for us.
Jesus died for our sins and more importantly, Jesus’ work was enough. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection accomplished for us, total and complete forgiveness, for us, for all the people who ever lived, who are alive and who ever will live.
This is one of those text that has a lot of Law in it which makes it kind of tough to preach. Because of all the Law in this text it is imperative that we do not forget the Gospel. When speaking about sin, I must begin by saying that we need to keep in mind that there is only one unforgivable sin, that is the sin of dying in unbelief. With that in mind we want to remember that God’s grace, His Gospel message always far out weighs His Law. In God’s eyes all sins are equal. There is no degree of sin. The sin of lying is just as damning as the sin of murder. And as God forgives lying, by the death of Jesus on the cross, so He forgives murder. Please hear God’s Word of good news. We repeat it every Sunday morning, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). The point of the Law is to show us our sins so that the Gospel message sounds so much sweeter. Your sins are forgiven, go out and sin no more. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

I Will Save You, Says the Lord - September 3, 2017 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17) - Text: Jeremiah 15:15-21

We have such a smart God. Have you ever noticed how feeble His servants were? They were no different in their weakness of faith, and their trust in God, than we are. I believe God chose such people, such weak vessels, to illustrate so vividly that as He used them, so He can and does use us, just as weak vessels, today. And we are reminded that when God does use us, He does so, not because of any merit or worthiness within us, but  because of His grace poured out on us. We are left to sit in awe and say, praise the Lord, to God be the glory. As we lived through the events of this past week some of us were affected very little and some more. Some of us may have been asking, what could we do to help, we are such feeble servants? Perhaps we questioned God as Jeremiah does?
Our text begins with Jeremiah getting ready to ask two questions. He begins first with a plea for help as we read in verse fifteen, “15O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach”(v. 15). Literally, Jeremiah says, “O Lord, you know.” The Lord does know Jeremiah. The prophet begins this book, his prophecy, by writing God’s words, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer. 1:5). Jeremiah knows that God created him, giving him life at conception, but even more, knowing him even before he was conceived. Jeremiah knows that God called him and set him apart to be His prophet even from the creation of the world. Therefore, Jeremiah takes his cause to the Lord. He asks that the Lord would remember him, avenge his persecutors, and allow him to continue, peacefully, to live in the land.
Jeremiah next prays a word reminding God of his faithfulness, that is Jeremiah’s faithfulness. We read verse sixteen, “16Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts” (v. 16). Jeremiah reminds the Lord how he had joyfully received the word of the Lord. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” He was not starving spiritually. He also bears the Lord’s name. God had put His name on Jeremiah, very much like God putting His name on us at our baptism. We belong to God, which means we are given to, all that we need, according to God’s omniscient knowledge of our needs and notice I did not say wants.
And Jeremiah prays a few more words reminding God of His faithfulness, that is God’s faithfulness. We read verse seventeen, “17I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation” (v. 17). Jeremiah did not go out carousing and partying with the guys. He was completely devoted, with his whole life, to the Lord. He sits alone, probably because he did not go out, and because of the message he preaches. It is hard to make friends when you are down on everything everyone is doing, not that what he was saying and doing was Jeremiah’s fault.
All of this leads up to the two rhetorical questions that Jeremiah asks and really, what we might call Jeremiah’s blaspheme. We read verse eighteen, “18Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” (v. 18). Jeremiah’s first question is, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to heal?” The unending pain that he is praying about is his life. Perhaps there are times in our lives when we can all relate to how Jeremiah feels. He says, “why me?” Why does everyone hate me? Why am I the one who brings only bad news? Why can I not bring good news? Why? Why? Why?
His second question is, “Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like waters that fail?” Here Jeremiah accuses God of being undependable. Pretty stiff words from such a lowly man. Maybe we sometimes feel that way too, but do we have the nerve to actually say that out loud, to God? Maybe, I should remind you that you do not have to say it, because God already knows what you are thinking. I am sure there are many who this past week questioned God and accused Him of being undependable as well.
Our text continues with God’s response. We read verses nineteen through twenty-one, “19Therefore thus says the Lord: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.  20And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord.  21I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless” (v. 19-21).
Literally, what God says is, “I will cause you to repent, and I will restore you,” that is I will give you forgiveness. This is an answer to Jeremiah’s doubt of self worth. Here we see, as always, God demonstrating His grace. God does not simply reject Jeremiah, nor does He wipe him out for his sass and unbelief. Rather, in His justice, God calls Jeremiah to repent; to repent of his doubt and mistrust. And yet, Jeremiah “cannot by his own reason or strength” fulfill God’s condition. Thus God moves Jeremiah to repent. Unfortunately the English does not do justice to the Hebrew. The literal English translation would be, “I cause you to repent.” Thus we see how repentance is necessary, how God must work this repentance in us through the Law and how God provides the means, the Gospel to bring the fullness of repentance.
Jeremiah was restored so that he might continue to serve God. This is an answer to his doubt of mission. God did not let Jeremiah off the hook, so to speak. Just because he has doubts does not mean God will take his job from him. No, God reassures him that he will continue to serve the Lord as the Lord works through him.
And God promises, I will give you as a wall to this people. This is an answer to his doubt of God’s faithfulness. God reminds Jeremiah that He is in charge. God will do the doing. God will do because He is God and Jeremiah need doubt no more.
Our text for today reminds us that we are so very much like Jeremiah. How often do we ask: “Who am I?” We hear people trying to “find themselves,” trying to be one with something, trying to find the “meaning of life.” And usually they are looking in the wrong place. They are looking inside themselves. As we have said before, when we look inside ourselves all we find is that we are sinful human beings, conceived and born in sin and having every inclination of our heart to do evil all the time. We cannot find the answers to life, the answer to who or whose we are by looking inside ourselves. For the answer to life’s questions we have to look outside ourselves. When we look outside ourselves, especially when we look in God’s Word we hear God’s answer. God’s answer is this: You are my child, purchased by the blood of Jesus. We are special. We are somebody, not because we found ourselves, not because we got to be one with something, or anything, not because we found the meaning of life, but because God, through the blood of Jesus on the cross made us somebody. We have value because of the value God gives us, the value of the life of His Son. Our value is that God so loved us so much that He gave His life, shedding His blood for us. That is value!
How often do we ask: what am I doing here? Again, the question is one of meaning in our lives. When we look outside ourselves, to God and His Word, we hear God’s answer: You are here to be a priest in the priesthood of all believers. You are here to do the good works I have prepared in advance for you to do. We have a job to do, not because God can not do it Himself, but because He wants to show us how much He loves us. His love for us is shown by the fact that God works through our imperfections to serve Him by serving other which brings glory to His name.
How often do we ask: Is God faithful? Here we blaspheme like Jeremiah. We doubt God’s presence, just because He does not reveal Himself to us the way we expect, nor do what we expect. Nor do when we expect. Yet, we hear God’s answer: Yes, I am faithful. Indeed, as we confess, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
After the events of last week there are many who are asking these questions today, “Why me?” “How could God do this to me?” “Why are all these innocent people being affected by such events?” Of course we would never equate what we call natural disasters with God’s direct punishment for sin, otherwise we would have to say God is not a good aim, yet we are reminded that we live in a world that continues to bear the marks of the curse from the Garden of Eden. With that said, we see God’s answer to Jeremiah is His answer to us even today, that He moves us to repent and that He is faithful. See how He calls His people to help one another. See how He shows His love as we serve Him by being of service to those in need. See how He strengthens us as we are drawn to Him in times of need and how He continually cares for us. Yes, we are feeble individuals. Yes, the world hates us because of the exclusive claim of Jesus, the only way to eternal life. Yes, we have doubts in times of trouble. And so, Jesus calls us to repent of our doubt. He moves us to repent of our inaction to help and be of service, even to give an answer for our hope through our actions. He restores us and moves and works in us to be the people He would have us to be.
In our epistle lesson for this morning Paul reminds us of how God works in and through us. Apart from God working in and through us we cannot do what Paul tells us to do, we cannot live as Paul tells us to live. But, with God working in and through us, then we are able to genuinely love others with brotherly affection, then we are able to show honor, to rejoice in hope, to be patient in tribulation, to contribute to the needs of others. It is only with the Lord’s help that we will be able to bless those who persecute us and live in harmony with each other.
In our Gospel lesson we are reminded by Jesus that He is the one who gives us value and it is only through His suffering and dying on the cross and faith in Him that we have such value. It is sins forgiven that gives us value. And so Jesus also reminds us that our value gives us purpose and our purpose is to lose our lives in this world so that we will have life in the world to come, in other words, by faith in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us we move the focus of our life off this world and the things of this world and instead we focus our attention, our life on the world to come, making sure we are ready and giving an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus so that others might be ready as well.
Our text for this morning convicts us and comforts us. We question God like Jeremiah and in one way that is okay. Read through the Psalms. The psalmist many times lamented about his problems and says, Why? Why me, Lord? Why have You deserted me? And in a sense our questioning can be praising God. When we ask God “why?”, we are telling God, “I know You are in charge that is why I am asking you.” Our text also convicts us of our doubts and mistrust of God. On the other hand, our text comforts us by showing that as God answered and strengthened Jeremiah, so He answers and strengthens us. He reminds us that we are His, purchased by the blood of Jesus, forgiven and made His children, that He works His good works in and through us so that we serve Him by serving others, and that He is faithful. So, once again we are pointed in the right direction, we are pointed to the cross, we are pointed to Jesus, yes, Jesus, just Jesus. Thanks be to God and to Him be the Glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.