June 23, 2019 Sermon

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Jun 232019
 

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

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I invite you to turn to the first portion of our reading from Deuteronomy this morning as God, through Moses, reminds us to focus on what’s important.

 

If you listen to the media, you would think that the most important thing for you to know and do is to make sure that your child is in the proper car seat. It seems that in our world today it takes a degree in physics to figure out which is the right one for your child’s every-changing height and weight, but by the amount of money spent on public service announcements, it would seem to be one of the most important things for you to know and do. Oh, and don’t forget the helmets and the knee and elbow pads if they are riding bikes or skateboarding.

People in our world today are very concerned about their children’s safety. That’s not a bad thing. One of the responsibilities that God gives parents is to care for the physical safety of their children. But, as Jesus said, what good is it if they gain the whole world and lose their soul? What good was it for the rich man in our gospel reading to be able to party and enjoy his earthly life only to spend eternity in the fires of hell when he died? As important as it is for us to be concerned about physical safety, the most important thing for us to be concerned about is where we and our children will spend eternity.

Deuteronomy 6:4 was a verse every Jewish person knew by heart. It was the creed of the Old Testament. They would recite it twice a day. If anyone asked them what they believed they would reply, the LORD (Jehovah) is our God. The LORD is one. There are not many different gods, there is only one true God. His name is the LORD, Jehovah. And he is our God.

This one and only true God is not a local god whose power is limited just to Israel. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He rules over the sun, moon and stars. He rules over every nation on earth. He is the one who promised to send a Savior, born of a woman, who would crush the power of Satan, the lying prince of the sinful world. He is the one who promised Abraham that this Savior would be one of his descendants, and that, not just Israel, but all nations would be blessed through him. He is the one who rescued us from slavery in Egypt by performing many signs and wonders. He is the one who is about to bring us into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

To this list we can add; the LORD, Jehovah, the one and only true God, is the one who defeated Israel’s enemies for them, even knocking down the walls of Jericho and making the sun stand still. He is the one who took on flesh and blood, was born in Bethlehem, suffered and died on the cross, and rose again on the third day, just as all the prophecies said he would.

This is the LORD, the one and only true God who has shown himself faithful to every promise, who has provided forgiveness and eternal salvation for free to all in Jesus. This is the LORD our God! He is our God not because we chose him, but because he chose us. Just like Israel, we were stubborn and rebellious, yet he chose us to be his. He chose to reveal himself to us through his word. That’s the way he has chosen to work, as the rich man was told when he asked if someone could go back from the dead to warn his brothers that hell is real and they need to focus on what’s important- they have Moses and the Prophets, they have God’s word. They have everything they need in the word. If they won’t listen to the word, they won’t believe that there is such a thing as a resurrection from the dead. Jesus rose from the dead, but even though there were over 500 eyewitnesses of that fact, consider how many don’t believe that he rose. The LORD uses his word to convict us of sin, and then to convince us that we have salvation in Jesus. We confess that he is the LORD our God, not by our own thinking or choosing, but because he chose us and called us to be his own through the gospel in word and sacrament.

What a blessing it is to know that the LORD is our God! It means, like the poor beggar Lazarus, when our time comes to die, we will be carried by the angels to be with the LORD for all eternity. Those who don’t know the LORD as their God will, like the rich man, be separated from the LORD and from every good thing for all eternity. The rich man realized too late that he had not focused on what’s important- the LORD and his word.

By God’s grace Israel knew that the LORD was their God. By God’s grace we know that the LORD is our God. But it’s so easy to take the Lord for granted. It’s so easy to get so involved with life that we forget how important the Lord and his word is.

Israel was camped along the Jordan, preparing to enter the Promised Land. They were about receive blessings beyond their imagination. God was going to defeat their enemies for them. They would live in houses they didn’t have to build. They would drink from wells they didn’t have to dig. They would harvest crops they didn’t have to plant. But all these blessings would also be temptations. They would be tempted to take their blessings for granted and forget about God, like the rich man did. They would also be surrounded by people who worshiped all kinds of other gods. Their forms of worship would seem a lot more interesting than hearing the same old thing over and over again. Their forms of worship would appeal to the sinful nature, even promoting prostitution as a form of worship. Some of the things you learn about the worship of idols in Canaan seem disgusting. But we are in a similar situation today. Our sinful nature gets tired of hearing the same old thing over and over again. We are surrounded by religious groups that promote a so-called Christianity where anything goes, and that appeals to our sinful nature. Like Israel, we still today need reminders that the LORD is our God and that we need to show that he is our God every day.

God, through Moses, says make sure that the Lord is not your God in name only. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Make sure that you don’t love anyone or anything more than the LORD your God, not even your spouse or your children, not even your life. Make sure that you don’t entrust the care of your soul to anyone or anything other than the one true God who alone can save you. Make sure that you are serving the LORD your God with all your strength, not just half-heartedly, not just for an hour a week, but all the time.

That’s a tall order. How do you do that? Moses says, Let the word of God be on your heart. Be immersed in God’s word so that it is what informs your every decision in life and guides your every word and action. Let his word point out your sins, all the times that you have forgotten about God, all the times you have chosen to do what you wanted to do instead of what God would have you do. Let God’s word point you to Jesus so that you can see that he was always guided by God’s word, God’s word was always on his heart so that he always loved what God loves and hated what God hates. Let God’s word point you to the cross so that you may see all your sins being paid for in full. Then your love for the LORD will continue to grow, you will entrust your soul’s salvation to him alone and be motivated to strive to serve him with all your might.

God, trough Moses, says make sure that your children know the that LORD is their God too. That doesn’t just happen. It is both taught and caught. It comes from diligent teaching. It comes from making sure that your children hear God’s word over and over and over again- in home devotions, in prayers together with them, in Sunday school, in church, and whatever other opportunities there may be. If you are diligent in making sure they are physically safe, in the right car seat, wearing the right safety equipment, be even more diligent in making sure they are eternally safe. That means making time to teach God’s word.

It also means that you let them see that God is included in everything you do. It’s not just a thing we do for an hour on Sunday. Others, especially children, are always watching to see if your actions back up what you say you believe. Consider all the ways you can show how important God is to you during the day. What do you talk about at meals? What effect did God and his word have on the things you said and did during your day? What do you talk about in the car on the way to all their activities? If someone cuts you off do you curse them, or do you thank God that he kept you safe? Do you remind them where their ability to play a sport or an instrument comes from? Think of all the opportunities you have to talk about God and his word as you decide what movie or TV show to watch, or even as you watch the news and there are reports about abortion and gay rights. Having those discussions will show that God’s word is on your heart and in your mind all the time. You aren’t just going through the motions on Sunday.

Because it’s so easy to forget about God and because there are so many gods that tempt us to follow them, God says that we should tie his words as a sign on our wrists, and as symbols on our foreheads. Write them on the doorposts of our house and on our gates.

  The Jews ended up taking these words a little too literally. They actually made little boxes, put a piece of paper with a verse from scripture on it in the box, and then tied it to their wrist, forehead, and nailed it to their doorposts. Jesus reprimanded them for this because, even though they physically wore God’s word, they ignored what it said. It wasn’t on their hearts.

It’s not a bad thing to have a sign or a symbol that is a constant visual reminder of God and his word in our homes, in our yards and in our pockets. It’s not a bad thing to have a cross, or a picture of Jesus in those places to serve as a constant reminder to ourselves and others that the LORD is our God. He is most important. He is the one and only Savior for us and for anyone. But the best sign for our children and for the world is that people see us studying God’s word, and that our words and actions agree with what God says in his word.

What a blessing it is that God has chosen to be our God. What a blessing it is that he has revealed himself to us through his word and called us to faith in Jesus so that we might live with him now and forever in glory. That’s what’s most important for us and for our children. Focus on God and his word so that you are reminded daily that the Lord is your God, your savior. Let people see by your words and actions that he truly is what’s most important.

Message for Trinity Sunday

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Jun 162019
 

Romans 11:33-36

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I invite you to open your Bibles or Service folder to our second lesson, Romans 11, where Paul’s great doxology reminds us that there is no one like our God.

 

Ask anyone who has been through Catechism class to define the word Trinity and they should be able to tell you that it means that God is One divine being and yet three distinct persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know the definition of the word. But if we made a list of things that we could never fully understand no matter how hard we tried; the doctrine of the Trinity should be on the top of the list. Any time you try to illustrate what the Trinity is like– different forms of water, three leaf clovers, whatever it might be– you end up being a false teacher. That’s because, by definition, God is completely other. There is no one and nothing like him. He says through the prophet Isaiah, there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.  “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

There is only one true God. The only way we can know who he is, what he wants, and what he is like, is by studying what he has revealed to us about himself in the Bible. It is there that he clearly states that he is one divine being, and yet, as we see at Jesus Baptism, he is Father speaking from heaven, Son stepping out of the water, and Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, all at one time. The claim made by God that he is Triune can only be accepted by faith. There is no experiment that can prove or disprove his claim. It’s a matter of trusting what he says about himself in his word. But as we study his word and learn about the being who is one God in three persons, we can’t help but react in awe and wonder and praise as Paul does.

When we learn about the riches of God, we realize that we can’t possibly fathom the depth of his riches. He owns everything. The Psalmist says that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and he owns the hills too. Everything that exists belongs to him. The sun, the moon and the stars belong to him. Every person and every nation on earth belongs to him. Every penny in every bank and piggy bank belongs to him. As the Psalmist says, the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

What does this mean? It means that if you think what you have is yours, you are sinning. You are not giving God all the glory he deserves. You won’t appreciate what he has given you. You won’t want to help others keep what God has given them. You will be greedy and jealous. It means that when you realize that God is the owner of everything, and he graciously lets you be his steward; you will have peace and contentment and do all you can to help your neighbor keep what God has given them.

I’m sure most of you have laid on the grass on a clear, cool summer night and gazed at all the stars. God challenged Abraham to count them if he could. He couldn’t. Neither can we. Don’t you just stand in awe of the wisdom of God? We are still, after thousands of years of investigation, just discovering some of the things that God thought up at creation. And we haven’t even made it outside of our own solar system yet! The beauty and complexity of God’s creation, even now after it has been corrupted by sin, boggles our minds.

What does this mean? It means that if you think that all these things came about by accident, you sin. You are not giving God the glory he deserves. You will begin to think that humans can change the climate and bring about the end of the world if we don’t change our ways. Yes, we are to be good stewards of all that God created, but the world will end when God decides to end it. Acknowledge that everything belongs to him. Use everything you have wisely and to his glory. Look forward to the time when he will bring this corrupt universe to an end and make a new heaven and a new earth were everything is perfect.

Don’t forget the knowledge of God. He knows all things. He knows in advance everything that will happen. In fact, every one of his predictions, prophecies, has come to pass. He knows the number of hairs on your head, and everyone else’s too. He knows what every world leader is thinking, and he knows how to make whatever they are planning serve his eternal purposes.

Don’t forget, he foretold that his Son would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. He made use of a decree from Caesar to make sure Mary and Joseph were in the right place at the right time for Jesus to be born. He used the sinful hatred of the Jewish leaders to accomplish the redemption of the world through Jesus death and resurrection. He knows your every sin, even your most secret sinful thought, and yet, in Jesus, he provides forgiveness for you, and for every sinner. Oh the depth of the riches, and wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are his judgments! The way that he decided to save the world is something no human could ever figure out. The only thing that makes sense to us is salvation by merit. If you want something you have to earn it, so you should have to earn your salvation by making up for your sins, by doing more good than evil. But that doesn’t work with God. No sinful person can make up for even one of their own sins. They can only make themselves even more sinful. So, in mercy and grace, God decided to send a substitute, someone who could live without sin so that he could take everyone else’s sins on himself and pay for them on the cross. He decided to judge us not guilty because of what Jesus has done in our place. No human could have come up with that plan much less carry it out. But God did.

How untraceable his ways! Thomas understood that God’s ways are untraceable. When Jesus talked about the way to heaven, he asked Jesus, how can we know the way? How can we get to where you are going, to where the Father is? Even the best tracker couldn’t follow your tracks. We can’t see heaven. There aren’t any golden roads or street signs to follow. On our own, we would be lost forever trying to find the way to heaven. But you know how Jesus answered Thomas. I am the Way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. Like the teaching of the Trinity, we would not be able to track the way to heaven without God revealing it to us in his Word.

As we consider the unfathomable depths of the riches, wisdom and knowledge of God, we have to agree with Paul. Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his adviser? Obviously, he doesn’t need our advice. But how often don’t we try to give him advice? How often don’t we think that we know better than he does? Instead of praying for his wisdom and guidance we suggest to him what we think he should do. When something happens, we are quick to question why? Why did God do this or that, or allow this or that to happen? All the while we are thinking, “If God would just listen to me, my life and everyone else’s would be better.” NO! you can never be God’s advisor. All you can ever be is his dutiful servant. And the more you let him advise you through his word the wiser you will become.

Who has first given to God that he will be repaid? Since God already owns everything you can’t give anything to God that he doesn’t already have. You can’t do anything for him that earns you a reward. As Jesus says, so you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ The only thing God owes you is a just punishment for your sins. Thankfully, he gave your punishment to Jesus instead. The one and only true God, the creator of heaven and earth, who sent his Son to be the savior, doesn’t owe you a single thing. Anything he gives you, especially your forgiveness and eternal salvation, is all a gift of grace, the opposite of what we deserve.

From him are all things. Without him nothing we know would exist. He called everything we see into existence by the power of his word. Everything we have belongs to and comes from him.

Through him are all things. The only way for anyone to be saved is through the plan he devised and declared in his word. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. No one gets to the Father except through Jesus.

To him are all things. His goal, his desire is that all would come to him, that all would come to the knowledge of the truth that he has revealed in Scripture. He is the one and only true God. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the creator of all that exists. He is the one who took on flesh and blood to redeem us so that we could be declared not guilty of our sins. He is the one who revealed himself to prophets and Apostles, guided what they recorded so that it was without error, and continues to preserve it for us today so that we might become wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

To this one and only, true, eternal God, be glory forever and ever. Amen!

June 9, 2019 – Pentecost

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Jun 092019
 

Acts 2:5-8

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I invite you to open you Bibles or service folders to our second lesson for today, Luke’s account of the first Christian Pentecost. We will focus especially on verses 5-8 as we see another wonderful example of the fact that the Lord provides his people with all they need to carry out their mission.

 

Do you remember when God asked Abraham to take his son Isaac and sacrifice him? Do you remember the question Isaac asked as they went up the mountain to offer the sacrifice? They had offered sacrifices before because Isaac understood that something was missing. They had wood, and fire, and a knife, but where was the sacrifice itself? Where was the lamb? Do you remember how Abraham responded? He said, “The Lord will provide.” And the Lord did provide. He allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram caught in a nearby thicket in place of his son.

That emotionally charged account from Abraham’s life pictures for us how the Lord has provided for us. He provided his only son Jesus to be sacrificed in our place. He provided the Lamb, not just for Abraham, but for the whole world. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The disciples knew this. They heard John the Baptist say it as he pointed to Jesus. They had seen how the sacrifice was carried out. They saw Jesus suffering on the cross. They heard Jesus cry out my God, my God, why have you forsaken me. They saw him buried and then they saw him alive again. They knew that God had provided Jesus as the sacrifice that paid for their sins and the sins of the whole world. They were filled with joy and thankfulness for all that God had done for them, and the privilege of being with Jesus during his ministry on earth. But with that privilege came a great responsibility. Jesus had told them that since they had been with him from the beginning, and witnessed everything he said and did, they were the ones who were going to have to tell everyone else, every creature, to the ends of the earth!

Their joy and excitement must have been mixed with fear and uncertainty. They knew what Jesus was asking of them. They wanted to do it, but how? They weren’t rich. They weren’t practiced public speakers. They weren’t well-known celebrities. How could they reach all of Jerusalem, much less Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth?

Maybe you can identify with them. Maybe you attended a mission festival, or a LWMS convention, or you read an especially good devotion about sharing the Gospel. You were filled with joy and excitement over what God has done for you and that he has provided eternal salvation for free to the whole world. You want to do everything you can to share that good news! But then the excitement wears off and reality sets in and you begin to feel fear and uncertainty. You want to get the good news of the gospel out to everyone, but how? You aren’t rich. You aren’t a public speaker. Even if you could rent a stadium like Billy Graham, who would come to hear you, you aren’t a celebrity? You’ve been thinking about talking to your neighbor about Jesus, but you haven’t even done that, much less done much to share Jesus with the whole world.

It’s so easy for us to get down and discouraged and just throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do it Lord.” But usually the reason we get discouraged is that we are too focused on ourselves and all the things we think might happen, like Peter walking on the water. As long as he focused on Jesus he walked. As soon as his focus turned to the wind and the waves he sank. We need to stay focused on Jesus and his promise that he will provide what we need to proclaim his gospel both near and far.

The disciples were doing what Jesus had told them to do. After his ascension they were to wait in Jerusalem until he gave them the gift he had promised. His timing for giving that gift was perfect. There were godly Jewish men from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. People from all around the Mediterranean Sea, from Rome to Egypt, and from as far east as Persia had come to celebrate the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost, which was a festival of thanksgiving to God for the harvest. When the disciples were together in one place Jesus sent them the gift he had promised. He sent them the Holy Spirit. But that’s not all. He didn’t do it quietly. He sent the Spirit in connection with the sound of a violent wind. It’s interesting that the Hebrew word for Spirit can also mean breath or wind. When people heard the sound, they gathered around the place where the disciples were. And the Spirit made it easy to identify the disciples so that they could ask them what was going on. Something that looked like fire was resting on the head of each of the disciples. “There’s something different about those guys with the tongues of fire on their head, maybe they can tells us what’s going on?” When they asked the disciples what was happening, the disciples answered each person in their own birth language as they told them that the promises of Scripture were being fulfilled; that Jesus is the Messiah who died and rose again to be their savior from sin. They proclaimed to them the wonders of God, the wonder that instead of punishing us for our sins he punished Jesus in our place.

What seemed to amaze the crowd as much as the sound of the violent wind and the tongues of fire was that all these men who were speaking were Galileans. Then how is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language? Galileans were not known for being learned people. None of these men had ever gone to high school, much less college. They were not international businessmen. How could they be conversant in so many different languages?

The sound of the violent wind, the tongues of fire and the ability to speak in many different languages, were all signs from God given to assure those who heard the disciples that everything they were saying to them was true and trustworthy. When they told them that they were responsible for killing the Messiah, but that God raised him from the dead, that  Jesus was delivered over to death for their sins and raised to life for their justification, the miracles they were seeing confirmed for them that this message was from God.

Think also about what these things meant for the disciples and what they mean for us. It’s another example of God keeping his promise to provide his people with what they need. He provides for our physical needs richly and daily. He provides for our spiritual needs richly and daily through opportunities to hear and read his word and to receive the sacrament to assure us that our sins are forgiven. He wanted his disciples to share the good news of salvation with every nation. Pentecost offered a perfect opportunity to begin to do just that. And the Lord provided the disciples with exactly what they needed to do it. He presented them with a large crowd of people and then enabled them to communicate the law and the gospel to them clearly. In the future, when they were faced with opportunities to witness about Jesus, they could look back to Pentecost and say, “Look how the Lord provided what we needed to witness to others on that day. Surely he will provide us what we need to witness for this opportunity also.”

You probably have not been given the gift of speaking in a language you never learned so that you could share the gospel with someone. I know I haven’t been given that gift, even when I have had the opportunity to talk about Jesus with Hispanics, or Koreans, or Chinese. But, in the case of those who spoke Spanish, God provided materials that were in both English and Spanish. In the case of Koreans, or Chinese, God granted that they knew enough English to understand what I was telling them about Jesus. As he did on Pentecost, God is brining people from many nations, who need to hear about Jesus, right to our own cities and neighborhoods. International students are coming to our schools and colleges. But the opportunities we have to share the law and the gospel with others usually doesn’t require the ability to speak another language. They simply require a heart that is filled with joy and thankfulness for our own salvation, a heart that is filled with enough love for our neighbor that we want them to be saved too, and confident trust that the Lord will send us the Holy Spirit to give us whatever we need to make use of the many opportunities he brings to us to witness.

All of us can remember times when we have failed to trust that the Lord would provide us with what we needed to witness in a certain situation. As we confess those sins and see our forgiveness in Jesus, we will be moved to trust him to provide what we need in the future.

Search the Scriptures so that you continue to grow in the joy of your salvation. Pray daily that the Lord would provide you with opportunities to share the joy of salvation with those who don’t know him. Trust that he will provide whatever gifts you need to make use of those opportunities when they come.

The Lord will provide. He provided a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac. He provided his son to be sacrificed in our place to pay for our sins and the sins of the whole world. He provided the disciples the gifts that they needed to proclaim the law and the gospel on the day of Pentecost. Trust that he will provide you with whatever gifts you need to proclaim the law and the gospel to others when he gives you the opportunity to do so.

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