August 16, 2020 Sermon

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Aug 182020

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Matthew 14:13-21

A complaint that people sometimes lodge against Christians is that they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. They complain that churches are so focused on the spiritual that they tend to ignore the physical needs of those around them. We might respond that the spiritual is the most the important thing, after all, what good is it if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? What good is it to be the rich man in Jesus’ story and enjoy everything life has to offer only to end up in hell? The poor beggar Lazarus suffered physically, but he ended up in the glory of heaven.

What would people have said about Jesus? Was he so focused on the spiritual that he was no earthly good? Did he ignore the physical needs of those around him? Does he care about our bodies?

Matthew tells us that Jesus withdrew from populated areas in Judea and Galilee. He sailed across the sea of Galilee to a deserted place for the purpose of being alone, getting a little rest, a break from the constant demands of the crowds. But it didn’t work out. The word spread among the crowds that Jesus was in a boat headed across the lake and thousands of people quickly made the 8-10 mile walk and met Jesus when his boat landed.

If you had planned a little vacation and as soon as you arrived at your destination work called and said, “while you are there we need you to…” and then gave you a long list of things to do that would take up all the time you have planned to spend relaxing, how would you feel? If we were Jesus and saw thousands of people streaming to meet us and rob us of our rest and relaxation, we might get right back in the boat. We might borrow a phrase from the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn – and say “Go away, your bothering me.”

What did Jesus do? He saw the large crowd. He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Jesus had compassion on them. That’s one of my favorite phrases in all of Scripture. Sometimes it’s translated “his heart went out to them.” It’s a word that doesn’t just mean that you feel sorry for someone. It means that the feeling you have affects you physically. It’s gut level. You can’t help but do something to help those who have whatever need that is touching your heart.

Jesus had compassion on them. He had compassion on their physical needs. He saw people who were suffering from the curse and decay caused by sin. He saw people who were blind, deaf, and lame. He saw people who had leprosy and other incurable diseases. He saw people who were demon possessed. Whatever their sickness or disease, whatever physical problem they had, Jesus had compassion on them and healed them.

Did Jesus care for people’s bodies when he lived here on earth? You bet he did. But he didn’t just care for their bodies. These large crowds were still there with Jesus in that deserted place across the lake when evening came. Matthew doesn’t tell us what was going on throughout the day, but Jesus never just healed. As he healed, he also taught. If you think about the teaching of Jesus that Matthew recorded for us in the chapters we have been studying over the past few weeks, it’s safe to assume that Jesus taught them about the kingdom of heaven.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus said on this occasion but consider the location – a deserted place, not near a town or village; a grassy place overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Could they see grain fields? Did Jesus share the parable of the weeds among the wheat? Since they were in view of the lake, did he share the parable of the fish in the net? In some way or another we can be sure that he turned their attention away from their physical needs to the fact that, no matter how healthy they were at the moment, sooner or later they would all be like the grass and the flowers of the field that surrounded them. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord sands forever. There is an eternity. There is a resurrection of the body. There is a last day and on that day the angels will come and separate the wheat from the weeds, the good fish from the bad, the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. Repent for the kingdom of God has come to you. I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father, no one enters the kingdom of heaven, except through me. Look at the lilies in the fields around you. Look at the birds flying. If God cares for these, and you are worth much more than they are because you are the crown of God’s creation, the rulers of all God created, you have an eternal soul, have no doubt that he cares for you, both body and soul. God so loved the world, you, that he kept his promise and sent his only son into the world that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds. He showed that he cared for their bodies, he showed that he loved them, and they were willing to listen to his teaching, not just a 20 minute sermon, but for the whole day. This is a lesson we are learning in our world missions. Where we show care for people’s bodies – providing medical clinics, or digging wells for clean water- where people see that we have compassion on their physical needs they are often willing to listen to us tell them about the one who took on a body himself; who suffered physically as they do; who chose to be nailed to a cross for their sins and the sins of the whole world; who rose bodily from the dead to assure them and us that one day, we too will rise with a glorified body like his that is no longer subject to pain, sickness, disease or death. We need a constant reminder that, although it is true that people’s spiritual needs are much more important than their physical needs, people don’t care about what we have to say about their spiritual needs until they see that we care about them as a person, body and soul.

The disciples seemed to be concerned that Jesus had forgotten about the physical needs of the people. They saw the sun getting low in the sky and Jesus didn’t seem to notice. He was still teaching the people. They came to him and said, the hour is already late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves. What good would it be to be spiritually filled if they fainted on the way home? If they lack physical strength how can they share the good news they have heard with others?

How surprised these disciples must have been when Jesus responded, they do not need to go away. You give them something to eat. Their first thought was probably, “that’s crazy, Jesus.” We have here only five loaves and two fish. That’s barely enough for us, much less thousands of people! How can we give them something to eat?

I wonder if Jesus shook his head and at least thought, if he didn’t say it, “didn’t you see me heal a whole bunch of people today? Don’t you remember the story of the widow whose oil and flour never ran out? Don’t you remember how God provided mana in the wilderness for your forefathers? Shouldn’t your first thought be to pray? Didn’t you even think of saying, “Lord, we can’t feed them, but you can?”

Jesus told them to bring those five loaves and two fish to him, implying that what they had would be enough. And it was. After he looked up to heaven and blessed the five loaves and two fish, he began to hand out pieces to the disciples to distribute to the crowds. Just like the widow’s oil and flour, the loaves and fish kept multiplying until everyone had eaten all they wanted. In fact, after all 5,000 men had eaten, not counting the women and children who also ate all they wanted, the disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers. After Jesus had provided for their souls, teaching all day about the kingdom of heaven, he again provided for their bodies.

Jesus does care for our bodies. Unlike some philosophers of the world who say everything physical is evil, we believe on the basis of Scripture, that our bodies are good. They are affected by evil, by the curse of sin, but they are not an evil creation. Even now in their imperfect state, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. By taking on flesh and blood Jesus has redeemed our bodies together with our souls. On the last day our bodies will be raised. As Job declared, we will see God with our own eyes, not the eyes of another. God has given us the fifth commandment that instructs us to take the best care we can of our bodies and the bodies of others.

Our life in the body here on earth has been given to us as a time of grace, a time for us to learn about Jesus, a time to be baptized into the name of the one and only true God, a time to come to faith in Jesus and be saved, body and soul, for all eternity. As long as we live here on this earth, God provides richly and daily all the we need for body and life so that we are able to serve him and others. As we live our lives on the earth, he wants us to be like him, to have compassion for others, to care for their physical needs, and as we do, to tell them about the kingdom of heaven.

By God’s grace, you and I know that Jesus wasn’t just some kind of hologram. He took on flesh and blood. He had a real body just as we do. While he walked the earth, he didn’t just care for people’s spiritual welfare. He cared for the whole person, body and soul.

Yes, Jesus cares about our bodies. He graciously provides for us richly and daily giving us clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home… all that we need for our body and life. He does this most often by sending sunshine and rain, providing doctors and medications. If he chooses, he may still provide by means of a miracle as he did that day on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, healing people and multiplying bread and fish. He cares for our bodies, not because we deserve it, or have done anything to earn it. He does this only because he is our good and merciful Father in heaven. He does this so that we will be moved to listen to his word, to listen to the good news that Jesus came to be our savior. He does this so that we might trust that he not only to cares for our bodies, but that in Jesus, our sins are forgiven. He does this so that we might daily thank and praise him, serve and obey him and let everyone know that Jesus came to redeem both body and soul; that he is coming again to reunite every soul with it’s body and give all those who trust in Jesus eternal life.

August 9, 2020 Sermon

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Aug 102020

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Matthew 13:44-52

Our first two lessons this morning present examples of people who had proper priorities. The first example was Solomon. Think about it. If someone came to you and offered to give you whatever you asked for, what would you ask?

In our world today you might be tempted to ask for a cure for COVID, or at least that you and your loved ones would be immune. Considering how many people play the lottery, you might ask to win, or at least to be given millions of dollars. Maybe there’s a place you always wanted to go, or a house or a vehicle you always wanted to have. But, although he was surely tempted to think about asking for money, or fame, or the defeat of his enemies, Solomon asked for something else, something that that was not primarily for himself, but for others. He asked for wisdom, not because he wanted to be considered wise by others, but because he wanted to be able to do the best job he could for God and for the people he governed.

Is that something you would think of asking? Would you ask to be enabled to be excellent at your job, not for what you might get out of it, but so that you could take good care of your family and others and bring glory to God?

The second example is Moses. You will remember that his parents hid him for as long as they could at home because Pharaoh had ordered that all Jewish male babies be killed at birth. When they were no longer able to hide him from the authorities, they put him in a basket and floated him in the Nile River near where they knew Pharaoh’s daughter liked to come. The plan worked. Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses. She adopted him as her own and hired his mother to be his nursemaid. He was raised in the palace of Pharaoh where he enjoyed the life of one of the richest people on earth at the time. He had access to some of the greatest learning ever, people who built pyramids and even performed brain surgery. He literally had it all. He had access to anything and everything a person of his day could desire. But, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that he gave it all up. Why would he do that? He considered disgrace for the sake of Christ as greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. He believed that there was something worth more than all the treasures of Egypt. He understood that enjoying a life of sin in this world might be fun, but it’s not worth missing out on enjoying the treasures of heaven for all eternity.

Jesus’ first two parables before us today describe a person like Solomon and Moses. They describe a person who has right priorities, who understands what is most important.

It’s interesting that these two people find the treasure, what’s most important, in different ways. The first man seems to discover the treasure by accident. He is out in a field either working, or just traveling through, and he finds what he realizes is a treasure that is worth sacrificing all he has. There is no indication that he was looking for it, or even knew that such a treasure existed.

He would be like a person who knew nothing about the Bible, who maybe had heard the name Jesus but didn’t really know anything about him. But this person maybe ended up attending a Christian school, or started dating a Christian, or happened to work with a Christian. Some how or other, without looking for it, they came into contact with the greatest treasure there is, the good news that Jesus lived and died for them and for all people. The Holy Spirit works faith and joy in their hearts so that, like Moses, they are willing to break all ties with their former beliefs, and even with family if necessary, because nothing is more important than having eternal life in Jesus.

The joy demonstrated by such a person often puts us to shame. One such person told me that when he realized the truth about his salvation, he was like a person who had been barely surviving in the desert. When he found an oasis with unlimited food and water he began jumping for joy, but all the people there- those who had always known the truth- looked at him as if he were crazy and wondered what he was so excited about. It’s so easy for those of us who have always had the greatest treasure there is, who have always known Jesus as our Savior, to take our treasure for granted.

The second person is looking for treasure, fine pearls. This person knows that there is something out there that they are missing. They investigate all kinds of different teachings and philosophies of life, but none completely satisfies. They keep looking for fine pearls. Then, one day, they hear about what God has done for them in Jesus. They come across the Bible and learn that Jesus is the perfect pearl. He alone lived on earth without sin. He offered himself as the unblemished sacrifice, the only thing valuable enough to pay the debt of the sin of the world. He alone rose from the dead and is living in the perfect glory of heaven preparing riches beyond our imagination for all who love him. This person realizes that he has found what he is looking for. As valuable as all his other fine pearls are, as intriguing and wise as all the other philosophies of the world seem, he realizes that they are rubbish compared to Jesus and eternal life in him. He sells them all. He gives up every other idea and philosophy so that he can have Jesus, the pearl of great price.

These parables illustrate what Jesus said a number of different ways in plain words. He makes it clear that He is to be our greatest treasure. He and his word are to be our number one priority. He says, if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. He says, anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Keeping Jesus as our priceless treasure; seeing him as our pearl of great price; making sure that Jesus and his word are always our top priority; is easier said than done. Even Solomon, who started off making God and his word his top priority, didn’t always keep it as his top priority. At least for a while, he made building projects and women a higher priority than God and his word.

What about you? By God’s grace you know that God and his word, your eternal life in Jesus, is your most important possession and should always be at the top of your priority list. You know that in every decision you make in life your number one question should be, “how will this affect my relationship with Jesus? How will this bring God glory and help others come to share in this treasure I enjoy?” But we all have to admit that we often make decisions based on other priorities – what will make me the most money, what will give me the most happiness today, what will make me feel good?

Maybe that’s why Jesus told the parable of the dragnet next. It is similar to the parable of the wheat and the weeds, but this parable seems to be talking about the visible church. The net seems to be the preaching of the Gospel which attracts all different kinds of people into a visible church. But as Jesus says, not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” will enter into the kingdom of heaven. The net is pulled ashore on the last day and the angels separate the good fish from the worthless fish, those who are righteous by faith in Jesus and those who were members of the church in name only. Those without faith, those for whom Jesus was not the number one priority, will be cast into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This parable, by placement and meaning, illustrates the familiar words of Paul, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! Make sure that your trust is not in a church, a denomination, a person, a style of worship; make sure that your trust is not in anything but Jesus. Make sure he is your priceless treasure for whom you are willing to give up anything and everything because nothing is worth more than eternal life in him.

Jesus asked if the disciples understood the meaning of these parables. They said that they did. And Jesus grants that they did because he compares them to scribes, teachers of God’s word, who are trained as disciples of the kingdom of heaven. But his final parable reminds them and us that we are not to become complacent. As those who have the priceless treasure of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, we are not to think- I know all I need to know. I’m saved. Now I can concentrate on other priorities. No. Jesus is to remain our top priority. We are to be like a person who has all kinds of treasure in the house. We are ever increasing our treasure as we continue to dig into God’s word, realizing that there are always more riches for us to find there.

This is important for selfish reasons. Continued study of God’s word will enrich our lives. It is the means through which God guides us on the narrow path to heaven. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit helps us keep Jesus and our salvation our number one priority.

It is also important for the sake of others. As we grow in our knowledge of Scripture, we are better able to share the priceless treasure with others. We are better able to understand it ourselves, and then explain it to others, and help others rejoice like the person who found treasure in the field and the man who found the pearl of great price. Then we can rejoice together with them over the treasure of heaven that Jesus won for us.

August 2, 2020 Sermon

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Aug 032020

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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Evil is very obvious in our world today. We hear daily reports about the effects of the virus. People get in heated arguments about what they think we should do about it. We hear daily reports of rioting; people starting fires, destroying property, throwing fireworks at police who are protecting buildings they want to burn down. We hear people purposely using loaded words to advance their agenda and demonize their opponents. Even if we turn off the news and focus only on our little part of the world, we see evil. We hear people constantly putting the worst construction on what others say or do. We say hurtful things to each other. Siblings get into fights. Neighbors feud. We give in to temptation. It’s no surprise that Jesus taught us to pray, deliver us from evil. But how and when will God answer that prayer?

Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds gives us the answer to those questions.

Before we get to how and when evil will come to an end there’s another question that Jesus answers. It’s a question that a lot of people struggle with. Why is there evil in the first place? Where did evil come from?

This question has caused a lot of people to turn away from God because they blame God for evil. They think that, since God is supposed to be the creator of all that exists, and since he is supposed to be all knowing and all powerful, then he must be at least somewhat responsible for evil. Shouldn’t he have foreseen what was going to happen? Shouldn’t he have done something to stop it?

It might seem that way to our limited human minds, but as Paul says, who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? And as God says through Isaiah, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. When our thoughts differ from what God says in his word, we must defer to the word and realize that there are many things about God and his rule of the universe that we don’t know or can’t understand.

Jesus says that the field in his parable represents the world. He, the Son of Man, equally God with the Father from eternity, sowed good seed in the field of the world. Now, unlike the previous parable of the sower, the seed in this parable does not represent the word. It represents the sons of the kingdom. It represents believers.

Adam and Eve were created as believers, in the image of God. And throughout the history of the world God has seen to it that there always are and will be believers, sons of the kingdom, in the world. Even in Israel at the time of Elijah, where Baal was worshiped through ritual prostitution, and Jezebel was executing the prophets of God, and people were offering their children to Molech, God reserved 7,000 sons of the kingdom. The Son of Man plants good seeds in the field of the world. No matter how evil the world gets, he will always have his remnant of believers.

The servants in the parable are confused. If their master only plants good seed, and they know that he does, that he is not the author of evil, then where do the weeds come from? If God only plants good seed, if he is not responsible for evil, why is there evil?

Jesus’ answer is an enemy did this. And he tells us clearly who this enemy is. The enemy who sowed them (the weeds) is the Devil.  And the weeds that he sows are the sons of the Evil One. They are all those who continue to listen to Satan instead of listening to God and his word. As Paul says do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

When we hear these things, we are tempted to respond as the servants did. Should we gather up the weeds? Shouldn’t we destroy the weeds? After all, isn’t that what you do with weeds? You do your best to get rid of them. You pull them. You spray them with chemicals. And that would be fine if we were just talking about weeds. But remember, the weeds represent people. When James and John thought that because some Samaritans refused to allow Jesus to come to their village, they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them, Jesus did not let them. He rebuked them.

Jesus makes it clear that it is not our job to destroy people because we believe they are sons of the Evil One. No matter how evil they seem to be, no matter what they might do to us, God never says that it’s our job to destroy them. In some cases, God gives those to whom he gives earthly power the right to destroy, to execute those who do evil, but he does not give his disciples, the church, the right to destroy people who seem to be evil. He explains to his servants why. He tells them that if they try to destroy the weeds, if we try to destroy those that seem to be sons of the evil one, they may end up destroying some of the wheat. We might end up the destroying some believers along with the unbelievers.

Here is where, even though Jesus uses the example of wheat and weeds, the comparison limps. Unlike wheat and weeds than can never change, people can. Some of those Samaritans who didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, when they later learned about his death and resurrection through the preaching of Philip, may have been changed from weeds to wheat, from unbelievers to believers. If Jesus had allowed James and John to call down fire from heaven to destroy them some who later became believers might have been lost for all eternity. As long as people have physical life and the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus the power of God’s word can turn them from unbelief to faith, from weeds to wheat, from being sons of the Evil one to sons of the kingdom.

Another reason that we are not to make it our responsibility to physically destroy those who seem to be sons of the Evil one is that by doing so we become stumbling blocks to others. They use our unloving actions as reasons, excuses, to reject God and his word.

So, evil does not end by those who claim to be believers physically putting an end to those who seem to be the sons of the Evil One. In fact, we would ultimately have to destroy ourselves because we all are guilty of doing evil. None of us is perfect. Good and evil will continue in this world until God brings the world to an end. Only he can bring an end to evil.

Jesus says, let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First, gather up the weeds, bind them in bundles, and burn them. Then, gather the wheat into my barn. The harvest is the end of the world. The reapers are – not people – but angels. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will pull out of his kingdom everything that causes sins and those who continue to break the law. The angels – not people – will throw them into fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

John sees in Revelation that the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars– their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. Nothing impure will ever enter the new Jerusalem, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. There will be nothing evil allowed in God’s kingdom. When Jesus returns in glory on the last day all who remain children of the Evil One, unbelievers, will be destroyed.

Those words should strike you as scary at first, for it is clear that we have all sinned. It is clear that there have been times when we have been guilty of idolatry because we made someone or something more important than God, even if it was only for a short time. It is clear that there have been times when we have lied, either by keeping quiet about what God says in his word, or about something we have done wrong or failed to do. It is clear that every single one of us should be bundled with the rest of the weeds and thrown into the unquenchable fire of hell.

But Jesus says that the righteous will shine like the sun. The sons of the kingdom will be separated from the weeds. The angels will separate the sheep from the goats and the sheep, the believers will be invited to spend eternity with Jesus in the new Jerusalem where no one and nothing evil will be allowed to enter ever.

Who are the righteous? Who are the sons of the kingdom? You are. The righteous are those who have been declared righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus. The righteous are those who have been clothed in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. The sons of the kingdom are those who have been adopted by the Father, who are heirs with Christ of the perfection of heaven. They are those who admit that they have no righteousness of their own, that they deserve nothing but punishment, that they are deserving the fiery furnace as much as anyone else, but have been cleansed, justified and sanctified in the name of Jesus by the Spirit of God at work in the word and sacraments.

God is not responsible for evil. He is the only reason there is anything good in this world. We cannot rid the world of evil. As long as the world exists there will be good and evil in the world. But evil will not last forever. When Jesus comes again in glory, the angels will separate the weeds from the wheat, the sheep from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. Until then, stay close to the word and sacrament through which the holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith, and do all you can to share the good news about Jesus with others. It is only by the power of the word that the Holy Spirit can make more wheat, more children of the kingdom.

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