Open, Empty Hands

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Pentecost 21 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
October 17, 2021
Ecclesiastes 5:10-20, Hebrews 4:1-13, Mark 10:23-31

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Picture for a moment that it is all over; the trumpet has sounded, Jesus has returned, the dead have been raised, the living have ascended and everyone has been brought before the judgement seat of God.  You are watching the Lord on His throne separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep are sent marching through the pearl gates of the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem, and the goats to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  When you come to the throne of God to be judged, what will you do?  What will you offer God in exchange for your salvation?

            Will you pull out your blue U.S. passport to prove you are an American citizen and therefore worthy of eternal life with the Lord?  Will you produce your résumé or your C.V. showing how your skills and hard work were rewarded by a continuing upward climb in your career?  Will you bring out pictures of your children to show that you did a good job as a parent? What will you offer to God?

            Perhaps you can show him a picture of your house, or your car, or your investment portfolio.  Maybe you can tell him about all of the good things you have done over the years to help other people.  What will you offer to God on judgment day?

            The truth is that you have nothing to offer to God in exchange for your soul. On judgment day you will come before the throne of God with empty hands.  You will come before God as a helpless child with nothing to offer to save yourself.  This is radical helplessness.  God does not care about the things of this world.  All of the things that seem so important in this life will have no value on the Last Day.  The only thing that will matter is whether or not you are clothed in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness that covers all your sins.  Are you protected by the blood of Jesus?  Are you a baptized child of God born again in water and the spirit, marked by the cross, redeemed by Christ, the crucified?  All you will have on the judgement day is the forgiveness of sins earned by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus poured out on you in your baptism, in the Word of God, and in the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. 

You come to God with open, empty hands and Jesus fills you and saves you.  Even though you are by nature blind, dead and an enemy of God, He gives you the gift of eternal life.  Each Sunday you come here to the altar with open, empty hands to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for you.

            You come to God with open, empty hands and so also you live your life open-handed.  Into your open, empty hands God places things for your management.  You don’t own these things, but you are steward of these things. What God puts into your care is yours to care for during your time on earth.  Children, family, home, transportation, finances, belongings, employment, skills, time.  These things are important in this life and you are the manager of God’s gifts which you hold in your open hands. 

            There is great temptation in this life to try to get the most you can and close your fist and hold onto it tightly.  Far too many cling to money.  Sadly, it is quite normal for people to fear, love and trust money above all things.  This is a great danger because if you love money and cling to money you are not able to love God and cling to the cross of Christ. Also, if you love money you will never be content.  Ecclesiastes 5:10 (ESV) 10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.  

            You cannot cling to money because you will lose your salvation.  Matthew 6:24 (ESV) 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  Much less importantly, clinging to money will make it so that you will never be satisfied and won’t enjoy the gifts that God has given.  King Solomon gives sage advice about the satisfaction and joy of workers while the wealthy worry. Ecclesiastes 5:12 (ESV) 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.”  And, Ecclesiastes 5:18 (ESV)  18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” 

            Hold the gifts God gives you in open hands and enjoy the work you are given to do.  The work you are given to do is a gift from God.  Whether that is being a student, working a part time job, manufacturing, teaching, plumbing, running a business, caring for your children, or some other honest work.  Work is a gift from God.  In retirement you find new ways to serve others.  Retirement is an opportunity to serve others in ways you were unable to before.  God has created you to work. 

            This is baffling.  It makes no sense to the disciples.  They, like us, equate wealth with blessings from God.  God, of course, loves rich people.  Rich people have it all together.  Wealth is a sign of God’s favor.  Isn’t it?  The disciples would not let little children come up to Jesus, but ushered the rich young man up to Jesus right away because rich people are good.  Right?

            In our Gospel reading we see that 2,000 years ago folks’ view of money is very much like today and Jesus’ teachings turns this all upside down.  Mark 10:23 (ESV) 23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

            This is baffling.  It makes no sense to the disciples.  They, like us, equate wealth with blessings from God.  God, of course, loves rich people.  Rich people have it all together.  Wealth is a sign of God’s favor.  Isn’t it?  The disciples would not let little children come up to Jesus, but ushered the rich young man up to Jesus right away because rich people are good.  Right?

Jesus’ teaching is radical; then and now.  He repeats it to make sure they understand.  Mark 10:24–27 (ESV) 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”       27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”  Your riches won’t get you into the Kingdom of God — Jesus will. 

            This further illuminates what Jesus had taught earlier.  Mark 10:15 (ESV) 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 

            Little children have nothing to offer God and they know it.  Children simply receive the gift of forgiveness as a promise from their dear Lord Jesus.  Children know they are helpless and needy; they know they need a savior.  Rich people may want to believe they are powerful and independent, but they also are helpless and needy and they also need a savior. Rich people need Jesus. 

            And in case you are thinking that I am talking about those other rich people, all of you, by world standards, are rich.  To be rich in the world is to have more than one pair of shoes and get to choose what you eat.  You are rich and you need Jesus. 

You come to God with open, empty hands and He fills you with forgiveness. You receive the gift of forgiveness as a promise from your dear Lord Jesus and so you fear, love and trust in God above all things.  You come to God with open, empty hands and He fills them with His love.  He fills them with forgiveness.  You come to God with open, empty hands and He fills them with the things needed for life in this world. 

            Now, if you work hard, are careful with debt, and live within your means there is a good chance the amount of money and goods under your stewardship will grow.  Sometimes it can grow to large amounts.  Always hold it in open hands.  Beware of the temptation to fear, love and trust in money.

            Hold the gifts God gives you in open hands with your fingers spread.  Let the gifts flow into your hands from God, live within your means, save some for a rainy day, and let the gifts flow out to others.

            Be generous.  Use your money and goods to love God and love your neighbor.  Care for those given to you and also for those in your community and world. For those who own or manage businesses you have a great burden to manage the business well to provide for your employees and their families.

            Be deliberate in your giving.  Give a generous, regular, first-fruits offering to the Lord through His Church to fund the continued proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Give to groups doing the Lord’s work of caring for others.  Lend to others not expecting to be repaid.  Tip liberally.  With money and belongings, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Know that whatever gifts you have in this life they can be used to help others in this life, but they have no value for eternity. 

            All the things of this world that seem to be so important will mean nothing on the Last Day.  On the Judgement Day you will stand before Jesus with the only thing that matters; the robe of Jesus’ righteousness that covers all your sins.  You need Jesus, and Jesus has given you all you need.  In the end, that is all that matters.  Amen. 

We have a heart problem

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Pentecost 19, 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
October 3, 2021
Genesis 2:18-25, Hebrews 2:1-13, Mark 10:2-16

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            We have a heart problem in our nation and it is affecting our families. As we heard a few weeks ago in our Gospel reading…Mark 7:20–22 (ESV) 20 … out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”  We have a heart problem and it leads to no end of trouble. 

            As a culture we have forgotten what marriage is. We no longer understand that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.  This confusion has been going on long before the Supreme Court invented a right to same-sex marriage in 2015.

            So what is marriage?  Lately, folks have come to see marriage as a temporary relationship with your #1 person.  People believe that marriage is the recognition of an intense emotional relationship that lasts as long as that intense emotional relationship remains the #1 relationship in your life. 

            This is what most people in our nation believe marriage to be.  It grows out of the sexual revolution, the hook-up culture, cohabitation and no-fault divorce.  This country, for the most part in marriage, has abandoned monogamy, exclusivity, permanence and sexual complementarity.  Our society has sacrificed marriage on the altar of the sexual freedom.  As a human institution, marriage is beaten and bloodied.  It looks like marriage might be down for the count, but looks can be deceiving. 

Marriage is under attack, but marriage will never be killed off by people, because marriage is not a human institution.  Marriage is instituted by God in Genesis 2:24 (ESV) 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  Marriage is not what we say it is.  Marriage is what God says it is.

            Marriage unites a man and a woman comprehensively. It is a comprehensive sharing of life. It is a comprehensive permanence. It is a comprehensive forsaking of all others.  This comprehensive union requires an intimate bodily union; two becoming one flesh. Marriage is the complete, total sharing of life and is ordered toward life. 

            Marriage is what God says it is, and marriage is good. Marriage is good for the husband.  Marriage is good for the wife.  Marriage is good for the children.  Marriage is good for society.  Governments recognize this good. 

            Why do you need a license to get married?  Why does the state of Ohio care about marriage? Is it that the state government is a sucker for romance?  Does the state care if you are with your #1 in an intense, emotional relationship?  No.  The government knows that it is a great benefit for parents to be married and for a father to be there at the birth of his children, and be there to raise his children. [1] 

            In our Gospel reading today, the Pharisees are testing Jesus to try to distract Him from His ministry with a difficult, divisive question.  Is divorce allowed?  It is still a difficult question in churches today.  Lots of people have gone through divorce and it can leave you feeling ashamed, damaged and a lesser Christian than others.  I fear many divorced people in church feel isolated and alone.  Divorce does happen.  There are times when divorce is unavoidable and sometimes it is the best option in a bad situation.  The great good news is that Jesus forgives real sins including divorce. 

            Hard hearts cause divorce, and we are all at risk.  It is your constant battle in life.  I know it is mine.  We inherit a naturally hard heart from our great, great grandpa Adam and it wants to creep back in and lead us into selfishness and sin. 

            It is a touchy question — is divorce allowed?  The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus, they want him to alienate some by saying divorce is always allowed, or anger others by saying divorce is never allowed. 

When questioned by Jesus, the Pharisees said that Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce.  Jesus explains why Moses did this.  Mark 10:5 (ESV) … “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.  Remember, “out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

            Hard hearts cause divorce, and we are all at risk.  It is your constant battle in life.  I know it is mine.  We inherit a naturally hard heart from our great, great grandpa Adam and it wants to creep back in and lead us into selfishness and sin. 

You have an inherited heart problem but Jesus has given you the solution.  In your baptism, as we saw with Nate this morning, you received a heart transplant which is foretold by the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”  In Christ you have a new heart; a loving heart, a submissive heart, an obedient heart.  In Christ, there should be no divorce.

            And yet there is divorce.  There is divorce because we live in a world of heart trouble. There is divorce because we live in a fallen world and we are by nature sinful and unclean.  There is divorce because with no-fault divorce there is nothing you can do if your spouse demands a divorce.  There is divorce because out of the heart flows sexual immorality and adultery.  There is divorce because sometimes the abuse that flows from a wicked hard heart makes staying married impossible and getting divorced the lesser of two evils.  Those who have been divorced know most clearly the pain and heartache and trouble brought about by divorce even when it is not your intention.  Thank God Jesus offers real forgiveness for real sins. 

            Marriage is built as the one flesh union of a man and a woman.  In marriage you lose your individual identity as you are comprehensively united with another. What St. Paul writes to the church in Philippi as to how followers of Jesus are to act toward others has an even heightened importance in marriage.  Philippians 2:3–4 (ESV) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  What a beautiful picture of a good marriage. 

            Marriage trouble is caused by heart problems.  I am acutely aware for myself that it is hard to admit when I am wrong.  I hate to admit I am wrong and yet it has happened once or twice over 33 years of marriage.  If you get into a heated disagreement with your spouse do not let the anger linger and let the devil get a foothold.  Do not let the sun go down on your anger.  Call a time out, take a moment to cool off, and then go your spouse and apologize for losing your cool.  Marriage is hard work.  When you are struggling with marriage because your heart is hardening, come to the Lord like a helpless child and pray in the words of the Psalmist David in Psalm 51:10 (ESV)  10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Confess the hardness of your heart.  Repent and turn back to Christ who gives you a heart of flesh.  Receive the forgiveness won for you on the cross of Calvary where Jesus’ heart is pierced so your heart of stone can be replaced with a new heart.  Receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.  Live under the will of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you.

For those who are single and seeking a spouse, pray God, if He wills, sends you a good Christian spouse with whom to share your life. 

            For those who have been divorced, know that you are washed clean in the blood of Jesus.  He has taken your shame and guilt as far from you as the East is from the West. 

            For those who are married, remember that your spouse is so much more your current #1 person.  This is the person God has comprehensively united with you to become one flesh, and God-willing, create new life.  “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  Love your spouse with a selfless love.  Forgive each other freely.  Work together in service to get through each day.  Do the little things in service to each other.  Take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, vacuum the house, cut the grass, help the children with their homework. 

In baptism Christ has given you a heart transplant.  Embrace your new heart and be on guard against a hard heart creeping back in.  As a beloved child, love God, love your neighbor.  Forgive one another the way that Christ has forgiven you.  Love your spouse with the heart of flesh given you by Jesus.  Treasure your spouse as a gift from God.  Amen.


[1] From presentation by Ryan T. Anderson 8/28/21 Davenport, IA

Living Stones

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Rev. Gilbert J Duchow                                                                                   
125th Anniversary
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio 
September 26, 2021
1 Peter 2:1-10

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Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
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Topic: “Living Stones”

Text: Selections from 1 Peter 2:1-10: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to the Lord, a living stone, rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house….So the honor is for you who believe.  But for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense….But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

            I begin with some precious memories of our life and ministry together at Immanuel.  The first time we visited Immanuel in 1980, we were greeted by streams of joyful children from the school—presenting us with more than 100 pair of their hands that they had traced and cut out of paper—warmly welcoming us to Immanuel.  I still have those welcoming hands stored away in my Immanuel box of memorabilia.

            A couple months later was what I call my “baptism” at Immanuel.  After 4 inches of rain fell in 2 hours, the quiet little stream at the edge of the property turned into a raging torrent which filled the church basement with 9 feet of water.  After the fire Department had pumped out the basement, the hard work of cleaning up began. 

The next day there were only about a dozen who showed up to help.  That evening I decided to get to know the congregation.  I got out the church directory and called every family and individual in the church—inviting them to join us the next day, a Saturday, to help with the clean-up. Many people were grateful, saying that they had never been asked before to help with anything at church.  Of course, there were a few who said something like, “What church are you talking about?  Oh yes, we used to belong to Immanuel.”

            I could go on for quite a while sharing precious memories. I will mention just a few—Vacation Bible Schools that drew as many as 250 children from the church and community, joyous Easter services beautified by the Easter garden in the chancel, delightful Easter breakfasts with favors at every place made by Emma Ziegler and the youth group, a 2-hour weekly Bible class that twice drew 50 people for a two-year journey through the Bible, the marvelous ministry of Jeff Pool in our school and with our youth and seniors, and the countless people of God who were the backbone of the ministry at Immanuel–and the source of so much joy and blessing for me and my family.

            When I began my ministry at Immanuel in 1980, there were quite a few members who could still remember the old, white-framed church building, that was torn down in 1950, when the congregation moved out to the edge of town to their beautiful new stone church.  But I expect that there is hardly anyone here today who remembers the old building or the decades-long ministry of Pastor Ziegler.  There are many changes in a congregation in 70 years—and even more in 125 years.

            Through the years, Immanuel has been blessed with many faithful pastors and teachers, several of whom have had long, fruitful ministries, including Pastor Jud, who has well-surpassed my 16 years of service here.  Through the years, hundreds of members have come and gone—some transferred to other congregations, and many transferred to the church triumphant in heaven.  But one thing never changes—the church’s message and mission—”to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous and eternal light.”   Above all, our Savior never changes.  The Bible assures us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  By God’s grace, He has always been, is now, and always will be–the cornerstone of Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Church members come and go.  But one of the great blessings for the good and growth of God’s Kingdom are the members who come and grow, the ones whom Peter calls “living stones,” people who keep on growing up into Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work through God’s Word and Sacraments.  Living stones take up their cross daily and follow Christ faithfully.  Living stones are committed to sharing the light and love and saving grace of Jesus Christ with people all around them and all around the world.

By God’s grace, you and I are counted among those living stones.  We are very imperfect people.  But through our faith in Christ, we live in His forgiveness.  And each day He covers us anew with His righteousness, which covers over all of our guilty stains.

            Sadly, there are many people these days, including some who were brought up in the church, who are looking to sources other than Jesus Christ, the Rock of our salvation, for spiritual nourishment and hope for the future.  They are trying to build their spiritual life on whatever lifeless stones and ideas suit their fancy at the time.  But all they end up with is “stone soup,” which offers them no real or lasting nourishment or hope or peace.

Peter makes clear that in order to build a spiritual house that will stand strong through the storms of life, and will accomplish God’s will and purposes, we must first become living stones through the pure spiritual milk of baptism. Then by God’s grace, we continue to taste and see that the Lord is good, as we feed on God’s holy Word and Holy Supper. Through these means of grace, God’s Spirit continually breathes new life into our ministry as God’s chosen people—and prevents us from becoming God’s frozen people. 

As we grow in our faith in the Living Stone, Jesus Christ, and build our spiritual life on the foundation of His Word and promises, God’s Spirit gathers us together in a spiritual house like Immanuel.   Then, working together under the leadership of a pastoral shepherd, God’s people focus their efforts on carrying out Christ’s mission—to make disciples for Christ, and to help those disciples grow and mature in their Christian faith– and their life of Christian love and service.  This has been the mission of Immanuel for 125 years, and by God’s grace, will continue to be its central focus for decades to come.

            However, just as in Peter’s day, so today, many people reject God’s priceless gifts of forgiveness, new life and salvation which Jesus earned for us on the cross.  They try to create their own version of stone soup, which can never satisfy their spiritual thirst.   2,000 years later, Jesus is still “the stone that the builders rejected,…a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”  

An increasing number of people these days are taking offense at the exclusive claims of our Biblical faith.  They claim that all religions are basically the same, there are many saviors, and all roads lead to the same place.   Peter says that we are to share the saving message of the Gospel with gentleness and respect.  But we must always stand firm in our faith.  As the hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”  Jesus Christ may not always be “the people’s choice.”  But He is the only choice for our salvation.  Peter says clearly in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

            By God’s grace, Immanuel is made up of living stones whom God has gathered together as the building blocks for His church—living stones like you!.  But the psalmist reminds us that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1).  We must always let the Master Builder be our architect and builder.

For 125 years, the Master Builder has given to the people of Immanuel countless times when you have “tasted the kindness of the Lord,” countless times when your ministry has been blessed beyond measure.  The lives of literally thousands of people have been touched and transformed by the light and love of Christ, through the ministry of Immanuel’s church and school.  As you keep on growing God’s family in this community and region, by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and keep on providing the opportunities for everyone at Immanuel to grow up in Christ and serve the Lord with gladness, you will continue to be a blessing for countless people, who will be blessed as you and I have been, to call Immanuel their home!   May God grant it for Jesus’ sake.        Amen.

Uncomfortable Comfort

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Pentecost 16, 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 12, 2021
Isaiah 50:4-10, James 3:1-12, Mark 9:14-29

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Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   |
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itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

In our Gospel lesson from Mark 9 we meet a very comforting man.  Not Jesus this time, but rather the father of the son with an unclean spirit.  This man brings us a sort of uncomfortable comfort because this man is so much like us. The man’s son has a spirit that makes him mute and tries to destroy him and so the father brings his son to Jesus’ disciples to have them cast the evil spirit out.  The father has high hopes of deliverance, but the disciples are unable to drive out the demon.  The Jewish scribes, with glee, watch the disciples’ failure and seize the opportunity to point out their humiliation.  The scribes and disciples are locked in a heated dispute when Jesus returns from being on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John.  The crowd, which had been interested in the argument, now turns their attention to Jesus.  Jesus inquires as to what is going on and the father explains what has happened with his son.  Mark 9:21–22 (ESV) 21 And Jesus asked [the] father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 

            It is here we find the uncomfortable comfort.  The father says to Jesus, “If you can do anything…”  The man’s faith has been weakened.  He believed Jesus’ disciples could drive out this evil spirit, but then they could not.  Now he is not so sure Jesus can help.

            How often do you find yourself, like this father, with weakened faith?  There are times when it feels like your faith is so strong that nothing could shake it. Perhaps just after worship on a Sunday when the hymns and the sermon and the Lord’s Supper have strengthened you and have fortified you for the coming week and you feel like your faith is unshakeable.  But then comes those things that shake your faith. 

Hardships and tragedies can weaken faith.  A family member gets sick; a loved one dies and you find yourself blaming God.  Your marriage is in trouble, your child is on a bad path, your finances are a mess. There is a natural disaster or a violent attack.  You grow angry with God and become more distant from His Word and His sacraments, and your faith weakens. 

Success, also, can shake your faith.  Things are going well, the kids are achieving great things in sports, you’ve gotten a promotion at work, there is some money in the bank, and God seems less important.  Your faith in yourself grows stronger and your faith in God grows weaker. 

            You would like to believe that your faith just grows ever stronger and more vibrant throughout your life, but you know that is not true.  You know that you have times when you are just barely holding onto faith in Christ Jesus. In today’s Gospel reading we meet a man like that.  He is barely holding onto faith.  His son is in trouble, maybe Jesus can help, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

            Here is a man, like us, who is struggling in faith. How does Jesus react?   Mark 9:23 (ESV) 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 

            What wonderful good news for you and for me. Jesus helps a man with weak faith. Jesus hears the man’s prayer and responds and drives the evil spirit from his son.  And this is such good news.  Jesus hears the prayers of those with weak faith.  Halleluiah! 

            The man wants to believe, but he just watched Jesus’ disciples fail to help his son.  He is desperately hanging on by a thread.  Mark 9:24 (ESV) 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 

            What a great prayer.  It is powerful in its humility and simplicity.  It is honest and it is trusting.  And how does God in flesh respond to this humble prayer, Mark 9:25–27 (ESV) 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 

            What wonderful good news for you and for me. Jesus helps a man with weak faith. Jesus hears the man’s prayer and responds and drives the evil spirit from his son.  And this is such good news.  Jesus hears the prayers of those with weak faith.  Halleluiah! 

            At times, people will ask me to pray for good weather or something saying, “Because you are closer to the Big Guy.”  But I am not.  Being a pastor does not make me closer to God.  I struggle with sin.  I struggle with faith.  This is my prayer too, “I believe, help my unbelief.”

            I know it must be, at times, your prayer also, “I believe, help my unbelief.”  The great Good News in today’s Gospel reading is to know that Jesus hears the prayers of those with weak faith.  This is Good News for you, for me, for the world.  It is Good News because we live in a world of people with weak faith.  This is a world filled with bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. 

            Jesus’ gentle treatment of those weak in faith fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah as we hear in Matthew 12:20 (ESV) 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 

            Jesus is gentle with those struggling with faith. He is gentle with those who don’t have it all together.  Jesus is gentle with those who struggle with sin and temptation.  Jesus eats with sinners.  Jesus does not lessen the law, but He speaks the truth in love.  Jesus loves you so much he takes the penalty for your sin upon himself and offers you the forgiveness of sins. 

            And so in this world of broken, hurting people; in this world of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks; those who presume to speak for God bear a great responsibility.  Pastors and church teachers are warned in our reading from James, James 3:1 (ESV) 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 

            James then talks about how difficult it is to control the tongue.  I could probably come up with a whole sermon series just relating personal experiences of my lack of control of my tongue throughout my life.  We all have issues with this, but whose tongues is James specifically talking about here?  The tongue of the pastor.  The tongue of the church teacher.  Those who speak on behalf of God and say, “Thus saith the Lord,” must truly speak on behalf of God.

            It is a great temptation for me to preach my own opinions and present it as God’s Word.  That should never be.  I must tame my tongue.

            For me, writing my sermons out fully, and editing and reediting the manuscript helps me to be more thoughtful and precise in my language and what I need to say.  It gives me time to control my tongue. 

            Because the tongue is dangerous.  James 3:5–6 (ESV) 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 

            Misguided pastors can set fields of bruised reeds on fire with false teachings.  False teachers lead people to hell.  There is a great temptation to takes God’s word and to soften it, to knock off the sharp edges, to make God’s word more in line with our thinking.  So many pastors try to get rid of truths of God that they don’t like.  They try to get rid of Hell.  They try to get rid of God’s teachings about marriage and intimacy.  They try to get rid of Jesus being the only way to the Father. They try to reshape God in their own image and then teach about this new god, but now instead of using their tongues to bless the people they are using their tongues to curse them to hell. 

            As a member of Immanuel you have a responsibility to ensure that what I am preaching is the truth of God’s Word.  You need to be so familiar with God’s Word that you will know if I have gone astray.  If you hear me preach something contrary to scripture, let me know.  There have been a couple of times when after the 8 o’clock service someone approached me to ask about a detail of something I had said that may not align with scripture.  I checked it and then adjusted the sermon for 10:45 AM.  Read and study your Bible, and listen carefully to the sermon to make sure you are always being given living water and not deadly poison.

            Together, as the Church, we stay alert and remain aware that what we believe, teach and confess is the truth of God.  Together, we cling to the forgiveness we have in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Together, we are careful to be gentle in our teachings because people are weak and have weak faith.  There are a lot of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. 

Together, as followers of Jesus here at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School, we gently speak the truth in love.  We acknowledge that we are all sinners who need a Savior.  We struggle to control our tongues.  We speak the truth in love and we trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.  Together, we pray the comforting, uncomfortable prayer of the father in Mark 9, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Amen. 

Law & Gospel

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Pentecost 15 2021 Proper 18
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 5, 2021
Isaiah 35:4-7a, James 2:1-10, 14-18, Mark 7:31-39

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Last Sunday we finished reading through St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  A beloved passage from a few weeks ago is Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

            This Sunday we begin the book of James, likely written by Jesus’ half-brother who became the first Bishop of Jerusalem.  In James we read James 2:14 (ESV) 

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” And James 2:17 (ESV) 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

            Many people have the Ephesians 2 passage as their confirmation verse.  I don’t know anyone who has James 2 for theirs. 

            You are saved by grace through faith and not by works. Faith without works is dead.  It appears we have a contradiction.  Which is true?  Saved by faith or faith without works is dead?  The answer is both.  You are saved by grace through faith, and, faith without works is dead.  Both of these truths need to be heard, so the big question here is who needs to hear which one and when. 

            When we study the catechism we learn about Law and Gospel.  The law Shows our Sins, S.O.S.  The law tells us what to do and what not to do.  The law has three uses.  It curbs our behavior.  Like when you are driving down route 129 and see a state trooper up ahead in the median. What do you do?  You slow down, even if you are doing the speed limit. The law curbs your behavior.  The law also functions as a mirror to show you your sins and show that you are a sinner.  The third use of the law is to function as a guide.  How shall I live?  Love God and love your neighbor.  Now the law does not only condemn, but it always condemns.  The law always shows you to be a sinner. 

            Hearing that “faith without works is dead,” is law.

            You are saved by grace through faith is Gospel.  The word Gospel in Greek means good news. The Gospel is the good news of forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel Shows our Savior; S.O.S.  The Gospel tells what God has done for you in Jesus Christ.  That Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins and rose from the dead to conquer death.  That, in Christ, you have eternal life.  The Law is the Word of God and the Gospel is the Word of God.  So when should we use Ephesians 2, and when should we use James 2?

Thesis VIII … the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins. 

            C.F.W. Walther was the first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which was founded in 1847 and was originally called the Die Deutsche Evangelisch-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und anderen Staaten, or The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States.  In 1947, Ohio lost out and the name was shortened to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  A sort of strange geographic name, but it is the one chosen because the Synod began in Missouri and is still headquartered in St. Louis.  Walther’s gave a series of Friday night lectures between September of 1884 and November of 1885.  His teachings about Law and Gospel were compiled from lecture notes in a very useful book called the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel.  Understanding Law and Gospel is vital for Christians.  The confusion of Law and Gospel has caused no end of trouble in the Church.  People thinking they are saved no matter what they do and people thinking they are saved by what they do.  Walther helps us understand when to use Law and when to use Gospel.  His eighth, ninth and tenth theses help clarify.

Thesis VIII … the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins. 

Thesis IX … the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when they are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace. 

Thesis X … the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.

            The Law and the Gospel are both useful.  The Gospel should be preached to those who are in terror of their sins.  The Law should be preached to those who live securely in their sins. 

            If someone is struggling with guilt and shame because they know God is holy and they are not…because God demands obedience and they fail to obey…because they try to stop sinning, but they cannot…this person does not need to hear the Law.  They know the Law.  They need to hear the Good News that Jesus died for sinners to forgive them of their sins. They need the Gospel.   

            However, if someone is secure in their sins…if they are living in ongoing, unrepentant sin…if they think, “I like to sin, God likes to forgive, that’s a pretty good deal,”… or they think, “I know that what I am doing is wrong, but everyone else is doing it, it’s no big deal, I got baptized, so I’m not going to hell,”…if they live in ongoing hatred towards others rather than love…they need to hear God’s Law.  They need to hear that faith without works is dead.  They need to hear that they must obey God’s commands and not live a life of lawlessness.  And when they repent of their sin and understand that they are indeed a sinner and the wages of sin is death, then they are ready to hear the Gospel; then they are ready to hear that their sins are forgiven in Jesus.

            James 2 is law.  Faith without works is dead.  Don’t think that just because you say you believe in Jesus that is real faith.  Real faith produces fruit; the fruit of good works. The good works do not save you, but they are present because of your faith in Christ.  As a baptized follower of Jesus you cling to the cross of Christ. You treasure the Word of God and you gather to hear the Word and receive the gifts of His Body and Blood for forgiveness of sins. 

Cling to Jesus knowing you are forgiven, and live out your forgiven life. Love your neighbors by doing what you have been given to do.  Do what you have been given to do as a wife, husband, friend, mother, father, child, grandparent, student, teacher, worker, employer, neighbor, shopper, citizen.  Do all that you have been given to do in love for your neighbor, and when you fail to love; confess your sin, receive forgiveness and live your life as a faithful follower of Jesus.  Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

            Matthew 5:16 (ESV) 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 

            Live so people see your good works and give glory to God.  Now, good works are not some specific works like going on a pilgrimage or spending a certain set amount of time each day in prayer or Bible reading.  Good works flow from knowing you are forgiven by the blood of Jesus and living out that forgiven life in all that you do. 

God’s Law shows your sin.  God’s Gospel shows Jesus has saved you from your sin.  Live in Jesus’ forgiveness.  Amen.

Battle on Two Fronts

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Pentecost 14 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 29, 2021
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Ephesians 6:10-20, Mark 7:14-25

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Last week we talked about what a husband should do if he is confronted by an angry dog while out walking with his wife.  This week you are walking alone and confront the same angry dog but this time the dog has a partner that comes up from behind you.  Now you won’t be fighting one dog, but two.  You will be battling the enemy on two fronts.

            This two front battle is what we learn about in our Epistle lesson from Ephesians and our Gospel lesson from the Gospel of Mark. In Ephesians 6, St. Paul gives instructions about one of the enemies.  Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)  12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

            One enemy is the devil and his fallen angels.  The devil is certainly active in the world and along with his minions causes no end of trouble.  The devil and his minions are your enemy, but as we read about the armor of God it becomes apparent that you do not put on the armor of God in order to go on the offensive against the devil.  You are only called to stand your ground.  Ephesians 6:13–14 (ESV)  13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore…”  And you do not stand alone.  You stand together with all the saints wearing the armor of God to protect you from the assaults of the evil one.  The devil has many strategies.  He lures, he accuses, he elevates.  By luring you he tempts you to sin.  By accusing you of the sin you commit he tempts you to despair.  By showing you other people’s sins he tempts you to become self-righteous and believe you are better than others.  Beware—do not underestimate the devil, he is clever and has thousands of years of practice.

            The bad news is that the devil knows all your weak spots.  The good news is that the devil does not know what you are thinking, but only can detect what you say and do.  So battle sin in your thoughts and do not give the devil a foothold.  The even better news is that you do not need to defeat the devil because the devil has already lost the war.  Jesus has defeated the devil and the evil one has been restrained. The devil cannot just come up and seize you.

            The devil is like a big angry dog, but this dog is on a chain.  The devil has been thrown out of heaven.  This dog has been defeated by the Lamb of God and now is restrained.  The chained dog cannot pursue you, he cannot seize you, but rather has to tempt you to come close enough for him to bite you.  So stay alert.  Stay on guard.  You have the armor of God.  You have the sword of the spirit.  You can resist the devil.  James 4:7 (ESV) 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  The devil has no power over you, he can only tempt you. 

            The one dog is on a chain.  He cannot grab hold of you if you just stay away, but he knows your weaknesses.  So you need to know your weaknesses.  Be brutally honest with yourself about your weaknesses.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 

            The battle is on two fronts.  Your greatest weakness is the second dog.  The devil is the dog in front trying to lure you, accuse you and elevate you, but he is chained.  The other dog is actually within you.  The second dog that you battle with is your own heart steeped in sinful thoughts and desires.  This battle can be far more difficult than battling the devil himself.

            In last week’s Gospel reading Jesus confronted the religious leaders about their ceremonial washings which they thought would help win them salvation.  In our Gospel lesson today Jesus confronts food laws.  Mark 7:14–16 (ESV)  14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 

            How often do you hear that you should, “just follow your heart?”  After hearing Jesus’ list of evils coming from the heart it is pretty clear to see that following your heart can be terrible advice.

            Jesus is making a radical declaration.  He is changing Old Testament teachings.  Why can this teacher from Nazareth do this?  By what authority?  He can do it, only because He is God in flesh.  The disciples are perplexed.  When alone with Jesus, He explains further in pretty earthy terms.  Mark 7:18–23 (ESV) 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” 

            Out of the heart of man come all these evil desires. This is the second front that you have to fight.  The second dog is your own heart.

            How often do you hear that you should, “just follow your heart?”  After hearing Jesus’ list of evils coming from the heart it is pretty clear to see that following your heart can be terrible advice.

            In the novel “Hammer of God,” by Swedish Lutheran Bishop Bo Giertz, an old pastor is greeting a new, young pastor arriving at the parish. The young pastor has fallen into a theology in which it is believed that a person must make a decision to believe and give his heart to Jesus.  Fridfeldt is the young pastor who is talking to the old pastor, also called a rector.

“I just want you to know from the beginning, sir, that I am a believer,” [Fridfeldt] said. His voice was a bit harsh.

He saw a gleam in the old man’s eyes which he could not quite interpret. Was approval indicated, or did he have something up his sleeve?

The rector put the lamp back on the table, puffed at his pipe, and looked at the young man a moment before he spoke.

“So you are a believer, I’m glad to hear that. What do you believe in?” 

Fridfeldt stared dumbfounded at his superior. Was he jesting with him? 

“But, sir, I am simply saying that I am a believer.”

“Yes, I hear that, my boy. But what is it that you believe in?” 

Fridfeldt was almost speechless.

“But don’t you know, sir, what it means to be a believer?”

“That is a word which can stand for things that differ greatly, my boy. I ask only what it is that you believe in.”

“In Jesus, of course,” answered Fridfeldt, raising his voice.  “I mean–I mean that I have given him my heart.”

The older man’s face became suddenly as solemn as the grave. “Do you consider that something to give him?”

By this time, Fridfeldt was almost in tears.

“But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”

“You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy,” he continued reassuringly, as he continued to look at the young pastor’s face, in which uncertainty and resentment were shown in a struggle for the upper hand, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give him one’s heart and commit oneself to him, and that he now accepts one into his little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief.  One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one’s heart to him.  The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap.  A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with him. That is how it is.”

            Don’t follow your heart.  Follow Jesus. 

            We see here in this passage from Mark how Jesus declares all foods clean.  This was a big part of Old Testament teachings and it might seem that this is a big burden lifted off the people.  They no longer have to be concerned about whether or not they are eating clean foods.  They no longer have to be worried about whether or not they are washing their hands properly.  This is a big burden lifted.  It would be a relief, except Jesus tells the people that they do need to be concerned about the sin that is coming up from inside of them.  What are they supposed to do about that?  How can you stop your sinful heart when you are, by nature, sinful and unclean? 

            As you well know, the struggle against the sin bubbling up from inside you is real and never ending — and you have failed to control it.  It would be a lot easier to wash your hands a certain way, and not eat bacon and shrimp, then to control your heart.  Jesus does not lessen the law; instead He makes you realize it is impossible to keep the law.  You cannot be good enough.  You are indeed a poor, miserable sinner.  You need a savior.

            And you have a savior.

            Matthew 5:3 (ESV) 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You are blessed for eternity when you know that you cannot be good enough but Jesus is.  Knowing you have nothing to offer God, you are blessed because you know that even though you did not earn it, you are covered over by the blood of Jesus and you have been given the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. 

            In this two front battle, the devil knows about your sinful heart and tries to use it against you.  He tempts you, he accuses you, he tries to get you to climb up on your high horse to look down on others who are “worse” than you. 

Knowing you are poor in spirit disarms the devil.  He tempts you and you know, “Ah ha!  It is that crafty devil trying again to get me to take the bait.” He tries to accuse you and you reply, “Devil, you are absolutely right, I am a sinner.  But I am baptized.  Jesus has paid for my sin.  Go talk to him.”  The devil tries to get you up on your high horse of self-righteousness and you just slap that nag on the rump and get it to run away because you know you are sinner like everyone else. 

            Strangely, knowing you are sinful to the core and you cannot stop being a sinner makes it easier in your battle against sin.  You can battle sin in your thoughts without being surprised at your sin, battle them knowing Jesus has already paid for those sins.  Knowing you are a baptized child of God. 

            You can stand your ground against the devil and his demons because you have the armor of God.  You can withstand his fiery arrows because you are protected by the truth of Jesus.  The devil has no power over you.  You are on the side of the victor.  In Christ you have victory over the devil and over your own sinful heart.  You gather here each week to be fortified for the battle against the devil and against your own sinful desires.  Here you receive forgiveness of sins in abundance in the words of absolution and in Jesus’ Body and Blood in Holy Communion. You again put on the armor of God and are strengthened for the battle.  As you declared together (at a baptism), and for little Elijah Pirn, you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  You are a baptized child of God wearing the armor of God. Stand your ground.  Amen

Husbands, love your wife.

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Pentecost 13 2021 Proper 16
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 22, 2021

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            A husband and wife are out for a walk around the neighborhood.  It is a beautiful evening with just a hint of cooler fall temperatures.  As they come around the corner a huge, angry dog is blocking the sidewalk just 10 feet in front of them.  The dog’s ears are forward, he is baring his teeth and barking and growling.  The hair on his back is standing up — he appears to be ready to pounce.  What should the husband do?

  1. Grab his wife and put her in front of him to use her as a shield.
  2. Trip his wife, push her down and run away
  3. Step between his wife and the dog and be willing to be bitten in order to protect her.

Marriage is a mysterious thing.  Those who are married know that it is an ongoing struggle to be the husband that you should be; to be the wife that you should be.  Our Epistle lesson today brings us difficult and challenging teachings about marriage and the first three verses unfortunately have been too often misused and misapplied.

Ephesians 5:22–24 (ESV) 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 

The danger in these verses is that a man hears this and he thinks this means that he has power; that he is in charge of his wife. He is the boss, the king of the castle, and his wife needs to do what he says like an obedient servant.  But is that really what the Bible is teaching us here?

Taking a few Bible verses out of context can be quite risky, so let’s keep reading.

Ephesians 5:25–27 (ESV) 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 

Wives submit to your husband.  Husbands love your wife.  How is a husband to love his wife?  A husband is to love his wife like Christ loves the church and gives Himself for her. 

As men, we like the idea of being the boss; king of the castle; master of my domain, but that is not the model for husbands. The model for being a husband is to love your wife like Christ loves the church.  Jesus comes to serve, not to be served.  He washes His disciples’ feet.  Christ fully gives Himself on the cross at Calvary to save His Church.  A husband is called to give himself fully for his wife and children.  That’s why when filling the lifeboats on a sinking ship traditionally it is women and children first.  That’s why the husband uses his body to shield his wife from the teeth of an angry dog. You do this because Jesus steps in front of you to shield you from the teeth of the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Husbands, love your wife like Christ loves the Church.  The husband is to make his wife and children feel safe and protected and loved. 

Husbands, love your wife as Christ loves the Church. Sanctify your wife, cleanse her, present her in splendor without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish.  Jesus died to forgive your sins and the sins of the world.  Jesus washes you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  Jesus covers over your sins.  He takes your sin away from you and He puts it onto Himself.  Jesus takes responsibility for your sin.  Husband, you are called to do the same for your wife.

Too often husbands and wives are in the fault-finding business.  They are critical of one another and are always looking to point out the other’s deficiencies. Marriage becomes some kind of contest. This should never be.  A man is called to love his wife like Christ loves the Church.  A man is to not see faults in his wife.  Instead, a man is to take his wife’s sins and faults and make them his own, just like Christ does for him.  A man is to see his wife as holy, without spot or wrinkle or blemish. 

In the Kenny Chesney song “The Good Stuff” an old bartender relates what the true “good stuff” is to a young husband who has come to the bar after his first big fight with his wife. 

“And it’s the way that she looks with the rice in her hair
Eatin’ burnt suppers the whole first year
And askin’ for seconds to keep her from tearin’ up
Yeah man, that’s the good stuff”

The “good stuff” is a husband covering his wife’s faults. 

            “Wives submit to your husbands,” sounds like a hard thing to do and it is. To voluntarily put yourself into the care of another is to lose “me” as you become “we” in marriage.  For men, loving your wife like Christ loves the Church is also a great submission.  The man loses “me” as he becomes “we” and gives of himself completely into caring for his wife and children.  Husbands, like Christ, give.  Wives, like the Church, receive. 

            Ephesians 5:28–29 (ESV) 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 

The wrongheaded concept of the husband as boss dissolves away in his call to servant leadership of his family based on the love of Christ.  Marriage is amazing.  Marriage is mysterious.  Marriage is sacred.  Ephesians 5:31 (ESV)  31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  In this one flesh union, God-willing, children will be conceived, nurtured, birthed, and raised.  By nature, the wife bears the burden of child-bearing and nurture, and most often, the lion’s share of raising the kids, but she does it knowing her husband will provide and protect.  Marriage is a beautiful mystery.

            St. Paul says this mystery is great.  The mystery is how Christ was hidden in marriage, but is now visible.  Now it has been revealed that marriage is based on Christ and the Church.  In marriage we get a picture of Christ’s love. Marriage is instituted by God in the beginning and is given for our benefit.

            Jesus teaches that as a redeemed child of God you should love God and love your neighbor.  This is an impossible standard, but one, as a forgiven child of God you strive to live out each day.  When you fail, you confess your failure; you repent of your sin, you receive forgiveness from the Lord and you continue to strive to love God and love your neighbor.

            God’s plan for marriage is also an impossible standard, and yet a wife strives each day to voluntary submit to her husband’s Christ-like loving care and protection.  A husband daily tries to love like Jesus.  Marriage is not easy.  It is a daily struggle to try to do what you have been given to do in this fallen world, and the world does not help.  The world around you with its selfishness and pornography and hook-up culture and no-fault divorce is trying to destroy your marriage. 

            The cultural elites in this nation are doing all they can do to destroy God’s institution of marriage while they themselves still mostly practice traditional marriage.  Strangely, while they want to destroy the traditional family in order to cause chaos and dependency for everyone else, they know the value of marriage for themselves. 

            They want to reshape marriage and redefine marriage.  In many places now it is considered hate speech to say, “Marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.”  If folks find out you believe this you can be fired from many American companies who will not tolerate such radical thinking.  Of course this was perfectly normal thinking up to about 5 minutes ago, but now it is considered by many to be dangerously radical.  A Lutheran bishop in Finland has been arrested for writing about this in a booklet in 2004. 

In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States invented a supposed “right” for two men or two women to get “married”, and now you are told that you must believe that marriage is the union of any two people who love each other.

            Society is confused.  Folks pretend they no longer know what a man is, or what a woman is.  You can get banned from social media or fired from your job if you say, “A man cannot have a baby.”  The cultural elites desperately desire to force you to believe that there is no difference between men and women.  They want to force you to believe that a man can simply declare himself to be a woman and that makes him a woman because feelings are more important than facts.  But this is not really a surprise, because these same people want you to believe that the life created inside a woman by the one flesh union is not actually human life unless…they decide it is life.  They believe, teach and confess that their feelings trump the facts.

            But you know the truth.  You know that men and women are different.  Men and women are complementary.  Men and women are made for each other and are made for the great mystery of marriage which is a picture of Christ and the Church.  And as much as some women bristle when they hear, “Wives submit to your husbands,” most women really do want a man who loves them unconditionally; a husband who is their strength and support in the hard times, a man to hold them and comfort them in times of trouble.  A man who provides, who protects, and who, God-willing, procreates.[1]

            Finding the right man or woman to marry can be very frustrating and difficult.  Sometimes it is impossible.  Pray for patience, pray for God’s will to be done, and remember, it is better to remain single than to marry someone uncommitted to God’s plan for marriage.  

            Planning for marriage can often be so much about the details of how to dress and what food to serve on the wedding day, but infinitely more important is to prepare to live out God’s plan for husbands and wives.  This will be a daily challenge to reject your natural selfishness and live out your forgiven life in Jesus.  It will be lifetime of forgiving each other as Jesus forgives you; a lifetime of love and respect; a lifetime of striving to love like Jesus, because He first loved you.  Amen.


[1] Man Up by Jeffrey Hemmer

Jesus is Offensive

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Pentecost 12 2021 Proper 15
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 15, 2021
Proverbs 9:1-10, Ephesians 5:6-21, John 6:51-69

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Two words seem to have gained tremendous power lately.  “I’m offended.”  If you are having a discussion or debate with someone and they say, “I’m offended,” you can feel a great deal of pressure back off, “Oh no!  I don’t want to offend you.”  There is great pressure to be nice, and back off of your arguments, and change what you are saying in order to not hurt the other person’s feelings.  Because when someone says, “I’m offended,” what they often mean is that you disagree with them and they don’t like that, and their feelings are hurt. 

            Now sometimes when people are offended it might be because you are truly being a jerk — not that that would ever happen to me — but I fear too often these days, people are offended because you are speaking the truth, and they don’t like the truth, and they want you to be quiet. 

            In John 6 the people are offended by Jesus.  They are offended because they think they know Him.  They are offended by Jesus’ teachings.  They are offended because Jesus is demanding a complete connection of their lives with His.  They are offended, but Jesus never backs off from His teachings because as Pastor Jeffrey Hemmer writes in his book, “Man Up”, Jesus is not nice, but He is good. 

            The Jews grumble because Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” But they know this Jesus.  They know His parents.  They know where He grew up.  How can Jesus now claim that He came down from heaven?  They are offended by Jesus’ audacity and they grumble. 

There is a danger here for you as well.  You are tempted to be offended by Jesus when He is not who you want Him to be.  It is easy to love baby Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem.  Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes feels like someone you can get your arms around; someone you can control.  Jesus as a baby is attractive because He is not making any demands of you. 

Jesus as the Good Shepherd is also a popular image.  Jesus caring for you, picking you up when you have fallen down, comforting you when things are going badly.  Easter Jesus is popular.  The resurrected Jesus is a great comfort.  Jesus conquers death.  Easter Jesus is a joyous, triumphant Jesus.  It is interesting that the most well-attended worship services each year are Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday.  And this is good and we should indeed celebrate Jesus’ birth and His resurrection.  We should be comforted by Jesus the Good Shepherd.  But there is more to Jesus. 

There is preaching Jesus calling you to repent and believe the Gospel.  There is Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaching, Matthew 5:44 (ESV) 44 … Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  There is Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Jesus being betrayed and arrested and beaten and mocked and whipped and crowned with thorns and cruelly nailed to the cross to slowly die… for your sins. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Jesus is offensive because if He is suffering and dying because of your sins.  This is offensive because it means — that you are a sinner.  Who does Jesus think He is that He dies for your sin?  Who is He to call you to repent of your sin? 

            In our Gospel reading the people are offended by Jesus’ teachings because they do not understand Him.  Jesus says, John 6:51-52 (ESV) 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  

Eat Jesus’ flesh???  This just doesn’t make sense in the regular, human way of thinking.  You want to think that if you cannot understand something on its face value, it must not be true.  It is easy to fall into this way of thinking.  There are many things that God teaches that do not make logical sense and you are tempted to eliminate anything you cannot understand.  How could God create the world in seven days? That doesn’t make sense.  It must not be true.  How could God cause a global flood, part the Red Sea, take Elijah up to heaven in a flaming chariot?  How could Jesus turn water into wine, heal the sick, raise the dead?  It does not make sense…it must not be true.  How can the water and word in Holy Baptism save you? How can Jesus give His Body and Blood in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion?  It is too easy to forget that God is God and you are not. It is too easy to forget the words of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 55:8 (ESV) 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 

Jesus is teaching the people in a deep, powerful way.  He is speaking with profound images.  The Lord’s Supper has not yet been established, but that is coming, and we can see foreshadowing here of the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Supper.  But what does it mean for Jesus’ followers on that day?  Martin Luther writes about this text, “To eat is synonymous here with to believe.”

            John 6:53–58 (ESV)  53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  John 6:60 (ESV) 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  The word “disciple” here means just any follower of Jesus, not particularly one of the 12. 

Jesus is teaching the people in a deep, powerful way.  He is speaking with profound images.  The Lord’s Supper has not yet been established, but that is coming, and we can see foreshadowing here of the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Supper.  But what does it mean for Jesus’ followers on that day?  Martin Luther writes about this text, “To eat is synonymous here with to believe.”[1]

            To eat the bread of life is to believe that Jesus is God in flesh, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Feeding on Jesus’ flesh and blood is to believe He is your Savior from sin and gives you eternal life.  It wouldn’t seem that this could be offensive, but it is.  The offensive part of believing in Jesus is the totality of belief.  You cannot just believe in Jesus a little.  You cannot just believe in Jesus on Sunday morning.  You cannot just believe in Jesus when it is convenient and keep Him tucked away on a shelf the rest of the time.  To believe in Jesus is to be fully reliant on Jesus.  To believe in Jesus is to lose yourself in Him; to lose your autonomy.  Believing in Jesus means you are no longer in charge of you.  You no longer get to do what you want to do, but rather you get to do what you want to do as a believer in Jesus.  This is offensive to your old sinful self who wants to be in charge.  Your old, sinful self wants to call the shots. Your old sinful self is offended that Jesus wants all of you.   

Jesus is offensive.  He wants you. He wants all of you.  You do not get to compartmentalize your money, or your sexual matters, or your anger, or your selfishness, and keep it away from Jesus’ authority.  Jesus wants all of you; the good, the bad and the ugly.  Jesus died for your ugliest sin that you do not want anyone, even Him, to know about.  But He does know your deepest, darkest, secret sin, and He forgives that sin with His own blood shed for you.  Repent and believe the Good News.   The Good News is that Jesus redeems you completely and calls you to live as a redeemed child of God; a follower of Jesus.

The Good News is that Jesus redeems you 100 percent and yet people find this offensive because they so desperately want to have a part in saving themselves. Their pride leads them to believe they must do something…anything… to help save themselves.  But there is nothing to do.  Jesus has done it all.  

Jesus is offensive because He is not nice, but He is good.  He tells you the truth that you are a sinner who needs a savior.  Jesus is the Savior come for you.  Jesus fully gives Himself on the cross to save you completely.  Jesus rises from the dead to give you eternal life.  He will return to fully raise your body from the dead.  He is not content to just save you a little.  He saves you completely. 

            Jesus is offensive because He is really God in flesh and not the Jesus of your imagination.  Jesus is offensive because He teaches with authority and His teachings contradict your human understandings.  He is offensive because He loves you completely and He redeems you completely and He calls you to fully follow Him in all that you do.

            Jesus is offensive because He is God and you are not. Rejoice that Jesus is offensive. Give thanks that Jesus is not nice, but He is good.  Amen. 


[1] LW 23:135

Y.O.L.F.

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Pentecost 11 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:1-8, Ephesians 4:17-5:2, John 6:35-51

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            In William Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar”, Caesar remarks, concerning a senator and general, “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.  He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.”  Cassius is ambitious and hungry for power.  He is, indeed, leading a plot to assassinate Caesar on the Ides of March. 

            So much of our society is built on you staying hungry; always wanting more, more, more.  More stuff, more experiences, more power.  There is a pressure to be successful; to continually keep moving up the ladder of achievement to ever higher and higher heights.  This has practical effects.  The birthrate in America is dropping because folks are putting off having children until they get their careers on track and their finances in order. Birthrates are lowest in areas with strong job markets. 

            Financial achievement becomes so very important that nothing else can get in the way.  The goal of life becomes the accumulation of more and better stuff.  There is a hunger and thirst to have more and more and to do more and more always trying to satisfy the hunger that gnaws at you from within.  This is a powerful force pushing you to accumulate and experience more and more and more and to never be content with what you have. 

Many churches have bought into this force of life and preach a message of health and wealth; a gospel of prosperity.  They teach that if you are faithful enough, God will bless you with financial success.  The American dream becomes the good news.  The message is not about forgiveness of sins through Jesus but about getting more money.  After all, who really wants to hear that they are a sinner?  People want to be successful.  But this whole approach is spiritually bankrupt because the hunger and thirst for more and more is not from God. 

            A few years ago the expression YOLO became popular.  YOLO, you only live once.  YOLO became an excuse for doing just about anything.  Should I buy that car or house or phone or clothing I really cannot afford? Well, YOLO.  Should I hook up with this cute person flirting with me?  YOLO.  Should I see how fast my car will go?  YOLO.  You only live once…death is coming for you…you cannot wait…you do not know how much time you have.  As the band Kansas once sang, “All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.  Dust in the wind.  All we are is dust in the wind.”  Dust in the wind.  Martin Franzman says this another way in our sermon hymn today, life is “an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth.” 

As popular as the saying became, YOLO is wrong. You do not only live once.  Life is not just dust in the wind.  Life is not just an aimless mote; a deathward drift from futile birth.  God’s Word means life triumphant is hurled in splendor through the broken world.  This life is not all that there is for you because you have Jesus who is the Bread of Life. 

The world hates contentment; it wants you to hunger and thirst for things, for experiences, for power.  The world wants you discontent so that you will buy whatever new shiny thing they want to sell you.  So that you will seek power despite the consequences.  So that you will chase after every fleeting pleasure the world offers for fear of missing out on something.  Instead of YOLO, now a more popular phrase is FOMO, fear of missing out, driven especially by social media.  FOMO is also used as an excuse to hunger and thirst for the things of this world.

The world hates contentment and that is exactly what Jesus offers.  St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:6–10 (ESV)  6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 

Jesus brings contentment.  John 6:35 (ESV) 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.  John 6:40 (ESV)  40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” 

            In Christ you have eternal life.  You believe in Jesus.  You have been baptized into Christ.  You have the Bread of Life.  On the Last Day Jesus will raise you from the dead.  Your body will be raised up imperishable.  As you hear on Ash Wednesday, dust you are and to dust you shall return. When you die your body is returned to the earth, but it will not remain there forever.  Just as Jesus created Adam out of the dust of the earth Jesus will raise your body up from the dust.  Your remains will be raised imperishable and will be reunited with your spirit to live forever in the heavenly city of New Jerusalem. 

            So YOLO is untrue.  You don’t only live once.  You will be raised from the dead.  You only live forever.  FOMO is also misguided.  What people should fear is missing out on going to be with the saints in heaven on the Last Day.  They should fear missing out on eternity with the Lord rather than being with the Devil and all his angels in the lake of fire.

            As a baptized believer in Jesus you are right now in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You have eternal life.  When you die, your body is buried in the ground and your spirit goes to be with the Lord to wait for the Last Day when your body will be raised from the dead and, clothed in the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness, the saints will go marching into the heavenly city and you will be in the number. 

            Too often, I fear, we are led to believe that the goal of the Christian life is to die and go to heaven, but that is getting ahead of itself. When a Christian dies, their body rests in peace, and their spirit is with the Lord.  But this is not the end.  Jesus has not yet returned.  Death still has mastery in the world.  Evil still exists.  Their body is still in the grave.  But it will not stay there.  The best is yet to come.  Three times in our Gospel reading this morning Jesus says He will raise you up on the Last Day. 

            So YOLO is untrue.  You don’t only live once.  You will be raised from the dead.  You only live forever.  FOMO is also misguided.  What people should fear is missing out on going to be with the saints in heaven on the Last Day.  They should fear missing out on eternity with the Lord rather than being with the Devil and all his angels in the lake of fire. 

            Jesus says, John 6:51 (ESV)  51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

            Jesus comes to our hall of death and breathes our poisoned air and drinks the world’s dark, strangling despair.  Jesus is laid in a grave after being crucified and it looks like death and despair have won, but Jesus rises from the dead.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia.

            Jesus gives His own flesh into death on the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.  He rises from the dead as the first fruits from the grave.  He gives you His very body to eat and His blood to drink in His Holy Supper.  Jesus is the bread of life.  Jesus gives you the bread of life and you have eternal life in Him.  Jesus will raise you from the dead on the Last Day.  

            So this life is not all that there is.  You have eternal life.  Your body will be raised from the dead as you confess in the creeds, “I believe… in the resurrection of the body.  You only live forever.  You do not need to hunger and thirst for every new thing that the world tries to sell you or get you to chase after.  You are freed from the love of money which is the root of all kinds of evil.  In Christ, you are content in life with what God has given you.  In Christ you use money and love people instead of the other way around.  In Christ you are content.  Enjoy the life that you have.  As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 5:18 (ESV) 18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.  

            You have the Bread of Life.  You have eternal life.  Rejoice and do what you have been given you to do.  Work hard as a student or worker, but not so hard you neglect your other vocations in life of child, parent, grandparent, friend, brother or sister in Christ.  Know you are redeemed by Jesus, you have the Bread of Life, you will be raised from the dead on the Last Day.  Remember to enjoy the life that you have… because you only live forever.  Amen.