Ephesians 2 or James 2

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SERMON AUDIO

Pentecost 16 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
September 9, 2018
Isaiah 35:4-7a, James 2:1-10, 14-18, Mark 7:24-37

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

A golfer tees off on a par 4 and hits a nice shot just off the fairway about 150 yards from the green.  He walks up to the ball and then he has a decision to make.  Which club should he use?  It could be anywhere from a 3 iron to a 7 iron, maybe even a wedge or a hybrid based on the golfer’s ability, wind conditions, how deep and thick is the rough.  For a golfer like me who plays every couple of years it probably doesn’t matter too much I can hit it 10 feet with almost any club, but for a good golfer, the proper club selection can make all the difference.

In many pursuits, the proper tool for the job makes a big difference.  Two screwdrivers may look very much alike, but a Philips head and a slot screw driver work best on the proper type of screws.  You need to know which tool is right for the job.  The same way with the Bible there are different tools for different jobs.

We have Ephesians 2 (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.[1]

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

Two different passages for two different purposes.

C.F.W. Walther was the first president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and the first president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  I have a picture of him on the wall of my study drawn by Joe Nagle, an inmate in prison.  In 1878, Walther gave a series of lectures to seminarians which have been preserved and recorded in the book, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.”  It is broken down into 25 theses.  This is an excellent book for Lutherans to read and study.  Theses VIII is helpful for us this morning, “You are not rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel in the Word of God if you preach the Law to those who are already in terror on account of their sins or the Gospel to those who are living securely in their sins.

Law and Gospel.  Two different situations.  Two different approaches.  James 2 is more law.  Ephesians 2 is more Gospel.

Suppose a man who regularly attends worship one day packs his bags and moves out of his house leaving behind his wife and children.  He has a new woman that he met at work and has been dating on the side and he is moving in with her because he says she understands him better and he’s happier with her.  The man’s pastor goes to visit him to warn him about his sin.  The man says, “Pastor, don’t worry about me.  I still have faith.  I still believe in Jesus.  Everything is fine.  You don’t need to question my spirituality.”

Which passage should the pastor share with this man?  Ephesians 2 or James 2?  He needs to hear James.

Or suppose a young woman comes into church to talk to the pastor and she is heartsick over things that she has done.  She hasn’t been to worship for a long time and she has gotten deeper and deeper into a lifestyle of drinking and casual intimacy.  At one point she got pregnant and her frightened boyfriend talked her into getting an abortion.  Now she is haunted by her past and is deeply troubled by what she has done.  Whenever she sees babies and small children she starts to cry.  She says to the pastor, “I’ve messed everything up and I can’t make it right.  I can’t do enough to make up for what I’ve done.  There is no way God can forgive me.  I am lost forever.”  Which verse does the pastor use for this young lady?  Ephesians 2 or James 2?  Ephesians, of course.

Ephesians 2 is for people who are trouble because of their sin and need assurance that salvation is not based on what they have done, but is based solely on what Christ has done for them.

James 2 is for people that are secure in their sin and think that as long as they say they have faith it doesn’t matter what they do.  Both verses are the Word of God, but are used for different purposes.  One comforts the troubled, and one troubles the comfortable.

You need to hear both James 2 and Ephesians 2 at various times of your life.  When you are feeling comfortable in your sin and you are loving yourself more than loving those around you, you need to hear James 2.  Likewise when you say you have faith, but your works are from the devil, hear James 2, James 2:19 (ESV)  19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder![3]

Simply believing God exists is not saving faith.  The devil believes God exists.  Saving faith believes that Jesus died for you on the cross and rose from the dead for you to pay for all your sins.  This kind of faith changes you; it makes you behave differently than those who have no faith.  As a Christian, Jesus’ love flows from God–through you–to the world.  God loves you in Christ; you love God and love your neighbor.  Saving faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit and makes you a saint; righteous, holy, innocent.  Unfortunately, at the same time, until the day you die, you will still battle your natural sinful nature that stubbornly clings to you.  It is a strange paradox of your life as a Christian … you are, at the same time, a saint and a sinner.  It can be a frustrating and difficult paradox and the devil will try to use it against you.

The devil will try to convince you that since you believe in Jesus and in His forgiveness then you are free to sin.  This makes great sense.  You think, “I like to sin.  Jesus likes to forgive sins.  What a great deal!”  You can fall into the trap of confessing Jesus with your lips, but then living life like an unbeliever.  There is an extreme example of this near the end of the first Godfather movie.  Michael Corleone is godfather to his sister Connie’s child and they are at church for the child’s baptism.  Michael is at the baptismal font renouncing the devil and all his works and all his ways at the same time his men are engaged in a massacre of the family’s enemies at Michael’s order.  Michael says he has faith in God and is against the devil, but he is embracing the devil’s ways of murder and violence.  Michael Corleone needs to hear James 2.

Another strategy of the devil is to convince you that since you still are by nature sinful that faith in Jesus is of no use because your sin is too great.  The devil whispers to you, “If you really had faith in Jesus you wouldn’t still be having those awful, twisted thoughts and desires.  You wouldn’t give in to temptation, if you were really a Christian.  If you were really a Christian you would do more to please God.”  At these times you need to hear some Ephesians 2.

A different twist on this is when people use guilt as a motivator in order to get you do whatever they want you to do.  Pastors and church leaders can fall into using this because it works.  Guilt is a very powerful tool to manipulate, “If you really had faith you would give more money; volunteer for more things; read the Bible more, come to worship more, do more of what I want you to do.”  Here you need Ephesians 2

The devil can also use this frustrating paradox of saint and sinner against you by turning your works into the source of your salvation.  This can be a great danger for pastors and others in church work.  The devil will tell you, “You do enough good things.  You’ve dedicated your life to the church.  You may not be perfect, but you are so much better than those other people.”  The devil will try to get you to rely on your own righteousness instead of knowing you need Jesus; instead of knowing we all come before God equally needy.  Here Ephesians 2 and James 2 are both useful.

The whole reading today from James 2 reminds us that we are all the same before God; there is no place for favoritism.  When we gather together for worship there are not the good seats and the cheap seats because every one of us comes before God with the exact same need and status.  We are all sinners in need of forgiveness.  We all need the same thing and Jesus gives you each the same thing.  Rich or poor, black, brown, white, it doesn’t matter; Jesus’ gifts are the same.  And, as forgiven sinners washed in the waters of baptism you are all called to the same thing; love God and love your neighbor.  Love and care for others; not just in words, but in deeds.  Love and serve and forgive others as Christ loves, serves and forgives you.  It is the fruit of salvation.

There are different tools for different jobs.  There is Ephesians 2 and there is James 2.  You live in the difficult tension of being saint and sinner.  As a baptized child of God bought with the blood of Jesus you need them both.  Live, love, serve and forgive in the tension of this paradox each day of your life knowing who you are in Christ.

Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

You are the devil’s target. Stand firm.

nullPentecost 15, 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
September 2, 2018
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Ephesians 6:10-20, Mark 7:14-23

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

When I was a teenager I used to like to watch scary movies about demons and evil spirits.  I remember that after watching a particularly frightening movie I was pretty on edge.  Every little sound in the house was that evil one from the movie coming to get me.  Somehow it seemed fun to be scared of evil.

There are many people today who like to play with evil, dabble in evil; explore evil, at Halloween it seems that folks try to get more and more gory and disturbing with a great emphasis on devils and witches and evil.

There are those who experiment with evil and find ways to try to gain power and secret insights through the dark side.  People use Ouija Boards and Tarot Cards and horoscopes to get answers to their questions.  There is a growing industry of ghost tours as people seek out contact with spirits for fun.

There are times folks want to explore the dark side and play with evil spirits, and there are other times folks want to pretend that all this talk about devils and demons is just so much medieval superstition.  So many people today just know that they are intelligent, modern folks and they way too smart for any talk of supernatural forces of evil.  They know that there is no such thing as a devil or demons.

So, which is it?  Is the devil real?  Are there demons around?  If so, what do they do?  What does the Bible say?

Revelation 12:7-9, 12, 17 (ESV) 7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him... 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. … [1]

1 Peter 5:8 (ESV) 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[2]

Matthew 13:18-19 (ESV)  18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.[3]

You are a target for your enemy, the devil.  When you were baptized and confirmed there was a minor exorcism when you renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways.  You have renounced the devil and now he is going after you as one who keeps the commandments of God and holds to the testimony of Jesus.  That ancient serpent, the devil; Satan himself, is coming after you.  He wants to devour you like a hungry lion.  He wants to snatch the word of God out of your heart so your faith withers and dies.

You are in battle against the devil.  The devil is coming after you to attack you, and the devil is clever.  The devil tries to distract you by getting you to believe that you are in battle against other people and that they are your greatest enemy.  So many are kept constantly distracted by interpersonal fighting in their lives which is intensified even more by text messaging and social media.

            The devil has targeted you for attack but you have everything you need.  You are fully equipped to stand your ground against the devil and his demons because you have been baptized into Christ.  You have the full armor of God to protect you so you can withstand the evil day.  You have truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.  You have what you need to resist the devil.

These visible foes are, however, not the true enemy.  What you can see is not the real battle.  These conflicts are minor squabbles that can be resolved, but the devil uses them to distract you and hide the true enemy and allow him to become even more dangerous.  If there is a lion prowling around are you going to get distracted by squabbling with your neighbor so you forget the lion is there?  Remain on guard against the assaults of the evil one, and stand firm.

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.[4]

The devil has targeted you for attack but you have everything you need.  You are fully equipped to stand your ground against the devil and his demons because you have been baptized into Christ.  You have the full armor of God to protect you so you can withstand the evil day.  You have truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.  You have what you need to resist the devil.

James 4:7 (ESV) 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.[5]

Resist the devil.  Stand firm against the devil’s schemes.  The devil is very clever and knows your weak spots.  The devil will use deceit, manipulation, accusations, and flattery.  The devil will use half-truths to deceive.  “Did God really say?”  The devil’s first lie is still one of his most effective.  Did God really say that your favorite sin is really a sin?  Did God really say you should gather for worship?  Did God really say that you are to love and forgive others?  Did God really say that He forgives you all your sins?  Did God really say?

The devil is clever.  The devil knows when you are tired and frustrated and weak.  The devil knows how to get you to start with just one little sin and then bring you down the road to bigger and bigger sins.  The devil knows how to get you to take that first step with his lie on your lips, “I won’t go any further.  I will stop this time.”  The devil knows how to get you to listen to him when he says, “It’s no big deal.  It’s just a little thing,” and then listen to him again when he tells you, “God cannot forgive that sin you have committed.”

The devil is clever and the devil knows that you protected.  The devil knows you are wrapped in the baptismal protection of the armor of God and you wield the sword of the spirit.  So the devil works to get you to put down the sword of the spirit and take off the armor of God.  The devil works hard and smart to separate you from the promises of God.  He does it by trying to get you to avoid coming to church; avoid being strengthened.  He will give you no end of excuses as to why you cannot make it on Sunday morning.  It’s my only day to sleep late.  I drank too much on Saturday.  Church is boring.  I don’t like that pastor.  The kids are too fussy.  The devil will get you to fill your life with so many other things that he will keep you from gathering with fellow believers and confessing your sins and your faith and hearing the words of forgiveness and receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus.  The devil will do what he can to get you to stop reading the word of God; stop praying, stop any connection with God so you can forget about God’s promises to you.  The devil will get you to give up on God’s will and go with the flow of the world where it is so backwards and uncool to be wearing the armor of God and wielding the sword of the spirit.  The devil will convince you to adopt the ways of the world so you lay down the sword of the spirit and take off the armor of God.  Once you give up your baptismal protection you are vulnerable and defenseless, and then the devil is free to attack you and devour you and take you with him to Hell.

So stay on guard.  You are a baptized child of God who has the armor of God and wields the sword of the spirit.  Stand firm.  Know who you are in Christ.  Stand firm.  In Christ you are safe.  Wearing the armor of God you can stand your ground.  We hear this in the words of Martin Luther’s famous hymn,

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none.
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

One little word can fell him.  What is the one little word?  What is that one word so powerful that it can stop the devil in his tracks?  One word that exposes the devil for what he is.  One word…“Liar.”  Call the devil out for what he is because he is deceitful and manipulative and flattering and accusing.  Call out the Father of Lies for what he is.  “Liar!”  When the devil tells you a sin is no big deal… “Liar!”  When the devil tells you your sins are too much to forgive… “Liar!”  When the devil tells you that you are good enough on your own… “Liar!”

Stand firm.  Stand together.  Stand forever.  You are clothed in the baptismal protection of the armor of God.  You have truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.  You wield the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God.  You know the truth about Jesus; that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  You know Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the dead for you.  You know the truth, and you are safe from the devil.  Stand firm.  Stay on guard.

When you pray the Lord’s Prayer the last petition is “deliver us from evil.”  You can also pray it, “deliver us from the evil one.”  Don’t lose sight of the true enemy.  Don’t lay down your sword and armor.  Stay on guard.  Stand firm.  You are protected in Christ.

Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Marriage: A profound mystery.

nullPentecost 14 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Isaiah 29:11-19, Ephesians 5:22-33, Mark 7:1-13
August 26, 2018

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

Do you ever get that rebellious feeling when everyone is going the wrong direction and they are telling you that you have to do it too?  Don’t you just want to stand up for yourself and go against the flow?  When the crowd is all telling you that you need to do this and act like this and believe this, it just makes you want to dig in your heels and rebel against what everyone else is doing.

One of the greatest rebellions you can have today against what everyone else is doing is to practice Christian marriage.  Christian marriage is rebellion against the culture because Christian marriage holds intimacy to be valuable and important.  Christian marriage recognizes that man and woman are different.  Christian marriage celebrates the differences and rejoices that man and woman are made for each other.  Christian marriage celebrates that man and woman are uniquely designed for one another to complete each other and complement each other.  In a selfie world, Christian marriage is not about me, but about we.

God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him and then He formed Eve from a piece of Adam’s side.  Adam and Eve were once one, and then they became two.  In their union they again become one.  What was separated into male and female is reunited in the marriage union.  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.”[1]

Two become one.  One plus one equals one.  This is a profound mystery.  And not only is the marriage union a profound mystery in itself, this uniting of a man and a woman is a picture of the joining together of Christ and the Church.  You, as a baptized child of God, are a part of the body of Christ, the Church.  As the Church, you are one in Christ; one with Christ.  The Church is the Bride of Christ.  Christ is the bridegroom.  We, as the Church, are the Bride of Christ waiting for the great marriage feast of the Lamb in the heavenly city of New Jerusalem.

As a part of the Church, the bride of Christ, you are united with Christ right now and nowhere is that more evident than in our gathering together on Sunday morning to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness, sing praises and thanksgiving, and receive the flesh and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  Gathered here together each week you see how Ephesians 5:25-27 (ESV)  25 …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.[2]

You gather here each week to have Christ once again sanctify you, cleanse you, wash you, so you can be presented in splendor without spot or wrinkle; holy and without blemish.  Jesus does this through His sacrificial love shown when He gave Himself for you on the cross at Calvary.  Jesus suffered and died for you.  Jesus put your needs before His comfort.  Jesus puts saving you in front of saving Himself.  Jesus’ mission is to protect you and save you because you are His beloved creation.  This is how much Jesus loves you.

This is the model for how a husband should love his wife.  A husband should love with sacrificial love, putting his wife’s needs before his own comfort and desires, always seeking to cherish his wife with love and care and protection.  A husband is ready to give his life to save her life.  A husband is charged to love his wife like Christ loves the Church.  Now, it is impossible to perfectly love like Jesus, but that is the calling; the goal, that is what a husband strives to do.  The fact that you will not achieve it perfectly should never be used as an excuse to not continue to try.

I had a friend on Facebook who posted a picture of a wedding where the bride was instructed to wash the groom’s feet to show her submission to her husband.  The young lady who posted this asked what people thought about this practice, which I had not heard of before.  I responded to her that they had the practice backwards.  The man is supposed to love his wife like Christ loved the Church.  The church did not wash Jesus’ feet; Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

A man’s role as husband is one of loving and cherishing and caring and protecting.  Women want this.  A husbands needs to find his role as the loving, cherishing, caring, protector in the marriage and then live it out.

A woman’s role in marriage is one of voluntary submission into her husband’s care, and finding and fulfilling her place in the marriage; her niche.  She finds what she is given to do and does it.  Not out of compulsion, but out of loving devotion to her husband.  A woman’s role is to respect, appreciate and admire her husband.  Men want this.

We see here in Ephesians how there is a difference between men and women. Men and women are made for each other.  It shows a beautiful union of two very different yet complementary creatures.  In premarital preparation I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t want a man who is strong and supportive and will be there for her when things are rough in order to comfort and reassure and let her know, “We are going to get through this.”

            Marriage is a profound mystery; it is a lifelong joining together of a man and a woman.  Marriage is not just two people who love each other who agree to stay together as long as they feel like it.  Marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a permanent bond, to, God-willing, create new life.  Love in a marriage is not a feeling because feelings will change; feelings will come and go.  Marital love is a verb; it is a choice; it is a promise; it is a commitment.  It is not a feeling, it is an action.

Now, these verses from Ephesians 5 have, at times, been misconstrued to somehow make the husband the boss and his wife the servant.  That is incorrect.  The husband is the head with Christ as His model for a headship of love, care and protection.  The husband is to nourish and cherish his wife as Christ does the Church.  There is nothing here about power and authority.

Marriage is a profound mystery; it is a lifelong joining together of a man and a woman.  Marriage is not just two people who love each other who agree to stay together as long as they feel like it.  Marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a permanent bond, to, God-willing, create new life.  Love in a marriage is not a feeling because feelings will change; feelings will come and go.  Marital love is a verb; it is a choice; it is a promise; it is a commitment.  It is not a feeling, it is an action.

You prepare for and support Christian marriage from the time you are a child and you learn how to treat other people with love and respect and learn to control your desire for intimacy in a God-pleasing way.  Because when you abuse the gift of intimacy and treat it as a relatively meaningless act that can be shared with anyone as long as they consent, you do great damage to marriage.  Intimacy outside of marriage takes this profoundly mysterious union of a man and a woman and profanes it; turns it into something less; sometimes just a hook up.  The intimate union of a man and a woman is part of marriage; it consummates the union; it is a marriage promise made with your body.  When someone has multiple intimate partners it damages their future marriage because their established pattern is to be intimate with many people instead of entering into the marriage covenant with one.

The union of a man and a woman in marriage is a profound mystery.  For two sinful humans to unite themselves in this union demonstrates a great trust in God and the power of forgiveness.  There is a lot of forgiveness needed in marriage.  Forgiveness from God and forgiveness from each other.  Some of the most powerful words in marriage are, “Honey, I’m sorry.” And “I forgive you.”

Learn to forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you.  Jesus completely forgives you and no longer holds your sin against you.  In marriage, practice complete Biblical forgiveness.  Forgive your husband’s sins and no longer hold them against him.  Forgive your wife’s sins and don’t hold on to them.  No more bringing up old troubles when discussing current issues.  No more holding grudges for old sins.  No more keeping score of who has done what.

The lifelong union of a man and woman is a profound mystery.  It is a lifelong journey of commitment, love and respect.  It is not easy.  It is better to not get married than to marry someone who is not committed to living out Christian marriage in union with you.  Christian marriage is not easy, but a good Christian marriage can be one of the most fulfilling, powerful things in your life when modeled after the union of Christ and the Church.  It is indeed a profound mystery; the joining together of two very different creatures into a union of love and respect designed by God.  So be a rebel against society.  Practice Christian marriage with love and respect.  Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Wisdom and Folly Fighting for You.

nullPentecost 14 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
August 19, 2108
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

In our reading from Proverbs, Wisdom has prepared a feast and invites simple folks to come and partake.  Proverbs 9:6 (ESV) 6 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”[1]  Proverbs 9:10 (ESV) 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.[2]

Just after our Old Testament reading about the way of wisdom we find the way of folly.  Proverbs 9:13-18 (ESV) 13 The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. 14 She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, 15 calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, 16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, 17 “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” 18 But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. [3]

We see in Proverbs this struggle between the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness.  Also in our Epistle reading where Paul warns the Christians in Ephesus, Ephesians 5:6 (ESV) 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.[4]  …. Ephesians 5:15 (ESV) 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,[5]

You have been marked as a child of God in your baptism and since then there has been an ongoing battle for your soul.  The Lord God has you and the evil one, Satan, wants you back.  Ephesians 5:8 (ESV) 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. …[6]

God and the devil both want you.  There is a struggle for your present life and a struggle for your eternal soul.  It is a struggle between wisdom and folly.  Between light and darkness.  Between fruitful works and unfruitful works.  Between Jesus, the Bread of Life, and the devil, the great deceiver.  The devil knows your weak spots; he knows just what to tempt you with.

The devil is powerful but God is Almighty.  And God has called you to himself.  He has washed you clean in the waters of Holy Baptism and set you apart from the multitude of unbelievers.  He has given you His Holy Spirit who breathes the breath of faith in you.  Through the Holy Spirit you know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  And because you have the Holy Spirit you are a target for attacks by the devil and his demons because you have the life of the world.

            You have been marked as a child of God in your baptism and since then there has been an ongoing battle for your soul.  The Lord God has you and the evil one, Satan, wants you back.  Ephesians 5:8 (ESV) 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. …[6]

Jesus said, John 6:51 (ESV) 1 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.”[7]

Jesus is telling the people there in Capernaum that they don’t need Jesus to give them physical bread; they need Jesus for salvation, Jesus is telling you.  You need Him for redemption.  You need Jesus.  Your flesh is of no avail.  You cannot save yourself.  You need Jesus’ words of spirit and life.  You need the bread of life.

And you don’t just need Jesus in some cursory, tangential way in which He doesn’t interfere with your day to day life.  You need to feed on Jesus’ flesh and drink of His blood.  You need to find your sustenance in Jesus for eternal life.  You need Jesus to be your Lord and Savior each day, every day, because you are totally reliant on Jesus for forgiveness, life and salvation.  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.[8]

Now faith is not easy.  Believing in Jesus is putting your faith in someone you cannot see instead of putting your faith in the things of this world which you can see.  Faith is a foreign thing to us.  We prefer to operate under the paradigm of “seeing is believing.”  You are comfortable with what you can see, what you can touch, what you can experience.  Jesus is so much more than what you can see, touch and experience and yet He comes to you in such simple and yet mysterious ways; in the water and word in Holy Baptism, in the words of forgiveness, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  God is present in mysterious ways.

The devil wants you to be offended that Jesus comes to you in such simple ways; in water, word, bread and wine.  The devil wants you to be offended that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  The devil wants you to be offended that you have faith in someone you cannot see.  But you know, Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)  …faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.[9]  The devil wants you to be offended that Jesus calls you out of the darkness of sin into his marvelous light.  The devil wants you to be offended that Jesus does not want you to indulge your sinful desires.

In the war for your soul there is wisdom and there is folly.  But you are not unprepared.  You have insight.  You know the truth.  You know what the disciples know.  You know you cannot leave Jesus.  When Jesus asked the disciples if they were leaving Him also, John 6:68-69 (ESV) 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”[10]

When the folly of the devil is ringing in your ears and you are struggling to resist the call of foolishness and evil.  When you are tempted to give up doing what God wants you to do and instead do what you want to do.  When you hear the call to leave Jesus and separate yourself from your fellow believers in the Church, remember this truth and confess this to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and I have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  Proverbs 9:10 (ESV) 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.[11]          Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[8]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[9]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[10]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[11]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

There is a greater reality than what you see.

nullPentecost 12 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
August 12, 2018
1 Kings 19:108, 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

What do you like to do to escape from reality for a while?  Vacation?  I know I really enjoyed my time sitting on the beach this summer reading a spy novel and not thinking about much of anything.  What do you do to escape from reality?  A movie is a good break for a couple of hours.  Maybe the fair?  The circus?  The symphony?  Golf?  Video games?  Television?  Word puzzles?  We all have ways we try to escape from reality for a bit.  Some are harmless and others can be pretty harmful when it gets obsessive or when we use drugs or drunkenness to numb us to the harshness of reality.  There are good ways and bad ways to escape, but we all, at times, want to escape from reality.  But why?

We want to escape because the reality of this life can be harsh.  Life is hard.  There is an abundance of trouble in this life.  Most times we can manage fairly well, but there are the times when the realities of this life are devastatingly hard and we cannot escape no matter what we try.

Life is hard.  We struggle on and off with sorrow and sickness and there is one constant dark cloud in this life and that is the shadow of death.  No one gets out of this alive and the knowledge that you live in the valley of the shadow of death makes life difficult.

For those who know they are created by a loving God and redeemed through the blood of Jesus, death it is still a terrible reality, but in Christ there is a greater reality than this life and death.  For believers in Jesus there is comfort in the valley of the shadow of death.  In Christ there is a greater reality than death and in that greater reality we have our hope and our peace; that peace which is beyond understanding even in the face of the worst that life can bring.

For people that believe that we are simply balls of stardust formed accidently through an endless series of random mutations the reality of death is crushing.  When people believe that this life is all there is to reality, it changes the way they think and act and live.  It causes folks to live for the moment.  In our Epistle lesson Paul warns the church in Ephesus.  Ephesians 4:17-19 (ESV) 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.[1]  We see this way of thinking blossoming in our world today as more and more people turn away from bread of life in order to satisfy their own hungers.  You must stay on guard that you do not fall back into this way of thinking and living.

The reality of this life is hard, but you have the greater reality of Christ.  God has drawn you to Himself.  He invites you to come to Him.  He invites you to receive the gifts of the Lord Jesus.  “Come to me,” Jesus says.  And this can sound like a command, but only in the sense that telling a starving person, “come and eat,” is a command.

You have been sealed by the Lord Jesus in the waters of baptism and now you live as a baptized child of God; you live right now in the Kingdom of Heaven; right now in the reign of God.  Right now you have the promise of eternal life.  Right now you have freedom in Christ to love and serve others in the confidence of eternal life.

            Jesus’ reality is for this life and beyond.  For people who are only focused on the here and now, Jesus makes no sense because they are only concerned about satisfying their physical, emotional, and sexual hungers.  They think, if Jesus isn’t all about satisfying their hungers, then what good is he?  But you know the truth.  Jesus is the greater reality.

The Jews there with Jesus that day thought He was crazy.  Jesus says he is the bread that came down from heaven.  They say, “Bread from heaven?!?”  How can this man be the bread that came down from heaven?  We know this guy.  We can see him with our eyes.  This is Jesus, from Nazareth, son of Joseph and Mary.  We know Him.  We’ve known Him for 30 some years.  What’s all this about coming down from heaven?  Despite seeing and experiencing Jesus’ great miracle of feeding the crowd of 5,000, the people cannot see beyond the reality of this life.  They ate the miraculous bread but they cannot see beyond the physical bread.  They are missing the Bread of Life.  They are missing the greater reality; the deeper reality; the eternal reality.  This is what Jesus is trying to tell them.

There is a reality beyond what we can see and touch; there is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the bread of life.  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.[2]

Jesus’ reality is for this life and beyond.  For people who are only focused on the here and now, Jesus makes no sense because they are only concerned about satisfying their physical, emotional, and sexual hungers.  They think, if Jesus isn’t all about satisfying their hungers, then what good is he?  But you know the truth.  Jesus is the greater reality.

You know the reality of Jesus.  You know that Jesus is the bread of life.  You know that the grave is not the end of the story for you or your loved ones.  You know that on the last day Jesus will raise you from the dead to live with Him forever in the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem.  You eat of the bread of life which is Jesus:  This greater reality is found in Jesus’ words of forgiveness, and in His body and blood in Holy Communion.  You live in the new reality of eternal life in Christ.  Jesus teaches, John 6:47-51 (ESV) 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.”[3]

There is a great chasm between the reality of this world with all its troubles and the reality of eternal life with Jesus.  Unless Jesus returns soon you will not fully bridge that chasm except through your death, your rest in the grave, and your resurrection on the last day.  But you do get glimpses at the reality of eternal life with Christ.  As you gather in worship each Sunday you bridge the chasm a bit.  You sing with the angels and archangels.  You hear the sweet, sweet words of forgiveness of sins from Jesus.  You sing the words of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth.  You greet one another with the peace of Jesus’ greater reality.  You sing hymns about Jesus dying for you and rising for you to conquer death.  You speak and sing the words of eternal life.  You speak and sing about God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  You take into your body the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.  Jesus becomes one with you in the greater reality of eternal life.  The Divine Service each Sunday is God coming to you in this life to give you a foretaste of your eternal future with Him.  It is Jesus coming to you to strengthen you and preserve you in true faith to life everlasting.  The best escape from the harsh realities of this life is time together in worship experiencing again and again the greater reality of eternal life with Christ.

The troubles of this life are very real troubles; they are very real problems, and they cause you very real pain and suffering and heartache, but knowing that you are the creation of a loving God who has redeemed you and sealed you as His child brings profound joy even in the midst of sickness and trouble and tragedy.  Knowing you currently have as your inheritance and possession eternal life with God brings peace in the midst of deep sadness and fear and grief.  It brings joy that loves and serves others even in the midst of struggle.  The troubles of this life are very real, but they cannot rob you of the eternal joy of knowing that you are sealed in Holy Baptism as a child of God.  Even with all you face with the realities of this life you live with the eternal joy of knowing you are part of a deeper, greater reality.  You have the reality of eternal life in Christ.  Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

Your hungers are not Jesus’ main concern.

nullPentecost 10 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
August 5, 2018Exodus 16:2-15, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:22-35

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

Bread is easy.  Bread is abundant.  I can go to Aldi and buy a loaf of white bread for $.89.  And they won’t limit me to just one loaf, I can buy a dozen.  For a little more money I can buy Italian bread, French bread, Indian bread, Pita bread, wheat bread, sprouted bread, sour dough bread.  Bread is easy.  Bread is abundant.  We can thank our hard working farmers and their amazing machines and chemicals that produce incredible quantities of wheat.  Getting bread occupies very little of my time and effort.  I don’t think about it really.  It is not expensive and Jeannette or I can just pick it up when we go to the store.

Rewind history 2,000 years and we see that in Jesus’ time bread was a big deal.  There were no pesticides, limited fertilizers, no tractors, no $500,000 combines to harvest and thresh the grain all at once.  In Jesus’ time bread was back-breaking work. Sowing seed, hoeing weeds, praying for rain and then waiting for harvest time.  Then the hard part starts.  Cut the grain with a sickle, bundle it, carry it to the threshing floor, thresh the wheat to separate the wheat from the chaff and then toss it in the air with the winnowing fork to get the wind to blow away the chaff and then gather the grains and take the wheat to be milled into flour between two heavy millstones.

In Jesus’ time bread was difficult.  People had to work hard and long, and struggle to get bread.

Rewind another 1500 years back to the time of Moses and the Exodus.  The children of Israel have been freed from slavery to the Egyptians and are in the wilderness on their way to the promise land.  They have eaten the Passover lambs whose blood was painted over the doors to protect the children of Israel from God’s plague of the death of the first born.

The people are free, but they are hungry, and the hunger overcomes the freedom.  We can understand this.  Hunger is a real motivator.  The children of Israel are hungry and they cry out to Moses that they would rather have died in Egypt as slaves where they had enough to eat rather than die of hunger in the wilderness.

Now the children of Israel are in the wilderness and they are free, but they are hungry.  And as difficult as the struggle is for bread when you are living in one area and able to farm, the struggle for bread for a moving band of migrants is pretty much impossible.

The people are free, but they are hungry, and the hunger overcomes the freedom.  We can understand this.  Hunger is a real motivator.  The children of Israel are hungry and they cry out to Moses that they would rather have died in Egypt as slaves where they had enough to eat rather than die of hunger in the wilderness.

God provides for the children of Israel in the wilderness.  He rains down bread from heaven for the people to gather just enough for each day.  God provides enough for each day.

Just prior to our Gospel reading, Jesus feeds 5,000 men, plus women and children in the wilderness.  For these people who live in a constant struggle to get food, Jesus miraculously supplies food.  This is amazing.  Jesus multiplies five loaves into an abundance of bread; like manna from heaven.

The Lord supplies the Israelites with the bread that they need in wilderness of Sinai and the Lord supplies the crowds with the bread that they need in the wilderness by the Sea of Galilee.  The Lord, out of His mercy, does this to meet the people’s needs, and to show that He is the Lord Almighty.  It is a sign from God.  Jesus feeds the 5,000 as a sign that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  The people who eat the bread see it as a sign that Jesus is a bread machine.

In our Gospel reading from John the crowds are following Jesus, but Jesus knows why they seek after Him.  The crowds are not looking for God in Flesh; the Savior of the World.  The crowds are not looking for the King of the Jews; they are looking for a bread king.  They are looking for someone to satisfy their physical hunger.  And Jesus does satisfy their hunger, but it is a sign of what more He can do.

Jesus tells them, John 6:27 (ESV) 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”[1]

“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.”  The children of Israel are distracted by their physical hunger and unable to see the mighty things God is doing for them in delivering them from slavery in Egypt.  Their greatest hunger; their greatest need is for the Lord’s salvation.  They eat the flesh of the sacrificial Passover lambs and are saved by the blood, but then they forget what God is doing.  God feeds them in the wilderness with bread from heaven but then they grow weary of what God is doing for them.  They grow weary of God’s salvation.  They don’t like the way God is saving them.  It is slow and boring.  They eat the manna from heaven but then lose sight of their total dependence on God and that this is a sign of God’s continuing love and it is pointing them forward to the true Bread of Life, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus is declared to be the Lamb of God at His baptism in the Jordan and Jesus’ blood is applied to the cross to protect you; to save you from your sins.  Jesus provides bread for the multitude, and Jesus also is Himself the Bread of Life.  Jesus feeds you with the Bread of His Word and the Bread of His own flesh; the flesh of the Lamb of God who shed His blood for you and was sacrificed for you.

The people seeking Jesus, the bread machine, want to know what they need to do to be doing the works of God.  Jesus gives them an unsatisfying answer.

John 6:29 (ESV) 29 … “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[2]  It’s not about you; it’s about Jesus for you.

Jesus is the Lamb of God.  Jesus is the Bread of Life.  Jesus is the true Bread from Heaven.  To do the work of God is to believe in Jesus.  Your salvation is totally dependent on Jesus.  You are totally dependent on Jesus.  Jesus came for you.  Jesus came for all people.  You hunger and thirst for righteousness and Jesus is the Bread of Life.  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.[3]

Jesus was sealed by God the Father in Baptism.  In baptism you are sealed by God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  You have been set apart from this world as one who knows the truth and is fed with the Bread of Life.

This world is full of people who desperately hunger for the food of eternal life, but often they do not know it.  People hunger for the Bread of Life, but they are distracted by their other hungers and can be unaware of their most important need.  For many folks in this world it might still be physical hunger that distracts, but not so much for most of us.  In this land of abundance most of us don’t have to worry about going hungry, but there are a lot of other hungers that distract us.

Hungers are not necessarily bad in themselves, but we can start to believe the Jesus main purpose is to satisfy our hungers; our physical hungers, our emotional hungers, our sexual hungers.  We start to believe that Jesus wants us to be healthy, wealthy, wise, happy, and fulfilled.  We have a desire for physical health and that is a good thing, but it is not the most important thing.  The most important thing is eternal life with God.

The things that are most important to you are not the most important to God.  Physical, emotional and sexual hungers are just temporary issues of this life.  They are not the most important thing.  This is a hard teaching.  Jesus did not come to meet your every need the way you want it met.  Jesus came to meet your most important need.  This teaching does not please the children of Israel in the wilderness of the Exodus and they rebel.  This teaching does not please the crowds that come to Jesus seeking bread and most of them abandon Him.  This teaching does not please people today and people leave the Bread of Life to try to satisfy their temporary hungers.

People want Jesus to be easy; like going to the store to pick up a loaf of bread when you are hungry.  Jesus is simple enough for a child, but He is not easy.  People want Jesus to be a Jesus they can control, and who does what they want when they want.  People grow weary of God’s means of salvation through baptism, the Word of God and Holy Communion; it is so slow and boring.  People would rather satisfy their own hungers.  People would rather to decide for themselves what is sin and what isn’t.  Folks would rather have a Jesus that stays out of their way except when they determine that they need Him.  People want to be a part of their own salvation by doing the works that they determine they should do.  But the work of God is to believe in the one sent from heaven.  It is simple enough for a child, but it is not easy.  It is total dependence.

Believe in Jesus; He is the Bread of Life.  Jesus is life.  Jesus is eternal life.  Apart from Jesus you do not have true life.  You are one with Jesus.  One in Him; one with Him; one in baptism and one in Holy Communion.  Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

You are not lost; you are a sheep with a shepherd

nullPentecost 9, 2018

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
July 22, 2018
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-44

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

When I was in college in Northwest Indiana I took a weekend trip up to Merrill, Wisconsin with a college friend.  While I was there I drove to Wausau about 20 miles south to visit some people I had met on the North Carolina servant event which I attended in 1982.  The family I was staying with in Merrill gave me directions to find their cabin on a lake where I was to meet them when I returned.  I was young and dumb at the time (one of those has changed) and I didn’t think it necessary to write down the directions or the address believing I would remember it all just fine.  After returning from Wausau I found myself driving through the woods of Wisconsin without a clue as to where I was, where I was supposed to be, or what to do next.  There were no cell phones, no GPS, no Waze App, just me, alone in my Chevy Citation — lost, confused, regretting that I had not done a better job of getting directions.

It is a terrible feeling to be lost; to look around and not recognize anything; to not know which way to go.  You can be lost and alone.  In life you can lose your sense of which way you should be going.  You can be lost and alone and you can also be lost with a crowd.  You can be with a whole crowd of people and nobody knows which way to go; everybody just goes along doing their own thing their own way.  Everyone is just living for the moment trying to avoid pain and pursue pleasure; worried only about themselves with no concern for others.  You can find yourself a part of a large mass of people with no future; no purpose; no identity; just going through the motions; living for today.  So many folks are lost and wandering and confused; like sheep without a shepherd.

            Sheep without a shepherd are exposed.  The world is a dangerous place for sheep.  There are wolves, and bears, and lions, and thieves all wanting to hurt the sheep, kill the sheep, eat the sheep, steal the sheep.  Sheep without a shepherd are weak and vulnerable.  Sheep without a shepherd are easily led astray; they are easily lost, stolen, injured and killed.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus and the disciples are tired.  They have been run ragged teaching and healing and caring for people.  They have received the news that John the Baptist was beheaded.  It is time for a break; time to take a breather; a little time away.  They head off by boat to a desolate place in order to get away from the people.  But the people don’t want to get away from Jesus.  The people want more Jesus; more healing; more teaching.  And so they see Jesus and His disciples getting into the boat and they follow the boat on shore and when Jesus lands there are thousands of people waiting for Him; so much for rest and relaxation and rejuvenation.  Jesus and the disciples see this big crowd and Jesus could get angry at them for ruining his retreat; his little vacation, but Jesus doesn’t get mad.  Jesus sees the crowds and has compassion on them because they are lost.  They are like sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus’ guts ached for the people because they are at risk from the evil one.

Sheep without a shepherd are exposed.  The world is a dangerous place for sheep.  There are wolves, and bears, and lions, and thieves all wanting to hurt the sheep, kill the sheep, eat the sheep, steal the sheep.  Sheep without a shepherd are weak and vulnerable.  Sheep without a shepherd are easily led astray; they are easily lost, stolen, injured and killed.

The world is a dangerous place for people.  There are thieves and abusers and murderers and false teachers and the devil and his demons all out to lead people astray, hurt them or kill them.  There are so many voices in the world calling out to you to believe them; follow them; support them.  So many persuasive voices are pulling at you from your phone, your computer, your television, the movie screen, your coworkers, your family, your friends.  So many voices are calling out to you to lead you astray.  “Do what you want,” they say.  “You deserve it.  Your happiness is most important.  You are the only one that matters.”  The world is a dangerous place to wander without protection.  1 Peter 5:8 (ESV) Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[1]

Jesus sees the thousands of people in that desolate place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and He has compassion because He knows they are weak and vulnerable.  He knows they are easy prey for the evil one and so Jesus puts His plans for rest on hold and spends the day teaching the people; leading them; shepherding them.  The Lord is their Shepherd, they shall not want.

Jesus spends all day teaching the people and it is getting late and the disciples want the people to go away so they can get something to eat.  But Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus will provide food in this desolate place just like He provided manna in the wilderness for the children of Israel coming out of Egypt.

The disciples find five loaves and two fish; not even enough to feed Jesus and the twelve, but the Good Shepherd multiplies the little they have to be enough for everyone to eat and to have leftovers.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has the people sit down in the green pastures beside the waters and provides what they need to overflowing.  The disciples bring Jesus the bread.  He takes the bread, He blesses the bread, He breaks the bread, and He gives the disciples the bread to give to the people.  This foreshadows the last supper where Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread to the disciples saying, “This is my body.”

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is there to care for the people; to heal them, teach them, protect them from the evil one; and to feed them.

Jesus provides for your greatest needs.  In this life in the valley of the shadow of death that is so full of trouble, sin, and uncertainty, you fear no evil because the Good Shepherd is with you to protect you, lead you, guide you.

In this world there are so many voices trying to get you to follow them down the wide and well-travelled path to hell.  It is easy to get lost; to find yourself disoriented, confused, weak and vulnerable.  It is easy to find yourself starting to follow the devil’s ways, the world’s ways, and your own sinful nature’s ways.  It is easy to find yourself wandering around like a sheep without a shepherd.  It is easy to find yourself wandering away from the flock.  It is easy to start to believe that you belong to this world and its ways are your ways.  But that is not your identity.  You are not alone and unprotected.  You do not belong to the world.  You do not belong to the devil.  You do not belong to your own sinful desires.  You are not a sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus knows you are vulnerable to the attacks of the devil that is why He is with you.  You are a sheep with a shepherd.  Jesus is your shepherd and gives you direction and protection.  Jesus gives you His Word of truth in the Bible to show you the way.  Jesus, your Good Shepherd, calls you by name in your baptism and leads you to eternal life in heaven.  Jesus, your Good Shepherd, lays down His life on the cross to redeem you from sin, death and the devil.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, takes, blesses, breaks and gives you His very Body and Blood in Holy Communion to feed you with the Bread of Life.  Jesus is here to be your Good Shepherd.

You are not lost.  You have been found.  You are a sheep with a shepherd.

Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

Where is God when I am suffering?

nullPentecost 6 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
July 1, 2018
Lamentations 3:22-33, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15, Mark 5:21-43

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

Where is God?  How do you know that you have found God’s favor?  How do you know that God cares about you?

It is easy and natural to believe that God’s favor and grace is evident if you are healthy and wealthy and strong and thin.  It is easy and natural to believe that God’s favor is evidenced in the things of this world; money, cars, houses, stuff.  We like this idea; it makes sense.  How many times have you heard people say, “God wants me to be happy.”  So many churches present this as their message that if you are faithful, God will bless you with health and wealth, and if you are not experiencing health and wealth you must be doing something wrong.

We like this idea and it makes good sense to us, but then we come to our Old Testament reading from Lamentations.  We don’t hear much from Lamentations in our three year lectionary.  In fact this is the only reading we get in three years.  Lamentations is written by the prophet Jeremiah in 586 B.C. right after the Babylonians brutally conquered Jerusalem and Judea.  They had just finished heartlessly killing many and taking more into exile and leaving Jerusalem in utter ruins.  Things have gone terribly for the children of Israel.  The great temple built by Solomon where God dwells with His people has been destroyed; the walls protecting the city have been torn down.  Dead bodies lay in the streets.  The people are starving; the children cry out with empty bellies.  Those remaining wander through the ruins mourning the dead and aching for those taken away into exile not knowing what will happen to them.  The glorious Holy City lies in utter ruin.  Where is God in all this?  Has God abandoned the people of Israel?  Is all hope gone?  Where is God in times of trouble?  Where is God in times of suffering and hardship?

            In times of great trouble we want to believe that God has abandoned us.  We are offended when we suffer as if it is something strange.  Where is God when you are hurting?  Where is God in times of trouble?  We find the answer in this somewhat neglected book of the Bible; Lamentations.

Jeannette and I were married in May of 1988 and in June of that year my mom found out that her cancer was back; this time in her liver and bones.  She did fairly well for about a year but then in October of 1989 she was hospitalized and grew increasingly weak.  The gravity of the situation became clear when the hospital staff asked the family to make decisions about resuscitation and life support.  Mom’s parents flew in from Chicago on October 28 and went straight to the hospital without even waiting for their luggage.  Mom rallied her strength to talk with her mom and dad and then a few hours later my mother died with her mother, Jeannette and me at her side.  It was devastatingly hard to be there and to go through that with my mother.  The grief was intense and it still sneaks up on me.  Where was God?  Where was God during this terrible time?

In times of great trouble we want to believe that God has abandoned us.  We are offended when we suffer as if it is something strange.  Where is God when you are hurting?  Where is God in times of trouble?  We find the answer in this somewhat neglected book of the Bible; Lamentations.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV) 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.[1]

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  In your times of suffering the steadfast love of the Lord never stops.  In your times of trouble the Lord’s unwavering love is still with you.  His mercies never come to an end.  In the dark fog of distress and anguish the mercy of God never ends.  In sickness, death, divorce, prison, conflict, hunger, poverty, God’s mercies never end.  As the sun rises in the morning so do God’s mercies renew for another day.  Great is God’s faithfulness.

Martin Luther writes of this section from Lamentations:  [God] stands hidden among the sufferings which would separate us from him like a wall, indeed, like a wall of a fortress.  And yet he looks upon me and does not forsake me.  He stands there and is ready to help in grace, and through the window of dim faith he permits himself to be seen…[Some] people know nothing at all of this kind of a faith and they give themselves over to thinking that God has forsaken them and is their enemy…But they who in such suffering trust God and hold on to a good, firm confidence in him, who believe that he is well-pleased with them, see in their sufferings and afflictions nothing but pure and precious merits, the costliest treasures which no man can assess.  For faith and confidence make precious before God all that which others think most shameful.”[2]

When you are hurting it is hard to see that God is there with you.  Agony and sadness obscure God, but through the window of dim faith you look through the dark fog of suffering and see God’s presence with you.

Suffering is not an offense to life as a Christian; suffering is part of life as a Christian.  Times of suffering and trouble are part of life under the cross of Christ and you are called to accept these times with patience and endurance.

In times of suffering the Lord is with you.  In times of trouble say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him.”  “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him.”  You are a baptized child of God.  The Lord, the creator of the universe, has promised you eternal life.  The Lord is your portion.  The Lord is your future; the Lord is your destiny.  “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:25-26 (ESV) 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.[3]

The baptismal promise of God is not a call to a life of health and wealth and glory.  It is not a call to live your best life now or become a better you.  It is not a call to dream big dreams and cast big visions.  It is a call to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.  This is hard.  This is not what we want to hear.  We want to hear that life in Christ will be easy.  You want to hear that life in Christ will be simple.

But easy, simple lives do not bring strength and endurance.  It is an awful truth but it is truth.  Suffering and trouble can be beneficial.  This is not just some strange Old Testament teaching.  St. Paul writes about this to the church in Rome.  Romans 5:3-5 (ESV) 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[4]

The death of my mother was very hard and it changed me; it put me on a different path in life.  Likely it put me on the path to be here with you.  God used that terrible event to make me a better servant.

Lamentations 3:27-30 (ESV) 27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. 28 Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; 29 let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope; 30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.[5]

The Lord allows trouble to come.  The Lord uses trouble and suffering and hardship to help us learn to trust in Him and quietly endure.

St. Paul learned this hard lesson and writes about it 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (ESV) 7 So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.[6]

Lamentations brings us a very hard lesson and a very good lesson.  There will be times of trouble.  There will be periods of suffering.  But God will not leave you; He is there with you in your suffering.  He walks with you in your trouble.  He teaches you to trust Him alone.  In 586 B.C. Jerusalem is devastated by the Babylonians and yet there is hope for the future and in 70 years Jerusalem is restored by the Persians.  In your times of trouble God does not leave you or forsake you.  Jesus came to earth to take on human flesh and take the sins of the world into Himself and take those sins to the cross there in Jerusalem.  Jesus, the new temple, is destroyed and raised again in three days.  Jesus conquers sin and death forever.  That same Jesus comes to you in His word and with His Body and Blood to renew His mercies and promises; to pour out upon you forgiveness, life and salvation.  Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV) 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.[7]

Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2] Luther’s Works AE 44:28

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Who is this guy?

nullPentecost 5 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
June 24, 2018
Job 38:1-11, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

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

The beginning of Advent each December is the start of a new church year.  We use a three year lectionary for our readings and each year we change which Gospel gets the most emphasis on a three year rotation between Matthew, Mark and Luke with John interspersed with the others.  We are currently in series B lectionary with a focus on the Gospel of Mark and one of the characteristics of Mark’s gospel is the question about Jesus, “Who is this guy?”

It is almost like people in Mark’s account of the Gospel are playing Jeopardy.  In Jeopardy, the host gives an answer and then the contestants must come up with a question that matches the answer.  The Holy Spirit inspired Mark to begin His Gospel account with the words, Mark 1:1 (ESV) 1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[1]  Then, throughout the account, the people are asking the question, “Who is this guy?”  In today’s reading the question is, Mark 4:41 (ESV) 41 … “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” [2]

It is the goal of all four Gospel accounts to tell us about the nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel account makes it very clear that Jesus is both God and man.

It has been a day of teaching and healing.  As the sun goes down, Jesus decides to cross the Sea of Galilee.  At first, it might seem a little unusual to set out across the Sea as the sun is going down, but remember that some of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen who regularly fished the Sea during the night.  At any rate, a small group of boats leaves the shore for the other side as the sun dips toward the horizon.

Once they are under way, Jesus takes a nap.  Jesus has been teaching and attending to the needs of the crowds all day.  He is tired and He falls asleep in the stern of the boat.

That Jesus gets tired and falls asleep is a property that Jesus shares with us.  He is tired.  He sleeps like any other man.  Here we see one of the many characteristics that show us that Jesus Christ is true man.

Then the storm strikes.  It is bad.  The boat is filling with water.  Even the seasoned fishermen are terrified.  It looks like the end.  Then the disciples notice that Jesus is still sleeping.   They didn’t mind that Jesus had nodded off earlier, but now, the least He could do is help bail out the boat – try to keep it from sinking.  Mark 4:38 (ESV) …“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”[3]

Now the old saying is, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  In this case the saying is not true.  Jesus doesn’t talk about the weather.  He talks to the weather and the weather does what He tells it to do.

This shows their desperation.  After all, Jesus has grown up in the building trade and is not an experienced sailor.  Of course, it doesn’t take a whole lot of skill to grab some sort of container and use it to bail water out of the boat.

It’s at this time that Jesus does something totally unexpected.  He scolds the wind and the waves.  He speaks to them like a group of unruly children.  Mark 4:39 (ESV) 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.[4]

Now the old saying is, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  In this case the saying is not true.  Jesus doesn’t talk about the weather.  He talks to the weather and the weather does what He tells it to do.

So here is Jesus demonstrating the human property of exhaustion and the Divine power of control over creation.  Here we see a demonstration that Jesus is both God and man.  Here we see another example of Jesus demonstrating the truth of Mark’s opening statement – that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Here we see the answer to the question, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  This is none other than the God-man Jesus, the Christ.

Today’s Gospel not only tells us that Jesus is both God and Man, but it also tells us why it is important that the Son of God assumed a human nature.  Every storm is an expression of the curse that came when sin entered the world.  Sin not only brings sickness and death to us, but even the world is cursed.  The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write to the Romans:  Romans 8:22 (ESV) 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.[5]

Floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, lightening, earthquakes, and all the other natural disasters are the result of the curse that sin brings into the world.

These natural disasters are not the only storms that sin brings into the world.  There are other storms in our lives as well.  There are the medical storms of infection, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and on and on.  There are the relational storms of broken families and friendships.  There are the financial storms of plant closings and layoffs.  Ultimately, there is the storm of death that comes to all of us sooner or later.  We may try to deny the existence of sin in our lives, but these storms, both private and public, say otherwise.

Although we may be nowhere near water, these storms often give us the same sinking feeling that the disciples had on the Sea of Galilee.  We may indeed ask the same question that the disciples asked, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”   We may indeed come to the point that we wonder if God really cares for us.

It is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ – the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature – that we see God’s care.  In Jesus Christ, God assumed human nature to save humans from their nature – their sinful nature.  For our own sin doomed us to perish – not just from this earth, but also from the blessings of God’s presence with us.  We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.  But the Father of all mercy and grace sent His Son Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sin of the whole world that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

The one who stilled the water and even walked the on water eventually spilled forth water.  As Christ’s dead body hung from the cross John 19:34 (ESV) 34 …one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.[6]

With that water and that blood the one who brings peace to wind and water also brings peace between man and God.  From His baptism in the water of the Jordan to the pouring forth of water from His heart, Jesus sanctifies and institutes all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.  For in those waters He removes all sin from us and takes it onto Himself so that He can withstand the justice of God in our place.  With the pouring forth of the water and the blood in His suffering and death on the cross, Jesus satisfies God’s justice against our sin.

The water that pours forth from Jesus’ side as He hangs dead on the cross reminds us of another pouring of water – water that joins us to Christ in His death – the water of Holy Baptism.  It is in that water that we receive the credit that Christ earned for us with His death on the cross.  It is also with that water that we receive the blessing of His resurrection.

For Christ does not remain in the grave, but, after He conquers death, He rises from death never to die again.  Just as Holy Baptism unites us to Christ in His death, so also it unites us to Him in His resurrection so, Romans 6:4 (ESV) 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.[7]

Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man.  With that combination, we find our full salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  In His humanity, He is able to suffer on the cross in our place and for our good.  In His deity, He is able to defeat our foes and rise from the dead to give us eternal life.  It is in the person of Jesus Christ who both sleeps and stills the storm that we have our faith and the promise of eternal life.

“Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”  It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Amen


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Giving seeds a pep talk doesn’t work.

nullPentecost 4, 2018 Proper
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
June 17, 2018
Ezekiel 17:22-24, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, Mark 4:26-34

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 few weeks ago we celebrated Trinity Sunday.  God being one God and three persons is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith, but not the only one.  How does the Son of God assume a human nature into Himself?  Jesus is not half God and half man, but fully God and fully man.  Through this humanity, God is able to experience death – even death on the cross.  Through this divinity, the human Son is able to give us His body and blood in the Sacrament, no matter where we are.  How does this work?  We don’t know.  I suspect that even if God told us how it is done, we still wouldn’t understand.  It’s a mystery.

Consider some of the mysteries of the Holy Spirit.  How does the Holy Spirit take a rebellious, sinful human being and work faith in the heart?  People balk at the idea that babies can have faith, but, in fact, faith in Jesus Christ at any age is a miracle of the Holy Spirit.  Given that an adult has had many years to build up a defense against the Holy Spirit, the miracle of conversion may be greater in an adult than it is in an infant.

Mysteries abound in the Christian faith.  God has given His Word to the apostles and prophets.  In His Word, He has revealed mysteries that are beyond our understanding.  We may not understand them, we may not even like some of them, but we believe them because God has given them to us in His Word.

The parables in today’s Gospel reveal two mysteries to us.  The first parable teaches about the mystery of faith.  The second parable teaches of the mystery of Christ’s Body, the Holy Christian Church.

The first parable is about seed growing in a field.  Modern scientists know a lot about how plants grow and mature from seeds, but back in the first century when Jesus told this parable, these things were mysteries.  You threw the seed on the ground and after a while, it sprouted and grew and matured.  How?  No one knew.  These things happened automatically without the help of the farmer.  The farmer went about his regular business and the plants just grew.

Even though we know how and why plants grow, the farmer’s job has not changed that much.  We have more machinery to help with the work, but the basics are still the same.  The farmer plants the seed, does what he can to provide a healthy environment with fertilizers and pesticides, but in the end, there isn’t a whole lot the farmer can do to force the seeds to germinate, grow, or mature.  The farmer can provide a healthy environment for the seed to grow, but the growth itself comes from inside the seed just as it always has.

Mark 4:26 (ESV) 26 And [Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.[1]  Here Jesus wants us to compare the seed to the Word of God.  The man who scatters the seed is anyone who shares the Word of God with others.  When you confess your faith to other people, you are that man scattering seed.  Every time I tell someone that I am a poor, miserable sinner who deserves punishment and then tell them how Jesus died on the cross so that I receive the joy of heaven instead of that punishment, I am that man scattering seed.

These well-meaning teachers make us feel as though confessing our faith before others is like making a sales call.  If nothing happens, we have failed to close the deal.

Remember that the farmer is not responsible for making the seeds sprout or mature.  In the same way, you are not responsible for producing faith in the heart of another.  That is the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.

Too often, well-meaning teachers have told us that we must not only share our faith with others, but that we are somehow responsible for bringing those others to faith – that we are somehow responsible for the growth of their faith.  These well-meaning teachers make us feel as though confessing our faith before others is like making a sales call.  If nothing happens, we have failed to close the deal.  Although these teachers are well intentioned, they can make us feel really guilty for seeds that we don’t see grow.

Today’s parable tells us that this is a false guilt; the Kingdom of God doesn’t work that way.  It tells us that the growth of faith in the soil of the heart is a mystery; it is not up to us, it is something that God does.  This parable also teaches us that if no faith grows, it is not our fault.  Just as I cannot cause a seed to germinate by giving it a pep talk, I cannot force faith to grow with anything that I do.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit.

This parable is a great comfort to us.  From this parable, we learn that the pressure of converting someone to faith in Christ does not belong to us.  God has reserved that for Himself.  Just as the farmer scatters the seed out on the ground, God has given us the privilege of proclaiming the joy of our salvation.  On the other hand, God alone is responsible for producing a crop of faith from that proclamation.

So, what is the joy of our salvation?  What proclamation do we throw out to the world?  Jesus explains that in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

Jesus often compares Himself to plants.  John 15:5 (ESV) 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.[2]  And again in John 12:23-24 (ESV)  23 … Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.[3]  Here Jesus speaks of His suffering and death – how He would die and – like a seed – grow up to bear much fruit.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus once again tells us that He must be buried – planted like a mustard seed.  This burial reminds us of the suffering and death He endured to take away all our sins.

Jesus said, “a grain of mustard seed …  is the smallest of all the seeds on earth …” Although He is God, Jesus became small by assuming a human nature.  He became small enough to live in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  He became small enough to live under the authority of the law and keep it perfectly.  He became small enough to die a shameful death and be buried in a borrowed tomb.  Like that grain of mustard seed, He rested in the ground.

Jesus continued His parable with these words, Mark 4:32 (ESV) 32 yet when [the mustard seed] is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”[4]

Jesus did not remain in the grave.  Instead – as a mustard plant emerges from the ground – He emerged from death.  Just as a mustard plant becomes one of the largest plants in the garden so also Jesus becomes ever larger – large enough to be known throughout the world.  As a mustard plant fills a garden and is large enough to harbor birds so also Christ’s body – the church – grows to fill the earth.

We are part of that mustard plant that is the Holy Christian Church.  The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, Romans 6:3-5 (ESV) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.[5]  Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joins us to Christ’s death and we become part of His body – the church.

The wonderful part about belonging to the Holy Christian Church is that, no matter how often we sin – no matter how often we mess up, God has forgiven us for Jesus’ sake through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.  He forgives us and calls us to follow Him.  We can come together as the Body of Christ and continuously receive the forgiveness of sins.

Even though your pastor is probably a worse sinner than you are, His words of forgiveness are valid.  The words of forgiveness that come from his mouth are not his words, but Christ’s words.  When that sinner whom God has called to be your pastor forgives your sins, it is not he who forgives.  It is Christ Himself who forgives your sins.  And I thank God that the words I speak are for me as well as for you.

As part of Christ’s church, we not only receive God’s forgiveness through the mouth of the pastor, but also through our own mouths as Jesus Christ gives us His body and blood in union with the bread and the wine of the sacrament.  Jesus Himself said, Matthew 26:27-28 (ESV) 27 … “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.[6]  What a gift this is that we receive as members of the Holy Christian Church.

As we gather together in Christ’s church, we come together to meet Jesus and receive the gifts that He earned for us on the cross –forgiveness, life, and salvation.  We also receive the comfort of knowing that, just as He rose from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead and inherit eternal life.  It is good to be part of God’s mustard plant; the Church.   Amen


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001