No Ladders in Church

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Pentecost 12, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 28, 2022

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

            Justin, the new data entry clerk, pulls up for his first day of work at a fortune 500 company. Ignoring the “reserved for CEO” sign, he parks in the space closest to the building, heads inside and takes the elevator to the top floor in search for his office.  As he gets off the elevator he steps onto a rich marble floors and heads to a corner office paneled in cherry with red leather furniture and a tremendous view of the city.

            A secretary comes running in behind him, “Who do you think you are?  You don’t belong here.”  He responds, “I work here, I just got hired to do data entry.  This office is great.” 

            “How dare you come into this office, you do not belong here,” the secretary scolds as a burly, uniformed security guard walks in.  “You need to come with me,” the guard says and takes the young man by the arm and escorts him off the top floor and takes him to his windowless, basement cubicle. “Don’t let me ever catch you up there again. And also, I believe that is your Hyundai they are towing away out front.”

            The clerk was aiming high and got shot down.  He wasn’t obeying the rules of business. You have to earn your way onto the top floor. The top floor is for important people who have paid the price and worked their way up.

            In this life we have a tremendous sense of who is important and who is not; who are the winners, who are the losers, who are the people we want to be like and who are the people we shun.

            The way of the world is too often a relentless climb up the corporate ladder in which people are urged to keep pressing upward and upward not worrying about what corners you need to cut or who you have to step over or step on as you climb. 

            Ironically, the relentless desire to climb higher and higher at work far too often leads to the Peter Principle kicking in.  The Peter Principle explains that in an organization people who are successful at their current positions will be promoted over and over again until they reach the level of their incompetence and then they will stop being promoted.  Since it is difficult to admit failure and move back down one step, the Peter Principle sadly means that there are a lot of people who are in over their heads at work trying desperately to make sure no one finds out they are not very good at their job and counting down the days until retirement when they can escape their misery. 

            It seems that the world is all about getting ahead and moving forward and advancing in life so you can rise up above the little people and have enough money to insulate yourself from the riff raff.  At a cemetery in St. Charles, Missouri, I noticed that they are selling graves in an exclusive gated section of the cemetery.  I guess there are some elite folks who do not even want to rest in peace next to common folks.  

            The Pharisees at Jesus’ time are well tuned to where people are in the pecking order.  They know the winners and the losers.  They care deeply about their positions in life. When they eat a meal they are very concerned about where they sit and who gets the place of honor.

            Jesus teaches them that God’s way is a different way. God does not care about your social standing.  Jesus teaches in our Gospel reading today not to exalt yourself, but rather to humble yourself.  Luke 14:10–11 (ESV) 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Humble yourself.  Seek to be a servant to others instead of seeking to boss others around.  Seek to serve those who can never repay you. 

            Humility is not the way of the world, but it is the way of the Lord.  Our Lord Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  And this is a radical teaching in Jesus time and in our time. Be humble and be content.

            The writer to the Hebrews in our Epistle lesson teaches to be content with what you have in life.  Be content with your marriage.  Hebrews 13:4 (ESV) 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 

He teaches to be content with money.  Hebrews 13:5 (ESV) 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Be content with your place in life.  Do not let the monster of envy drive you to try to keep up with others. Now, it is not wrong to enjoy the gifts of God within your means, but never as a competition with others, never to show off your status.

            This is a fine balance in life.  You should work hard at whatever you are given to do because this is one of the ways that you love and serve your neighbor.  You should not say, “I am saved by Jesus, so I can be lazy at school or waste time on the job.”  Work hard because it is the right thing to do.  When my kids each began to work at Pizza Chef I would give them the same advice.  “Show up on time and do what the boss tells you to do.”  If you do these two things they will love you as an employee.  Work hard, not so you can prove your better than others, but because working hard is the right thing to do.  A nice side effect is that hard work is often rewarded.

            We are sorely tempted to compare ourselves with others.  This past Thursday I was helping a third grader whose shoes were untied and his laces double knotted.  A second grader walked over and proudly said to him, “You need help with tying your shoes?  I can tie my shoes all by myself and I am in second grade.”  We all do that in different ways.  It is far too easy to fall into the habit of comparing yourself with others and even announcing how you are better than someone else.  I may not be perfect, but I am better than you.  Sadly, this is the way of the world.  But it is not Jesus’ way.  It is not your way as a disciple, a follower, of Jesus.

            Here at church, gathered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, no one is better than anyone else.  Together you began worship by getting on your knees, humbling yourself before God and confessing that you are sinful and unclean.  You are united in your need for Jesus.  You come forward and kneel together to receive the body and blood of Jesus.  There is no distinction.  There is no rich or poor, no winners or losers, no celebrities and nobodies, you are united together as sinners needing the blood of Jesus.  You are united in receiving the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. 

            Now, because you live in this world, there is a strong desire to want do something to contribute to your salvation; to climb up the ladder of Christianity and be able to look down on those other people who are not as good as you; to believe that you are accomplishing something toward your salvation by your own works.  You want to move up the ranks, but with Jesus there is climbing up, there is no Peter Principle.  You cannot rise to the level of your incompetence because you are born into incompetence.  When you confess that you are by nature sinful and unclean it is an admission that you cannot do it.  You cannot save yourself.  You need Jesus and Jesus gives you what you need. 

            Now, you should do good works.  You should do good works, but not because they help you advance in life or the church. Do good works because they help your neighbor.  Do good works to love and serve your neighbor.  Love and serve others knowing salvation is a gift, knowing that when it comes to salvation, you can do nothing and Christ has done everything.  Boast not in yourself, but in Christ on the cross for you.  St. Paul teaches in Galatians 6:14 (ESV)  14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 

            There are no ladders to climb here in the Lord’s house. You cannot rise above others.  You are equal as sinners and you are equal as saints of God redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  You cannot climb any higher because you already have been made perfect in Jesus. Amen.  

Corpses, Worms and Fire

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There’s one more verse after the end of the Old Testament reading. It’s the last verse of the last chapter of the book of Isaiah. It’s fitting. Here, at the end of the book, Isaiah is talking about the last things. He’s talking about heaven. Life eternal. 

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.

Your offspring and your name shall remain. You will not be cut off. You shall remain. All flesh shall worship the One True God. Incredible. Indescribable. The infinite majesty of heaven will be beautiful. All flesh, worshiping God.

But there’s one more verse. This picture that Isaiah has painted is a hopeful one. It’s beautiful. God will gather the faithful onto His holy mountain in His holy city, Jerusalem. There, all flesh will worship The LORD. 

But there’s one more verse. We read again: 

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.

And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

This is the word of the LORD. The last verse of the last chapter of the book of Isaiah on the last things. All flesh will worship God. All flesh will see the stinking, rotting, festering corpses of those who have transgressed Him. For the truth is, there are two groups on the Last Day. Saved and damned. In and out. Those in God’s Holy City of Jerusalem, and those outside, eaten by undying worms and burned by unquenchable fire. 

The worm that does not die is sin. It worms its way into your flesh. It bites and devours and resists every effort to kill it. No matter how hard you try, the infestation persists. Most choose to ignore the pain. Some choose to make the worms part of who they are, holding up their sins and ravaged flesh as part of their identity. Others struggle to remove the worms by pain and effort, but always there is one more. No matter, all have transgressed against The LORD. All have rebelled against Him and all deserve the unquenchable fires of hell. 

This is the reality that Jesus has in mind in our Gospel today. He is traveling to cities and towns, on His way to Jerusalem. 

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

The door is narrow. It is mounted in the impregnable fortress of God’s law. Many have tried to enter it. Many have tried and all have failed. They scrabble at the wall, they claw at the narrow door. One by one they fall. They become corpses, eaten by the unkillable worm. Burned by unquenchable fire. 

Jesus continues

When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

The master of the house is Jesus, returning on the Last Day. The marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom is in full swing. The door is shut. The city gates are locked. The walls tower ever higher. And yet, these latecomers knock. They call Jesus Lord. They know Him, or at least they think they do. But Jesus answers them “I don’t know where you come from. You are not from the holy city of Jerusalem. Your offspring and name have died off. I don’t know your homeland, I don’t know your names. You are from outside. You are from the desolate wasteland, You are corpses, full of worms and fire.”

Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’

The latecomers say “We heard your teaching, we ate and drank with you, you taught in our streets, we went to church every Sunday. We called ourselves Christians. Isn’t that enough?” 

But Jesus calls these latecomers evil. He doesn’t say “What you did was good, but it wasn’t enough.” Rather, He says “Your works, though you thought them good, were evil. You thought them righteous, but they are unrighteous. You thought to earn your salvation, but you earned only damnation.” 

For by these works they tried to force their way into the narrow door. By these works they pressed themselves against the wall of the law. They scrabbled, they clawed, they climbed, and they fell. These latecomers are dead men. They have been dead a long time, but now, with the light of God’s truth clear to see, now that all things are revealed at the end of the age, they look down and see their flesh, pale, and clammy, and dead. Eaten by worms and burned by hellfire. This is what’s become of the works they trusted. The master of the house casts them out into the wasteland. Back to the land of corpses, worms and fire. 

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

The latecomers will weep, for they are corpses, eaten by undying worms and burned by unquenchable fire. 

Many will strive to enter and will not be able. Many will strive. Many – all – will strive to enter and will fail. All will throw themselves at the foot of God’s law, crushing themselves against it. All will try and fit through the narrow door and will not attain salvation. All will fall among the corpses. All will be eaten by their sin-filled worms. All will be burned. All. All but one. 

All but one will fail to enter the narrow door. All but one will crush themselves against the wall of God’s law. All but one will try and fit through the narrow door and will not attain salvation. All but one. And that one, that one perfect man, that one man who could have vaulted the wall, entered through the narrow door. All but one. All but that One Man kept every last iota of the Law. All but One. The God-Man Jesus Christ. And what did He earn for His perfection? What crown was put upon His head? A crown of thorns. What majestic clothing did He earn? Stripes on his back. What wondrous salvation did He attain? Worms and fire. For Jesus Christ is the Crucified One. Our God became a corpse on the cross. He hung there, dead as the nails that held Him to the tree. There, beaten, bloody and dead, He became an abhorrence to all flesh.

He became sin, though He knew it not. He became dead, though He was the God of life. He became a corpse, worm-eaten and burned. He did the work. He alone entered through the Narrow Door. With arms outstretched on the cross, heaving His last breath, giving up His Spirit, He flung the gates wide open. All who strive to enter by the Narrow Door will fail, but many will be in the city of Jerusalem. For Jesus becomes the new door. The door that demands no scrabbling or clawing. The door that demands no works of your own. This door swings open. This door proclaims a message of salvation, not judgment. The penalty is paid! The worms have died! The fire is quenched! Come, dear children, enter into the Holy City, brothers and sisters not corpses. 

For from the side of the Crucified One, blood and water flow. Water, to quench the unquenchable fires of hell by holy baptism. Blood, to offer Himself as the once for all sacrifice to God. God’s wrath against all who have transgressed against Him was poured out on the One Man who entered the Narrow door. In His death, He took all the unkillable worms of the world and dragged them to death. 

Jesus killed the unkillable worm, quenched the unquenchable fire, took the wrath of God. And He did it all for you. For you, though you were worm-eaten corpses. For you, you though you were an abhorrence to all flesh. For you, though you once were a dead worker of evil. You are dead no more! 

For Christ did not stay dead, He didn’t lie with the worms of sin and rot away, He rose again to eternity! Baptized into His death and with faith in His holy work, you too shall rise. Your once-dead flesh is made alive! You feel no heat of hell, you do not beat yourself against the wall of God’s law for Christ has passed through the Narrow Door and become the door to salvation. 

He called you. Called you out of death and into life. He called you by name, for He knows it, but He gave you a new name in Baptism, a name that shall remain. The Master of the House knows where you come from, for He is your elder brother. You are no latecomer. 

When the Narrow Door shuts, at the end of the age, you will be inside those walls. You will call Jesus Lord, and He will answer. All of this not because of your feeble fleshly works, not because of your striving, clawing, scrabbling effort, but only because of Christ. Christ, who is the Door. Christ, who washed you with water and word. Christ, who gives you His body and blood to eat and to drink. Christ, who pronounces to you every Sunday morning by the lips of Pastor Jud that your sins are forgiven. 

Your offspring and your name shall remain. You shall not be cut off! You shall remain. It’s beautiful. Indescribable. Incredible. The infinite majesty of heaven is yours through Jesus’ glorious death on the cross. 

Just as the prophet Isaiah said, 

For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.

This is the word of the LORD and thanks be to God. Amen. 

Jesus Brings Division

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Pentecost 10 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
August 14, 2022
Jeremiah 23:16-29, Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3, Luke 12:49-53

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

The U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School tries to form young people into Officers and Gentlemen and Ladies.  There is a class on how to properly eat dinner, and they teach you how to act at meals in the wardroom aboard ship.  There are manuals detailing how to act at meals to avoid division.

            This is from the 1968 version of “The Wardroom” published before women were allowed to serve aboard ships.  “Do not discuss religion and women in the mess. When you least expect it, it will cause unpleasant feeling. Also, try to be discriminating when you discuss politics and debatable issues of the day.”

            Religion, women and politics can cause division among the officers.  The Navy wants the officers aboard a ship to be a cohesive group focused on the objectives of their orders, not torn apart by squabbles. 

            Division is rough.  Division hurts.  Division causes hard feelings and anger.  Along with sexual immorality, idolatry and over indulgence, St. Paul warns mostly of sins of division in Galatians 5:19–21 (ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: … [including] enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy….. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  The Bible warns against divisive behavior.

            Jesus is all about peace.  At His birth, the angels announce, Luke 2:14 (ESV) 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  Simeon holds baby Jesus and declares he can depart in peace.  The 72 disciples go out proclaiming, “Peace be to this house!”  When Jesus triumphantly enters into Jerusalem the people shout, Luke 19:38 (ESV) 38 …“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  When Jesus appears to his disciples after His resurrection he greets them, “Peace to you!”  

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  Jesus is all about peace.  But then we get our Gospel reading today.  Jesus says, Luke 12:51 (ESV)  51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”  He continues, Luke 12:52–53 (ESV) 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 

So much division…what is going on?  Why does the Prince of Peace bring division?  How does Jesus bring division?

            Now, Jesus indeed brings you peace with God through His life, His suffering, His death and His resurrection.  In baptism Jesus forgives you all your sins and brings you peace with God the Father.  He washes you clean and clothes you with the robe of His righteousness.  Only in Christ, can you call the Creator of the Universe, “Father.”  The guilt and shame of your sins has been taken away and nailed to the cross.  You have peace with God in Christ.  So how does Jesus bring division? 

            Jesus brings division because people hate Jesus. People hate that Jesus died on the cross and hate that He rose from the dead.  People hate that Jesus forgives sins.  People hate that Jesus grants eternal life.  People hate Jesus. 

            People hate that Jesus died on the cross because the fact that Jesus comes to earth and takes on human flesh in order to be the once-for-all sacrifice for sin on the brutal cross means that God really does take sin seriously.  It means you are a poor, miserable sinner.  It means that you are by nature sinful and unclean.  It means God hates sin and it means that you need a blood sacrifice cover your sins.  It means you need the blood of the Lamb of God.

            People hate that Jesus rose from the dead because it means that Jesus really is who He says He is.  He really is God in flesh.  He really does have all authority in heaven and on earth.

            People hate that Jesus forgives sins because it means sin is real and sin needs forgiving.  It means you cannot just do whatever you want to do.  It means you are subject to God’s law and not your feelings. It means God is in charge and you are not. 

Folks hate that Jesus saves people and grants them eternal life in the Heavenly City because that means He is saving them from eternity in Hell.  This means Hell is real.  This means some people are destined for hell because they reject salvation in Jesus. 

            People hate Jesus because Jesus is God and they are not. People hate God because they want to be God.  This was the devil’s temptation for Eve in the Garden of Eden; that she could be like God. 

            Folks hate the Jesus of the Bible and so they rework Jesus in their own image so He is not divisive.  They rewrite Jesus’ truth so that it is not so troublesome.  They shape a kinder, gentler, powerless Jesus who does not believe in sin and forgiveness.  They invent a Jesus who embraces the ways of the world because they are friends with the world.

            But Jesus’ brother James warns, James 4:4 (ESV)  4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” 

People love the world and hate Jesus and this brings division.  There are those in Christ and those who reject Christ.  There is light and darkness.  Good and evil.  Saved and damned.  Wheat and weeds.  Disciples of Jesus and enemies of Jesus. 

Know that our teaching the truth about Jesus will bring division.  The world will hate us because it hates the truth; it hates Jesus.  Despite the division we must continue to preach and teach the truth.

            As a disciple of Jesus you are not called to pursue division or stoke separation.  You are called to continue to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. Knowing the truth, you are called to speak the truth — in love.  You are called to speak the great Good News that Jesus died for all people and Jesus wants all people to be saved.  The door to the kingdom of heaven is open.  Jesus is the door.  Jesus died for all people and invites everyone to come into the kingdom of heaven. By God’s power in the water and the Word, Immanuel Lutheran Church and School is called to make disciples by baptizing and teaching.  With the power of God’s Word we form disciples – followers — students of Jesus each day in all that we say and do.  There is no graduation from being a disciple of Jesus.  You remain a student of God’s Word until you take your last breath. 

Know that our teaching the truth about Jesus will bring division.  The world will hate us because it hates the truth; it hates Jesus.  Despite the division we must continue to preach and teach the truth.

            St. Paul teaches young pastor Timothy,  2 Timothy 4:2–4 (ESV)  2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” So many today will not endure sound teaching and yet we must still preach and teach the truth in patience.

            Jesus’ message in our Gospel reading today is very difficult.  Division is hard.   Division in a family hurts.  My family of origin is badly conflicted because there is no unity about the authority of the Word of God.  Division causes hurt feelings and anger.  There is a great temptation to eliminate the division; to go along to get along and just give in to the ways of the world.  This is a powerful temptation, but you cannot give up the Word of God.   Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life. 

            Jeremiah warns in our Old Testament reading, Jeremiah 23:16–17 (ESV) 16 …“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ”  False prophets will tell you what you want to hear, all while leading you to hell.

            Reject the world and cling to Jesus.  Jesus saves you from disaster.  Jesus forgives you all your sins.  Jesus is truth.  Remain in Christ.  Treasure God’s Word.  Make disciples, baptizing and teaching.  You are a redeemed child of God bought by the blood of Jesus.  Amen. 

Poisonous Words

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Pentecost 9, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger 
August 7, 2022
Gen. 15:1-6, Heb. 11:1-16, Luke 12:22-34

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

Two words are among the most poisonous, insidious and debilitating things that you can say. Two words can cause the best-laid plans to come crumbling down. Two little words asking one simple question – What if? 

What if the stock market keeps going down and you lose your pension?

What if your car breaks down and you can’t afford to fix it?

What if food and gas and inflation keeps going up and up and up and you can’t afford to put food on the table? 

What if you lose everything you have to some wicked twist of fate and end up hungry and homeless on the side of the road? 

Who will care for you then? Who will love you? Will your friends abandon you? Will anyone stoop to help? Or will you die there, cold, hungry and alone? 

What if? Two little words, one simple question. A lot of fear. Fear of losing everything you have. Accidents, stock market crashes, financial anxieties, the list goes on and on and on. 

This anxiety is baked into the world. 

You’re scrolling on social media. You come across a clickbait article, titled TOP TEN THINGS, YOU’RE DOING WRONG WITH YOUR MONEY (YOU WON’T BELIEVE NUMBER 4). Of course, you click on it. The article is, essentially, just a string of “What if?” questions. What if your money is in the wrong place? What if you made the wrong decisions? 

Now that you’ve clicked on one of these articles, the all-knowing algorithm slowly feeds you more and more of them. Every lunch break at work, you are asked the question: What if? 

As you scroll through social media, flip through channels, watch YouTube, or just walk down the street, you come across advertising. All ads pretty much boil down to this: “Our product is better than every other company’s product. It’s longer lasting, cheaper, and will make your life better, as compared to the other brands, which will only make your life worse.” Of course, each of those other brands all make the same claims. So after you’ve made your decision, picked one out of many options, and taken the product home, you see an ad for another brand. The ad, implicitly, asks you the question: What if you made the wrong choice? 

That evening, you turn on the news, which is a great peddler of fear. The newscaster calmly recites the news of the day. “The stock market is down, inflation is up, and crime is on the rise. Stay tuned after the break where we talk to an expert who will say things could be worse – and tomorrow, they probably will be. 

So of course, you stay tuned. You want to be informed. You want to keep bad things from happening to you and yours. But the news really only wants your watch time. Fear is a great way to keep your eyes glued to the screen. 

So that night, you go to bed. Having been bombarded minute after minute with endless “What ifs?” you start to question. What if? What if it does happen? What if the stock market goes down, my car gets into an accident? What if the economy doesn’t get better? What if I lose everything and end up homeless and hungry at the side of the road?

Out of the fear these endless “What ifs?” have created, you seek out advice. You read the blogs, you listen to financial gurus and look at the spreadsheets. After all, no one person can know it all, so you go to the ones who claim to know. All so you can steer disaster in another direction. 

But it’s not enough! Even if you do everything the gurus and blogs and spreadsheets told you, you could still lose everything. After all, the market moves in mysterious ways. The market giveth, and the market taketh away. 

Truth be told, these rational spreadsheets, financial gurus and expert blogs are not so different from the pagans of old. The pagans wanted rain for their crops so they would have enough to stave off disaster. So, they went to their wise men, sages, and priests to learn the right rituals to offer at the right time in the right place. Then, maybe, just maybe, the wrath of their god would be appeased. 

You look at your spreadsheets, you speak to gurus who claim to be able to divine the future. You talk with the priests of our modern markets so you know when and where you should sacrifice to appease the wrath of the market. The pagans prayed for rain, you pray for a windfall. 

And before you know it, the market has become your god. Work has become your worship, spreadsheets and blogs your scripture. Go to church? Read the Bible? Are you crazy? I don’t have time for that. Don’t you know that time is money and money is everything? Help someone else? Why would I do that? The Market has decided he shouldn’t have success, so I shouldn’t interfere. Besides, I need to keep a tight hand on my moneybags because I don’t know what tomorrow might bring. 

In just such a way, Satan has snatched the souls of many. Beginning with two little words asking one simple question, Satan drags another soul down to hell. It was this danger that Jesus was warning against, when He said to His disciples”

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

To someone who is struggling with endless “What ifs?” these words might sound like something you’d read off a self help book you found at the back of the bookshelf at Goodwill. It doesn’t sound helpful. But Jesus has more to offer than worldly wisdom. 

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 

All these worries don’t actually do anything. Even if you make all the right choices, you might still lose everything. Nobody can see everything coming. And you know this. You’ve seen it happen. So why do you still worry? 

You worry because you are seeking our own control. You want to look to yourself for power, control, for financial success and safety. Like a good American, you want to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and carry yourself from rags to riches on nothing but your own hard work. But that’s not what Jesus is preaching here. 

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 

How much more. How much more will God, our heavenly Father, give you what you need? He even does this while you are ones of little faith. He goes further than the Goodwill self-help book. He doesn’t just tell you to stop worrying, He answers your fears. What if, God, I lose everything? God answers and says: I will provide for you. 

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

Seeking after security and safety in this world is fruitless. The world has no certainty to it. The world promises many things, but its promises are false. Advertising promises fitness and safety, but it’s never a sure thing. Unlike the uncaring, cold god of the economy, your Father loves you. He cares about you. He will give you what you need. No matter what the economy does, God will take care of you. 

If you have children, or remember what it was like to be a child, you know that the child and his parents often have very different ideas of what taking care of him means. Ice cream for dinner is almost always a bad idea, but you’ll have a hard time convincing your 6-year old. It’s the same way with God. When He took care of the Israelites in the wilderness with the manna and the quail, they didn’t appreciate it, but He gave them what they needed. 

Maybe your life changes. Maybe those “What ifs” come true. God will take care of you anyway. He cares for the birds and the flowers, how much more will He care for you, His child? He will take care of your bodily needs. But how much more will He take care of your soul? 

What shall you eat? What shall you drink? Earthly food and drink, certainly, but Jesus answers: “Take eat, take drink, this is My body and blood, given and shed for you”

What shall you wear? God will provide you with clothing yes, but He also says: “You will wear My robe of righteousness that I put on you in your baptism.”

On the day of your death, when you eat and drink no more and your body grows cold, you will be well fed and warm, for your soul was nourished on the true food and drink that Jesus gave, and it is clothed in the warm robe of Christ’s righteousness. God’s care for you isn’t just from cradle to grave, but from conception to eternity. This is why Jesus says: 

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 

God works through people. He often provides through the hands of others. If you see someone in need, help them. God will use your hands to do His Fatherly work. You don’t have to be afraid of losing what you have for helping someone else. God will take care of you. 

Always remember that your treasure is fast and secure in the heavens, with God your Father. No thief, moth or devil can snatch your heavenly treasures from His hands. 

Amen

Don’t be like a hungry pug

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Pentecost 8 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
July 31, 2022
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-26, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

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            When Jeannette and I first visited Hamilton after receiving placement from seminary in 2001 we had one weekend to find a place to live.  No pressure. Our realtor was not really that much help, but driving around we found a messy house with padlocks on the doors and four foot tall grass.  We thought, this must be the place.  It was a HUD foreclosure and was up for auction on the internet.  We overbid the asking price by a bit and prayed.  We got the house and spent a few weeks fixing it up before moving in.  Just starting out, the church helped us get financing through the church extension fund. Since then we have had at least four different mortgages as we refinanced to lock in rates and chase rates lower. The first four loans were 30 year loans. Starting over again and again with 30 year loans our monthly payment kept decreasing, but I realized I would not pay off the house until I was 80 years old.  So we refinanced one last time with a 15 year installment loan.  As long as I send the bank money each month I get to stay in the house, and after 180 months I will own the house free and clear.

            Installment loans are one kind of loan.  Another is revolving credit like a credit card where you only need to make a minimum payment each month and the bank is more than happy for you to keep a balance on the card and pay high interest.  In a way, the bank hopes you never pay off the debt. 

            Another kind of loan is a call loan.  This is generally made between a bank and brokerage firms when they need more cash.  The call loan has no set time period and the bank can call the loan at any time, and when called, the borrower needs to pay off the balance of the loan immediately.  I am very glad to not have my home loan be a call loan. 

            Your life and your money and possessions are on loan from God.  What kind of a loan is it?  Is it an installment loan for a fixed period of time?  Is it a revolving line of credit that you can keep your life and wealth forever as long as you make a minimum payment?  Or is it a call loan?  Can your life and wealth be taken away from you at any time? 

            We learn from our Gospel lesson today that your life and possessions are indeed a call loan from God.  Your life and your wealth are on loan to you from God for you to care for and use to the glory of God until He calls the loan.   

            In our reading from Luke 12 a man cries out from the crowd asking Jesus to command the man’s brother to divide an inheritance with him.  Luke 12:14 (ESV) 14 But [Jesus] said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  Jesus is not a probate judge; He was not sent to earth to resolve family financial squabbles.  But Jesus does use this opportunity to teach an eternal truth.  Luke 12:15 (ESV) 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 

            Your life is not about how much money you have; it is not about how much stuff you have. 

            This is a counter cultural teaching in Jesus’ day and it is even more counter cultural today.  You live in a world of abundance awash in the idea that the main thing in life is to get more, bigger and better stuff; to always pursue more and more money. This is how folks keep score in life. 

            Jesus then tells a parable about a rich farmer whose land produced a bumper crop.  The Lord has provided this man an abundant harvest, so what does the man do?  Does he give thanks to God for this abundant gift? Does he share his abundance with those in need and store his crop in the bellies of hungry people?  Does he think about anyone except himself?  No.  The rich man does not even consult with anyone other than me, myself and I.  Luke 12:17-18 (ESV) 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” 

            He is all about himself and his things.  He has no sense that his life and possessions are a gift from God.  He is all about Me, me, me.  My crop, my barn, my grain, my soul.  He decides to hoard the abundant blessing given to him by God and then he continues his conversation with himself.  Luke 12:19 (ESV) 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ 

            The rich man believes the highest pleasure and greatest form of satisfaction in life is eating and drinking.  That is a lot like my brother-in-law’s old pug, Koko.  Koko keeps limping along year after year, mainly just sleeping in her little dog bed.  But when 6 pm rolls around there is an amazing transformation.  This lazy, drowsy, elderly, arthritic dog comes back to life and becomes incredibly excited about her dinner of special Hills prescription dog food.  Koko gets so excited; barking, bouncing, spinning in circles, all because she is about to eat.  For Koko, like the rich man in the parable, the highest pleasure and greatest form of satisfaction is eating and drinking. 

            And, oh, what a great temptation it is to adopt the same attitude toward life.  How many go through life just trying to accumulate enough that they will never have to work again.  If only they can get enough to be able to relax and eat and drink for the rest of their lives.  For so many, this is the most important thing in life.  They have been reduced to the level of an animal.  For what is really the most important thing in life?………..What brings true peace, true satisfaction?

            The rich man basically says, “My soul is restless until I am assured of an overabundance of food and drink?”  Does the man find peace for his restless soul?  That very night God calls the loan on his life and wealth.  The man does not find peace.  So, where is true peace to be found?  The Church Father Augustine once wrote, “My soul is restless until it rests in thee.” Oh Lord, my soul is restless until it rests in thee.

            Jesus did not come to earth to make sure you have enough money.  Jesus comes to earth to ensure your sins are forgiven.  Jesus comes to gain for you eternal life.  Jesus comes to serve you by giving His life on the cross to pay the price for your sins, including the sin of loving money. 

            The world believes true peace is found in having enough money; enough money to buy whatever you want, enough money to never have to work again.  But this is not the source of peace.  Whoever just hit the mega millions jackpot suddenly has more money than he or she can spend in a lifetime and yet they are still a sinner who needs Jesus.  Without Jesus you have no peace.  Contrary to the incessant message of the world, money does not bring peace as evidenced by so many miserable rich people.  Money does not bring peace.  Jesus brings peace.

            Jesus did not come to earth to make sure you have enough money.  Jesus comes to earth to ensure your sins are forgiven.  Jesus comes to gain for you eternal life.  Jesus comes to serve you by giving His life on the cross to pay the price for your sins, including the sin of loving money.  Jesus did not come as a probate judge to decide inheritance disputes.  Jesus did come to save you forever.

            Your life and your money are gifts from God to be managed according to God’s will.  Your life is on loan from God.  Your money and possessions are not yours to hold in a closed fist, but rather they are God’s to be held in an open hand.  Your life, money and possessions are on loan from God, and it is a call loan. Your life and your wealth could be taken away at any time. 

            Now, money is tricky.  You need money, but the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Money is a tool to provide for daily needs of food and shelter and transportation.  Money is needed to care for those you are given to care for.  Money should be well managed and well invested. If possible, you should save money, for future, unexpected needs.  Money is a good tool of life.  But, beware, money is a tool that the devil tries to leverage into an idol.  There is great temptation to become obsessed with money. It is far too easy to love money. It is too easy to let money become your god.  The love of money is a great danger for rich and poor alike.  Jesus knows this, so He warns of this danger in our parable this morning.

            To avoid money becoming an idol, be rich toward God. To avoid the love of money, give generously.  Giving money is an antidote to loving money.  As a part of this fellowship of believers, give generously to the Lord’s work at Immanuel, and give generously to help other organizations and people doing God’s will in the world.

            There are times in life when money is stretched pretty thin.  Give what you can from your scarcity.  There are times when you have more money than you need, give generously from your abundance. For me, I have found that the idea of giving 10 percent to the church is a good guideline.  It is not a command in the New Testament, but it is a guide. There will be financially tight times in life when 10 percent may be too much and there will be financially plentiful times when 10 percent is too little. 

            Another guideline for giving is to give until it hurts; until you are missing the money.  Give until it hurts, and then give a little bit more until it feels good. Giving is a remedy for greed.  Giving generously helps prevent loving money and letting money become your god.  Again, as Jesus warns, Luke 12:15 (ESV) 15 … “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 

            The rich man in the parable is all about me, me, me, my, my, my.  Living in this nation of abundance, it is far, far too easy to join the rich man in his self-centered greed and think only about my life, my money, my possessions, mine, mine, mine.  But, self-centered greed puts you in mortal danger like the rich fool in the parable. Be on guard.  You are a baptized, redeemed child of God living as salt and light in the world fighting back against the rottenness of the world and shining the light of Christ into the darkness.  Never forget that all that you are and all that you have is on loan from God for you to manage for a time until He calls the loan.  Money is temporary, salvation is forever.  Be rich toward God because you are God’s treasure.  Your greatest need is the forgiveness given to you by Jesus. Peace comes to you from Jesus.  You are Jesus’ treasure.  You are more precious to Him than His very life.  Jesus is your treasure, more precious than gold. 

You are a forgiven, baptized, child of God — live in Christ; live for Christ. Be rich toward God.  Amen.  

Who is the Good Samaritan

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Pentecost 5, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
July 10, 2022
Leviticus  19:9-18, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37

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                             I have heard it said that a good lawyer never asks a question if he doesn’t already know what the answer will be.  We see this fail in our Gospel reading today. Luke 10:25 (ESV)  25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Why does the lawyer ask this question?  What does he think the answer will be?  Maybe he has heard that Jesus has great insight into eternal life and he wants to know the secret.  Or maybe, he is trying to get Jesus to slip up and say something that Jesus’ enemies can twist in order to attack Him for teaching against Moses. 

                             In itself, the question is not well thought out. What shall I do to inherit eternal life?  You do something to earn wages.  You don’t do something to inherit.  Inheritance is a gift.

                             Jesus responds to the question with a question, Luke 10:26 (ESV) 26 … “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Luke 10:27 (ESV) 27 And [the lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:28 (ESV) 28 And [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 

                             That’s all you need to do.  Just perfectly love God and your neighbor.  Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer who then tries to justify himself and limit this command. Luke 10:29 (ESV) 29 …“And who is my neighbor?” 

                             Here Jesus launches into the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.  This is a familiar story.  We have adopted the term Good Samaritan into regular use.  We have Good Samaritan laws protecting those who help strangers.  You know this story.  This morning’s message is probably a rerun.  Perhaps this is a good opportunity to close your eyes and sit back and grab a few minutes sleep.  But do you know this parable as well as you think you do?

                             What is the main lesson of the Good Samaritan?  Who is the hero of the story?  At first glance, the lesson is be good, do good, and help others.  But is it that simple?  Jesus message to the lawyer is that in order for you to gain eternal life you need to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.  This is an impossible teaching which presents you with an eternal problem.  If this is Jesus’ lesson, then you are condemned to hell for eternity because you cannot do it.

                             So, what is the main lesson of the Good Samaritan?  Let’s dig in a bit.  Who is the hero of the story?  Who is the Good Samaritan?  In this parable we have someone who needs to be saved lying naked, beaten, bloody and helpless by the side of the road.  And we have a hero who has compassion, does what needs to be done, and pays the price to save the helpless man.

                             When kids play sports they will picture themselves making the buzzer beating three pointer, the 9th inning grand slam, scoring the winning goal in the final minute to win the championship and be the hero. It is nice to be the hero. 

                             It would be nice to be the hero of this parable; the one coming to save the day.  The one giving of himself or herself to save a stranger — but you are not the hero of this story.  In this story you are the poor person lying helpless in the dirt on the side of the road in desperate need of a savior.  Jesus is the Good Samaritan.  Jesus is the hero of the story.  And that makes all the difference.

                             You are the helpless, hot mess of a person, who is rejected by the “good people”.  The priest and the Levite do not think it is their job to help you.  You are not worth it.  You are not their obligation so they leave you for dead. 

                             You are the victim in this story and you lie there in the dirt, helpless and rejected, when someone also rejected and hated by the “good people” comes to help you.  Jesus is telling this parable to Jews and the Jews know for sure that Samaritans are not their neighbor.  They are convinced that God hates the Samaritans.  And yet it is the rejected one who, without hesitation, binds up your wounds and puts you on his animal and takes you to an inn and pays for your care. This man is a Samaritan, someone hated and rejected by the Jews.  He takes you to an inn likely in the Jewish town of Jericho where he would be at great personal risk from the locals.  They may very well beat Him or kill Him after He sets you up at the inn.

You are the helpless, hot mess of a person, who is rejected by the “good people”.  The priest and the Levite do not think it is their job to help you.  You are not worth it.  You are not their obligation so they leave you for dead. 

                             This is what Jesus does for you.  Jesus comes to you in your helpless bondage to sin and the devil, and washes you clean and cares for you.  He gives of Himself to save you.  He risks His life, and gives His life to give you eternal life.  Jesus rescues you from sin, death and hell. This parable is about what Jesus has done for you.  You have been saved by Jesus, but Jesus does not leave you to simply bask in His salvation of you as we see as Jesus asks the lawyer, Luke 10:36 (ESV) 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 

                             The lawyer answers Luke 10:37 (ESV)  37 … “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” 

                             The priest and the Levite may think they have good reasons and excuses for not helping the wounded man.  They may justify their lack of compassion in their minds. But they are wrong.  By rejecting their neighbor they are rejecting God. Jesus calls you to become a neighbor to those in need. 

                             What is the main point of the parable of the Good Samaritan?  Is it to have faith in Jesus?  Or is it to love your neighbor?  Yes.  The main point is both.  Jesus saves you and He calls you to love your neighbor.  It is not so much about who is your neighbor, but for you to become a neighbor to those in need regardless of who they are. You do not love God and love your neighbor to earn eternal life; you do it because you have eternal life.  You go, and do likewise because you are a baptized child of God; because you are an heir of eternal life. 

                             Jesus portrays Himself in this parable as a Samaritan, a hated outsider, rejected by the religious leaders.  Today, Jesus remains a hated outsider, rejected by religious leaders.  Jesus is rejected because He is not the kind of Savior folks are looking for.  Jesus is rejected because He does not bring the message that you are good enough just the way you are.  Instead, He brings the message that you are a sinner who needs to repent, who needs to turn from sin and believe the good news that Jesus has died for your sins.  Jesus brings the message that you cannot save yourself.  You cannot earn eternal life.  You need Jesus.  You are helpless and need someone to save you.  This is not a popular message. 

Folks want to be the hero of their own story.  They want to be the one to call the shots and do what needs to be done.  They want Jesus to stand by and applaud them for just being their sinful selves.  People want to hear that Jesus loves you just the way you are but that is not the real Jesus.  The real Jesus loves you and takes away your sin.  Jesus does not leave you helpless in your guilt and shame.  No.  He lifts you up, cleans you up, pays the price for you, and sets you on a better path. 

                             Jesus sends you to be His hands and feet in the world; to have compassion and care for others the way He has cared for you.  Jesus loves you too much to let you be the hero.  If you were the hero you would be lost in your sin.  Jesus loves you enough to save you and send you.  The main point of the parable is that Jesus saves you and sends you to serve.  Jesus loves you and cares for you.  You go and do likewise.  Amen. 

Lambs among wolves

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Pentecost 4 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
July 3, 2022
Is 66:10-14, Gal 6:1-10, 14-18, Luke 1-:1-20

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The wolves’ den is a place of teeth, claws and violence. It is a place for the hunter, not the hunted, the predator, not the prey. So imagine the wolves’ surprise when two small, gentle lambs step into their den. You’ve seen nature documentaries. You know how this ends. 

When Jesus sends the 72 into the world, He sends them empty-handed. He sends them without moneybags, without extra sandals, without even a knapsack to store food. He sends them with nothing. With nothing, they face dangers along the road. With nothing, the threat of bandits and starvation looms large. With nothing, they stand at a strange city gate, not knowing where they will spend the night. The 72 have nothing, and yet Jesus sends them with everything they need. 

            Jesus sends these empty-handed heralds of His kingdom into a hostile world. He sends them out as soldiers, yet gives them no weapons. He sends them out as gentle lambs into the den of the wolves. He sends them weak into a dog eat dog world, where the strong survive and the weak get devoured. 

            Jesus sends the 72 into town after town, city after hostile city. In each place, they face opposition. They face trials, hardships, fear and terror. Most of all, they face the wolves themselves; evil men, to be sure, but also evil spirits. Jesus sends His empty-handed army against the very forces of Satan. 

            This horrid, seething mass of demonic wickedness that stands against God’s kingdom looks up to see what force the Son of God has sent to destroy them, to see what legions of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven have come to drive them out by the sword. 

Then, they see the lambs. This must be a joke. All they can see are empty-handed soldiers, ill-prepared to fight. To the eyes of men, these are no warriors. They hold no weapons. The only sword they bear is the message they bring. These empty-handed soldiers make war by means of peace. They proclaim peace to the houses they enter. They proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, not with trumpets, not with swords, not with the force of legions upon legions, but with nothing but the words upon their lips. 

            This horrid, seething mass of demonic wickedness that stands against God’s kingdom looks up to see what force the Son of God has sent to destroy them, to see what legions of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven have come to drive them out by the sword. 

The lambs enter the wolves’ den. Snarling, gleeful, the wolves surround them. Already they eye one another, ready to take more than their fair share of the kill. Just when the wolves are ready to pounce, just when the lambs’ fate seems sealed, the lambs speak, not in cowardly, bleating tones, but in a commanding, triumphant voice. Opening their mouths, they speak words of peace. With those words of peace, the wolves are driven back. These are no ordinary lambs. These lambs come in the name of the wolves’ worst enemy.

As sheep, the 72 enter the wolves’ den. As sheep, these men strive confidently into the very jaws of death. As gentle, helpless lambs, these men conquer the wolves. Yes, these lambs conquer the wolves. To the eyes of men, these empty-handed lambs seem weak and pathetic. But to the eyes of Satan and his demons, the words they speak are sharper and stronger than any weapon they could bear. These words terrify them. For these are not mere words, they are the very presence of Christ; the same Christ who came to earth to conquer them. The same Christ who won the great victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. That Christ is there in the lamb’s words of peace. 

            These empty-handed soldiers go into the harvest fields full of ferocious wolves. These little lambs, without swords, drive their enemies before them. These men with nothing but the words upon their lips proclaim peace to the world and judgment to evil. Some places accept them, and these warriors of the word spread peace to that house. But if a place rejects them, if a place stands against the word of peace that they proclaim, then that place has allied itself with the devil. Like the devil and all his soldiers, the wrath of God will be poured out upon it. Having stood shoulder to shoulder with evil, it will share in evil’s judgment. Even the dust that clings to the feet of the messengers of peace is cast off against it. 

            To the eyes of the world, this is a strange thing. Men unprepared for travel journey out into cities and towns. They conquer through peace, they make war with only words. These men, unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the threats of the world; these weak men, succeed. They succeed despite themselves, despite their lack of preparation despite their multitudes of mistakes and wrongdoings. These men drive their enemies out before them. These men cast out demons, heal the sick, and trample upon their enemies. These men, preaching the message of peace, get results. Despite it all, against all odds, despite their very selves, the 72 go out empty-handed and return victorious. 

            Heads held high they return to Jesus, speaking excitedly, exulting in their triumph. These men truly bear the name of Christ. After all, could any man have done what they did? Could any well-prepared man, even with moneybag and knapsack, and an extra pair of sandals, have cast out demons, healed the sick, conquered by proclaiming peace? No. Not all the legions of Rome could do this thing. Truly, this is evidence of Christ’s power in them. 

            When the 72 return, Jesus responds to their exultation, saying that He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. No longer can Satan accuse the faithful before God. No longer can he stand in opposition, for by this message of peace he was defeated. By this message of peace, the faithful need not fear. This message of peace contains all that we Christians need to stand against the evil one. We need not carry anything in our hands for Christ has carried it all. We need not lift a finger in the battle for Christ has already won it. Christ is He who fights on our behalf. Indeed, Jesus gives authority over all the power of the enemy. The battle is over. The conquering peace of the 72 only comes because of Christ’s victory through His death. Only because of His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death do you now stand as empty-handed soldiers staring down a defeated foe. 

            The enemy is defeated. Satan’s face is crushed into the dust. Victory is yours. But that victory isn’t everything. That victory is just a side effect of the real prize won. Jesus certainly went to the cross to overcome sin, death and the power of the devil, to crush Satan’s face into the dust; but He also went to the cross to write your name in His blood. To pour Himself out for the forgiveness of your sins. To shed His blood so that your blood need not be shed. The victory over Satan is a thing to be celebrated. But it pales in comparison to the fact that your name dear Christian, is written in the heavens. That is the thing truly worth celebrating. That is the reason you show up to church. You don’t come here just to hear that Satan is defeated. You come to this church to hear the message of peace. To hear the pastor speak the words of Jesus “I forgive you all your sins.” 

            Here, in this Christian congregation, you gather as lambs in the midst of wolves who need not die. For the Lamb of God has already died in your place. Here in this church, we gather to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who conquered through His death so that your name could be written in the heavens. 

            So rejoice, dear Christians! Rejoice indeed that you bear the name of Christ. Rejoice that He has shed His blood for your sake. Rejoice that your sins are forgiven. Rejoice that you are empty-handed, for Christ has carried all your sins. Above all, rejoice that your name is inscribed by the very finger of God in heaven. Written in Christ’s blood, that is our true victory. 

Who am I? Where am I going?

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Pentecost 3 2022 Proper 8 – Vicar Installation
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
June 26, 2022
1 Kings 19:9b-21, Gal 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62

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            When I was at seminary in St. Louis, often after chapel, a squadron of F-15 fighters would fly over fairly low.  They were pretty loud.  We’d remark, “It is the sound of freedom.”  Freedom.  What is freedom? 

            A teenager wants to go out with her friends and her parents say no.  The teenager gets angry and longs for the day she moves out so she will have the freedom to do what she wants to do. 

            School students wait for the last day of school to begin summer vacation.  “No more homework, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.  The students long for freedom to do what they want to do.

            A man counts down the days until his retirement when he will no longer have to get up early and commute to work and have to listen to all the people telling him what to do.  He longs for the freedom to do what he wants to do. 

Simply put, freedom is being able to do what you want to do.

            Soon will celebrate our freedom as a nation on July 4th when we began to throw off the rule of the king of England and established our own constitutional government.  Our forefathers fought for our freedom to do what we want to do.  As they were establishing this nation, the founding fathers must have really have wondered, “How well will this work?” John Adams, the second president of the United States, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Why would John Adams say this?  What was he worried about? 

            I believe it has a lot to do with our reading today from Galatians 5. Galatians 5:1 (ESV) 1 For freedom Christ has set us free… Galatians 5:13 (ESV)  13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 

            Freedom is being able to do what you want to do. The big question, the huge question, the question with eternal consequences is… “What do you want to do?”  You, Christian, have been set free by the blood of Jesus.  You are free to do what you want to do.  What do you want to do?

            When you face this question ask yourself two additional questions.  Who am I? Where I am heading?  Who am I?  Where am I heading?

            Who are you?  Are you a slave to your desires?  Are you a child of the world?  Are you a follower of the devil?  Where are you heading?  Are you on the road to hell?  Are you seeking out immoral sexual activity?  Do you pursue spiritual adultery by following after other gods?  Do you seek wisdom from the dark forces of the world?  Do you break relationships with others and feed division and anger and hatred?  Do you overindulge in alcohol?  Do you gather with others who pursue works of evil and encourage each other to sin?  Is this who you are?  Is this your identity?  Are you bound for eternal damnation?

            No! No! No! No!  A thousand times, no!

            Who are you?  You are a baptize child of God.  Your sins have been forgiven by Jesus on the cross.  You have been set free by the blood of Christ.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, you will rise from the dead to eternal life.  You have renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways at your baptism and confirmation. Your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit.  That is who you are.

            Where are you going?  You have a reserved seat at the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. You are bound for eternal life in heaven with the Lord. 

            So, Christian, you have freedom in Christ.  What do you want to do?  You want to love your neighbor as yourself.  Often when you are trying to make a decision or evaluate your behavior it is easy to start thinking in categories such as, “is this a sin, is that a sin?”  Certainly we need to beware of sin, but, perhaps, a better question is, “Does this show love for my neighbor?  Am I loving my neighbor?” 

            You are free in Christ and freedom is tricky.  Living in the freedom of Christ there is temptation to go back to the old ways.  Vicar Yaeger hopefully will learn during his year with us how to better live in this freedom and how to teach others how to live in this freedom.  It is an ongoing challenge.  The devil is actively trying to get you to abuse your freedom. You say, I am free, I can do what I want to do, but then you find it is not what the trueyou wants to do.  You find that you are doing what your old, dead, sinful self wants to do. 

            You will struggle with temptations because you are a natural born sinner and sin comes easily to your old self, but this is no longer who you are.  When you find you have given into temptation to sin, do not give in to the temptation to despair and give up, or the temptation to become self-righteous and think your sin is not as bad as that other person.  Instead, get on your knees and bring your sins to the Lord Jesus and know that He has set you free from the condemning power of the law.  Hear the words of absolution.  Receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  Your sin has been taken away.  Live in the freedom of Christ.

Our Epistle lesson today brings a warning about freedom.  St. Paul is very clear.  Galatians 5:16–17 (ESV) 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 

            To be extra clear, Paul lists sins of the flesh.  Galatians 5:19–21 (ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies [or carousing], and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

Paul lists three sexual sins, two sins of following false Gods, eight sins of division and anger and fighting, and two sins of overindulgence.  I fear that it is too easy to get caught up thinking about sexual sins or sins of overindulgence and let down your guard about idolatry and division.  You certainly need to beware of temptations to sexual sin and drunkenness and decadence, but you also need to be very much on guard against fearing, loving and trusting something other than the true God.  Beware of falling into a life of letting differences tear people apart.  It is too easy to fall into a life of fighting and anger which consumes you.

            On Friday, the Supreme Court overturned the Roe vs. Wade decision and the Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision about abortion.  States now have the authority to regulate and forbid abortion.  We give thanks for this huge step in defense of human life from conception to natural death. It is a time of joy.  But it is also a time where many in our nation are angry and frustrated.  This is a moment to speak the truth in love without gloating or stoking division and anger and hatred.  It is a time of prayer.  Matthew 5:43–44 (ESV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”  

            You are free in Christ.  Freedom means doing what you want to do.  What do you want to do?  Who are you? Where are you heading? 

            Paul clearly warns not to live a life fulfilling the desires of the flesh.  Do not embrace sin as your lifestyle or the goal of your life as if you are a child of the devil bound for hell.  This is not who you are.  This is not your future.

            Who are you?  You are a baptized child of God set free by the blood of Jesus.

Where are you going?  You are bound for eternity with the Lord in heaven.  Your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit.  Walk by the Spirit.  Love your neighbor.  Bear fruit in your walk in the Spirit.  Bear the fruit of joy…peace…patience…kindness…goodness…faithfulness… gentleness… self-control.  This fruit is not an event, it is not a sporadic, occasional activity, it is your lifestyle, it is your goal of life because of who you are and where you are going.

You are free in Christ.  Freedom means doing what you want to do.  What do you want to do?  Love your neighbor.  Walk by the Spirit and bear the fruit of the Spirit because you are a baptized child of God. Because you are on your way to heaven.  Amen. 

You are free

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Pentecost 2 2022, Proper 7
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
June 19, 2022
Isaiah 65:1-9, Galatians 3:23-4:7, Luke 8:26-39

            The countdown is over.  The day he dreamed about for so long has finally arrived.  He’s served his sentence; he’s done his time; he’s paid his debt to society and today he is going to be released. 

            Prison life is hard, but he adapted over the years. It is a dangerous place, but once you figure out the written and unwritten rules and you learn to always be aware of your surroundings you can get by.  The prison has rules, the inmates have rules.  Not too much to think about.

There is a set schedule.  You don’t have to think about setting an alarm or figuring out when to turn the lights out; that is all done for you.  You don’t have to think about what to buy at the grocery store or what to fix for dinner.  Every meal is served at exactly the same time, every day.  The food isn’t that good, but it is always there; no matter what. Nothing to think about.  No decisions to make.  The rules are the rules.

Today all that ends.  Today is a day of freedom.  There is a whirlwind of activity and the next thing the inmate knows, he is standing outside the gates of the prison; outside the double chain link fence topped with razor wire.  He stands there in a new set of clothes with $50 in his pocket.  He is free.

            And, in freedom, he is seized with confusion and fear. What now?  Where should I go?  What should I do?  What next? So many decisions.  So many unanswered questions.  No one to take care of him.  He is now very much alone in the world.  He looks back inside the fence with a strange sense of longing to be a prisoner again.

            As bad as being a prisoner is; sometimes freedom can be worse.  As bad as slavery is, if you are released without any resources, freedom can be worse. The children of Israel free in the desert of the Exodus looked back on their time of slavery in Egypt with longing.

            This can happen when people are freed from slavery to the law of God.  Too often people who have been freed from slavery to the law want nothing more than to return to the comfort and familiarity of having the law as their master. It is so natural to just want a list of rules to follow because then you know what to expect.  Do this, don’t do that.  Eat this, don’t eat that.  The rules are the rules and the rules don’t change and that is so very comfortable. In Old Testament times the children of Israel had the law of God as their guardian.  Galatians 3:23–26 (ESV)  23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 

The law was like a servant whose job it is to care for a rich man’s children until they are old enough to take care of themselves.  The law was there to teach what to do and what not to do and when to do it and not do it.  The law cared for God’s children as a nanny cares for the children in her charge.  Having someone to look after you can be comforting. It is reassuring to be a child in someone else’s care.  It may be frustrating at times; but it is familiar.  It is predictable.

            God’s people are cared for by the guardian of the law until it is time.  Galatians 4:4-5 (ESV) 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.[1]

            A little of the Christmas story here in June.  When it is time, God sends forth His Son, born of woman.  Born under the law.  Jesus does not destroy the law; He fulfills the law.  He is circumcised on the eighth day.  As the firstborn He is redeemed by a sacrifice of two birds.  He follows the law of God in order to redeem those under the law.  Jesus redeems you from the guardianship of the law.  Jesus sets you free.  No longer are you under the power of the ceremonial laws.  You are free.

            But Jesus’ freedom does not leave you outside the prison walls with $50 in your pocket.  Jesus’ freedom does not leave you in the desert.  Jesus comes for two things. 

  1. To redeem those under the law,
  2. so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters.

You are not redeemed from the law and then abandoned to go it alone.  You are redeemed and adopted as a child of God. God sends Jesus to redeem you and then sends the Spirit into your heart so you can call God, Abba!  Father!  You are an adopted child of God.

You are not left alone in the world.  In baptism you have put on Christ.  You are placed into the family of God.  You are united here in Christ as the adopted children of God — united with God as your Father, with Jesus as your brother, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in you to give you the breath of faith and eternal life.

You are a child of God.  You are an heir of the heavenly kingdom.  You have been set free from the law.  So how then should you live?  Just be yourself.  Live out your identity.  Act like who you already are.  Live as your redeemed, forgiven self.  Love God and love your neighbor.

Just being who you are in Christ sounds easy enough, but there are many evil forces trying to get you to forget your new identity in Christ and go back to live in your natural, sinful and unclean ways. 

You are a part of the family of faith; the Church, but the devil wars against your new identity and your new family.

He wants you to stop coming to family gatherings.

He wants you to stop attending family dinners.

He wants you to stop thinking about the family and think only of yourself.

He wants you to act like you don’t belong to God, but rather that you are a citizen of the world; a slave of the devil; a prisoner of your own sinful flesh.

The devil wants you to forsake Christ and return to the old days under slavery to the law.  He wants you to believe that your salvation is something you earn based on what you do. In that way he can get you to despair or become self-righteous. 

But that is not who you are.  You have been baptized into Christ.  You have put on Christ.  You are free in Christ.  Don’t let the devil have you forget that.  Don’t let him drag you back to the ways of your old self. 

Rid yourself of the old sinful ways, the ways of the flesh, the old ways under the guardianship of the law.  You don’t belong there anymore. 

Stop trying to maintain a tight grip of control over your life.  Turn your life over to God.  Stop holding on to the hurts and harms that people have done to you as if you are the one to judge.  Stop holding onto the hurts, nurturing them and treasuring them so you can feel justified in your anger.  Take all your anger and bitterness and resentment and give it to God and trust in Him. 

But that is not who you are.  You have been baptized into Christ.  You have put on Christ.  You are free in Christ.  Don’t let the devil have you forget that.  Don’t let him drag you back to the ways of your old self. 

Knowing you are free in Christ…knowing that you are an adopted child of God…allow yourself to be vulnerable and admit you are not perfect.  Admit your errors.  Admit your flaws.  Admit your struggles.  Admit that you have thoughts and desires and actions of which you are ashamed.  Admit that you are hurt and broken and struggling and you cannot do it alone.  Admit that you need Jesus.  And know Jesus has given it all for you.

You have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you.  Live as Christ would have you live.  Live in Christ, live for Christ, live in love for each other. 

Through Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, He has set you free from bondage to the law.  But he did not leave you alone in the world.  He did not leave you to fend for yourself and long to return to slavery. He has adopted you as His child and He has brought you into His family.  Gather at His family gatherings here in His house.  Come to the family meals here at His altar.  Live together and love together during your struggles here on earth as we look forward to the day of resurrection. 

You are a child of God and can call the creator of the universe Father, and the redeemer of the world, Brother.  You live in Christ.  You are free in Christ.  Amen.


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

Well-Equipped Witness

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Ascension 2022 (observed)
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
May 29, 2022
Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53

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            If you are called as a witness in court you will go up to the witness stand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.  So, as a witness in court you tell the truth.  That is what the 8th Commandment makes clear.  Do not bear false testimony against your neighbor.

            When you think about being a witness, a courtroom comes to mind, but that is not the only place we find witnesses.  In our readings today we find Jesus leaving witnesses standing atop the Mount of Olives near Bethany above Jerusalem as He ascends into heaven. 

            The eleven apostles are there with Jesus.  They have seen Jesus perform many miracles of healing, feeding, cleansing, driving out demons, calming storms, walking on water, raising the dead.  They witnessed all that Jesus did.  They were with Jesus on that Thursday night when He washed their feet and transformed the Passover meal into Holy Communion.  They were there when Jesus was arrested and then watched from a distance as He is tried by the Jewish leaders and taken to the Roman governor in the morning. They saw Jesus paraded through the streets with His cross and marched up to the place of the skull to be crucified. John was at the foot of the cross and the others likely watched from a distance as the life drained out of Jesus until He hung dead on the cross and the Romans pierced Him with a spear to make sure.  They saw it all.  They saw Jesus’ dead body buried in a borrowed tomb and then they hid behind locked doors for fear that the Jews would be coming after them next.  The eleven apostles knew very well what happened to Jesus.  And then came Sunday morning and the news that Jesus rose from the dead started to spread among the apostles.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

            Jesus then appeared to these disciples.  Acts 1:3 (ESV) 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”  

These eleven and others with them know for certain that Jesus rose from the dead. They know that Jesus rose from the dead and, as Jesus commands them to do, they spend the rest of their lives witnessing to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.  They spend the rest of their lives proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.  Jesus prepares the disciples during His three years of ministry.  He further readies them during the 40 days from His resurrection to His ascension. He promises to send the Holy Spirit who will come in 10 days on Pentecost.  Some of the last words that Jesus speaks to the disciples confirm the written word of the Old Testament.  Luke 24:44–45 (ESV) 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” 

            The eleven are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and His death and resurrection.  The eleven have the Old Testament; Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.  Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. The eleven will receive the Holy Spirit fully on Pentecost.  They have the tools they need to accomplish what God wants them to accomplish. 

How amazing it must have been to be there at Jesus’ ascension; to hear Jesus’ last words on earth and watch Him ascend and disappear into a cloud.  How incredible to have Jesus equip you with all you need to be sent out with the Gospel to all the world.

            It is easy to think, “If only I was equipped like those eleven apostles, then I could really do some good for the Kingdom of God. You know, those eleven were eyewitnesses.  They had Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, their minds were opened to understand the scriptures.  They had the Holy Spirit.  If only I had what they had.”

            But you do.  You have virtually the same tools as Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Thomas, Philip and the others.  You are well equipped.  Now, you are not an eyewitness, but you have the eyewitness testimony written down by Matthew, Mark, John, Paul and Peter.  You have additional eyewitness testimony compiled by Luke.  Along with this you have Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. You have the Holy Spirit.  Your mind has been opened by God to understand and believe the Holy Scriptures.  You are well equipped.  So, be ready when opportunities arise.    1 Peter 3:15 (ESV)  15 …in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”  Be ready to give the reason for the hope that you have, yet do it with gentleness and respect.  In this contentious world with so many opportunities for division and conflict, you are called to interact with gentleness and respect.

            As a well-equipped witness for Jesus you bring the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to a world that does not understand.  You speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect into a world full of darkness and evil. 

            Witness to the truth about Jesus with gentleness and respect because that is how Jesus treats you.  When you mess up and offend God with your sin He does not treat you with angry contempt and dismissiveness.  God solves your problem with sin.  He tells you the truth that your sins are forgiven.  In great love for you the Father sends His Son to die on the cross to pay for your sins.  He sacrificially offers Himself for you.  He gives you abundant hope and He does it with gentleness and respect. 

            As a well-equipped witness for Jesus you bring the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to a world that does not understand.  You speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect into a world full of darkness and evil. 

            And there is great evil in the world.  We see that evil in big ways in unjust wars and in evil people who heartlessly kill children in a classroom or shoppers at a store. This is incomprehensible evil. Evil simmers around you constantly in regular street violence.  On a recent weekend in Chicago 24 people were shot, six fatally.  And no one seems to care too much.  It is just a regular thing.  A murder in Fairfield Township is huge news, two people murdered in Cincinnati is just business as usual.  Evil can become commonplace.  You have great hope because Jesus died and rose for you and yet you mourn the evil in this world.  You do not want to get used to the evil and give up hope; rather you fight back against it. As well-equipped witnesses to the truth you battle evil and darkness in the world. 

            You battle evil in the world using the tools that you have been given.  You battle the darkness using the light of the world.  The love and forgiveness of Jesus flow out from you into the world and this diminishes evil around you.  You shine light in the darkness.  You love when others hate.  When someone attacks you, turn the other cheek.  You befuddle your enemies by returning love for evil.  You are a sponge for evil and not a mirror.  You are a sponge for evil, absorbing it and eliminating it, not reflecting it back and causing it to grow.  Around you evil shrinks and love grows.

            Live in the hope of Jesus and when people notice that you continue to have hope when others have only despair, be ready to the give the reason for the hope that you have.  Declare that you are a baptized child of God and He has made great promises to you in the blood of Jesus.  Declare to anyone and everyone that Jesus died for them because it is true.  Declare, “Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you need fear no evil for the Good Shepherd is with you.  There is great evil in the world and it can seem like evil is winning, but, in the end, evil will be destroyed forever.  Jesus has overcome the world.” 

            You can talk about how frustrating it is that there is evil in the world.  Why does God even allow evil?  Why am I infected by original sin?  What can one person do about all the evil in the world?  Then you can share the truth that one person can make a difference.  In your interactions, you make a difference. You push back evil in the world.  You, indeed, can have great impact on those around you using the tools that Jesus has given you.  You shine the light and the light spreads.  Be salt and light in a world full of decay and darkness.  You have eyewitness testimony to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Your mind has been opened to the words of scripture.  You have the Holy Spirit.  You know the message of repentance and forgiveness.  You are equipped to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Let Jesus’ light shine.

            Put it under a bushel?  No!  I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.  Amen.