Monday, November 4, 2019

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints: "Hope and Tears"

+ Feast of All Saints – November 3, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Revelation 7:2-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Image result for revelation 7:9-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sometimes we hide them behind sunglasses, or try in vain to wipe them away. Other times we get embarrassed or act tough: “I’m not crying; you’re crying.” Pop musicians, from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to Fergie try to convince us that, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” But the truth is, we all have tears.

Tears of overwhelming joy like Sarah in Genesis, who I imagine laughed till she cried as she held in her hands the gracious, unexpected, promised gift of her son Isaac. 

Too often, though we have tears of loss and longing, like Israel in exile, weeping beside the rivers of Babylon as they remembered Zion.

Tears of guilt or shame, like King David mourning the death of his son and the consequence of his sin.

Tears of pain and anguish, where we join the Psalms in lament: “How long, O Lord?” “How long, O Lord will the cancer spread?” “How long will homes, marriages, friendships remain broken?” “How long will the tempest of anxiety, fear, worry, doubt, and depression cloud my mind?” “How long, O Lord?”

And then there are tears like we experience on All Saints’ Day, as we remember the faithful departed. Tears of grief. Loss. Death. Like our Lord’s tears as he wept at his friend Lazarus’ tomb. We see a familiar sight, hear a sound, or catch a smell, or even sing a beloved hymn – for me, it’s always For All the Saints, and we grieve. Grandparents. Parents. Aunts and uncles. Sisters or brothers. Husband. Wife. Sons, daughters, miscarried children. Close friends.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, like those who have gone before us this past year: 

Gene Schroeder. Margaret Kittinger. Ellen Ehinger. Phyllis Hunsperger. Carol Giese. Shirley Lueck. Vernon Westmark. Loreen Babbitt.

We grieve and weep, as our Lord did at his friend Lazarus’ tomb. But we do not grieve without hope. For our Lord who knows every hair on our head, also knows our sorrows and comforts us. 

He gave John a comforting vision to share with us. St. John was given to see what is not seen, a kind of sneak peek into the heavenly realms to perceive what no eye has seen and to hear what no ear has heard. What John heard was the number 144,000 – a perfected Israel. Twelve times twelve times a thousand. That’s what John heard.

What John saw was a great multitude that no one could number. People from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Standing before Christ the Lamb, clothed in sun-glare white robes waving palm branches in an eternal feast of tabernacles, a perpetual Palm Sunday, crying out with one voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And with them angels and elders and the four living creatures who represent the whole created order worshipping God with the perfected seven-fold praise: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Sounds incredible. Beautiful. Joyful. We long to see what St. John saw instead of what we see around us now. But here’s the comforting thing, everything John saw is yours – now by faith, and one day by sight. And until that Day, everything John saw happens here every Sunday, every Divine Service. We may not see it, but when we kneel at the communion rail, we kneel together with those loved ones who have gone before us. All of us in the faith, whether living or dead, are brought together by Christ around His Supper. Heaven and earth come together in this very spot. Like Jacob, we rest our weary heads here where heaven meets earth. How awesome is this place, this is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven. Jesus, the Lamb is here for you. His body and blood are here for you. We worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. 

Then one of the elders calls out to John: Who are these arrayed in white robes, and from where did they come? Sir, you know.

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
For John’s hearers, they were fellow believers who died confessing Jesus to be Christ and Lord. Members of the seven congregations of Asia Minor who suffered persecution, hardship, even death for the Name of Jesus. The vision is intended for comfort. They died in great tribulation, but they’re safe. Sheltered by God Himself. Shepherded by the Lamb whose blood cleanses them. Every sadness and sorrow is ended for them. Every tear has been wiped away by the hand of God. We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.

And yet for John’s readers, for those who received this strange letter we call The Revelation”, the time of tribulation continues, as it continues for us today. In China where churches are destroyed and Christians disappear. In India where Naadir’s family was martyred in front of him. In Iran where Christians are imprisoned, tortured, or worse. The tribulation continues.

Jesus knew we would have days like these, days of tears, suffering, and grief. So he gave us John’s Revelation to give us comfort in the midst of suffering, joy in the midst of sadness, hope in the midst of despair, light in the darkness, life in death. It’s comfort for a church under siege, for Christians whose brothers and sisters in Christ are being fed to beasts or set on fire or hacked to pieces for the name of Jesus. It’s comfort for an exiled pastor who can’t be with his people on the Lord’s Day but can only be with them in the Spirit as he prays in the Spirit. It’s comfort for you and me as we see the dark clouds of persecution gathering on the horizon. Will the church survive the years ahead? Will we? Is there hope for tomorrow? For the next day? Jesus’ answer  to us in the vision of the Revelation is a resounding Yeah and Amen! in the conquering Lamb who was slain but lives whose blood as made us to be kings and priests enthroned with Him at the right hand of God.

Life in this great tribulation is not easy. We know tears. And yet, the same Lord, of whom David says, knows our tossing, turning, and every one of our tears (Psalm 56:8), those tears that well up in your eyes and run down your cheeks - tears of grief and mourning, of sorrow and shame, of good-byes and partings, of pain and anguish, of longings and lost loves, of old wounds and new ones – God will wipe every one of those precious tears from your eyes.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, even in tears, this is your hope; this is your tomorrow and your today in Christ Jesus.
A blessed All Saints’ Day to each of you…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Special thanks to Pastor William Cwirla for use of some sermon notes from Higher Things Concordia conference, summer 2019.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

In Memoriam: Funeral Sermon for Eugene Schroeder

+ In Memoriam – Eugene Schroeder, July 11, 1941 – September 13, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Psalm 23; Isaiah 35:1-10; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; John 14:1-6

Related image

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

For someone, like Gene, who loved all things outdoors, Isaiah 35 is a fitting section of Scripture for our meditation this afternoon. For our Lord himself also loves his creation. resting on the 7th day, he declared his creation to be very good. 

I imagine that this is one of many reasons why Gene enjoyed spending time outdoors, camping with family and friends, enjoying God’s handiwork at the end of his fishing pole, or digging in the dirt of his own backyard garden as our Lord once did when he created Adam out of the earth of Eden. In spending time outdoors, Gene saw God’s beauty and craftsmanship. 

But more than that, Gene knew that behind all these gifts of daily bread, outdoors, family, and so on, there is God, the Giver of all things. Gene knew that everything we have and enjoy, outdoors or indoors, is gift from our gracious heavenly Father. The same Heavenly Father who gave his only begotten Son to die for us, as he did for Gene, that we would not perish but have eternal life. 

It is this cosmic, world-turning, life-changing event – Jesus’ dying on the cross and rising from the dead – that Isaiah had in mind when God spoke through him to Israel in Isaiah 35. Isaiah foretells a great reversal of everything that plagues us in this fallen world. 

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.
The parched ground shall become a pool,
And the thirsty land springs of water;
In the habitation of jackals, where each lay,
There shall be grass with reeds and rushes.

When God called Isaiah to deliver these words to Israel, they were in exile, waiting the Lord’s redemption, living by his promise. Our life in this world can often feel that way too, like we’re exiled. We may not be in a strange, foreign land like Israel was, but we experience suffering, pain, sorrow, and hurt all the same. Cancer that devours our loved ones. The death of a spouse, father, grandfather, or friend. The waves of grief that follow. Our own sin that infects our thoughts, words, and deeds. 

Gene knew those things all too well. Which is why he found comfort in our Lord’s promises. The kind of promises that are with us in good time and bad. The kind of promises that our Lord comforts us with today.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 
Israel’s hope. Gene’s hope. Our hope. Are all found in Jesus. For as great as our sin, disease, and death seem to be, Jesus’ love for us, Jesus’ life laid down for us, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead for us, are far greater.

Like Israel, through Jesus we are God’s chosen people, children of the heavenly Father. Through Baptism into Christ, so is Gene, and all who are baptized. For by his water, word, and Holy Spirit, Gene is, and you are, washed and cleansed. Clothed in Christ. Crucified and risen with Christ in Baptism. In Christ you are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come.

Through Isaiah, promised Israel rescue and restoration from exile, a new creation from a fallen world, resurrection and life from death. This rescue and restoration promised to Israel, is finally fulfilled and accomplished in Jesus.

To strengthen our weak hands and our feeble knees, Jesus was born – for Gene and for you. Jesus stretched out his hands in weakness, let his knees become feeble under the weight of our sin and death as he died on the cross for Gene and for you.

To redeem, rescue, ransom, and restore Gene, and all of us, Jesus became thirsty and unclean; he became the blind, the lame, the deaf; he became our disease, sin, and death, so that in him we would be his ransomed, redeemed, and restored people. 

 the ransomed of the Lord And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on our heads. That we, along with Gene, would obtain joy and gladness. That our sorrow and sighing would flee away. 

Eventually, YHWH brought Israel home, out of exile and back to Jerusalem. God did not abandon his people. God did not forget. God kept his promise. Our Lord does the same for us too. Like Israel, we await with Gene, and all the faithful departed, that joyful, long-expected Day of our Lord’s return – the Last Day. The endless Day. The Day of new creation. The day when our Lord will change our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. The day that we, Gene, and all the faithful will rise from our graves and come to Zion with singing. With everlasting joy on our heads. The day that all our sorrow and sighing will flee away. The day that we can forever join St. Paul and Gene in confessing, 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Sermon for Reformation Sunday: "Jesus' Word Does the Work"

+ Reformation Sunday (observed) – October 27th, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
Image result for Luther's seal

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

In a sermon Martin Luther preached in Lent of 1522, he had this to say about the Reformation: “I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26–29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”[1]

For Martin Luther, Jesus’ Word did all the work. Jesus’ word changed him from fearfully and failingly trusting in his own merits to confessing that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Pure gift. Grace. Christ who justifies the ungodly. God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us. 

Whether Luther was translating the Scriptures into German, or debating the real presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper with Ulrich Zwingli; whether he was singing hymns with his family at home with his lute, or writing “A Mighty Fortress”, Luther understood that it was not his own reason or strength, nor was it his merit or worthiness that caused the Gospel to be rediscovered, preached, proclaimed, and spread. Jesus’ Word did all the work. 

The same is true for us. Here at Beautiful Savior in Milton, WA, Jesus’ Word does all the work. In our live as stewards, evangelists, and in our care and mercy for our neighbors, Jesus’ Word does all the work. As we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word in Sunday School, Bible class, or VBS, Jesus’ Word does all the work. As God gathers us together on this Reformation Sunday to hear his Word and receive his Sacraments, in all that we say and do as God’s people in God’s house, Jesus’ Word does the work.

Jesus’ Word also does the work of revealing our sinful condition, as he does Paul, whom he sends to us like a skilled physician, to give us the deadly diagnosis of our sin. 

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

After hearing that, none of us are left standing. This is why Jesus says, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Jesus’ Word has done the work of showing us our sin. Diagnosing our deadly condition. Jesus’ Word, declares St. Paul, does the work of stopping our mouths. All rebuttals, excuses, and attempts to justify ourselves are clear cut away. 

Jesus’ Word does the work. The good and gracious work of setting us free, of releasing us from sin and death by his death on the cross. That’s what Jesus was trying to teach the Jews who believed in him in John 8.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…

To be Jesus’ disciple is to be connected to his Word; his word that does what he promises. To receive the Word made flesh weekly in his body and blood; to live in Jesus’ Word given to us at Baptism by daily dying to sin in repentance and rising again in Christ’s forgiving Word of absolution. Apart from God’s Word, our faith dies. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Imagine if we treated our daily eating habits like we do our hearing and reading of God’s Word: “I don’t want to eat today, I’m too tired. I ate last week, I don’t need to go and eat this week. I’m just so busy, I can’t seem to find time to eat.” 

When it comes to food for the body, there’s wisdom in moderation; it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Not so with the daily bread of God’s Word. God’s Word isn’t meant to be read and heard in moderation. We simply can’t receive, read, and hear too much of God’s Word and Sacraments. There’s no such thing as receiving God’s forgiving, healing, saving, undeserved, grace and mercy too many times. 

For as our bodies waste away without nutrition, and as a branch withers and dies apart from the vine, so too, our faith is starved and dead apart from God’s Word. But where Jesus’ Word abides, here in your Baptism, here in his body and blood for you, here in the forgiveness of sins proclaimed and given freely for you, you abide in Jesus’ Word. Jesus’ Word does the work. Makes us his disciples. Sets us free from sin and death.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

Jesus’ Word does all the work. 

That’s what Luther rediscovered in the Lutheran Reformation, Jesus’ Word does all the work. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift in Christ Jesus.

The same is true for us 502 years later. Jesus word does the work of calling us his children, washing away our sin, and clothing us in Christ’s death and resurrection in the water and Word of Holy Baptism.

Jesus’ Word does the work of giving us the gift of faith by his Word, water, and Holy Spirit. Faith that is given by grace alone, in Christ alone, found in God’s Word alone. 

Jesus’ Word does the work setting us free in his word of absolution: I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ Word does the work of giving, feeding, nourishing, saving, healing in his body and blood – a glorious word of promise found in simple bread and wine, given and shed for you.

Jesus’ Word does the work of turning our sinful hearts from staring inward at ourselves to looking outward to our neighbor in need. 

Jesus’ Word does the work, today on Reformation Sunday, and every day. 

A blessed Reformation Sunday to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Sermon for Pentecost 19: "Persistent Righteousness"

+ 19th Sunday after Pentecost - October 20th, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Series C: Genesis 32:22-30; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Image result for the persistent widow

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

And Jesus  told the disciples a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 

Not lose heart. Seems easier said than does these days, doesn’t it. We look around at the world we live in and witness the unthinkable number of children murdered by abortion, the constant change of human sexuality and marriage…and we lose heart in our culture and humanity.

We see the Christian Church on earth plagued with errors, deception, and apathy…and we lose heart.

And if all that wasn’t enough, friends and loved ones die, disease ravages our bodies and minds. Our own sinful flesh and the devil look for every chink in our armor, waiting to launch fiery arrows of doubt and despair our way. And we lose heart in ourselves – in our standing before God. 

If this parable teaches us to be persistent in prayer, it reveals our utter failure. For the only thing I’ve really been persistent at is being a sinner. 

Yes, it’s easy to be discouraged and lose heart in this life. And that’s why Jesus tells us this parable. To not lose heart. It’s a parable about prayer and God’s promises. Jesus points to the persistence of the widow as the way we pray to him. Not because by doing so we earn his favor or appease him. But because he is even more persistent in divine mercy to you. 

This parable – like every parable - is about Jesus. Jesus gives us this parable so that we may not lose heart, that we might rejoice in his gracious persistence to love and forgive us. 

Admittedly it’s a bit of an odd parable at first reading. In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. This judge neither feared God – meaning, he wasn’t a believer in Yahweh; he was a gentile. And apparently he didn’t care too much for his fellow gentiles either. 

In a great stroke of story-telling genius, Jesus uses the example of this bad judge to illustrate the goodness of God. Jesus uses the unjust judge to reveal the great mystery of God’s justice in Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus uses this parable of the unrighteous judge to teach us about his great righteousness in his death and resurrection for you.

There was also a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’

Now we might think the widow an odd choice for a main character. Compared to the judge, the widow had little power or prestige in ancient Israel. She was vulnerable, helpless, the kind of person many had written off.

But she was persistent. Over and over she kept coming to this judge, who had no regard for her or for justice. She persisted because he was the only way that she could be vindicated over her adversary. Even when the judge kept postponing her case, she just kept coming to court. 

She wrestles with this judge like Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32. She won’t take no for an answer. Martin Luther once said that when we suffer, we take God’s promises and rub them in his ears like this widow. 

But as persistent as this widow is, or Jacob was, Jesus is more persistent. It’s good to be persistent in prayer. Just know that prayer a fruit of faith, not the foundation of your faith. Faith rests in Jesus, not the frequency or failure of prayer. Jesus died and rose so that all your prayers might be heard, that we might call upon our Heavenly Father as dear children call upon their own father, in boldness and confidence.

So, how did this unjust judge respond to the widow’s persistence? For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”

The Greek in this last part is far more exciting. I will give her justice – or vindicate her - so that she will not keep coming until the end and give me a black eye.

This is why he’s called the unjust judge. When he finally decides to take this widow’s case, he doesn’t do it because it’s right, or just, or dutiful. No. He’s tired of hearing the widow’s case. And he’s worried she might haul off and give him a black eye. 

Again, Jesus uses the example of this bad judge to illustrate the goodness of God. God is in no way a corrupt or crooked judge. He is righteous and holy and infinitely wise. And yet, if the unjust judge, who only worries about himself, and couldn’t care less about the widow, finally gives her justice - how much more, then, will God who is just and righteous forgive our sins and justify the ungodly? If the unjust judge vindicates the widow, how much more then will Jesus who judges in righteousness vindicate us by his dying and rising? He will. He does. Speedily. For you.

 “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. 

Jesus is unlike any other judge. He is gacious and slow to anger; abounding in steadfast love for you. He is not bothered by our persistence but welcomes it. He is not worn down by our prayers and petitions, but promises to hear them. It’s why we pray, Thy will be done, knowing that in Jesus, we have a righteous judge. 

For if God did not spare his own Son how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?! 
As Jesus told this parable he was headed to Jerusalem to die for you. To pray for you on the crossTo vindicate you in his death and resurrection. To rise from the dead for you. To ascend for you and plead and pray for you before the Father, persistently. You have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. Case closed. The verdict is in. You’re not guilty. You’re forgiven. Free.

In his righteousness, Jesus brings us swift rescue. The forgiven verdict of absolution. The righteous robes given you in Holy Baptism. His forgiving, healing, justifying body and blood given and shed for you.

Yes, it is good to be persistent in prayer. But do not lose heart. For Jesus is all the more persistent in declaring you righteous and showing you mercy.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Sermon for Pentecost 18: "Never Alone"

+ 18th Sunday after Pentecost – October 13th, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Series C: Ruth 1:1-19; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19
Image result for 10 lepers healed

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Naomi is far from her hometown of Bethlehem. St. Paul is in prison. 10 lepers call to Jesus outside a village between Samaria and Galilee. Today’s Scripture readings feel a bit like the biblical version of grandma’s soup pot: Something from pantry, the freezer, and the fridge. “How’s all this going together?,” we wonder. 

As different as these readings might appear at first, they all have something in common. 

Naomi was far from home. Not Israel. Not Bethlehem. But Moab, the ancestral home of Lot’s incestuous relations. To make matters worse, Naomi’s husband, Elimelech had died. Then her two sons died. No husband. No heir. No home. No inheritance. She had her two daughters in law, but she left too. Naomi and Ruth were alone. 

St. Paul found himself alone as well. As he wrote to strengthen and teach young pastor Timothy in his second letter, Paul was bound in chains. Locked in prison, likely in Rome; and awaiting his eventual martyrdom. I imagine there were many times he felt alone.

The same goes for those 10 lepers. They suffered more than an incurable medication illness; leprosy was a social disease. A one-way ticket out of town. Lepers lived as outcasts. Cut off from family, friends. Cut off from the temple, from worship. Whenever someone drew near them on the road yelled out, “Unclean! Unclean!” On top of it all, one of those lepers was a Samaritan, a double loner and loser in the eyes of most Israelites. 

Each story, in its own way, begins with loneliness, separation. Naomi and Ruth in Moab. Paul in prison. The lepers outside the village. And I imagine that they are not alone in that. At one point in the past or present, we’ve all felt alone too. 

Now, I don’t mean the alone time we enjoy with a favorite hobby, or in study, prayer, and devotion, like Jesus often did, and calls us to do. I mean the kind of loneliness we see increasing in our digital age; where the more technology and social media “friends”, “likes”, and heart emojis we have, the more disconnected and alone we often feel. 

And yet, our feeling of loneliness hits closer to home as well; it’s personal. Sometimes we’re alienated as a result of our sin, and its consequences in our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors.

At times, it’s the loneliness and pain we experience as one who has been sinned against, one who has been hurt, abused, or wounded in word and deed by others. 

Still, at other times it’s the hurt, despair, and loneliness that affects us for no apparent reason other than the fact that we live in a fallen, broken world, where our body and mind are also plagued with disease. The loneliness of despair and mental illness where you can feel entirely isolated and alone even in a crowded room.

But being alone is only part of the story of Naomi, Ruth, Paul, and the Samaritan leper. God did something far greater than they expected or imagined. God met them in their loneliness with his faithfulness, mercy, and compassion.

God led Naomi and Ruth back to the promised land. Back to Bethlehem. Ruth married Boaz. Boaz redeemed the inheritance of Ruth and Naomi, ensuring they would be cared for. Ruth and Boaz also had a son named Obed. Obed fathered Jesse. Jesse fathered David. And David, centuries later, fathered Jesus, the finder of Lost Ones, the Healer of the broken, the Reconciler of Loners. God was faithful to his promise.

St. Paul too, though he was imprisoned, bound in chains, and suffered for the preaching of the Gospel, he was not alone. As he wrote to Timothy,  This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.  If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
Those 10 lepers weren’t alone either. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They cried out. And he did. He was merciful. Compassionate. Jesus healed them all. 

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.

The whole event is a marvelous preview of the restoration, renewal, and rebirth that He gives to all in his coming resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the Savior of the nations, Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, everyone. That Samaritan realized that in Jesus, he was no longer alone – not in his leprosy, and not in his sin. He fell down on his face for the same reason people and pastors often bow at parts of the service, in reverence and worship before our Savior. The Samaritan praised him, literally made a doxology to Jesus. 

Naomi, Ruth, St. Paul, and that Samaritan leper were not alone after all. And neither are you. Whatever pain, despair, worry, anxiety, hurt, or sin has left you feeling abandoned, you are not alone. In Jesus, God joined us in our loneliness. For us who are outcast, Jesus became the outcast on the cross. For us who are alone, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” so that we would never be alone. For us, Jesus endured and bore our pain, suffering, loneliness, worry, doubt, despair, disease, sin, and death so that we would never be abandoned. 

God is with you, not in the warm fuzzy feelings that come and go. God is with you in ways you can touch, taste, see, hear, smell: Jesus’ Word of absolution that releases us from bondage to sin and death. Jesus’ water and word that unites us with our kinsman redeemer; a washing of renewal, regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with you in his body and blood hidden in the bread and wine where he promises to be with you, bless, feed, forgive, and restore you. 

Jesus is also with you in your brother and sister in Christ. “When one member of the body of Christ suffers, all suffer. When one member rejoices, all rejoice,” writes St. Paul. This is one of the many reasons God calls us his children, his family, and gathers us in his house. So, as we come to church each week, take a moment to look around and think, “Who haven’t I seen in a while? Who might be feeling lonely and could use a card, a phone call, or a visit?”

After all, what God did for Naomi and Ruth, St. Paul, and that Samaritan leper, he does for each of you. In Jesus the lost are found, the lonely are comforted, sinners are redeemed and restored. And now, Jesus sends us on our way like that Samaritan leper. Rise, and go your way, your faith has saved you.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "Forgiveness and Faith"

+ 17th Sunday after Pentecost – October 6th, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Series C: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

Image result for chains being broken by cross

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Some Sundays it’s easy to hear the Gospel reading and sing a full-throated, “Praise to You, O Christ.” Other days, our response to Jesus’ words may be a bit more hesitant. “The Gospel of our Lord. Are you sure?”

Maybe you had similar thoughts after hearing today’s Gospel reading. What are we to make of Jesus teaching on millstones, mustard seeds, and mulberry trees? 

Two words help us summarize Jesus’ teaching here in Luke 17: Forgiveness and Faith. Here in Luke 17, Jesus shifts the focus from the Pharisees back to his disciples, and apostles. 

He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.  Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

Jesus begins with forgiveness. Not God’s forgiveness of us, but our forgiveness of the brother or sister who sins against us. It’s one thing to say, “I believe God forgives me, that He takes away all my sins, and doesn’t hold them against me.” And that’s true. God forgives our sins, graciously and outrageously even. The stumbling block Jesus warns against here, however, is when someone repents and there’s unforgiveness. It’s quite another thing to forgive when we’re the ones sinned against. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” (Mere Christianity, p. XX). 

And yet, Jesus says, “you must forgive him.” The only antidote to sin is forgiveness. Unforgiveness simply perpetuates and amplifies sin. When we refuse to forgive our brother or sister seven times in a day for the same sin, we’re not hurting them by denying them forgiveness, we’re also hurting ourselves. We’re calling into question the whole notion that forgiveness is unmerited, undeserved grace. 
Jesus is teaching his disciples that his church is to be known as a mouth-house of God’s undeserved forgiveness for outrageous sinners. That is our aim as a congregation and in our vocation. It’s our hope and prayer that when people in our community think about Beautiful Savior, or us Joe and Jane Christian, the first thing that comes to mind is that this is a place of God’s forgiveness, and we are a people of forgiveness. People who are forgiven much, love much. And forgive much. 

This is the way of life in God’s Kingdom. God in Christ has forgiven you, and continues to forgive you entirely without any merit on worthiness on your part. He forgives you knowing full well you’ll sin again. He forgives you recognizing that you are a justified sinner, a sinner declared righteous, one who is both sinful and righteous at one and the same time. He forgives you entirely for Jesus’ sake, on account of His blood, His death, His perfect life. 
Forgiveness, like faith, doesn’t originate within us. It flows from the merciful heart of Christ and flows through you to those around you. Jesus reconciles us sinners to the Father, and He reconciles us to our brother or sister who has sinned against us too.
After hearing Jesus’ words on forgiveness, it’s easy to see why the apostles cried out, “Lord, increase our faith.” 
The disciples asked Jesus to add to their faith. Notice what Jesus doesn’t say about faith. He doesn’t pull a page out of the TV preacher’s sermon and say, “Listen guys, if you just had more faith – Costco ketchup size faith - you could do anything.” No. Jesus says the opposite: 

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Ironically, Jesus says we need small faith. Not big faith. Faith like a mustard seed. The thing about seeds is that they’re small, often hidden from sight. A seed doesn’t grow by watching it. You plant it in the ground, it’s hidden in the dirt for months, and eventually it grows. 

So it is with faith. Jesus says doesn’t give us faith to admire and boast in ourselves. He gives us faith like a mustard seed. Faith that is hidden in the tree of his cross. Faith that we’re buried with him, like a seed, in the dirt of his tomb, and sprung to life in his resurrection. Faith that comes by the sowing of Jesus’ word in our ears, that’s planted and takes root in our heart, soul, and mind. Faith which is fed, forgiven, and nourished by Jesus’ body and blood. Faith, that by God’s grace grows, as we pray after communion, in faith towards God and fervent love towards one another. Fervent forgiveness for one another. 

The disciples got it right, well, half right anyhow. Faith is something God works, not them, or you. But they also got it wrong. Faith can’t be sized or quantified. It’s not a matter of big faith or little faith. It’s not like leveling up in Super Mario. Faith looks to Christ, not ourselves. For the moment we take our eyes off Christ and focus inward, on ourselves, we’re like Wiley Coyote when he realizes he’s off the cliff running in mid-air. Faith in ourselves will always fail. 

Thankfully, faith – like forgiveness – is God’s free, unmerited, gracious gift. Hebrews says we look to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. 

Jesus, our merciful master of forgiveness and faith. Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for you. He’s the Suffering Servant who bears our sins. He’s the sinless Son who became sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus is the merciful Master who calls His servants from the field at the end of the day and doesn’t interrogate them over what they’ve done or haven’t done. He doesn’t make them wait on Him. He serves them. He invites you to His table. He washes your feet. He feeds you with His food and drink. While we’re busy saying, “We are unworthy servants,” Jesus says to you today, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It’s all by God’s free, unearned, unmerited, undeserved, gracious gifts of Forgiveness and Faith.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Sermon for Pentecost 16: "Steward of the Soul"

+ Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21C) – September 29th, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Series C: Amos 6:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Luke 16:19-31

Image result for rich man and lazarus

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

These past Sundays we have heard how Jesus our Good Shepherd is the Steward of the Lost and Steward of the Heart, and how we are Stewards Under Our Good Shepherd.

Today’s Gospel reveals Jesus as the Steward of the Soul. Once again, Jesus tells us a story. 
There were two men. One had it all; the other had nothing. One feasted sumptuously every day; the other could only hope for scraps and crumbs from the first. One wore clothes fit for a king; the other’s skin was so covered with sores that dogs licked them. They could not have been more different in life, but Jesus brings them together to show life in his kingdom goes.

Lazarus is poor. Pitiable. He had nothing. He was hungry. Unable to provide for himself. The best he could do was beg at the gate of a rich man. It’s hard to imagine a more miserable life; it had to have been hell on earth. But Lazarus had one thing going for him – he had the righteousness of faith. He was a child of Abraham in the truest sense; he believed in God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. 

Jesus tells us when The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. This is an Old Testament way of saying Lazarus was in the resting place of God’s promised people, awaiting the fulfillment of the promised Savior and the resurrection of the dead. At long last, Lazarus was comforted.

The rich man, however, experienced something far different. His earthly wealth afforded him everything he wanted. A gated home, sumptuous food, and precious clothes – spared no expense. He’d had it so good that when people thought where to leave a poor and weak man to eke out his days off the crumbs from a rich man, they chose his house.  It’s hard to imagine a more comfortable life than what the rich man enjoyed. And yet, he lacked one thing. He was a Jew – Abraham called him, ‘child’ – but only on the outside. He did not have the righteousness of faith; he did not believe God. The rich man died, was buried, and was tormented in hell.

Now, Jesus could have stopped the story there. Surely the parable would’ve grabbed the attention of the Pharisees listening to him and ridiculing him. Remember, Luke tells us they loved earthly riches and weren’t known for showing mercy toward people like Lazarus. The point is clear: Jesus is the Steward of the Soul. He judges the souls of these men righteously, and that is both a stern warning against unbelief and withholding mercy, and a strong encouragement to faith and charity. But Jesus had more to say.

The rich man lifted up his eyes and saw Lazarus with Abraham, and cried out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”

Did you catch that? The rich man knew Lazarus’ name. But Luke never mentions the rich man’s name. Not even once. A not-so-subtle jab at money-loving, prideful Pharisees. For all his wealth and possessions in life, the rich man is forgotten in eternity. Nameless. Lazarus’ name, on the other hand, is written in the book of life. 

Jesus’ story went on. Abraham replied to the rich man: And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ Request deniedIt was impossible. Everyone was in their proper place in death – ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.

But the rich man, not accustomed to rejection, had a further request, I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

This time Abraham dismissed his question. They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

‘No, father Abraham,’ he went on, ‘but if someone from the dead should journey to them, they will repent.’But Abraham responded, If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

The rich man was used to having things his way. And he thought the kingdom of God worked the same way. Not so, says Jesus. If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

And here’s the heart of Jesus’ message to the Pharisees and to us. You have God’s Word. Believe it or don’t believe it; but there’s no other word.  

Now, the point of all this isn’t to say, “Well, obviously it’s better to have nothing than everything in life.” But in the Kingdom of God, material wealth or poverty isn’t the deciding factor in judgment. Jesus’ warning is against ignoring His Word. Although these two men could not have been more different, both were Jews. Bothreceived the same richness from God in Moses and the prophets, but only one of them treasured it; only one repented; only one believed.

Everything we have is gift from Jesus our Good Shepherd. He’s the Steward of our Souls. When we consider all we do with everything the Lord has entrusted to us, nothing is more important than the stewardship of God’s Word in his church. Whatever else happens in our lives, nothing is more important than hearing his Word and receiving the gifts he gives through that Word, water, body and blood. Our highest callings as Christians is to treasure and believe that Word for the sake of our salvation, and to assure its proclamation. That’s why God has given us the time, skills, and earthly treasures we have. Those gifts exist, we exist, to receive God’s gracious gifts and proclaim God’s Word.

The Word made flesh in Jesus. Whose ministry was to rescue us and all mankind from sin, death, and the devil. To die and rise again for you. To rescue the lost, rescue our hearts, and rescue our souls. All this he did for you. Jesus did everything to rescue us from the end of the rich man, and to bring us with Lazarus into his arms forever. 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Special thanks to Pastor Jonathan Bakker of Zion Lutheran, Mt. Pleasant, MI for use of his stewardship sermon theme.