Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“The Seeking Shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:11-12)

S-1456 LSOCY/3A 11/23/2014 Hymns: (O) #436; (S) #368; L.S. #314; 311; (C) # 628

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46

Theme: “The Seeking Shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:11-12)

Question: “Have you ever lost something important?”

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. The text for our meditation this morning is from the O.T. Lesson: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:11-12).

Beloved in the Lord, I share with you a heartwarming true story of a couple who were separated after 3 days of their wedding night. Anna Koslov kissed her husband Boris goodbye. A soldier in Russia’s Red Army, he was set to rejoin his military unit. However, when Boris returned home from his military expedition, he found the house cold and empty. When he called his wife’s name, there was only the echo of his own voice. Anna was gone. Under the brutal regime of Joseph Stalin, Anna and her family had been declared enemies of the state. Boris’ new bride was sent into exile in the vast plains of Siberia, with no chance to contact her husband. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. Boris spent years searching for his lost love, but never found a trace of her.

Over the years, both Boris and Anna remarried other people, and had children. But they never forgot about one another: After Boris became a writer, he dedicated a book to Anna, the woman he had loved and lived with for a mere three nights. As time went by, Boris and Anna’s respective spouses passed away. In 2007, Anna, a lonely widow, went back to visit the old house where she and Boris had spent those precious few nights.

In a remarkable twist of fate, another visitor–an 80-year-old man stopped in the town to lay flowers on his parents’ gravestone. But when he caught sight of the woman across the road, he knew it was his beloved Anna. After 60 years they were reconnected with one another. This is indeed a remarkable story of love and searching.

I have another love story—the story of our loving, caring and Seeking Shepherd. Through the prophet Ezekiel, he tells us of God’s heart and what He desires to do for His scattered, spread, stretched and suffering sheep—the people of Israel of old and the people of Israel today—you and me. PAUSE.

On this Last Sunday of the Church Year, the Word of God that engages us today comes on the heels of God’s anger over the unfaithful shepherds who have ignored their responsibilities and destroyed and drove their sheep away.

To that end, God steps upon the scene and reveals His heart’s desire as He wears it on His sleeves. This is what God says: He Himself will search for His sheep. What a comfort! God is not going to leave it up to us to find our way, or to some fallible human agent to find us. He is going to do it Himself! We know that faith comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God preached and proclaimed. God seeks out each of His people by the proclamation of His Word, calling them sweetly by the gospel of forgiveness and of the free gift of eternal life. He washes over and enters them with His power in the waters of Baptism and creates faith, and teaches them how to hear, believe and equip them to live for God in holiness.

Through His care and mercy God promises to gather His scattered people from every corner of the world. To the people of Ezekiel’s day, this promise was to bring about deliverance from the Babylonian Captivity. To us—His new Israel we hear the promise given to the Church, in which we are called together out of the world and fed on the rich pasture of His eternal Word.

The promise of this seeking Shepherd has not changed today. This is the promise of the Good Shepherd to bring His people together to hear His Word clearly and purely proclaimed and to give to them lives which will please Him in holiness. He speaks of lying in good pasture and grazing on the mountain heights of Israel. This is a life of abundance and purity—but the abundance is in God’s Word, and the purity is in the doctrine heard by and lived out by the people of God. The mountain heights of Israel are figuratively as close as you can get to God in this world—and you can get no closer than where you hear the Word of God taught clearly, taught plainly, and taught honestly - and when you eat of His Holy meal in which He Himself actually comes to you in, with, and under the bread and the wine. PAUSE

In the midst of our hurt and pain, we see the hand of God stretching out to us and lifting us up from the midst of the storms of life. We see a great picture of this in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15. In these familiar words we hear of a lost coin, lost shepherd and lost sons. Yet in all these stories we see the face of God as the Seeking Shepherd. The One who removes every obstacle, turns every stone, opens every door, crosses every ocean and walks every mile searching for us—His lost sheep. The great and faithful Seeking Shepherd goes on the hunt for every lost sheep to bring him/her back to the fold—to feed and nurture them.

But this is not the only thing that the Seeking Shepherd will do. He will bring terror and destruction upon those who are unfaithful, uninvolved and unbelievers. He will pour upon them His wrath and eternal judgment. He will spew them out of His presence and send them on their way to hell. And that judgment starts with the shepherds…the pastors!

Don’t think that this is only about those people who lived then, but this applies to us and our day. The Seeking Shepherded is not referring to any kind of people, but He is talking about us who bear His name on our foreheads and hearts. We have every advantage. We have the Word of God, clear and plain and in abundance. We enjoy the rich blessings of the earth in such super-abundance that the world has never seen before! We are fat and lazy spiritually. And we are what the Bible refers to so often as the “strong”. We are the ones who are so wealthy and so comfortable that we feel no need and fear no evil.

Perhaps, not all of us are in this position and perhaps not at this time with so many uncertainties and the unknown—we don’t lift our voice to God seeking His directions and favor because we are strong and rely on ourselves rather than on Him. The strong don’t need help - so they don’t pray much. The strong don’t need any more power or knowledge - so they don’t study much. The strong are wise and capable - so they don’t let God’s Word or their faith interfere with their thinking or decision making. The strong have no compassion - so they take care of themselves first - and last, if the truth be known. Spiritual pride and spiritual apathy mark the fat and the strong. Many of us are marked by Spiritual Pride and Spiritual Apathy. How sad and how terrifying that we don’t care to reach out to others and be faithful in our lives and actions to let the Gospel of Christ permeate in our lives.

Look into your lives ask this question: Are we the fat and strong ones—those who don’t care or want to make any effort to be in the presence of God. The strong who don’t spend time in His house, around His Word, and at His table to receive His favor and blessings. The strong who are not concerned about their brothers and sisters; who avoid this place, or reach out to them in love. The strong who care less about evangelism, mission or support the ministry of the Gospel with their offerings and service. The strong who are don’t encourage one another, visit the sick and the hurting, and reach out in the name of Christ with an arm of love and compassion. And I am just as guilty as you are in this manner.

By the Spirit’s power and in the name of Christ let us reach out to others. May we hear and take to heart the Words of Jesus who said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). May we reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are sick, who have hurts, who have sinned and fear the coming judgment God has a promise. He has forgiven us in Jesus, paid for our sins by His death on the cross, and announced His love and His will to save us by the Easter resurrection of Jesus. Those He will feed and lead to His eternal rest.

Unlike the story of Anna and Boris who found each other by fate after 60 years, the Seeking Shepherd’s story is not a story of fate but by the faithful promise He made and has kept from the beginning of the world.

Through the prophet Ezekiel whose name means (God will strengthen him) we see the seeking Shepherd reaching out and doing the unthinkable and unimaginable—He feeds and He heals, He finds and He strengthens, He gives them forgiveness and eternal life. But He also culls the flock. Those who do not want Him, do not love Him or do not need Him any longer - the fat and the strong - He will destroy. These are two sides, both real views of the same seeking Shepherd. By the power of the Holy Spirit, which you received in the majestic of Baptism, come, hear, and feed. Come, let Him guide and lead you and give you rest. Let the seeking Shepherd bind up your wounds, and comfort your sorrows. Come to the seeking Shepherd in Word and Sacrament regularly and become strong in His service. Amen.

Now the peace of God…


“God Prepares” (Zephaniah 1:7-8)

S-1455 23SAP/3A 11/16/2014 Hymns: (O) #459 (S) #307; (C) #53

Texts: Zephaniah 1: 7-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

Theme: “God Prepares” (Zephaniah 1:7-8)

Question: “Are you prepared for Christ’s return?”

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. The text for our meditation this morning is from the O.T. Lesson: Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated His guests. And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice—‘I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire’” (Zephaniah 1:7-8).

Beloved in the Lord, last Tuesday (11/11/14) we observed and celebrated Veterans Day. However, many people don’t think of or appreciate the sacrifice of our Veterans. They only think of the day as another day off from work. How tragic and how sad!

Because of these Veterans and the sacrifices they have procured—some even giving up their lives, you and I are able to enjoy freedom of religion, speech, travel and democracy. May we always honor and give thanks to the Lord for the sacrifice of these brave men and women and their families.

Listen to a story of one such Veteran—Robert O’Neil. Robert was part of Seal Team Six that was sent on a mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. On May 2, 2011 Seal Team Six landed in the compound that housed Osama in Pakistan. They went to work quickly and within 15 minutes Robert found himself standing within two feet from Osama. Having recognized him, he shot him 3 times before he collapsed to the floor and died.

I saw a special this past week on Fox News about the “Man who killed Osama Bin Laden.” What I appreciated about this humble man and his service to this great Nation, were these words: “The mission was not about me. It was about killing the one who has brought havoc to thousands who lost their lives and others whose lives were changed forever.” Robert went on to say: “…They (Seal Team Six) felt that the mission would be worth sacrificing their own lives. ‘We are going to die eventually, this is a good way to go and it’s worth it to kill him!’ He said they thought. ‘He's going to die with us!’ Think about it. These men were willing to sacrifice their lives for the success of the mission.

On a far grander scale, with these living, breathing, and active Words; the prophet Zephaniah tells us of the greatest mission the world has ever seen—to bring about the deliverance of God’s people from someone who is far worse than Osama Bin Laden—SIN and its consequences—death and hell. Our heavenly Father sends His Son, on a mission to be the Savior of mankind, and redeem us from God’s justice.

Through the inspired Word of this prophet of God, we are told that God Himself will prepare a sacrifice. He Himself will consecrate His people. He is the Agent behind the scene bringing about deliverance and redemption to those whose lives have been tormented and tortured by the devil and his cohorts ever since the fall of man. God promised our parents in the Garden of Eden (The first Gospel) these words: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). PAUSE.

Beloved in the Lord, let it be known among us that it is not our service that causes Him to rejoice over us. It is not our self-denial that moves Him to delight in us and it is not our sacrifice that pleases God. If that was the case, we would do all of these things, but all of these activities are NOT the key to our salvation and redemption.

Listen to how David painted it for us: “For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).

Again listen to the voice of God through the pen of David: “Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you I Am God, Your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are Mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me’” (Psalm 50:7-15). Here is the promise—God will deliver US.

Through all of this we see that it is God who prepares the sacrifice. We behold this so clearly in the story of God telling Abraham to take his son, his only son Isaac and sacrifice him. Along the way “…Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”(Genesis 22:7-8a). PAUSE.

Indeed God provides the sacrifice. We heard this clear teaching from Jesus’ own lips, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). And John the Baptizer points to this sacrifice with these words: The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

The sacrifice that God has prepared—is His—the Lamb that was slain on the Altar of the cross. This Lamb is the sacrifice for the sins of the world—and your sins. So that when the end of the world comes; and the judge eternal is seated on His throne you will not be damned, but delivered. You will not be sent to hell, but ushered into the glories of heaven. You will not taste death but live with Him forever and ever.

Oh, the blessings of this greatest sacrifice that has been prepared for us. In this place God offers this sacrifice to us at His table. This is His work and His gift to us. From the table of the Lord, we get to eat and drink for our benefits and the strengthening of our faith. From this sacrifice we receive grace and mercy that are eternal.

Our sermon hymn captures this thought well with these words: “Draw night and take the body of the Lord, and drink the holy blood for you out-poured. Offered was He for greatest and for least, Himself the Victim and Himself the Priest” (TLH 307 v1).

Indeed, here is the greatest sacrifice prepared by God for us sinners. This is the Lamb that was put to death on the cross for us. The Angel of death HAS passed us by! This is the victory that He prepared and won for us! And He covers us with the proper garments of His righteousness. May we continue to cherish this blessed sacrifice offered, prepared and given by God to us sinners today and always. Amen and Amen.

Now the peace…


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

“True Blessedness” (Luke 11:28)

S-1454 19SAP/3A 11/12/2014 Hymns: (O) #59 (S) #32; (C) #18 SOD

Texts: Psalm 23; Romans 8:28-39; John 14:1-7

Theme: “True Blessedness” (Luke 11:28)

Celebration of life for Loren Gene Horsley (passed away on 11/1/2014. He was cremated.

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. The text for our the celebration of the new life promised to our departed brother by His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is his confirmation verse: “…But He [Jesus] said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).

Beloved in the Lord, especially you Delores, Kevin, family and friends, we have gathered in the Lord’s house today to celebrate the new life given to you dear husband, father, grandfather and friend. By the Holy Spirit’s power, we have been gathered in God’s house to hear His Word, find comfort and consolation in His promises that those who die in Him shall live with Him forever.

For this reason today, we will listen with attentive ears to hear the message from God’s own lips that truly comforts us in the hour of sorrow and give us hope as we walk in the valley of the shadow of death as you are doing today.

However, all of us here have a problem with hearing. No, I’m not talking about the inability to hear that you are in need of a hearing aid. But rather, it is the absolute fact that we don’t want to hear what is being said to us; least of all from God. Instead we want to talk and be heard. In our fallen nature that is just the way it is. But that is not what God designed us for. If you paid close attention to your face, you realize you have two ears and one mouth. That is to say listen more and talk less.

The text of Loren’s confirmation is indeed a true blessing because in it the Lord states: “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it! But to help us understand this text we need to know the context.

Jesus was casting out demons. What He did made people marvel. The people who saw Him do it knew, instinctively and by religious training that what was happening could only happen if God were present and at work through the man, at the very least. It simply was so good that it touched the people who witnessed it, and so, those who were Jesus’ adversaries were troubled by it, and they tried to ‘spin’ what Jesus did negatively. They suggested boldly that Jesus was in league with the devil. After all, who had ever seen anything like this before?

Then Jesus describes the Jews with another parable. That the Jewish leader were misleading the people of God from hearing the truth. He is speaking of Israel when He describes the man from whom the unclean spirit is driven out. Then those who reject Jesus are the unclean spirit that finds the house all cleansed and put in order, and goes out and find seven spirits more foul than itself. It is Israel that Jesus is describing; when He says that the last state is worse than the first. He is picturing Israel as a man (which God does throughout the Old Testament), and He is saying that when His cleansing is done, they - the Jewish leaders - will wreak havoc and ruin on Israel by rejecting their own Messiah. Which to this day still deny that Jesus is the Messiah. They are still waiting for the Messiah to come.

“And it came about while He said these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice, and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed.’” These words are true enough, But Jesus responds in this manner. 'On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the Word of God, and keep it.’”

Let this truth sink in your ears. Jesus is certainly worthy of all that praise - and we also praise Him with our whole heart. But Jesus meant to turn the attention of that woman, and everyone in the crowd, and us, too, who read the account centuries later, to where true blessedness is to be found, and what it is comprised of. His odd-sounding response to this wonderful saying of this woman in the crowd is, ‘Go to the Word, and pay attention to that Word.’ Jesus tells us to ignore everything but the Word of God, and to pay close attention to that, and let every decision be made solely on the Word of God that endures forever.

This is the true blessedness that we SHOULD hear the Word of God and keep it. For this reason when the Creator Father, Son and Holy Spirit made man in His image He gave him two ears and one mouth to hear that Word.

Yet it is so hard for us to keep quiet. As I shared before we would rather talk than listen. We want to be heard rather than hear. But thankfully, the Holy Spirit teaches us the truth that true blessedness comes from hearing the Word and keeping it.

Our beloved and departed brother Loren knew this Word intimately. He heard the Word spoken over him in the waters of Baptism on April 12th, 1936. He continued to hear that Word as his parents brought Him to the Lord’s house. The Spirit continued to teach him the truth as he attended Sunday school, VBS, Confirmation classes and private devotions. He heard the Word because that Word took root in his heart, head and home.

He continued to hear the Word as he came often to the Lord’s house. Here in this place He received the true blessings from God as he heard the Word of forgiveness spoken to his guilty conscience, and filthy heart. He received the true blessings from God as he listened to the sermons. He received the true blessings from God as he received on his sinful tongue the life giving body and blood of the Lord.

Even into his old age he continued to hear the Word, because that Word was special to him. He loved hearing the Word. However, as often the case with age, he was unable to come to the Lord’s house as he desired, but the Word of the Lord came to him as I visited him, prayed with him, read scripture and broke bread with him. He loved seeing me, because he knew he would be hearing the Good News again-receive forgiveness and dine with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—the Lamb made flesh.

Few days before, I left on my Holy Land Nour Tour (Thursday 10/16) I visited him at the nursing home in Mitchell. There he, Delores and I heard the Word of God and gave him the Sacrament of the Altar for the last time. Then God called him home (11/01) to be in His presence forever and ever.

Beloved in the Lord, true blessedness comes in hearing the Word and keeping it. By the Spirit’s power, you and I have a golden opportunity to gather in this house to hear the glorious promise of God. Therefore, I challenge you to set aside that time where you can be with Your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and hear His Word and grow and mature until the day He calls you home to be with Him forever.

Do you want to be truly blessed? Then, hear the Words of Jesus “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it! By the grace and mercy of God Loren did and so can I you. Therefore with joy we look forward to the true blessings from God as we gather often in His presence to hear the Word.

True Blessedness is faith. Listen to the Word of God, as Jesus says, and do what He tells you to do. Gather, don’t scatter. Hope, don’t despair. Trust in God, don’t fear life and what is going on in the world around us. Set your values and attitudes by the Word, not by the world around you. Take and eat and drink often of His holy Supper, as Jesus tells us to do. And love one another, as Christ has loved each one of us. Listen to the Word, and observe it - keep it - believe it - do it. If you do all of this, you are living in true blessedness. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Let the people say “Amen!”

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!!!

“Equipped for Ministry by God” (Isaiah 45:1-7)

S-1453 19SAP/3A 10/19/2014 Hymns: (O) #5; (S) #400; (C) #52

Texts: Isaiah 45:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Theme: “Equipped for Ministry by God” (Isaiah 45:1-7)

Question: “How many tools do you have?”

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. The text for our meditation is from the O.T. Lesson: “I Am the Lord, and there is no other, besides Me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know Me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides Me; I Am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I Am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:1-7).

What a joy it is to be in the Lord’s house. We rejoice at the kindness of God’s grace for us sinners in giving us His Word and forgiveness and the blessings He pours upon us daily to enrich our lives. Today’s text is one of those glorious gems that show the mighty power of God in our lives by equipping us for the ministry for the sake of His Gospel and glory of His name. To help us grasp a better understanding of the words of Isaiah we call upon the Holy Spirit to empty us of ourselves, and open our ears and hearts to hear and heed His Words.

Beloved in the Lord, the next few days stop by the True Value Hardware store here in Armour. When you do, you will see a wonderful array of equipment for just about any task. If you need to drive a nail, they have a hammer. If you need to tighten a screw, they have a screwdriver. If you need to do some plumbing they have pipe wrenches. While this is not a commercial for Wilson’s True Value, the truth is the store carries just about everything and anything in the form of equipment to complete the task you have at hand.

But you don’t walk into the hardware store and pick up the one hammer that they carry. They have a vast selection. You can choose from a claw hammer or ball-peen hammer. Or you might need to choose between a finish hammer and a tack hammer. And if you have a really big job you might need a sledge hammer or an air-hammer. But even then you have to decide how big a hammer you need. So when you go to the hardware store to buy a hammer, you also need to know the task at hand and just which specific tool you need to complete the project before you.

Those hammers hanging on the racks at the hardware store have no idea about the job that you have to do. They are just there hanging out looking for the right person to come along and purchase them for the task that they were created to accomplish. The tools don’t have any input. They are only as good as the hands that they are placed in. A master carpenter will do wonders with a hammer. A novice will only get bruised and battered hands with the very same hammer. It is all about being in the right hands.  PAUSE.

Cyrus, the king of Persia, is a bit like those hammers. Cyrus was a pagan. In fact, at the time the Prophet mentions him, he isn’t even born yet. But the Lord has already planned a task for Cyrus. Cyrus doesn’t know it, but he will be the sledge hammer God uses to break the bonds of captivity for God’s faithful remnant in Babylon. This Persian sledge of a King will challenge and break down the mighty Babylonian Empire. At the time of the Lord’s choosing, when God’s people were humbled and ready to once again sit under the gracious hand of the Lord, Cyrus would be just the right tool in the hand of the Almighty! Cyrus didn’t know that! But the Lord did! The Lord reached for the right tool and accomplished His will and task.

In this text you see how God is the Agent behind the scene in bringing about Salvation as He did creation. God alone who does these acts of creation, redemption and salvation. God’s righteous rule is over three realms: nature, history, and over the hearts of people. Those who do not acknowledge Him will come under His work of doom. The Law serves the Gospel. His Left hand rule is for the sake of His Right hand Kingdom. This can only be seen through eyes of faith. His way is hidden to the world that is under the spell of the devil and ruled by his power. However, this text assures that God’s plan through His Messiah will be accomplished through His heaven-sent Son--Jesus, who now reigns and rules over the Church, Creation, and History.

Through the work of Cyrus, the unwitting yet useful tool, the Lord set His people free. But they were set free for a purpose of their own. Cyrus was the instrument that would set things in motion to return Judah back to the Holy Land just in time for the fullness of time. That fullness of time is what would take place when our Lord’s greatest equipment would come into the world, our Lord Jesus Christ! He would be the One who would accomplish a work that dwarfs all other work in creation. The flesh and blood of Jesus would be the instrument that would work the work of salvation. He would be the hammer that broke the bonds of captivity to sin and death. He would also be the tool that would rebuild God’s people into the same relationship with the Lord that was a part of the original creation. In the instrument of Jesus in the flesh, God walks and talks among us in this world so that we might walk and talk with God in eternity! All of this is done by Jesus at the cross. 

And when you are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, you too are created to be the right piece of equipment in the hand of the Lord. Now, you are not called to go to the cross bearing the sins of the world like Jesus did, but you are called to accomplish a task. The task that you are to accomplish is at the Lord’s direction and for the Lord’s purposes. What you are to bear, in a way that is specific to you, is the Gospel. You carry that Gospel in your body as you bear the cross of Holy Baptism on your forehead and upon your heart. You are a tool for the delivery of this precious message. You are that important!

As important as you are, you are also unique. While you might look like a hammer, you are not just any hammer. You are the right tool for the right task. Like Cyrus, you are placed in a unique position and place by the Lord to carry the Gospel. It might be as a parent to your family. It might be among your relations at a family meal. It might be sharing your faith in the workplace. It might even be that you are being equipped by the Lord to do a random act of mercy that leads someone to ask the question of who this Jesus is for them. PAUSE.

Saints in Christ, while at the seminary one of our professors Dr. Nagel used to say: “How humble the tool when praised for the work of the Master.”  That is what we are tools in the hands of the Master—Jesus Christ equipped by Him for ministry. But let us be clear about one thing: This text does not call on Israel or us to do anything except believe. They and we are in prison and in darkness; yet God through the great Messiah—Jesus Christ has set us free forever from the bondage not of captivity but of death and hell.

The writer to the Hebrews captured this thought beautifully with these words: “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

And the Apostle Paul wrote these gracious words to the church at Philippi: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13).

What a joy to know that we are been equipped to be used by God as His tools for the glory of His name and the building up of His kingdom. To Him alone who does all things well be glory now and forever. Amen.

Now the peace of God…


“Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

S-1452 17SAP/3A 10/05/2014 Hymns: (O) #39; #244; (S) #633 LSB; (C) #496

Texts: Jeremiah 26:1-15; Ephesians 5:1-9; Luke 11:14-28

Theme: “Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Question: “What is your favorite perfume?” LWML Sunday Sermon

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. The text for this glorious celebration and observation of the LWML Sunday is from Pastor Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

Today, by the grace of God, I give thanks and praise for the servants of the Most High God—the Lutheran Women in Mission and declare God’s glorious blessings and congratulations upon these faithful servants. As we celebrate and observe this special day, we ask the Holy Spirit to be among us and strengthen us ALL in our walk of faith that is rooted and grounded in the One who Himself became the ultimate Sacrifice—Jesus the Christ; whose sacrificial death on Calvary’s cross became a sweet smelling offering in the nostrils of God both in heaven and on earth.

Jesus is the One who calls us to follow His example by being imitators of Him. He lived in perfect obedience to the Father’s will, by keeping the Law in our stead and giving His life as the Lamb of God on the Altar of the cross as a fragrant sacrifice for the human race. This He did with the greatest joy in His heart to win our salvation.

Beloved in the Lord, if you were going to buy your spouse a very special gift, what would you get her/him? If the price was high, would you still get the gift anyway? What if you can’t afford to pay for it? A slight PAUSE.

A story is told of a groom who wanted to impress his young bride by buying her some nice perfume. Walking into an upscale Nieman Marcus store, he told the salesperson that he didn’t have much money but wanted to buy some very good, cheap perfume. The salesperson stared at him in disbelief for a minute and then responded, “Cheap perfume?” Sir, theirs is no such thing here.” The young man ended up buying his bride a nice iron instead. “Who needs that expensive stuff in the tiny bottle anyway?” He said.

Isn’t that how we treat God at times? We want to serve Him and indeed do love to serve Him, but at times we feel we neither have the time, the funds, nor the desire to do so. And so we come with the same attitude as this young groom saying to God, “I want to serve You…but.”

I say this because we are all—pastor and people are guilty of this attitude. Soon you will be asked (If you haven’t already) by the nominating committee to serve the Lord and His Church on a specific board. More often than not, we say, “No” just because we don’t want to take the time. Rather than going to the throne of grace in prayer seeking His wisdom and will for our lives, we let our own desires and our own wills determine what we should do. I implore you when someone asks you to serve, prayerfully consider it as the highest honor and privilege to serve God. This service is indeed a fragrant offering and sacrifice that pleases God our Savior.

As followers of Jesus, we listen to the Apostle Paul who in the text today encourages us to live a life that reflects the sweet aroma that pleases God. What is this reflection? To be imitators of Christ as He Himself became the sweetest aroma in the nostrils of God.

We have many examples in Scriptures of men and women who sacrificed and gave a fragrant offering unto the Lord. Think of King David: At a high cost slaughtered many cattle as they brought the Arch of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Consider the sacrifice of the wise men that traveled over a 1000 miles and gave gifts that were very expensive showing their commitment to the Incarnate Child of Bethlehem—giving Him the highest respect. Mary poured out a very expensive nard on Jesus’ feet. Likewise, Paul gave His life for the sake of the Gospel and sacrificed much to get the Gospel so that Jews and Gentiles can hear that Christ is the fragrant offering of our salvation. PAUSE.

As you look around this holy house you will see many of the quilts that demonstrate the sacrifice of the ladies who spent time sewing and stitching every square cloth in love and give it to someone in need. You know of the work of many of these ladies who deliver meals on wheels, play bingo, assist during someone’s sickness and prepare meals during the celebration of the new life—all of these activities demonstrate their life of service—in imitating Christ as a fragrant sacrifice to God.

But not all of us are involved in the ministry. Many of us just sit in church without a care in the world about how we can be imitators of Christ. We only take BUT don’t give back—and if you do, it is only in reluctance when we feel guilty. It is not spurred out of a heart that is filled with gratitude to what Christ has done for us—giving His life as the Lamb slain on the altar of the cross.

This shows the reality of our fallen condition. We are at once sinners and saints. We have the terrible stain of sin upon us and at the same time have the wonderful promise of resurrection glory upon us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This wonderful fragrant and gracious sacrifice on our behalf is the one that God receives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice. This is the ultimate sacrificial offering but there are many others worked by our Lord Jesus in obedience to our Father. Remember?

In the beginning the Holy Spirit comes to a virgin named Mary and a Son is born to her and Joseph who is named Jesus. Prophecy proclaims the birth of this Child and angels sing the birth of this Child. The shepherds and wise men rejoice at the birth of this Child and our Father receives this miraculous birth as a fragrant sacrifice and offering. This Jesus at eight days old is dedicated back to His Father in the rite of circumcision, a fragrant offering to the Lord. There is a wedding that is running a bit short on wine. Jesus turns water into the best wine and the Father catches that scent as a fragrant offering. And there is more!

Blind people see, deaf people hear, lame people have their limbs restored, sick people are healed, lepers are cleansed, seas are calmed, demons are cast out, mute people speak, the hungry are fed, demon possessed are delivered, captives are set free, severed ears restored, and if that were not enough, resurrection and life become the new normal. Our Father receives all these acts as fragrant sacrifices and offerings. They reach to His nostrils and the Lord rejoices, the angels dance, the Holy Spirit rejoices because our Father is well pleased, the incense has been lit, the fire is burning and the perfect sacrifice, the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24) is set to be shed. The perfect offering is so sweet and fragrant a sacrifice to the Father that it has the power to cover and remove the sin of all humankind for all time.

That is the plan and design of God. That Jesus Christ, the perfect fragrant sacrifice and offering, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world in whose book the names of all who live and die and rise by faith in Christ Jesus have been written. (Revelation 13:8) And not only are their names written in the book of the Lamb and in the heart of the Father but their works of faith, good works prepared beforehand in which they walk, rise to the throne of our Father as fragrant sacrifices and offerings.

Understand that you have been called upon to imitate the One who came to serve and not be served. Remember beloved that every act of obedience, every work of the saints of God, every act of faith, every word spoken in faith rises up to the Father as a sweet-smelling savor and sacrificial offering. We have the awesome privilege of bringing joy to the heart of our Father by not simply performing deeds of which He would approve but also in the words of Saint Paul to the Romans in the twelfth chapter, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

So, dear saints of God, let’s strive with all our Holy Ghost-inspired and Spirit-filled faith to infuse the heavens with fragrant sacrifices and offerings by not simply doing, but by BEING those sacrifices and offerings in the nostrils of our loving God and Father. Amen.

Now may the peace…


“Slaves for the sake of the Gospel” Titus 1:1-4

“Slaves for the sake of the Gospel” at the International Center 9/22/14

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text is from Titus which was read earlier. I shall like to read verse 1 again. “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.” (Titus 1:1-4).

Beloved saints in Christ, this title, this description that Paul takes, actually, both titles, δοῦλος θεοῦ, ἀπόστολος δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστου – the bondservant or slave, and then the “sent one” the apo and stello means that he is not his own man, not the writer of his own ticket, not in control, not at all. Seeing himself as sent by another and under another’s control, even if it is God in Christ Jesus does not fit with our culture, not with our fallen human heart. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, we have wanted to have the control and the say. Even we, who bear high-sounding titles in the Church, we have these positions as slaves, as folks who are sent, under authority of the Savior. Do we not bristle, at times? Do we not enjoy the accolades of man? Do we not want to be in control? This is what makes the start of this letter to Titus so remarkable. Surely this greatest student of the greatest Rabbi of that day, he should have had the right to think of himself highly. But he does the opposite, naming himself as one sent by Christ Jesus, an ambassador, or no, more lowly than that, a slave.

Yet, this is precisely what Pastor Paul calls himself-a doulas of God and Apostle of Jesus. He proclaims to the world that he is indeed a slave for the sake of the Gospel. A man who labored long and hard and endured all sorts of difficulties so that many others might know the One who has come to serve us—Jesus the Christ. His sending and serving was to reflect the One whom the Father sent, from eternity, into our flesh, the One sent not to be served but to serve and to give His life as the full ransom for many. Paul finds his identity in the wounds of Christ, there and nowhere else. For those of us here in this grand place, the highest and best title we can bear is that of “Shepherd Under Christ” or better yet, as Paul so thankfully and humbly saw himself, one who is sent by Jesus, a slave of His Redeemer God! Yes, we love because Jesus first loved us. Yes, we serve because He has first and always serves us through the Cross. PAUSE.

Precious children of the heavenly Father, many of you perhaps have heard of this story during the slave era were slaves were sold and bought for a price, but it bears repeating.

A young 17-18 year old slave girl was brought by her master to be sold at the auction block. When it was her turn to be sold, people came over to inspect her. Some gawked at her, and inspected her by touching her here and there and opened her mouth. Then the bidding started. The prices kept going higher and higher. One man in particular would not stop the bidding. Every time someone bid, he would be bid higher.

Eventually he got the slave girl for a very high price. When he went to pay for the girl, she followed him. He paid the bill and received the sale slip stamped “Paid in full.” He turned around to the young slave girl, handed her the papers and said to her. “You are now free to go! You are no longer a slave!” Upon hearing these words, she got down on her knees and said: “Sir, I will serve you for the rest of my life.” And she did!

Pastor Paul knows all about being shackled. He knows all too well the demands of the Law. He lived by the Law and attempted to force others to obey this Law. But on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus Christ in person, so that the former persecutor and prosecutor of the Cross was freed from the slavery of living under the Law. Though he was freed, yet he became a slave for the sake of the Gospel. He served the cause of the Gospel preaching and teaching everywhere so that others might know of the eternal freedom Jesus offers them through His death and glorious resurrection. PAUSE.

Yet this slave girl in the story, and Paul, and even you and I, find our freedom precisely because Jesus became the greatest slave (maximus famulus) to set us, ALL free. Yet He was never a slave to sin. Philippians 2 tells us that He became the foremost slave to set hearts free—free to love, free to forgive, free to serve.

In one section of the Missouri State Capitol—the hall of fame section where the busts of 42 famous Missouri citizens have been sculptured—Walt Disney, General John Pershing, Harry Truman, Laura Wilder and others. Each bust of these famous citizens cost $10,000 a piece. The inscription in the ceiling that arches over this hall of fame is: We are called to serve not be served.

Jesus paid the highest price for us to win our freedom from sin, death and hell by His innocent blood, suffering on Calvary’s cross and the empty tomb. Like the slave girl, we too, were once slaves on the auction block. Our cruel master was death. We were sold into this slavery by sin. But Jesus, the heaven-sent Savior, would not let this stand—He gave His all—He paid the price that we couldn’t pay—His life for ours and in baptism we have the inscription—paid in full.

Like the slave girl we will serve Him, not because we have to, but because we are freed slaves—slaves for the sake of the Gospel; slaves for the Kingdom’s benefit; slaves to share the greatest story of our freedom and salvation which Jesus won for us. Yes, we are—pastor and people alike are slaves to proclaim the Word of the Living God to all people so that they too, may know the freedom and the blessings they have in Christ Jesus.

With this freedom comes the joy, privilege and honor the Lord of the Church gives us—as His slaves for the sake of the Gospel. We are free slaves on account of the Word made flesh. By the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the sweet faithfulness to the Word does indeed make us slaves of this Gospel. We are freed slaves to preach faithfully Christ and Him crucified for us sinners. We are freed slaves whose privilege is to teach the Word of God to young and old so that they may know (God’s Hessed) His grace. We are freed slaves to be a light to the world that is still in darkness.

Most precious children of the heavenly Father, Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Yes, as servants/slaves for the Sake of the Gospel, preach it in season and out of season, because we have been created to serve; and by the power of the Holy Spirit have been created to love and share the glorious gospel now and forever. This is our freedom and this is our joy, because He who created all by the power of His Word, and that alone, submitted to what should have been our cross. He has given us His life, and it is eternal. He has given us His peace through the brokenness of the Cross. What a high calling, to be the douloi tou Theou, the sent ones of the Savior, all to share the hope of eternal life, the sure promise of God. Amen.

Now the peace of God…