“How Do We Get God’s Grace?” (Romans 3:19-28)

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 28, 2018

“How Do We Get God’s Grace?” (Romans 3:19-28)

On the last Sunday in October every year, we celebrate Reformation Day. For on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed Ninety-five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, thus starting the great Reformation of the Christian church. Last year, 2017, was the 500th anniversary of that momentous event, and there were huge celebrations around the world. This year, 2018, is the 501st anniversary, so the occasion is toned down accordingly. But we still have something to celebrate. Indeed, 1517 was just the beginning of the Reformation. Every year now we will have the 500th anniversary of some significant event during that time period.

The biggest Reformation event that occurred in 1518, which we celebrate the 500th anniversary of this year, is the Heidelberg Disputation. Let me explain. After Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses in October 1517, the publication and spread of these theses caused a worldwide sensation. Luther was upsetting the applecart! He was challenging the practice of indulgences, and thus he was challenging the authority of the Pope and the Roman Church! This caught everyone’s attention. People wanted to know more. What was this little monk, a professor at a little university in Germany–what was this Luther fellow saying? Brother Martin was a member of the Augustinian order, and so his teaching would be the topic for discussion at the conference of the Augustinians, to be held in Heidelberg, Germany, in the spring of 1518.

Now why is this important for us today? Because the theses that Luther put forward at Heidelberg exposed the errors of the medieval Roman Catholic Church–even more so than did the Ninety-five Theses of six months earlier. In the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther powerfully takes apart the errors that were being taught, and he brings to light the truth of the gospel. And it is this gospel, this good news of God’s grace in Christ–the message of justification by faith apart from works of the law—that stands ever firm and trustworthy for us today. And it revolves around this question: “How Do We Get God’s Grace?”

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Published in: on October 27, 2018 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Passion Prediction, Passion Production” (Mark 8:27-38; Romans 5:1-11)

Second Sunday in Lent
February 25, 2018

“Passion Prediction, Passion Production” (Mark 8:27-38; Romans 5:1-11)

Most of you probably remember a movie a few years back called “The Passion of the Christ.” It was about Jesus’ suffering and death. That’s what the word “Passion’ means in that sense, the things that were done to Jesus, his being betrayed, arrested, beaten, crucified, and killed. Well, our Gospel reading today is about the Passion of the Christ, his suffering. To be more precise, it is a prediction of it–the first prediction of his Passion that Jesus makes. In the gospel narrative, the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee leads up to the point of Peter’s great confession, “You are the Christ.” Then, right after that, Jesus tells the disciples what his being the Christ will entail, that he, the Christ, must suffer and die. Our Gospel today records it as follows: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

This kind of a passage, where Jesus speaks ahead of time of his suffering and death–and he does this three times in the gospels–this is referred to as a “Passion Prediction.” And this is the first one. In this “Passion Prediction,” Jesus tells us what will happen to him–suffering, rejection, being killed. That’s the “what.” But we also want to know the so what.” So what difference does this make in our lives? What is the result, the outcome, of his suffering? What good will it produce? And so our theme for today: “Passion Prediction, Passion Production.”

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Published in: on February 24, 2018 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Reformation 500: By Grace Alone” (Romans 3:19-28)

Reformation Day (Observed)
Sunday, October 29, 2017

“Reformation 500: By Grace Alone” (Romans 3:19-28)

Happy Reformation Day! Now I could say that every year on the last Sunday in October, which is when we observe Reformation Day. But this year it is something special. Because this year, 2017, and this week, October 31–this is the 500th anniversary of that day in 1517 when the Reformation really began.

And you and I are here as a result. We are in a church, this congregation, and a church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that hold to the teachings that came out of that great Reformation. We are partnered with many other confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world that believe, teach, and confess likewise. All around the world, today and this week and this year, we and our fellow Lutherans are celebrating and giving thanks to God for 500 years of Reformation blessings. 500 years! All by God’s grace, for we surely do not deserve it. The Reformation that Luther started brought the great and glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ into clear focus, uncluttered by the errors in doctrine and practice that had crept into the church. And, by God’s grace, we still are being blessed by the pure teaching of the gospel of Christ. It’s still all about Jesus! For this, we give God our most hearty thanks and praise! Thus our theme this morning: “Reformation 500: By Grace Alone.”

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Published in: on October 28, 2017 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“How to Understand–and Do–Christian Exhortations” (Romans 12:9-21)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 3, 2017

“How to Understand–and Do–Christian Exhortations” (Romans 12:9-21)

Take a look again at the Epistle reading for today, as printed on your Scripture insert. It’s Romans 12:9-21, and it starts out as follows: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” What do you notice about all these verses? You’re right, it’s a series of commands, if you will, telling us what to do.

And the passage goes on from there with a whole bunch more of these instructions about how we are to live: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

And there’s even few more verses along those lines after that. So what do you make of this text? How do you understand it? What’s more, how do you do it–that is, how do you live out all these instructions for Christian living? Do we even try, or do we just throw up our hands and give up and hope that God will forgive us? Those are the questions we’re going to consider now, under the theme: “How to Understand–and Do–Christian Exhortations.”

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Published in: on September 1, 2017 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Word Is Near You, in Your Mouth and in Your Heart” (Romans 10:5-17)

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 13, 2017

“The Word Is Near You, in Your Mouth and in Your Heart” (Romans 10:5-17)

There is a wealthy author and art dealer in New Mexico by the name of Forrest Fenn. A lover of adventure, Mr. Fenn decided to fill a chest with gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry, and gemstones, and to hide this treasure somewhere in the American West. He gave out clues, so that other adventure-seekers could search for the treasure chest and hopefully find it. The hidden treasure is said to be worth about two million dollars.

Well, in the seven years since this began, dozens and dozens of treasure hunters have gone searching for this hidden treasure. They have covered hundreds of miles, traversed deserts, scaled mountains, forded rivers, and faced all kinds of obstacles and dangers. In fact, two, possibly three, searchers have died in their quest for Fenn’s treasure.

These treasure hunters have gone to great lengths, literally, trying to find this fortune. How far would you go? Now if I told you there was a treasure far richer than Mr. Fenn’s–millions of times richer, incalculable–and that this treasure was reachable, attainable, able to be found, how far would you go? What if I told you that this treasure was not far away, that you don’t have to go searching hundreds of miles in the wilderness to find it? Even more, that I will give you not just some obscure clues but the very message you need to find it? That’s what I’m talking about today when I say, “The Word Is Near You, in Your Mouth and in Your Heart.”

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Published in: on August 12, 2017 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Inseparable!” (Romans 8:28-39)

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 30, 2017

“Inseparable!” (Romans 8:28-39)

Do you ever worry that God has given up on you? That he’s finally had enough and is ready to kick you to the curb? It’s like God is thinking: “Oh, my goodness! There he goes again! Haven’t I told him often enough not to do those things? What am I going to do with this one?” Yeah, how could God put up with a supposed Christian as lousy as I am? So I wonder if I’m going to make it with God all the way to the end.

Or maybe you think God has forgotten about you. I mean, look at all the troubles you’re having. You don’t have enough money. Your income is going down. Your expenses are going up. Your health–well, it’s one thing after another. Your life is a mess. Some of the people closest to you have deserted you. And you think: “Maybe God has deserted me, too. He doesn’t seem to care. Nothing is changing for the better. I mean, come on!”

This is how we feel. We look at all the troubles in our life: “Where is God in all this? Why isn’t he doing something about it?” We feel the pangs of conscience in our heart: “What kind of a Christian am I? How can God accept me?” And we feel distant from God, separated from him. We wonder, and we worry. So it is to people like us that our Epistle reading today especially speaks. To Christians who are wondering and worrying whether God really still loves us, St. Paul today declares that God’s love for us is “Inseparable!”

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Published in: on July 29, 2017 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest” (Matthew 11:25-30; Romans 7:14-25a)

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 9, 2017

“Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest” (Matthew 11:25-30; Romans 7:14-25a)

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Here in this verse from today’s Gospel, Matthew 11:28, Jesus issues a gracious invitation and makes a wonderful promise. “Come to me” is the invitation, and “I will give you rest” is the promise. And to whom does he address this invitation and promise? To “all who labor and are heavy laden.”

What is it, then, to labor and be heavy laden, to be weary and burdened? What does Jesus mean by that? Jesus speaks to those who are weary of trying to please God by their own efforts. He speaks to those who labor under the law. Those who are burdened with their weight of guilt. Loaded down with the weariness and burdens that life in this vale of tears lays upon them. Jesus speaks to those who are heavy laden with loads they are unable to carry. To those who realize their weariness and burdened state, Jesus says today, “Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest.”

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Published in: on July 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“An Eternal Gospel to Reclaim and Proclaim” (Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28)

Reformation Day (Observed)
Sunday, October 30, 2016

“An Eternal Gospel to Reclaim and Proclaim” (Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28)

It was 499 years ago tomorrow, on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther nailed Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, thus beginning the movement known as the Reformation. We are the heirs of that heritage, and so it is that on the last Sunday in October every year we observe Reformation Day in our churches. We are grateful to God for raising up his servant Luther to bring the clear truth of the gospel to light and to prominence once again. And we want to learn from the Reformation of the need to always be vigilant in guarding the doctrine and practice of the church, so that we remain faithful and steadfast in the truth of God’s Word. For the gospel of Christ that the church is entrusted to proclaim–this is the only saving word there is, and God wants all men everywhere to hear and receive it. Thus our theme on this Reformation Day: “An Eternal Gospel to Reclaim and Proclaim.”

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Published in: on October 29, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Law and the Prophets Bear Witness” (Romans 3:19-28)

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 25, 2015

“The Law and the Prophets Bear Witness” (Romans 3:19-28)

Today being the last Sunday in October, this is the day we observe Reformation Day, celebrating what happened 498 years ago, when, on October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther went to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, and there posted 95 Theses questioning the sale of indulgences. That was the beginning of the great Reformation of the church, and as Lutherans we are here today as the beneficiaries of that movement and that heritage. We thank God that he used Luther as his instrument to bring the clear gospel of Christ to light, breaking through the fog and the clouds that had obscured it.

But how did Luther get there? How did he come to his evangelical breakthrough, his dawning discovery of the pure gospel, in contrast to the accretions of centuries that had covered over and clouded the truth? What led Luther to an increasing realization of how the church had gotten off track and where the true path of righteousness is found? When we know this, when we know how Luther came to this realization, then that in turn will bolster our faith and deepen our own understanding and strengthen our commitment to the truth.

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Published in: on October 24, 2015 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Something in the Water” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11; Genesis 1:1-5)

The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 11, 2015

“Something in the Water” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11; Genesis 1:1-5)

I don’t listen to pop music or country music on the radio, but recently I read that there is a song that’s popular on the airwaves right now that makes some references to baptism. That caught my attention, naturally, so I looked it up and listened to it online. It’s a song called “Something in the Water,” by a singer named Carrie Underwood. I don’t know if you’ve heard it or not. But it does have to do with baptism. Now very likely it’s coming from a theological perspective on baptism we wouldn’t agree with entirely, but even so, it’s surprising that a song about baptism would even make it on the charts, much less be a big hit.

Let me tell you a little about this song, in case you haven’t heard it. Miss Underwood starts out by singing about a conversation she had with someone who, in the midst of his frustrations, had followed a preacher man down to the river and now, he says, he’s changed, he’s stronger, “there must’ve been something in the water.” Then Carrie herself, the singer, says that one night, when she was out of hope, cried out to God and felt his love pouring down. So she then “got washed in the water, washed in the blood.” And now, Carrie says, “I’m changed, I’m stronger, there must be something in the water.” And so the song proceeds.

Well, good. It’s refreshing to see a song that at least alludes to the Christian faith make it big on the airwaves. While this song “Something in the Water” doesn’t use the word “baptism,” and it doesn’t mention Christ by name, the song is nice as far as it goes, I suppose. But it only scratches the surface. I don’t know, can you scratch the surface of water? In any case, today I would like to take us deeper into the water of Holy Baptism. Yes, there is “Something in the Water”–a number of things, actually–so let’s find out what they are.

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Published in: on January 10, 2015 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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