“If God Is for Us” (Romans 8:28-39)

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 26, 2020

“If God Is for Us” (Romans 8:28-39)

In our Epistle reading for today, St. Paul writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The answer, of course, is no one. If God is for us, it doesn’t matter who might be against us, because they are not God. Oh, they may indeed be against us, but that is far, far outweighed by the fact that God is for us. I mean, who could be greater and more powerful than God? No one. By definition, no one or no thing can be more powerful than God; otherwise, that person or thing would be God. And they’re not.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” But notice that little word “if.” There’s a lot riding on that “if.” “If God is for us”: That “if” raises the question: Is God for us? How can we know whether he is or is not? Is God for us? Is God for me? How can I be sure that he is?

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Published in: on July 26, 2020 at 12:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020

“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Have you been starting to feel like you’re Lazarus? I mean, you’ve been cooped up in your quarantine “tomb,” not just for four days, but now going on fourteen days. You’ve been stuck inside so long, maybe skipping showers, maybe skipping laundry–“Lord, by this time there will be an odor!” You’re stuck inside, and you’re waiting for someone to speak the word, “Lazarus, come out!” But for now, it looks like you’re going to have to wait a little longer. The President’s hope that we will be able to go back to church on Easter–well, we’ll have to wait and see if that can come to pass.

And so we wait. Inside. Virtual reality. But what is very real, and what is very powerful–indeed, what is creative and life-living–is the word of God. The word of God gives us hope and joy, in the midst of economic uncertainty and social isolation, even in the midst of disease and death. The words that God speaks to us–even today, now as you hear them–these are “Words of Spirit and Life.”

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Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“How Being Justified Changes Your Life” (Romans 5:1-8)

Third Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2020

“How Being Justified Changes Your Life” (Romans 5:1-8)

How has this coronavirus thing changed your life? Has it? Maybe it hasn’t. But for lots of people, it has. Let me count the ways. No baseball, that’s the main thing. No hockey either. No March Madness. Universities have shut down. K-12 schools have shut down. No toilet paper to be found on the shelves. Travel plans are being disrupted. The economy is being hurt. The stock market is down big-time. I know for myself I’ve lost about $5,000 on my investments so far this year, almost all of that in the last few weeks. Cancellations, closures, and precautions like crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life. Lots of negative impacts, lots of bad effects, all rippling out from this one virus. One thing leads to another, and the dominoes begin to fall. People’s lives are being negatively affected by this epidemic and the reaction to it.

The coronavirus is an example of how one thing can change your life in many ways. In this case, most all of the effects are negative. But how about an example on the positive side? Is there anything that can change your life for the better, with the effects rippling out in many ways? I think there is. In fact, I know there is. God’s word tells us about it today. In our Epistle reading for today, we hear about “How Being Justified Changes Your Life.”

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Published in: on March 14, 2020 at 11:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Two Men You’re Related to” (Romans 5:12-19)

First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2020

“Two Men You’re Related to” (Romans 5:12-19)

You know those ancestry tests you can take? You know, the ones where you spit into a little tube, and you send it off, and then they let you know what your ancestry is. And they’ll even give you lists of names of people you’re related to, including people maybe you didn’t know you were related to. Well, today I’m going to tell you about two people you definitely are related to, and–guess what–you don’t even have to spit into a tube. And so our theme this morning: “Two Men You’re Related to.”

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Published in: on February 29, 2020 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“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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