October 1, 2017: 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, o how past hurts and slights come back to haunt us! Unlike You, we remember what people have said and done to us years before and that influences how we treat them today. Lord, we humans forgive grudgingly. Whereas You forgive freely. So today we ask for a larger helping of Your grace. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR FORGIVING LORD!

Text: Genesis 50: 15-26

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Everyone knows the story of Cain and Abel. They were Adam and Eve’s first two sons. Spiritually, they were poles apart. Cain was jealous of Abel and grudging towards God, whereas Abel was the opposite. Eventually, even after being warned by God about his murderous intentions, Cain still killed Abel.

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September 24, 2017: 16th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have shown us the Godly way to live and die. You have shown us that forgiveness is the singular truth from which balance and harmony in life and death springs from. Today, restore that harmony in each of us by placing forgiveness as the primary well-spring of all we think, say, and do. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR FORGIVING GOD!

TEXT: Matthew 18: 15-20

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

You learn important things from all sorts of people. Recently, I learned a new insight into forgiveness. A therapist and I were talking about emotions in people. For each emotion we have there is an opposite one. The emotional response of: hate, came up. I told her that its opposite was: love. She corrected me. “No, its opposite is: forgiveness.” That’s true, too. Hate is our emotional response against love. Forgiveness is our emotional response born of love. Hate is holding on to hurts. Forgiveness is letting go of them. So, if you want to let go of the pain of hatred you need to ground yourself in, with, and under forgiveness.

In our text Jesus touches on all this. And He should know because no one has ever experienced hate as much as Christ (the Lord laid on Him the iniquity, the hate, of us all) and then overcome it with love-born forgiveness (By His wounds (of the cross) we are healed.) So, in the context of life, today we will discuss what forgiveness really means.

I

To be sure, hate, the inability to love, and also forgiveness or the ability to love—they are all intertwined. As Christians, we’re told: “Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.” And how has He forgiven you? In love, God sent His only Son to suffer all of the world’s hatred, all our evil, in His body. Christ literally “became” sin for us. And then Christ also, in love, went to the cross to die for that hateful evil. Thereby, He forgave us completely of all sin and its attendant consequences and emotions. He put away hatred from our lives and remembers our sins no more. Thus, through forgiveness we are reborn and made new, whole, balanced, and complete. The darkness of a hardened heart has been removed by loving forgiveness.

In our lesson, Jesus begins by talking about a brother who sins against you. Someone hurt you deeply. They said or did something which cut you to the core. It made you angry. It upset you. It seemed unfair and nasty. The common human response to this is to get equally upset and repay them in kind. Thus, hatred is birthed. If it is left unchecked, it grows and eventually throws your whole life out-of-whack. Likewise, it alienates you from your brother and it alienates both of you from God Who is forgiveness personified. So, Jesus has a solution. Go to your brother—in concern for their soul—and tell them politely what they have done and why it is wrong. You do that because you care about their soul, just as Jesus cares about all our souls.

But, what if they decide to rebuff you and hold on to their sin and hatred—because that’s what it is—hatred for you and hatred for God’s ways? Do you give up? Do you wash your hands of the problem like Pontius Pilate did? No! A heart which has forgiveness directing it should and will never adopt an ungodly attitude in this matter. Instead, you take a fellow Christian with you to help sort it out. A witness will give insight while also serving as a second voice to the problem. Sometimes it works! Thanks be to God. If so, you forgive the guilty party when they repent and then, like your sins against God, He remembers them no more. Harmony among God’s people is restored.

II

Of course, there are times when even this is met with spiteful opposition by the guilty party. The emotion of anger is easily roused. It is a human defense mechanism. And we all employ it when threatened, don’t we? By this time it is usually obvious that the guilty party would rather hold on to hate then they would be comforted by forgiveness. Pride and ego have gotten very directly involved. So, at that point, if they are a Christian and that’s the context here, you are greatly concerned over the status of their soul. You want them to go to heaven, but it’s obvious they are on a different pathway. So, you “tell it to the church” or get the Pastor and/or Elders of the church involved. Elders here are not “old, wise members” but means: Godly men who have been chosen or elected by the church for their spiritual insights. These folks are to adopt the same approach outlined earlier in the lesson. They are not to be confrontational, but caring—caring about the person’s soul. And if they are rebuffed, eventually the church formally acts to excommunicate the hateful person. We are to cut them off from Christ because they have cut themselves off by their evil actions. That’s the reference by Christ to “treating them as you would a pagan or a tax collector (cheating person).”

When such action is taken, it is always with a heavy heart. Basically it is the ultimate form of “tough love.” But you cannot have such hatred infecting and destroying other souls. But one thing we need to note and note well: Matthew, who recorded this section was originally a tax collector, too! He was just as evil, hate-filled, and uncaring of others as the rest of his original group. Obviously, since Matthew is the only disciple to record this conversation it hit home to him. Yet, Jesus didn’t write him off or quit trying to work forgiveness in his heart. Jesus never closes a door, but He does leave it slightly ajar sometimes. And in Matthew’s case, it paid heavenly dividends—he came to see the errors of his ways and was saved.

Forgiveness is the opposite of hate. Forgiveness is the only thing that can overcome it. It has and does in Jesus Christ. So, receive loving forgiveness through faith in Christ and be whole once more! Many years ago, I preached on this text under the theme: “Forgive and Forget.” My parts to that sermon were: “You owe it to God, you owe it to your neighbor, and you owe it to yourself.” And all of that is still true– to this very day! Amen

September 17, 2017: 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, You control all things. You have set the governing rules of creation. And although our human sin jumbled it all up and corrupted it, nonetheless, Your love and goodness still pierces our darkness and warms our souls. Lord, we want the warmth! We desire to bask in Your light! Enable us to do so by surrendering our lives to You in all things and thereby get back a part of what our first parents lost. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR LOVING LORD!

TEXT: Romans 12: 1-8

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

When I first arrived at Pinewood my lovely wife and I visited all the members. We needed to get to know them, and they to know us. I well recall one family that told us the most beautiful thing any Pastor can ever hear. They said: “When we got married we gave ourselves over to the Church and agreed to make Christ the Head of our household in all things.” They have done just that and all of us have benefitted.

So, what about you? Are you willing to do the same? Have you both agreed to do the same? Put in another way: Have you given Christ the totality of your life, as much as you can; or have you given Him the leftovers? I think of the OT story of Cain and Abel. One gave firstfruit offerings to the Lord—the best he had, while the other just did enough to make it look good. But, of course, God can and does judge the heart.

I

St. Paul has just spent 11 chapters in Romans dealing with the ultimate offering which God Almighty gave to us to pay for our freedom from sin and evil. That ultimate offering is Jesus Christ, the very best He had. Now, Paul sums up the meaning of all this for us today: “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship.”

Our Savior offered up His body on a cross to save our souls. He was a living offering to God Who was put to death to wipe away God’s holy anger, justly deserved, from us. But then, our Savior also arose from the dead! And in so doing He became a living sacrifice Who just keeps giving grace upon grace to us! If we truly want to follow in His footsteps, shouldn’t we do exactly that—follow His lead?

People divorce what they believe from how they live all the time. People will say wonderful things, holy things, on Sunday morning and then adopt a totally different attitude during the week. Is that offering yourself up as a living sacrifice? Paul addresses this weakness among believers when he goes on to say: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” So, once again, are you giving God only a part of your life, whatever is convenient for you, or are you giving Him your all? Put another way, are you even trying?….

II

So, how can we all improve? How can we work toward this ideal of being living sacrifices to our glorious Lord? Again, Paul says this: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

All of us are currently at a different level of spiritual understanding, or sanctification. None of us is perfect, yet. If we were we’d be in heaven. So, what are your spiritual strengths and weaknesses in life? How is your attitude? Do you also wish to have God be the One Who truly governs your home, and are you working toward that goal? And where does your commitment to His church fit into all this?

Again, Paul says this: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach, if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

III

That’s not a total catalogue of what being a “living sacrifice” is all about, but it’s a pretty good one, isn’t it? And as I look around, I see many people who have those very gifts. Some of you use them, some of you are sitting on them! Lately, I’ve been preaching against the common world view of humans exemplified by the phrase: “What’s in it for me?” Christians should always, always, banish that attitude from their lives! Being a living sacrifice is all about: “What can I do to help?” and asking it unbidden.

The key phrase in this entire text is this: “In view of God’s mercy.” In this world we all feel “put-upon” sometimes. We all spend time worrying about what others aren’t doing to further Christ’s kingdom instead of concentrating upon what we can do. In short, we unwittingly conform to the pattern of this world. But when you add the immense meaning behind that phrase: “In view of God’s mercy” when you place the cross and the empty tomb behind your life, well, how can you not seek to do your every best—with urgency—at being a “living sacrifice”?

So, now, I guess we’re back at the beginning. Are you, have you, placed Christ and His Church into a headship role in your house and life, or not? If not, there still is time. But don’t wait too long as your time of grace is getting shorter by the second…..Amen

September 10, 2017: 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we join in thanking You for being our Savior. Without You we are poor in spirit, weak in body, and destitute in soul. But, by relying upon Your strength, love, and mercy, we are strong. Lord, continue to give us Your strength. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ROCK OF OUR SALVATION!

TEXT: Matthew 16: 13-20

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

When you hear the word “rock” what immediately comes to mind? Modern music lovers might think: Rock and Roll. Most others imagine a hard, stony substance. Jewelry people probably think of diamonds. Me, I think granite ledge. You know, the stuff our church is built on.

That’s a fitting symbol. For God’s Church is literally built on the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ. Scripture speaks of Him as the Rock of our Salvation. He never moves. He never shifts. He is a monolith of Godly love toward sinners like us.

Our lesson today focuses on this, too. So, it is fitting as we begin a new year of Sunday School that we recall what it means to be:

BUILT ON A ROCK

I

This passage is a familiar one to Lutherans and an important one to Roman Catholicism. The truth it contains helped spearhead the Reformation 500 years ago. For Rome is a religious hierarchy. Rome is built on the power of a man, the pope, who they say is Christ’s vicar on earth, or His substitute. They derive that view from a faulty understanding of this passage. They believe that Peter was the first pope. They believe that right here when Jesus said: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it” Christ was singling out Peter as the first pope. So, at the time of the Reformation and still today, Rome teaches that whatever the Pope officially teaches is as binding upon us as if Christ Himself said it. Thus, if you disagree with the Pope you’re actually disagreeing with Christ.

So, let’s examine the passage. After all, as Lutherans we want to be true to Christ and His Word, don’t we? This section is called: “Peter’s great confession.” And it is. Many people of the time had conflicting views about exactly who Christ was. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then, when Christ asks all the disciples: “But, what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter answers for all of them. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That statement is called his great confession for obvious reasons. The chief one being: It’s true.

Next comes Christ’s reply where He calls Peter blessed and states that this great truth didn’t just spring up from Peter’s subconscious on its own, but was revealed to him by the heavenly Father. Yes, as Paul says: “Faith is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.”

Then comes the passage under scrutiny. Note well that this dialogue took place in the Greek language and is recorded in Greek by Matthew. Note well that Peter’s name literally meant: Rock, too. Now the Greek language has masculine, feminine and neuter endings to its words which help clarify exactly what is being referred to. In Greek Christ literally said: “You are Peter (masculine ending to Peter, or Petros), and upon this Rock (feminine ending, or Petra), I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” So, the play on words has two gender endings which don’t agree. So, Christ didn’t build the Church upon the man Peter, but upon his confession, since that has a feminine ending, too. That’s simple Greek sentence structure. Yes, God’s Church is built upon Christ and a faithful confession of Him. This agrees with Paul’s later statement: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Whenever you, I, or any other Christian confesses Christ to be the Son of God and the only Source of salvation—the Holy Spirit works through that confession, implants faith, and the Church is built one soul at a time. It’s also why knowing what the Bible says and being able to enunciate it clearly to others is so vital.

II

Today we’re all on edge. A new hurricane, Irma, is sweeping across Florida with destruction in its wake. I did a Google search this week on elevations in Florida and a goodly portion of the seacoast is only 5 to 6 feet above the water table. So, a 5 to 10 foot storm surge promises to wash away and cover miles upon miles of homes and businesses. Moreover, the entire state is built on sand. Sand is unstable. Sand shifts. Sand doesn’t stand up too well to hurricanes. I’ll bet many people wish they were high, dry, and built on rock about now.

If I ever build my own home I’m going to build on the high ground and make sure I’ve got some rock under the foundation. That’s just being prudent. Well, when it comes to our souls—what do you want undergirding yours, rock or sand? Sand is alluring, plentiful, and easy to move around. It’s cheaper to build on sand than to blast or drill rock for foundational under-pinings. Likewise it’s easy to base your faith on human emotions, human reason, social customs, and the mentality of the masses which is: “If it feels right for you, then it must be right.” This approach has bred something called: “Cafeteria Catholics” and their protestant equivalent: Liberal Lutherans. Possessing such a faith is a lot like living on a beachfront sandbar—for years it is idyllic and lulls a person into complacency. But when the hurricanes of life hit, and it only takes one, it collapses. You get the point. It’s on your television screens today.

Built on a Rock. That’s who and what we are. And not even the gates of hell will prevail against us, against you, dear believer. And why is this so? Because Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, obliterated the powers of sin, darkness, Satan and death from our lives. He died on the cross in our place and now is risen from the grave so that through faith in Him we will rise and live eternally, too. God didn’t build His Church on the power of any human being, He built it upon the eternal Rock, Jesus Christ. Learn from Him and do likewise by believing and trusting in your Savior, alone. Yes, celebrate your Lutheran heritage! Amen