A Sermon for Series A Proper 14 2017 “Faith in the Word Incarnate”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Job 38:4-18

Second Lesson  Romans 10:5-17

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 14:22-33 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Matt. 14:22-33]

What was Peter thinking?  The disciples thought they saw a ghost.  They trembled with fear.  Immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, “Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid.” But Peter, answering him said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to go to you upon the water.”  And he said, “Come.”   What?  Was Peter testing the ghost to see how he would react?  If he was so sure the ghost was no ghost at all, but was Jesus, why would he say such a thing?

Surely he wasn’t testing Jesus?  Do you suppose he was testing himself? It wouldn’t have been much of a test.  He was a fisherman and an accomplished swimmer; he wouldn’t have panicked at the thought of having to swim back to the boat.  But he got more than he was bargaining for; someone, or something was grabbing hold of his foot and pulling him under.  At the call of his Master he’d left the boat, and now, standing at his Lord and Savior’s side, he was being dragged under, pulled out of sight!  What kind of thoughts were going through his head?  What could Peter possibly have been thinking?

Peter was a follower of Jesus.  He knew him, or at least he thought he knew him.  He trusted in Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior sent by God himself.  When he saw his Lord and Savior and Jesus called to him, Peter’s trust, Peter’s faith, made him do something miraculous.  Peter’s faith always made him do the miraculous.  And now, he even walked on water.  He stepped out of the boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, in a huge storm, and rushed over to his Savior’s side … walking on top of the water; but all that changed as the wind and the waves knocked holes in his faith and he began to sink.  Only the firm grip of the Savior prevented him from drowning in sin and disbelief.

Peter trusted in what he knew; in what was seen, but not in what was unseen.  He trusted in the Lord and Savior who he could see, but not in the words that he couldn’t see.  The Words of Jesus … creating words … were with Peter as he got out of the boat, producing faith in Peter’s heart; and by faith Peter was able to do miraculous things, even walk on water.  But, who was that faith in; a Savior sent from God, or a Savior who was God?

Peter trusted in what he’d been taught.  He trusted that God would send a Messiah, a Savior, to rescue his people from hunger and sickness and oppression; and Jesus was definitely all of that.  But Jesus was much more than that.  Jesus had come to do what only God could do, to save his people from their sins; and he could do all that because he wasn’t just a messenger sent from God, he was God himself, God in the flesh!  God the Creator whose Word is always a creating word.  The Creator whose Word fills his people with saving faith.

By that faith, Peter was doing miraculous things, but he doubted that he could.  He doubted that God could make him do the miraculous; and in his doubting, the ability to do the miraculous left him, because his faith in Jesus’ words left him.  Oh, he still had faith in Jesus, as his Messiah.  He even called out to him in that very moment of fear and danger, “Lord, save me”.  He needed to be saved.  He needed to have his faith rekindled, because his trust in the unseen, in the Word, wasn’t there.

We’re a lot like Peter.  We’re followers of Jesus.  We do have faith in the Words of Jesus, and with that faith, God enables us to do miraculous things; but sometimes the storms of life make us lose hope in the words of Jesus and the storm grabs hold of us and begins to drag us under in sin.  Our faith, in Jesus and his Words of promise, is a gift from God that Satan constantly tries to take away from us.  We may be believers, but we still need to keep our eyes on Jesus, hearing his Word that keeps our faith strong.  Satan would love nothing better than to make us distrust the words of Jesus, to pull us under, to drive us into the depths of sin.

He uses the persecution of the world, our own deep rooted desire to independently make our own way, and his own deceitful lies to make us question the truth that God reveals to us in his Word, making us doubt that we’re truly forgiven, making us question the need to trust in God at all; shredding every bit of that miraculous faith, every bit of trust we every had in our Lord and Savior.  And when the trust is gone, he replaces it with fear; fear that destroys the miraculous, fear that makes us give up on God, thinking our troubles are too great even for him to solve; fear that makes us close our eyes to God and slip away from him.

But even though we may let go of his grasp, Christ Jesus never leaves our side.  He’s always there reaching out to us, forgiving us, despite our sin.  He’s always there ready to grab hold of us, lifting us out of the murky waters of sin that we find ourselves sinking into without any hope of recovery; grabbing hold of us just as he grabbed hold of Peter, and with his healing touch, restoring our faith, just as he restored Peter’s.

The Lord did much more than merely lift Peter out of the water.  He wasn’t just physically restoring him, he was spiritually restoring him.  You see, the only thing that enabled Peter to walk on water in the first place was his faith in Jesus; and when doubt crept in he began to sink.  It was our Savior’s touch that restored Peter’s faith; so much so that he was able to walk, on his own, back to the boat.  Our text doesn’t say Jesus carried Peter back to the boat does it?  No, the Lord restored Peter’s faith; and in renewed faith, he was able to walk on water again.

Just as Peter’s faith was renewed by the Savior’s touch, so our faith is renewed by Him.  Even today we’ll touch our Savior’s faith-renewing body and blood, strengthening us and renewing us; making us able to walk again with Him; walking without fear, across the murky depths of this sin filled world, making us able to know the joy of truly trusting in his words.

And this merciful gift, the trust we have in his words, this faith we have in his words, was made possible by our Savior’s willing, but painful, suffering and death on the cross, suffering in our place and giving us what we could never merit ourselves.  Of ourselves, we deserve God’s present and eternal punishment; and for that we certainly ought to fear.  But, for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Father forgives us, renews us, and leads us; so that we may delight in his will and walk in his ways to the glory of his holy name.

He sent his Holy Spirit to us, giving us saving faith; giving us the faith we need to trust in him for a lifetime.  This is the faith he gives as we hear his Word, the faith he builds as we hear his Word, the faith that’s ours by God’s grace and mercy alone.

And as we hear his Word, we hear the miraculous good news that he’s with us forever; in his Word that lasts forever, in his Sacraments that last forever; with forgiveness that’s ours forever; forgiveness that’s ours as we daily remember our Baptism, where water and the Word made us his own, forgiveness that’s ours in the Sacrament of the Altar where his body and blood are given to us, making us one with him.

That’s what worship is all about; hearing the comforting message that God gives to us today; hearing that Jesus comes to us even though we’re sinking in our sin.  He comes to us and rescues us, from sin, death, and the power of the devil; redeeming us not with silver and gold, but with His own precious body and blood.  And why?  That we might not perish eternally, but be His own and live under Him in his kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

This is why we’re in this sanctuary today, because God has given us the gift of faith, and we trust in him.  This is where we go to find true and lasting peace when the storms of life threaten to make us sink into the murky waters of sin.  This is the boat to which we return for true comfort and safety, led by our Savior’s guiding hand.

That’s what worshiping God is all about; through his Word and sacraments, feeling our Savior reach out and touch us, as we hear Jesus say: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”   Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

A Sermon for Series A Proper 13 2017 “Economics and Grace”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah 55:1-5

Second Lesson  Romans 9:1-5

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 14:13-21 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [Matt. 14:13-21]

I’m definitely dating myself, but I can remember when the Dow Jones Industrials were a whopping 3000.  And I remember when the economic experts, the talking heads, were saying that the Dow would never ever go above 8000.  And I remember when the thought of the Dow being over 20,000 was unthinkable.  But all that is in the past.

Some people say the market is vastly overinflated, and someday there’ll be a huge correction as we get back to reality, and stocks again reflect the true value of the companies they represent.  That type of speculation fuels investors’ nervousness, and certainly the day-to-day ups and downs of the stock market are effected by the worries and the anxiety of major investors; but the bedrock of the marketplace has always been supply and demand.

Supply and demand really has a big effect on our lives. It can make us unconsciously limit our choices, and place a sort of self-imposed rationing on ourselves.  We worry about the scarcity of goods and services.  We fret over waste and perceived extravagances.  We get anxious about how much certain essentials like gasoline and energy will be costing in the near future.  And all this deliberating can make life feel overwhelming.

Imagine if God worked by supply and demand.  Would the supply side ever find itself limited or overwhelmed by demand?  If God’s grace had a max, or a cap on it; would sins only be forgiven up to the limit and no further?  I guess we could just curb our desires and reduce our sinfulness to stay under the cap.  We’re used to supply and demand, we understand rationing and limiting.

If we were really good at limiting our sin maybe we could even sell credit; you know, like those carbon credits the small polluting companies can sell to the larger polluters to minimize the taxes and penalties the government levies on them.  Small sinners could sell credit to big sinners and everyone would be saved.

But what if God applied his grace in a limited, but universal sort of way, and those big sinners used up so much of God’s grace that there was none left for you, even though you’d been so good, limiting your sinning and rationing those displeasing thoughts, words, and deeds?  What then?

Would God condemn you, even though you played by the rules?  Well, if God worked by the rules of supply and demand … he would.  But God doesn’t work by the rules of supply and demand.  God, our God, works in ways that are not our ways.  He knows the demand of sin is limitless and undeserving of any grace whatsoever; but even so, he sent his Son.

He sent his Son, his only Son whom he loved, and he sacrificed him in the place of those whose sin condemned them; and with this sacrifice, he forgave the sins of all mankind.  For the sake of his Son, all sin is forgiven; without limit, without ration.

In the feeding of the five thousand, one of the great miracles of Jesus, we see God’s ways collide with man’s ways and we discover that, thankfully for us, God does not abide by the rules of supply and demand.  God’s view of a good sound economy is not our view at all.

Mankind is very needy; and God knows it.  Its demands are very high.  Five thousand men, not including women and children; that means there were more like twenty thousand people trekking deep into the wilderness, bringing their sick, and I’m sure not so ambulatory, relatives in the hope that Jesus would cure them; and he did.  No one was charged for this service, not even a deductible or co-pay was charged.  High demand, endless supply.

And after all the sick were cured, and the teaching was finished, it was too late to expect this throng to make their way back out of the wilderness to find food; so Jesus told his disciples to feed them; and, through Jesus, they fed them all.  Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.

He fed them, until they were satisfied; and these weren’t people on a diet, or light eaters.  These were people who ate until they stuffed themselves, until they could eat no more.  That’s what the word we translate ‘satisfied’ truly means; it’s a Greek word that’s used to describe how hungry animals eat!  No rationing, no limitations, full satisfaction.  Everyone got all they wanted, not just the bare necessities, but feasting, gorging themselves.

After the feast, twelve baskets full still remained; one full basket for each of the twelve apostles.  Their Lord and master was showing them, with this sign, that no matter how often, no matter how much of his blessing they gave to their neighbors their lives, their baskets, would still be filled to the brim with his love and blessings for them.  No matter how much forgiveness we give, God’s forgiveness, for us, is still full and complete in our lives.

The feeding of the five thousand shows us that God doesn’t abide by the rules of supply and demand.  His mercy and grace are superabundant, never failing, always there for us.  And his grace and mercy extends to all mankind.  Despite the many who reject him, God would not have even one sinner lost.

Even as he fed their stomachs, Christ Jesus fed their souls; teaching them, giving them the Word of God, the proclamation that in him the kingdom of God had come down to earth and was walking among them.  This miracle was the fulfillment of a covenantal promise made over seven hundred years before Jesus was born; a covenantal promise made by God to all people in all time; and that means it’s a promise he made to you and me too.

Jesus fulfilled what Isaiah had prophesied when he said: “Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and you labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live….

God gives us his grace, his mercy, his love …without limit, without ration, without any strings attached.  We are creatures driven by supply and demand, but God is not.  We know our sin and we know our need, our demand, for forgiveness, and it is great; but never worry that your sin is too great for his full and complete forgiveness.  God’s love is always greater.

Today we will eat and drink and be satisfied; satisfied with the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  We will eat without money, without price.  We will eat what is good and delight ourselves in the rich food of God’s forgiveness.  Today, as Christ continues to miraculously feed his people; we step into scripture and join the five thousand, filled with God’s grace and mercy.

Today we see that he has come down from heaven to earth to rescue us, to be present with us; and that’s the greatest miracle of all.

Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

 

A Sermon for Series A Proper 12 2017 “The Charges Against Us”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Deuteronomy 7:6-9

Second Lesson  Romans 8:28-39

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 13:44-52 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Epistle lesson just read.  [Romans 8:28-39]

Did you happen to see the Lutheran Reporter this month?  On the front page was a picture of the Rev. Gregory P. Seltz, the speaker of the Lutheran Hour.  Or, I should say, the former speaker of the Lutheran Hour, because he’s accepted a call to be the first ever Executive Director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty in Washington D.C.

You might ask what that’s got to do with the Epistle reading today.  You might ask if it’s appropriate to talk politics from the pulpit; and I would tell you, “No!”  It’s never appropriate to talk politics from the pulpit.  The pulpit is the place we hear God’s word applied to our lives; not Republican lives, not Democrat lives, not Libertarian or Alt-Right or Alt-Left lives, but Christian lives.

Lives lived as followers of Christ; lives in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.  The lives of those who’ve lost their lives given over to sin and now, having been reborn of water and the Spirit, live lives led by God.

And so, again, you may be asking what the new Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty has to do with the Epistle today.  This ‘Center’ is placed in our nation’s capital to ensure the voices of our churches, schools, and universities are heard; voices that stand firm in the faith despite being surrounded by a society that persecutes them for proclaiming Christ crucified and risen.

Now, that’s not what you hear in the news is it?  In the news we hear about Supreme Court rulings in favor of a Lutheran school in Missouri that claimed discrimination because the state wouldn’t give them the same funding as public and other private schools in order to improve the safety of their playground (because they were owned by a church).

In the news you hear about Christian bakery owners in Oregon who lost their business because the state said they discriminated against people based on their sexual preference when they wouldn’t participate in a gay wedding by creating a wedding cake for the reception.  You hear about a Christian florist in Kennewick Washington who is being tried for discrimination for not participating in a similar wedding by creating floral arrangements for the event.

You hear about Christian schools and churches being taken to task for not having gender neutral bathrooms.  You hear Christians called intolerant, hateful, backward-thinking, and anti-progressive because we don’t conform to the views of society.

But this is nothing new; the church has always been counter-cultural.  Christ Jesus lived a life that was counter-cultural, and we’re his followers.  This is not an easy thing.  This is not even a very safe thing in our world today.  To be counter-cultural is to be open for persecution, for rejection, for much more than simple criticism; and yet, counter-cultural we must be.  We must follow God and not man.

But even so, do we really need a Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty in Washington D.C.?  What about the words we heard in the Epistle today?  Don’t they count?  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  And again: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?

God is for us, and yet, our society does bring charges against us.  We’re charged with being against women’s rights because we oppose abortion.  We’re charged with being haters and homophobic because we oppose gay marriage.  And, we’re charged with being backward, ignoring modern scientific proofs in favor of outdated scientific evidence, because we oppose laws that say gender is a matter of personal mind and conscience, not a matter of God’s physical creation.

These charges are meant to vilify our counter-cultural worldview; but the charges ignore scripture.  It’s not coincidence that abortion rises in a culture that rejects the Christchild. Every child is sacred through Christ, the one through whom the world was created, and the one who entered the womb of Mary. Every marriage is sacred.  It’s the way through which God creates, even now; and it’s doubly sacred by Christ, who changed water into wine, blessing marriage, and anticipating the Lord’s Supper, the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb.

As Christians, we know that every birth is the celebration of the Christchild, and every marriage a celebration of Christ our Groom. Our own life is not separate, or an ‘add-on’, or a living out of a code. Christ is our life, and our lives are wrapped up in him. God has written his law on our hearts and we know that this law is much more than a command or injunction, but it’s life itself, our living in Christ into whom we are baptized.

Life matters, because it’s Christ who is the life, not as an ‘add-on’, but as the essence of life, like the vine is to its branches, like a body is to its head. To abort the child or to distort marriage is to abort the Christchild and to divorce oneself from Christ himself.

When we proclaim Christ to the world, these are the truths that we confess.  When we follow Christ, our voices must be heard; for the good of our neighbors, for their salvation. The Apostle Paul told us: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Sometimes working together for the good doesn’t come easy; but we are called, not just invited, but summonsed, commissioned, enlisted, by God himself, and as followers of Christ we must heed the call.

Again Paul asks us: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  And yet it seems that they do bring charges, and they do condemn; but they bring their charges to human judges.  We are judged by the only true judge, God himself; and he doesn’t accept the charges of men because he’s already justified us; and for the sake of his Son, in his eyes we’re acquitted of all our sins.  For the sake of his Son, all your sins are forgiven.

God has called us to be counter-cultural.  He’s called us for his purpose and he’ll ensure his purpose gets done.  In his holy Word, God has given us both Law and Gospel.  The Law teaches us what we are and what we are not to do; the Gospel teaches us what God has done, and still does, for our salvation.  And so our voices must be heard speaking both Law and Gospel.  The Law doesn’t make us very popular.  It often brings persecution and rejection.  But both are necessary to proclaim Christ crucified and risen.

The charges against us are like burning arrows piercing our flesh, but the victory is ours because we are in Christ.  Christ has promised to be with us always, not just on Sunday during worship and Bible study but always; and because we are in Christ, Paul can say to us: I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

A Sermon for Series A Proper 11 2017 “A New Parable”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah  44:6-8

Second Lesson  Romans  8:18-27

Gospel Lesson  Matthew  13:24-30, 36-43

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the gospel lesson just read.  [Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43]

What a year this has been.  A long wet winter, a short, cool, and wet spring; just the right environment to encourage every kind of weed and grass to grow and thrive.  I got rid of the moss right away, but then came the grasses and the flowering weeds.  It got so bad I finally decided to just dig in and remove all the grass under our tree by the drive way.  Never mind the bulbs that were there too.  Some of them would survive; and if they didn’t, we could just start over next year.  But, for sure, the tall grass and the weeds would be gone.

That all happened about a week before I read the gospel lesson for today; and as I read, I realized, God often gives us visual reminders of the wisdom he teaches in his word.  My frustration with the grasses and weeds; and my slash and burn response to that frustration was one of those reminders.  God’s wisdom is beyond our understanding. God’s response is nothing like my response; and, I suspect, nothing like any of our responses.

With that in mind, I have a parable to tell you today:  A man prepared his garden for planting.  He amended the soil.  He made it rich and he personally chose the seeds to plant in this rich fertile soil; but there was one problem; this soil was also great for growing weeds, and weeds and weed seed was all around the garden plot.

He planted perennials and he planted bulbs; plants that would return season after season; and as the plants began to grow and mature, he saw that the weeds were growing right alongside of them. He could see the weeds and he could even distinguish the weeds from the good plants; but the weeds were growing so close to the good plants that the man was sure that pulling the weeds would result in pulling out some of the good plants too.

Now, this man was a Master Gardener.  He knew all the best techniques for removing weeds from a garden.  He had just the right touch, and he could loosen the soil just right so that the weed roots that had intertwined with the roots of the good plants could be untangling from the good roots without harming the good plants.

But even so, he knew that there was always a chance that the good plants might be harmed as he forced the weeds out, and so he left the weeds to grow alongside the good plants.  He knew that the good plants wouldn’t get choked out by the weeds.  He knew that the good plants would survive even though the weeds would suck many of the nutrients out of the soil, nutrients meant for the good plants.

As the season began to come to an end, the perennial good plants dropped their seed, the bulbs became dormant and the weeds died back.  The weeds that season had made the garden look a little rough around the edges, but they didn’t destroy the garden; in fact the good plants grew back the next season, still resisting the weeds, and their seed had made them multiply!  The bulbs came back hardy and had split, multiplying themselves too.  And the number of flowers in the garden grew despite the weeds.

That’s the parable I have for you today.  It differs from the parable we heard in the gospel reading doesn’t it?  The garden in this parable was filled with flowers; the field in the gospel parable was filled with grain.  The weeds were distinguishable from the plants in today’s parable, but the weeds were tough to identify in the gospel.  At the end of the season, the gardener let his plants go to seed or go dormant, waiting for another season; but the gospel parable ended in a harvest.

In the gospel parable, at the harvest, everything was picked, weeds and plants alike.  Everything was cut off from the earth and the fruits of the harvest were brought in to become the sower’s possession.  The weeds were separated from the good grain and they were burned.

That sounds pretty final; because it is final.  It’s Judgment Day; the day all mankind will be called to account.  But that’s not how the garden in today’s parable works.  That’s not how our garden works here at Peace Lutheran Church and School.

We have perennials that seem to die as they sense the soil is getting cold, but then come back when the soil warms up again.  We have weeds that crop up for a season, but then die … and yes some of those weeds reappear the next season.  Those weeds remind us that we still have work to do; new work, new challenges.  We have a lot of gardening to do before that final day.

The gospel parable, with its angelic harvest, is meant to encourage us; to point out to us that although we live among the weeds, weeds that we don’t even recognize as weeds, weeds that try to choke the life out of us and steal the blessings that were meant for us, in the end … on that final day, they’ll be seen for what they truly are; and they’ll be harvested; not to become the possession of the Master; not to be the possession of God, but to be separated from God and from the faithful and to be sent to the fire that burns for all eternity.

That parable reminds us that it’s God who distinguishes between the weeds and the good seed … not us.  It reminds us that what looks like a weed to us may, in the end, be good; and we should never assume that someone is a weed and destined for the fire.  Our job is not to judge our brothers and sisters, but to show the love of Christ to all people, no matter what their appearance may be; no matter what kind of attitude they may present.

Today’s parable is meant to encourage us too; to point out to us that although we live among weeds, the kingdom will continue to grow among us.  This garden we call Peace Lutheran Church and School is only a part of a much larger garden called the Kingdom of God.

That garden is filled with all sorts of good plants; annuals that last for just a little while and then are taken to be with the Lord; perennials that are with us for a season and then drop their seed, moving on to another part of God’s garden, but leaving behind their fruit, their seed, so that next season, new plants appear; and our garden has bulbs that stay put right here, and continue to produce, right where they were planted, season after season.

In this part of the garden there are also strange new plants.  Plants that look different than the plants that have been in the garden for oh so many years.  Plants that we might mistake for weeds if we judged them; but that’s not ours to do.  God alone can look into the hearts of sinners.  God alone can know when we’ve been crushed by our sin and we’re ready for the gospel.  God alone calls a weed a weed.

So don’t worry about how the garden is growing.  It grows in ways we don’t even see, because the Peace Lutheran Church and School portion of God’s garden isn’t just inside this building.  Its perennials have scattered seed all over God’s garden, while its bulbs are bearing fruit and beautifying his garden in this place, in Bremerton and Silverdale and Port Orchard and Poulsbo.

God is patient; and he’s willing to let weeds grow among us.  Who knows, maybe the one we think is a weed will just turn out to be a late bloomer.  Who knows, maybe you or me are ones that looked like weeds but bloomed later.

God has given us a parable to live in … and it runs in cycles; a parable that God renews and refreshes season after season.  Let God take care of the harvest that will surely come in his good time.  Trust in him and work humbly where he’s planted you, showing the love of Christ to all people.  It’s enough to know that you’re in his garden and that he cares for you.  It’s enough to know that he’s the one in charge of the garden and the harvest too.

Be patient and grow in Christ; remembering that although we may only be plants in the garden, we’re producing for the Lord of the Harvest himself.  The weeds will not triumph.  God is working out his plan.  We have God’s promise on it … and he will surely do it.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

A Sermon for Series A Proper 10 2017 “The Landscaper”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah 55:10-13

Second Lesson  Romans 8:12-17

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23]

There was a man who loved gardening.  His vocation brought him to Washington State; to Kitsap County.  He bought a house with a glorious view of the Olympic Mountains and Kitsap Lake.  He was really excited about the house, and the view; but he wasn’t too excited about the yard.

It was a small yard, mostly rolling berms covered in bark with lavender bushes here and there; and the little bit of grass he had in the yard was dry and brown.  He tried to make it green up, but it was more than he could handle. So he hired a landscaper to turn his little part of this parched land into a garden wonder land.

The landscaper would put in sod and flowers, and a beautiful tree in the front yard; and in the back he would terrace the hillside that was washing away with every rainstorm; and most importantly he would put in a space for a garden and prepare it for herbs and vegetables.

The landscaper began removing the parched dry grass and soon realized that the soil was little more than rocks and decomposing rock.  It wasn’t just rocky, it was rock.  He couldn’t move it with a shovel, and so he brought out his pick-axe and chipped away the hillside, leaving the chewed up, pulverized, rock to be used in the garden.  That was all the owner wanted done.

You see, the owner had no idea what he was getting into.  He was from Nebraska, and he assumed the soil would be like the soil he was used to back home.  He was very excited.  He couldn’t wait to put in his garden.  He had great expectations for the garden.  It was going to be fruitful, and the owner would enjoy seeing the fruits of his labor as the garden matured.

When the man told the landscaper how excited he was, and how he longed to nurture the plants, making them fruitful, the landscaper was cut to the heart.  He knew that the soil left behind from the terracing was lifeless. He knew that any seeds planted in this garden would be competing with weeds and the seeds would struggle because no matter how well the seeds were watered, the soil wouldn’t retain any moisture.  Worst of all, because this house was on the edge of town and so close to the lake, the bird population was huge and so was their appetite.  They’d easily peck through this poor soil and feast on the seeds.

Although it wasn’t a part of the contract, the landscaper brought in good, rich, soil and filled the garden with it.  The owner was nervous.  He knew he hadn’t asked for this, and he became suspicious that the bill was going to get a lot bigger, so in his doubt and distrust, he confronted the landscaper and asked him why he was adding all this deep rich soil to the garden.  The landscaper told him not to worry, the soil was a gift and he didn’t owe him a thing.

He knew the man wanted the garden to be fruitful, and he knew that the man didn’t understand just how worthless the soil he had to work with was.  Without the gift from the landscaper, the garden would have been a failure; but because the landscaper had mercy on the homeowner, the garden was fruitful for as long as the man lived there.

Our lives are like that garden.  God plants us in the world to grow where he intends us to be.  He plants us in a world corrupted by sin, a world that’s dry and lifeless.  And although he plants us, we challenge his nurturing.  Our hearts are hardened by our sinful nature and we resist his care.

We misuse the reason he created us with and use it not to understand, but to twist and bend his holy Word.  We try to explain away his miracles and the mysterious great works he’s recorded for us in scripture; excusing them as well intentioned exaggerations or attributing them to naturally occurring phenomena misunderstood by a people lacking in scientific know how.  But despite our distrust, despite our lack of faith, God comes to us and uses us according to his will.

God places us where he wants us; sometimes placing us where the soil has no life; so if we go it on our own, our spirit weakens and at the first sign of tribulation or persecution, we wither away.  And wouldn’t you know it, in this lifeless soil; we may not thrive, but the weeds sure do well.  Weeds of social immorality grow ever stronger, sucking up the water and scarce nutrients available so that our voice seems to be choked out.  And when our voice is heard, the truth we proclaim is twisted as the very ones who proclaim the truth are accused of bigotry and causing dissension and division.

God placed us in unique and challenging places; not cushy easy places, but places requiring endurance and steadfastness and strength; places where we see others driven from his word, driven deeper and deeper into lives controlled by sin, deeper into the grip of the other sower, Satan himself; literally being devoured by the messengers of Satan … like birds plucking seed from dry ground.

God has planted us in the world, a harsh sin filled place where it’s hard to survive; hard without God’s intervention; impossible without God’s gift.  But, God gives us the gift of faith; rich, fertile faith, deep and well watered; faith filled with nutrients essential for life, faith that drinks in the water of life and holds on to it, faith fed by his own Son’s body and blood sacrificed for us on the cross, sacrificed in our place, sacrificed so that we might live through him and never die; but live with him eternally.

Our lives are fruitful because of God’s gifts; the gift of his Son that ensures us forgiveness of all our sins; the gift of faith, brought to us by his Holy Spirit through his holy Word; the gift that reveals our Savior to us, the Way of our salvation to us, and reveals our vocations planned for us by God even before we were born.

Our lives are fruitful because God’s Spirit continues to work through us.  He dwells in us, making us strong despite poor soil, and weeds, and the relentless heat of the sun surrounding us.  He leads us and directs us, planting us wherever he desires, surrounding us with plants that are dying in lifeless soil, and giving us the words of life, his Words, to give to those plants, so that the kingdom grows as life is poured into these new plants.

And so, through the Spirit, we bear fruit; sometimes a hundredfold, sometimes sixty, sometimes thirty.  Don’t be discouraged when the kingdom doesn’t seem to grow as quickly as you think it should.  Remember, we’re the plants, not the gardener.  We grow because of his gift, and although he prunes us and places us near others who need pollinating, it’s still him who does the work.  Plants don’t direct the gardener; they trust in him, they gladly accept his pruning, and they produce as he makes them able.

We live in a desolate land, parched and hardened; but we shouldn’t be discouraged.  The difficulties we face are reason to rejoice.  You see, the birds, the rocks, the thin soil, the thorns, are all signs that Satan is at work, attempting to cut off what God has planted; so when we see difficult times, we know for sure that God is at work.

God has planted us and he will make us fruitful.  He feeds us.  He prunes and waters and nurtures us; and we will bear fruit.  A hundredfold, sixty, thirty …just trust in him … we’re in his garden … he’s the Landscaper and he’s the Master Gardener.  He’ll make us fruitful.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

A Sermon for Series A Proper 9 2017 “We’re too smart for our own good”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Zechariah 9:9-12

Second Lesson  Romans 7:14-25a

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 11:25-30 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Matt. 11:25-30]

When someone thinks they know it all, we sometimes say, “He’s too smart for his own good.”  That’s what Jesus is saying in the gospel lesson today.  “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”

Not that our Lord and Savior would have us blindly follow him, but when we let our reason lord it over scripture; telling ourselves that certain parts of scripture couldn’t possibly be true, or that these things we call miracles are just the author’s imagination working overtime to convince us of the majesty and greatness of our God; then we do more than use our reason to understand.

We place ourselves in the position of the wise, no longer living in child-like trust, trusting in the wisdom of God, but banking on our own human wisdom.  We stop being children of God and start being mediators for God.  We take on the role of judge and jury.  We decide what’s true and false; … as if, in all eternity, God would ever utter a false word.

We become too smart for our own good, and in our wisdom, the things the Holy Spirit has revealed to us become hidden.  Oh, they’re still there, in plain sight.  We just can’t see them anymore; because our sinful nature has robbed us of our sight; our spiritual sight, given to us by the childlike faith that the Spirit gave us as we first believed in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Our Savior’s there; he’s hiding in plain sight; but because we’re too smart for our own good, we can’t see him.  We don’t go to him for help.  Instead we’re stuck using our own wisdom to solve life’s problems. … How’s that working for you?

You may not even see that you’re out there looking for help, looking for a way to overcome the challenges of life, looking for a way to turn things around; a way to forgive the one who hurt you, a way to become more willing to help those who continually refuse your help but really need it, a way to stop longing for the things that aren’t yours and to be satisfied with the blessings you’ve been given.

We struggle with these kinds of things too often.  We’re out there looking for the answer; and we look right past him, not even considering that he holds the solution to our problems, not considering that he is the solution to our problems.  We look right past the one who can do it all, the only one who’s already done it all, and we continue to search and seek for the solution to our problems on our own.  We’re too smart for our own good.

Our human reason is easily controlled by our sinful nature, and sin is powerful, it works behind the scenes, quietly putting all sorts of clutter in the way; lots of things, things that keep our lives too busy to see that everything we have and everything we need comes from his love for us; clutter that heaps up until the things that clutter our lives become more important than the one who provides them to us.

Our sinful nature just loves it when we use our own wisdom to solve the problems of life; because when we use our own ‘sin corrupted’ wisdom, the solutions we come up with are corrupted by sin too.  And when the solution is corrupted, it only fixes things temporarily.

But temporary or not, in our wisdom we press on, coming up with new and better solutions when the old ones fail.  We keep seeking, searching, but our sin makes us look in all the wrong places.  Our reason tells us that we can find solutions by looking at good examples, and so we look to people we admire and we model ourselves after them, but sooner or later they fail us … because they’re sinners too.

We look to other religions, reasoning that God’s put at least some part of the truth in all religions.  We look at books on self improvement, self enlightenment; we try all sorts of things, but none of them last; none of them bring lasting peace, lasting joy.

We need to look to God for the answers.  We need to use our wisdom for what God intended.  We need to read his holy Word in faith, trusting in it, not critically analyzing its validity, but seeking to understand how it applies to our lives.  We need a childlike faith that trusts in God and prays to him for the answers.

The only way to overcome the challenges of this life is through faith, faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Of course our reason tells us it’s not logical to let God be in charge.  We can do this ourselves. Our reason tells us to look somewhere else, everywhere else; but as far as the eye can see, the world is filled with corruption.  Sin has corrupted all of creation.  We can’t find a solution to our problems there, not in created men, not in created things.

Salvation, the ultimate solution to all our problems, comes through Christ alone; not from anything made or left unmade by man, not by anything we do or don’t do, but by the grace of God alone.  That’s why it was necessary, that’s why it was good, right, and salutary that God’s only Son came down from heaven and became a man; bringing God’s grace and mercy.  That’s why he had to suffer and die on a cross; in our place, with our sins upon him, because that was the only way to overcome the challenges of this world, the sin in this world, the prince of this world; the only way to deliver God’s grace.  And in his death and resurrection, Christ Jesus did just that.

In his death and resurrection, all our sins were forgiven, the power of Satan was destroyed and with him sin and death were conquered forever.  We didn’t figure this out using our wisdom; no, it was all revealed to us through faith, childlike faith; faith that was given to us by the Holy Spirit.  There’s no amount of clutter, no amount of lies and deceits that can cover his glory, no amount of misdirection coming from human invention that can turn us away from him any more.

God has given us the faith we need to believe in him, and believing in him we know him; believing in him we see him clearly despite all the challenges that threaten to distract us.  In childlike faith, we see the Son, because by that faith God recreates us and sin no longer blinds us, sin no longer clouds our lives.

God has opened our eyes to a new life, a life that’s ours right now.  Through his Word and Sacraments, God’s gifts are ours today.  From his throne at the right hand of his Father, Christ showers us with blessings that are new every morning of our lives.  With his own body and blood he strengthens us to keep us in his kingdom, from this day forward and all the way to eternal life with him.

Life is filled with major struggles that distract us and wear us down; and our wisdom tells us that it’s up to us to solve these problems, on our own.  But when we use our wisdom alone, life becomes one big blur, and we lose sight of our Lord; we forget he’s even there.  By giving us childlike faith, he reestablishes contact with us; and through faith, not human wisdom, the clutter gets cleared away.

Faith is the key that opens our eyes to reveal our Savior to us; to see that he’s come to us, righteous and having salvation; to see that he’s come to us filled with power that destroys sin and death; to see that he’s come to us, giving us childlike faith, so that, just like a little child, we trust in him for the answers, because, of ourselves, we’re too smart for our own good.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

Sermon for Series A Proper 8 2017 “What a Friend”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Jeremiah 28:5-9

Second Lesson  Romans 7:1-13

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 10:34-42

Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Matthew 10:34-42]

We all love to sing Jesus Loves Me, this I know and What a Friend we have in Jesus. And the Gospel tells us of the immeasurable, inconceivably bountiful love that God has for us; so great that he chose to sacrifice his only begotten Son for us.  So how do we find agreement between that love and the words of Jesus in the Gospel lesson today?

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

These are strong words, harsh words, words we’re not used to hearing from Jesus.  We don’t like these words.  We don’t want these words.  We don’t want to hear them at all!  They confuse us.  They upset us.  They demand a lot out of us.  And haven’t we been taught that we’re saved by grace alone, through faith, apart from any works of our own?

If I’m hearing him right, I think Jesus is requiring us to show our love for him before he’ll declare us worthy.  I think Jesus is requiring us to carry our own cross and follow him as a prerequisite to being declared worthy in him!

That sure sounds like works to me!  I don’t know about you, but that scares me; because it doesn’t sound like this is a one-time deal.  If I’m going to be a follower of Jesus, if I’m going to be saved, if I’m going to be worthy; then this sounds like a full time job, for the rest of my life!

Don’t get me wrong; I understand this salvation thing is ongoing, and I understand I’m not ‘once saved, always saved’.  I even understand that faith without works is dead.  Jesus brother James taught us that in his New Testament epistle.

But, I get hung up on this word ‘worthy’.  What if I’m worthy today and unworthy tomorrow?  I mean, I’m in rare form today.  I’m worshiping, I’m praying, I’m praising God.  The pastor just pronounced the absolution for all my sins.  But, what about tomorrow?  What if I have a bad day?  What if my sinful nature gets the best of me and I fail?

Life was a whole lot easier when I went around humming Jesus loves me, this I know.

All right, enough of this role playing.  Enough of this dialogue meant to get you thinking about the meaning of worthiness.  Here it is, straight out: Jesus is telling us that no one on earth can save us from our sins, no matter how genuine they are, no matter how hard they try.  And that means we can’t trust in others to save us.  This lack of ability to trust is bound to cause an uproar; especially when the ones we know we can’t trust, for salvation, are the very family members we love and have trusted, for everything, throughout our lives.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

When Christ’s Holy Spirit works saving faith in us, it’s bound to cause tension and division.  When we have faith in Jesus, and that faith causes us to put him before our very own families; there will be man set against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Jesus is telling us that being a believer is a complete commitment.  Greater than family, and greater than anything else in life.  It’s a full time occupation.  The Holy Spirit brings us to repentance by showing us just how impossible it is for us to save ourselves.  He gives us the realization of the depth of our sin, and the realization of the hopelessness, the lack of ability, we have to rectify our situation.

And in the moment that we’re crushed by that revelation, we know that we need to turn our lives around, but we know that we’re not capable of doing it.  That’s repentance; the desire to turn from our sinfulness, and the acknowledgment that we can’t do this ourselves.

This ‘turned around life’ isn’t wishy-washy, it’s hard and fast commitment albeit a commitment that, thanks to the Holy Spirit, we can do and make gladly.  That’s what Jesus is telling us when he says, Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

But, let’s not just dwell on the strong words, the harsh words, the words we’re not used to hearing from Jesus.  Listen to what he says next: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.  The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Now that we believe in Jesus as our Savior, now that the Holy Spirit is in charge of our lives, he’s going to do great things with us!  Now, as the Spirit gives us the words to speak, those who listen to us will know the Father as surely as we do!

Now, the one who believes us as we proclaim the truth, will be used by the Spirit to tell others too.  That’s the prophet’s reward.  Now, the one who recognizes our service to them will be given the ability to serve in righteousness too; and as they aid us in sharing the love of Christ, they’ll surely be blessed too.

Sometimes the facts sound strong.  Sometimes they sound harsh.  But, when you know the one who’s speaking, and that One is Jesus, You know he speaks the truth … in love.  You know his words are meant to deliver what’s best for you.

Looking past the harshness, the strong sense of these words, you see that salvation is not based on what you do or don’t do.  Salvation is based on Christ and his work.  You’re worthy because you’re in Christ and he makes you worthy every day of your life.

With his Word and with water, he makes you lose your sinful life, and as you rise from the Baptismal font you find he gives you new life.  He gives you the commitment you need to take up your cross and follow him.  He does it all; because Jesus does love you.

What a friend you have in Jesus.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle