A Sermon for Series A Proper 16 2017 – My Last Sermon as Pastor “Built on the Rock”

 

Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah 51:1-6

Second Lesson  Romans 11:33-12:8

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 16:13-20 

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 16:13-20]

There’s no putting it off.  This is my last sermon to you as your Pastor.  All sorts of things go flying through my head: What do I say?  What will be lasting?  What will be memorable?  Some folks have asked if I’ve picked a special passage from scripture to be the source of our meditation this day; and that would be appropriate, but it wouldn’t be me.

I’ve always believed that the theologians who put together the lectionary we follow were way smarter than me.  And so, I’ve always stuck with the lectionary.  Why would today be any different?

And so, today we hear one of the most significant passages in all of scripture.  We hear our Lord and Savior identify the very bedrock of the Church’s foundation.  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

What better words to hear, what better message to proclaim, as your pastor says goodbye.  Jesus tells us that the Rock the Church is built on is the very Son of the living God himself, the Christ, Jesus our Lord and Savior.  The Church isn’t built on a man, as some would interpret these verses, laying the foundation on Peter and those who follow in his footsteps, but on Christ himself and on the proclamation that Jesus is the Son of the living God.

And so, we have the very Lutheran reminder of the source of our salvation; given to us in scripture alone, as it teaches us that by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we are saved.

We men, women and children, we believers, are God’s treasure; but we’re certainly not capable of being the Rock, the foundation, on which the church is built.  Although we are God’s treasure, we’re sinners, every one of us; incapable of perfection, susceptible to error, and being so, certainly not worthy of being looked at as the Rock on which the Church is built.

And yet we hear Jesus say, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  What an awesome gift; the gift of forgiving … or restraining, forgiveness.  It’s a monumental task, a mountainous burden if taken upon one’s self; but a light and easy yoke to bear when the weight is given over, in faith, to Christ.

For us it would be undoable, but we’re in Christ, and in Christ we’re able to see that even this ominous  responsibility, handed over by Christ to the Church, is actually carried out by God; using the Church as his instrument in the world, the instrument by which his will is done.

And so, we see forgiveness given today as the waters of holy Baptism washed over a young child.  Not a Baptism that the pastor performs out of his piety and righteousness; and not a Baptism done by simple water; but Baptism for the forgiveness of sins performed by the Word of God in the water; as God,  true to his promise, washes, regenerates, and renews.  Forgiving sin and uniting himself with this young child, so that, by the faith God’s given him, this child has become God’s child.  This child has become Jesus’ brother.  This child, born of the flesh, has been reborn of water and the Spirit, receiving the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit and eternal life.

And following the Baptism today, we saw forgiveness given again.  Not forgiveness the pastor is able to give because of any special, inherent power residing in him, but forgiveness that’s from God himself.  When you hear me pronounce the absolution to you, it’s not the voice or word of the man who spoke it, that forgives sin, but the Word of God, for it’s spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command.

The sermon you hear is filled with God’s Word; the Law that shows us our sin and the Gospel that shows us what God has done and continues to do for our salvation. These words are God’s word applied to our lives today; God’s grace in giving his Son; expressed to us by the pastor as God’s instrument in proclaiming Christ crucified and risen.

All of this is built on the Rock, which is Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.  This liturgy, in which we say back to God what he’s first said to us in his holy Word; this sermon; these sacraments; all built on the Rock.  Not built on the pastor’s vision and plan; not built on the wisdom and learning of the pastor; not built on the pastor’s pious and righteous example; all of which fail from time to time as his sinful nature expresses itself.

No, the Church is built on Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and nothing, not even the gates of hell, will prevail against it.  Now isn’t that good news to hear today?

So what will the church do when the pastor is gone?  When the pastor is gone, the church will stand; because the church is not built on a simple man.  The church is built on Christ Jesus, the Son of the living God, the church is built on that Rock.  What did we sing today?

Built on the Rock the Church shall stand

Even when steeples are falling.

Crumbled have spires in every land;

Bells still are chiming and calling.

Calling the young and old to rest, But above all the souls distressed,

Longing for rest everlasting.

 

Here stands the font before our eyes,

Telling how God has received us.

The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice

And what His Supper here gives us.

Here sound the Scriptures that proclaim Christ yesterday, today, the same,

And evermore, our redeemer.

Humbly I say to you: It has been my great honor to be your sole pastor for over a decade now.  This is a gift that only God can give.  It hasn’t always been easy, and at times I wished I’d been stronger for you; but then I’m reminded that God is strongest in our weakness and I rejoice in my weakness.  I have watched as you and I have grown in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another, and again I’m reminded that this too is a gift from God.

A gift, for you and me, the gift of forgiveness given by God freely, to you and me.  But a gift we can never forget came at great cost to our Father in heaven.  It cost him the life of his Son, who willingly sacrificed himself for you and me.  He died that we might live … forever.

And so, as your pastor says goodbye, please listen to my words of blessing as I pray for you; not original words, but words we sang just minutes ago; not original, but prayed with authentic love for each of you:  Let us pray.

Grant then, O God, Your will be done, That, when the church bells are ringing, Many in saving faith may come Where Christ His message is bringing; “I know My own, My own know Me.  You, not the world, My face shall see.  My peace I leave with you.  Amen.”

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

 

A Sermon for Series A Proper 15 2017 “Do dogs go to heaven?”

 Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Second Lesson  Romans 11:2a, 13-15, 28-32

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 15:21-28

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 15:21-28]

It’s one of the great questions of our age; and it’s brought forth deep intellectually stimulating debate among theologians.  It’s a question, more often than not, posed by a young child: Do dogs go to heaven?

Our Gospel lesson gives us insight into the answer to this question; or at least taken out of context it seems to give us an answer.  When asked to show mercy on the daughter of a Canaanite woman, Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”.  But she persists and we hear: But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

A dog with faith …. If a dog has faith, how did it get that faith?  We know that we’re saved by grace, through faith, apart from any works; so this faith the dog has must have been a gift from God; not through anything the dog did or didn’t do.

“Even the dogs” she says ….even a dog, indeed!  You see, the Jews referred to Gentiles as dogs; or even worse, sometimes they called them stones.  Stones are dead, lifeless, and not of much use.  They’re a nuisance when you run into them in the field while you’re plowing, and you can’t do much with them.

And dogs?  This dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman does not take place in the Northwest.  Dogs were not welcome here.  In the villages of Palestine, dogs existed on scraps and they were among the lowliest creatures in the village.  And for good reason too; they didn’t do much of anything useful like donkeys, oxen, or camels.  They weren’t valued for their fur or wool like goats or sheep.  People kicked them around and treated them like they were less than nothing.

As far as the Jews were concerned, Gentiles were much the same; they were outside of the lineage of Abraham, and so they were worthless, dead, and lifeless.  And, without God, that’s what we’d be … whether stones or dogs, we’d be good for nothing, dead and lifeless.

So, the question takes on greater importance now doesn’t it?  Do dogs go to heaven?  We’d like to think all dogs go to heaven; but can we say that with confidence, with certainty?  We can say with certainty that God would not have one sinner lost.  We can read that in scripture.  But that doesn’t mean we’ll all go to heaven.

How can I be sure this dog is going to heaven?  Have I done enough to please my Master?  Did I bring him his slippers whenever he wanted them?  Did I bring him the paper?  Did I jump up and down and bark when I heard his voice and did I always show him how much I loved him?  Well, I think I did….but how can I be sure?

Did I tell other dogs about my Master?  Did I care for my Master’s house and family while he was away?  Did I encourage those others to come and meet him; or did I chase strangers away with my ferocious snarl as I did my best to keep my Master’s house safe?

Living a dog’s life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  It requires a lot of patience and the ability to push yourself to the limits at just the right time.  It takes a lot of wagging.  It takes a lot of enthusiasm; and showing that enthusiasm in a very open way.

And what happens when you age?   What happens when you become that older dog?  Can you still be certain about going to heaven?  The young dogs are all full of vim and vigor for the Master.  They’ve got the routine down … just like you used to, but now … it’s hard to jump that high.  It’s hard to jump at all.  It’s hard to wag your tail that enthusiastically all the time.  And it’s hard to bring those slippers and the newspaper like you used to (and besides, the younger dogs beat you to it most of the time).

No, the older you get, the less certain a dog can be that he or she is doing enough to make the Master happy.  And so, based on what a dog can do, the older you get, the less certain a dog can be that he’s done enough to go to heaven; if that dog’s salvation depends on what he does or doesn’t do.

Is that the way it is?  How can we know for sure?  Listen to the words of Jesus:  Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”  What did this woman, this dog, do that aroused such compassion in Jesus? All she said was, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  That’s all she was asking for: the crumbs from the Master’s table.

I’d hardly call Jesus ‘the crumbs that fall from the master’s table’, yet even a sprinkling of God’s grace, even just the crumbs from his table, is sufficient for us.  Our salvation does not depend on what we do or don’t do.  You may be a Gentile dog, but God sent his Son for you.  God showers his grace, his mercy on you; mercies that are new every morning.  Daily bread that’s sufficient to make you his for all eternity.

God sent his Son for you; to take your place in everything he did, and to do it all perfectly, for you.  God sent his Son, living the perfect life for you, and then, taking your sins, your failures, your best efforts that still fell short of perfection, he nailed them to his cross.  And as he died, saying to his Father, “It is finished.”  He cast those sins of yours as far as the east is from the west, never to be seen again.

He did it all for you.  He did it all for you dogs!  And for you he rose again, showing all the world that, in him, death was forever conquered.  Showing all the world the greatness of his mercy to all mankind; Jews and Gentiles alike.

We feast on the crumbs that fall from our Master’s table; but although they’re only crumbs, they’re sufficient for our salvation. When the body and blood of Christ, my Lord and Savior, is compared to crumbs; when the washing of regeneration that I received in the waters of Holy Baptism is compared to crumbs; when the mercies God showers down upon us, new every morning, are compared to crumbs, it can be upsetting … and yet, it doesn’t lessen their importance.

Those blessings are more than we can handle; and the fact that they’re only the crumbs of God’s grace only serves to show us how tiny a fraction of God’s grace and mercy our human minds can comprehend.

….. But then, why should that surprise us? …. We’re only dogs … Dogs who are going to heaven.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle

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