Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Mark's thoughts: What should we say about a Christian funeral?


“Funeral services are for the living, not for the dead.”  At least, that is what people often say these days.  There is, of course, an element of truth to this.  It is the living who gather at church, speak the words of the funeral liturgy, sing the hymns and listen to the sermon. They do receive comfort.

“A funeral is a celebration of life.” At least, that is what people often say these days. There is, of course, also an element of truth to this.  We do remember the life of the one who has died and give thanks for the blessings that have been present.  The Collect of the Day at the beginning of the funeral service says: “O God of grace and mercy, we give thanks for Your lovingkindness shown to  name  and to all Your servants who, having finished their course in the faith, now rest from their labors.”

Yet in the ways that really matter, both of these statements are fundamentally wrong. After all, the bulletin says that it is the “Funeral service for ….” the Christian who has died. It is the body of that Christian which is in the casket and then covered with the funeral pall at the beginning of the service.  It is the body of the Christian that is processed to the front of the nave.  It is the body of the Christian that is recessed out of the nave at the end of the service and then placed in a grave at the committal.

The bodily nature of human life must govern our thoughts about a funeral.  We learn in Genesis chapter two that, “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:8).  We are body and soul (Matthew 10:28).  We have a body and we have a soul – a personal existence that continues after death.  Yet God created us as the unity of body and soul, and only in that unity can we live the life God intends for us; the life that is “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

The body of a Christian is no less that individual than the soul.  It is not merely “a shell” that once contained what really mattered but is now of no more importance. Instead, the body is God’s creation, just as the soul is.  It is the person too.  The fact that the soul has been rent from body in death is a result of sin (Romans 6:23). But because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, we know that God is not done with that body. The placement of the funeral pall at the beginning of the funeral service is accompanied by these words:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Roman 6:3-5).

A Christian funeral is performed for a baptized Christian. Baptized Christians worship in a church where font and altar are present. That is why Christian funerals are held in church.  It is the final worship service for that Christian and so there is no other place where it could take place. 


Every worship service is an act of confession. We attend a church whose worship confesses what we believe, for what we say and do in worship is the most powerful confession.  It shapes and forms what people actually believe. Indeed, a church that worships in a way that deviates from her confession will eventually find herself believing something different. A funeral service is therefore a Christian’s final confession.  The order of service, the Scripture readings, the hymns sung, and the rite of committal used at the grave site all confess what that individual believed. This is not to be taken lightly, and it is not to be taken away from the believer who died in Christ by others who do not share in that confession.  If Christ and the faith we believe and confess is the most important thing in our life, than no greater disrespect can be rendered to a person who has died than to conduct a funeral that does not confess what that Christian did during life.


To say that a funeral is a “celebration of life” willfully ignores the obvious – the person is dead. It is our culture’s way of avoiding the reality of death. To say that a funeral celebrates the memory of the person is to ignore that fact that there will never be any more memories created.


 A Christian funeral looks at death, and calls it what it is.  It has been caused by sin.  It is not very good. It is not what God intended for us.  It is the work of the devil who is a murderer (John 8:44)


But a Christian funeral is indeed a celebration of a different kind of life.  It is a celebration of the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, and what this means for the Christian who has died. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25). 


On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus lives! He is Lord! (Romans 8:9-10). Already now he gives life to those who have died.  They are with Christ.  As St. Paul put it: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain … My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23).”


At the same time, Jesus’s resurrection is the firstfruits of the resurrection that all Christians will experience (1 Corinthians 15:23). The risen and ascended Lord will return in glory to raise up our bodies.  Paul tells us that, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). This is the life that we celebrate at a Christian funeral. And so the final pastoral act for a congregation member is when the pastor places his hand on the head of the casket and says: “May God the Father, who created this body; may God the ╬ Son, who by His death redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”
















Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles


Today is the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles.  The New Testament contains four lists of the apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13).  In these lists the tenth and eleventh places are occupied by Simon and Jude.  Simon is a called “the Cananean” which may mean that he was from the city of Cana.  However, it may also be a transliteration of the Aramaic word for “zealous,” which is what Luke and Acts call him (“the Zealot”; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).  It is unclear whether this describes his character or associates him with a later group in Judaism that opposed Roman rule. Jude was apparently also known as Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18).  According to Church tradition, Simon and Jude journeyed together as missionaries to Persia and were martyred there.

Scripture reading:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:17-21 ESV)

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You chose Your servants Simon and Jude to be numbered among the glorious company of the apostles.  As they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so may we with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Sunday, October 25, 2020

Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation - Jn 8:31-36



                                                                                    Jn 8:31-36



            In the first verse of our text for the Festival of the Reformation we hear:  “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” The reason that there was a Reformation was because, sadly, as the centuries went by the Church didn’t abide in Christ’s word.

            While the story of this deviation may be long and complex, the reasons for it are really very simple. We can illustrate it by two verses from the Gospel of John.  First, Jesus says in John chapter 3, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Our Lord revealed that sinful fallen nature gives birth to sinful fallen nature. Only the Spirit of God can give spiritual life.  People must be born again of water and the Spirit.

            And the second verse is from chapter six where Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Jesus expresses the same truth in a different way.  Because we are conceived and born as fallen sinful people – as flesh – we have no desire or ability to make a move toward God.  Instead, only God can call us to faith through the work of his Spirit.

            This means that as we are conceived and born into this world, our human spiritual abilities amount to nothing. Actually, they are worse than nothing because as flesh – as sinful, fallen nature – we are opposed to God. Now this is what Scripture reveals about man. But you can understand why people really don’t want to hear it.  Who wants to be told that they have nothing to offer exact opposition to God?

            We are, after all, people who are hardwired to understand the Law.  That’s what St.Paul said when he told the Romans, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 

on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

            The work of the law is written on our hearts. We are created with an understanding of how the law works.  The law says you must do something to get something. There is no such thing as a free lunch.  This is how life works, and so by nature, people want to believe that this is how their relationship with God works. They want to believe that they have a role to play, because then they also get some credit for being saved.

            So over the centuries the idea arose that man has not lost all spiritual abilities.  Instead we have been “wounded.”  With God’s grace to heal us, we can get back in the game and have a role to play.  Now as these ideas developed in the Western Church, no one was ever going to deny that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the reason we are forgiven.  That is so biblically obvious that it is basically impossible to mess that part up.

            However, the Church did not remain in Christ’s Word – in Scripture, the Word of God.  And so she began making her own distinctions that were all aimed at putting us back into the game – at giving us a role to play.  The theologians in the Church said that Christ’s death and resurrection forgave the guilt of sin.  It forgave this. However, by sinning a person had offended God’s honor. Therefore the Christian still owed God something – there was a penalty to pay.

            This penalty was called penance. A Christian had to do things in order to pay off the penalty.  Over time a whole series of practices developed – saying the Lord’s prayer multiple times; going on pilgrimages; paying for Masses to be said for oneself or another. But the problem was that the penalty far outpaced the ability of the individual to pay it off by what he or she did during this life.

            And so the teaching about purgatory came into play.  If you were a baptized Christian receiving the Sacraments of the Church and doing penance, you were on your way to salvation.  But at death, any penalty that was still owed to God had first to be dealt with by time in purgatory.  This was described as a fiery ordeal of purification. This was not a pleasant experience. It was something you wanted to avoid – or at least shorten the time there – in any way possible. The problem was that the system was set up in a way such that people racked up thousands and thousands of years in purgatory.

            Now if you were really serious about your salvation, you did what Martin Luther did.  You entered into “religious life” – you became a monk or a nun.  This was basically a life of penance.  Another option available was to buy an indulgence. This was still connected to some action of penance but by buying an indulgence you could get a much larger amount of penalty – of time in purgatory – removed.

            At the beginning of the sixteenth century, this is how Christianity in western Europe worked. The life of the Christian revolved around doing enough penance to escape purgatory and thereby have true salvation with God.  Martin Luther was deeply serious about his eternal welfare. He through himself into doing this theological system that the Church had created.  But he found that it provided no peace.

            Because of what Scripture actually teaches, this was inevitable.  Jesus says in our text this morning, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  The Lord Jesus pointed to himself as the source of truth and freedom.

            But when those who had believed in him heard this they answered, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”  Now the statement itself was absurd.  After all the Israel had been conquered and ruled by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Seleucids and the Romans.  In fact between 587 BC and Jesus’ day, the Jews had only ruled themselves for about one hundred years.

            However, Jesus was speaking about a far deeper spiritual truth.  Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  As people who are conceived and born as fallen and sinful, sinning comes naturally.  Even after we have been born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism, there is still the old Adam present that seeks to draw us back into sin and causes us to commit sin in thought, word and deed.  If you are going to base things on doing – on the Law – then the end result will always be enslavement to sin.

            This is what Martin Luther discovered. Our life is one ongoing struggle against sin in which we often fail. In fact we sin in ways that we don’t even recognize.  As soon as you link your salvation to any aspect of doing, the question will always arise: “How do I know that I have done enough?”

            Martin Luther was a spiritually troubled, but intellectually gifted Augustinian monk.  He was sent to do advanced study in Scripture and theology, eventually receiving a Doctor of Theology.  He was assigned to teach on Scripture at the University of Wittenberg.  In the course of those studies he did abide in Jesus’ word.  The more he studied Scripture, the more he realized that our doing has no part in salvation.  Instead, he recognized that we are saved on account of Christ alone – Jesus’ death as the sacrifice for our sins and his resurrection by which he defeated death.  We are saved by grace alone – God’s undeserved loving favor shown towards us in his Son Jesus.  He learned that we are saved by faith alone – faith in Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord.

            In our text Jesus says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Only the Son of God can free us from sin.  John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  God the Father sent the Son into world as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Jesus Christ came to be the sacrifice that atoned for sin – that removed the sin that cut us off from God and put us under his judgment. In his first epistle the apostle John wrote, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

            It was God’s unmerited and undeserved love that prompted him to do this.  And now this forgiveness and salvation is received by faith in Jesus Christ.  Our Lord said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

            The Reformation break through was based on Scripture alone.  It occurred as Luther abided in Christ’s word.  It was the rejection of every attempt by fallen man to bring the law back in as a means by which people receive forgiveness.  It was a rejection of all theology that uses human reason to give us a role to play in receiving salvation.  Christ alone, grace alone and faith alone humbles man, even as it gives assurance of forgiveness and salvation because this is God’s work from beginning to end in Christ. And because it is God’s work it is certain and sure.

            That’s about where our Reformation sermons often end. But that’s not where Jesus or the Scriptures stop. All is based on God’s love and forgiveness in Christ by which we receive salvation through faith. Freed from trying to do things to be saved, this faith now acts in love serving the neighbor.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  John went on to say in his first epistle, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

            Because this is what Scripture says, this is what Martin Luther also said.  He wrote in a brief work entitled, “What Should Be Sought and Expected in the Gospels” that, “The main point and basis of the Gospel is that before you grasp Christ as an example, you must first receive and apprehend him as a gift and present given to you by God to be your own.”  But then he went on to say, “When you now have Christ in that way as the basis and chief blessing of your salvation, then the second part follows, namely that you take him as an example and devote yourself to serving your neighbor, just as you see that he devoted himself to you.  Then faith and love are both active, God’s commandment is fulfilled, and the person is cheerful and fearless to do and suffer anything.”

            As we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation, we give thanks to God that he used his servant Martin Luther to bring the pure Gospel back into the Church.  On the basis of Scripture alone, Luther directed believers to Christ alone, by grace alone and through faith alone. Freed from thinking that we need to do things in order to be forgiven and saved, he showed that our faith is now free to act in love toward our neighbor just as Jesus Christ loved us.













Saturday, October 24, 2020

Sermon for Janet Myott Memorial Service - Rom 8:31-39


                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Janet Myott

                                                                                     Rom 8:31-39



            Never before had I received such shocking news in the midst of the services on a Sunday morning.  Bible class was finished, and I was about to get ready for the 10:30 a.m. service when I learned that Janet had died. I was completely taken aback – absolutely shocked.  After all, I had just talked with her on the phone on Tuesday as I checked to see how she was doing. She hadn’t been at church for a couple of Sundays, and as we talked I learned about the problems she had been having.  Janet sounded upbeat and positive about how she was feeling. She expressed the expectation that she would be back at church soon. What I heard left me with the impression that we would see her back at church in a Sunday or two.

            And of course, church is where you expected to see Janet. She regularly attended the Divine Service and expressed her deep appreciation for receiving the Means of Grace.  After the Covid lockdown was lifted so that we could at least have services with ten people, there Janet was to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. She may have been in her early seventies with some health problems, but a virus wasn’t going to keep her from coming to receive Jesus’ true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  I remember her expressing to me how good it was to be able to come to church again and receive the Lord’s gift.

            Janet was a member of the Wednesday morning ladies’ Bible study – that group where laughter is always part of being together and studying God’s Word. The only exception – the only time she would miss was when she was baby sitting grandchildren and great grandchildren who were the joy of her life. 

            And Janet was always here to help with VBS.  She was part of the kitchen crew that each morning prepared the snacks for the kids.  Just as she loved the children of her own family, she loved the children of this congregation and enjoyed watching them grow up.

            Janet was a sweet, kind and dear woman. She was soft spoken – I always found her voice to be very soothing.  But make no mistake, she had very strongly held beliefs. She knew what she believed and why she believed it. This was true of her approach to life and her political views.  It was also true about her confession of the Christian faith.  Janet was a member of Good Shepherd because she believed and confessed the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  She did, despite the fact that it made her different from everyone else in her family. Janet was indeed a woman of great faith.

            And now – suddenly, unexpectedly, - she is gone. We have lost this person we loved at Good Shepherd.  And so I want to take up the first words of our text and ask, “What then shall we say to these things?  In the verses leading up to our text, Paul has been addressing the reality of suffering in life. He has said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  He has written, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” And then he has added, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

            When then shall we say to these things?  Well Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  Is there suffering and hardship? Yes.  Do we face death and the loss of a dear sister in Christ?  Yes.  But in the face of this, Paul points out that God is for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us? 

            The apostle then reminds us about the reason we have this confidence as he says: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 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.”

            Paul asks, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” “Who will condemn?”  The fact of the matter is that God should be bringing a charge.  God should be condemning.  Earlier in this letter the apostle has already said “that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”  He has written, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

            Janet was a lovely woman.  But like the rest of us, she was a sinner. We know this with absolute certainty, because she has died.  I have said this at the death of every member of this congregation, and I will continue to say it because Paul says in Romans chapter six, “For the wages of sin is death.”  Janet didn’t die because of a cardiac event.  She died because she was a sinner. She was conceived and born as a fallen sinner.  She lived a life in which she sinned in thought, word, and deed.  Janet knew this.  She confessed her sin at the beginning of every Divine Service.  She joined in talking with us at the Wednesday morning Bible class about the sin we all know is present in our lives.

            It is true that sin has brought death.  But God is not going to bring a charge against Janet. God is not going to condemn her.  Instead, God is for her. God is on her side.  As the apostle says in our text, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

            God the Father sent his Son into the world in the incarnation to die on the cross.  He came to die for our sins – as Paul says in chapter four, he “was delivered over because of our transgressions.” Yes all have sinned.  Yes, Janet sinned. But Paul told the Romans that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

            Janet and all believers in Christ have been redeemed – we have been freed from the condemnation.  This is true because Jesus bore the judgment of our sins.  As Paul says in our text, “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.”  No one will bring a charge against Janet, because God has justified her.  Through his Spirit, God worked faith in Jesus Christ.  And on account of Christ, God had already declared Janet “not guilty.”  That is his verdict now.  That is the verdict he will speak on the Last Day. And so we know that Janet is with God. After all, because of Jesus Christ she already had peace with God.  Paul says in this letter, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

            No one is going to condemn Janet or you – because the Judge of Last Day is the One who already died and rose for us.  Paul says in our text: “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.”

            Jesus Christ did not just die.  On the third day God raised him from the dead. Paul began this letter by referring to Jesus Christ as God’s Son, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

            In his resurrection Jesus has defeated death. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, Janet will too. Earlier in this chapter, Paul referred the role the Spirit had in raising Jesus.  He said, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  The Spirit who raised Jesus was in Janet.  We know this because she was baptized. She had received the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. She had received what just before our text Paul calls the “firstfruits of the Spirit,” and because she had, we know that she will experience the redemption of her body on the Last Day.

            Because these things are true Paul ends our text with a rousing note of assurance about Janet – and about each one of us. He writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For 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.”

            Janet has died, but that has not separated her from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Instead, she is with the Lord.  And through the work of the Spirit, the Lord Jesus will raise her from the dead when he return in glory on the Last Day.







Friday, October 23, 2020

Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr


Today is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr. St. James of Jerusalem (also known as “James the Just”) is identified as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19).  Much of the Church has considered James to be a kinsman of Jesus, but he may in fact have been a later child born to Mary and Joseph.  James did not believe in Jesus until after His resurrection (John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7).  He quickly became an important leader in the Jerusalem church and played a significant role in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).  He authored the letter that bears his name in the New Testament.  The ancient Jewish historian Josephus reports that James was martyred in 62 A.D. when he was stoned to death by the Sadducees.

Scripture reading:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:


Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:1-12)

Collect of the Day:

Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church.  Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death; through Jesus Christ, Your  Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and forever.



Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sermon for the Feast of St. Luke - Lk 10:1-9


                                                                                                St. Luke

                                                                                                Lk 10:1-9



            The apostle Paul was definitely an energetic and active missionary on behalf of Jesus Christ.  After his Damascus road experience in which he was confronted by the risen and ascended Lord Jesus, Paul had a singular focus in which he sought to proclaim the Gospel to Jew and Gentile alike. In the Book of Acts, we learn about the three different missionary journeys that he undertook out of his base in Antioch, Syria. And bear in mind that Acts is a summary account.  It doesn’t tell us about everything that Paul did.  From his epistles we learn about other missionary activities, such as the work he and Titus did on the island of Crete.

            For a man who was an apostle – a man whose life was a calling to proclaim the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the two years that he was imprisoned at Caesarea must have been incredibly frustrating.  Paul came to Jerusalem to bring an offering that had been given by the Gentile churches in order to support the church in Jerusalem.  It wasn’t long before his Jewish enemies conspired against him, and when the events had played out, Paul found himself imprisoned at Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea.   Originally built by Herod the Great as a palace, it was now the residence of the Roman governor. We learn that the Governor Felix held Paul there for two years.  During this time Paul was prevented from undertaking the missionary work that Jesus Christ had called him to do.

            Now why do I mention this at the beginning of a sermon for the Feast of St. Luke, the Evangelist?  It is because Luke, who was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts was there with Paul.  In the Book of Acts, Luke shifts to the language of “we” when he was present in the travels.  We learn that Luke made the trip to Jerusalem with Paul, and that then two years later he left with Paul on the trip to Rome.

            Luke begins his Gospel by writing: Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

            Luke was in Palestine for two years while Paul was imprisoned there. For Paul this must have seemed like completely wasted time.  But what do you think Luke was doing during those two years? Certainly, he must have been doing the work – the research – that helped him to write both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. What seemed like wasted time to Paul, helped to produce a huge chunk of the New Testament that has been a blessing to the Church for two thousand years.

            Appropriately, our text for the Feast of St. Luke describes a sending of missionaries.  Near the end of the previous chapter Luke tells us, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  Much of Luke’s Gospel describes Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem.  Just before this, our Lord had told the disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Jesus journeys to Jerusalem to die.  But he doesn’t go only to die. He also goes to be raised, and as Luke says, “to be taken up.”  He goes to die, rise from the dead and be exalted in his ascension.

            The time was short.  Jesus’ earthly ministry was rapidly drawing to a close.  And so as part of his trip final trip to Jerusalem he sent out a kind of “advance team” to prepare the way.  We hear in our text, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”

            Jesus sent out pairs of disciples with instructions that emphasized the need to move quickly.  They were to travel light – they were to take no moneybag, knapsack, or sandals. They were not even to pause to greet others on the road.  When they entered a town and were welcomed into a home, they were to stay there and be fed by the hospitality provided. Jesus’ instructions about the towns that received them were: “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

            The kingdom of God was the center of Jesus’ own ministry.  Earlier in the Gospel he said to people at a synagogue who wanted him to stay, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”  As I have mentioned many times in the past, it is crucial that when we hear the phrase the “kingdom of God” we need to understand that this does not refer to a place.  Instead, coming of out its Old Testament background it refers to an activity – it refers to the reign of God.  We see in our text that the proclamation of the kingdom of God is tied to an activity – that of healing.

            After Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon him, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth.  He had gained some fame as traveling rabbi, and so here back in his own hometown he stood up to read the Scripture from the scroll of Isaiah that was given to him.  He read these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” He rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And then he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

            The Son of God entered into our world in order to bring God’s reign.  In his person he brought God’s reign that frees from captivity and oppression.  He came to free you from the slavery that rules every life.  He came to free you from sin and death.  He came to free you from the one behind both of those – from Satan himself.

            The reach of sin affects the whole person – body and soul.  Jesus’ healing ministry demonstrated that he was freeing people from all of the ways that sin has infected us.  And you will note that in our text Jesus did not send these disciples only to proclaim the kingdom of God.  He also sent them to heal.

            Jesus sent them with a simple message: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  The reign of God was present in Jesus Christ.  When Jesus was accused of casting out demons by being on Satan’s side, he replied, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

            Jesus brought God’s reign to free us from Satan, sin and death.  But remember what is happening as Jesus sends out these disciples in our text. He is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die.  Jesus Christ came to bring God’s reign in all its fullness by being numbered with the transgressors.

            In the Book of Acts an angel of the Lord sent Philip to meet the Ethiopian who was traveling back from Jerusalem.  He was reading these words from Isaiah chapter 53, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” When the Ethiopia said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”, we are told that “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”

            The good news about Jesus is that in order bring God’s reigns that free us from Satan and sin, the Son of God suffered and died in our place. And then in order to defeat death, God raised him up on the third day.  God’s reign has arrived in Jesus, and through Christ he has freed us from the captivity and oppression in which we were held.  That is what Jesus did. That is what the Church knew to be true. That is what St. Luke shares with us in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

            Luke gives us the word about the reign of God that has arrived in Jesus Christ. It is the reign that continues to be present now through our Lord’s Means of Grace. Through the proclamation of God’s Word; through the water and Word of baptism; through the true body and blood of Jesus received in the Sacrament we receive forgiveness for the ways that sin continues to be present in our life. We receive God’s reign that frees us from the permanent rule of death, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and we will share in his resurrection on the Last Day.

            St. Luke’s inspired writings show us the kingdom of God being shared and proclaimed to all in the Gospel – the good news about what God has done through Jesus.  Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are able to say, “The kingdom of God has arrived.” It is present in the crucified and risen Lord. This is the message that we have been given to share with our friends, our family, our neighbors and co-workers – anyone that God has placed in our life.

            Jesus didn’t tell the seventy two that they would meet with reception and belief everywhere they went.  Instead in the verse after our text he instructed them, “But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.” 

            The way the word was received did not change what was happening.  No matter whether in blessing or in judgment, the word about Jesus Christ always brings the reign of God. We want to see it received in faith that brings forgiveness and eternal life. We also recognize that we have no power over the outcome.  Only the Holy Spirit does, who works where and when he pleases. And in a profound mystery, human beings have the ability to reject the love of the almighty God.

            And so for us, the matter is really very simple.  We know that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to free us from Satan, sin, and death. We know that the kingdom of God – the reign of God – has arrived in our Lord. And so we speak that word to others. We speak it knowing that in the good news about Jesus the kingdom of God – the reign of God – is always present and at work.