Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve - Phil 4:6-20


Thanksgiving Eve

                                                                                      Phil 4:6-20




          When someone else’s mail is delivered to our house, we normally try to see that it gets delivered to the right person.  We put it back in the box with a note on it that indicates the need to deliver it to a different recipient. 

What we don’t do is open the mail and read it out of curiosity about what is happening in another person’s life.  We don’t because we realize that such an action would be an invasion of privacy.  We wouldn’t want another person to read about the status of our investments or about how much we owe due to a doctor’s visit.  For this reason, we aren’t going to open and read someone else’s mail.

However, in tonight’s epistle lesson we are doing just that.  We are reading mail that was not sent to us.  This is Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, not the one at Marion.  We are reading someone else’s mail.  Yet because Paul’s letters are the inspired and authoritative revelation from the Lord the Church recognizes that these are not letters that are limited to the original recipients.  We read them as God’s Word that addresses us.

As we read the letter Paul wrote to the Philippians, we find that one of its purposes is to serve as a thank you letter.  The apostle says in our text, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.” 

We learn in our text that the Philippians had sent a gift to support Paul’s ministry.  Paul is thankful for this gift – especially because this is not the first time.   Since hearing the Gospel from Paul, the Philippians had sent gifts to support Paul on several occasions.

We have this letter which gives thanks as our text on an evening when we begin celebrating Thanksgiving.  Paul gives thanks for the gift, and he also tells the Philippians to give thanks as he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  The apostle says that thanksgiving is to be part of our prayers to God.

We certainly give thanks tonight.  Who wouldn’t?  Many of us will gather together with family tomorrow as we share in a delicious meal of turkey, stuffing and a table full of food.  We will enjoy good food – and lots of it!  Then many of us will retire to watch football as some drift off into a lovely Thanksgiving Day nap.

It's very easy to give thanks on Thanksgiving.  Yet the truth is that we aren’t so great at giving thanks during the rest of the year.  We take the daily bread God provides for granted – after all, we just expect it to be there.  We tend to be more focused on the things we think we need.  We are keen to ask God for blessings, but are often slow to give thanks for the many things he has provided to us.

Thanksgiving needs to remind us that giving thanks is to be a daily part of our life.  It needs to be part of our life in all circumstances.  It is a little ironic that our text tonight does not only speak to the abundance of a Thanksgiving meal.  It also addresses our attitude when things are lacking.

After giving thanks for the Philippians’ gift, Paul says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” 

Paul acknowledges the reality of his life. He had known times of plenty and abundance. But in his life as an apostle he has also known many times of deprivation and want.  Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatever situation he faces.  He tells us the reason as he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  This is not some kind of claim about unlimited potential. Instead, the things to which Paul refers are the being brought low and abounding; the facing of abundance and need.  He says that he has strength to face these things.

Paul says that God who strengthens him is the One who gives the strength to be content in every circumstance.  He is the One who enables him to be thankful in every situation.  The apostle says this because God is the One who has placed Paul in Christ.  He says in our text, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In order to be thankful and content we need the most fundamental relationship of our life to be one of peace and blessing.  We need our relationship with God to be one of love and peace.  Since the fall of Adam that has not been our natural state.  Instead, we are sinners who are enemies of God.  On our own, we are cut off from God and hostile to him. 

But in his great love for us, God acted to change our status.  He sent his Son into the world in the incarnation.  Paul says in this letter that though Christ was in the form of God he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

          In obedience to the Father, Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on the cross.  He received the judgment against our sin in order to win us forgiveness.  But then God raised Jesus from the dead and vindicated him.  Paul adds, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

          God has won this forgiveness for us through his Son.  And now through baptism he has placed you in Christ.  You have been linked to the risen Lord – you have been joined to him in a way that gives you the benefits of his death and resurrection.  You live in Christ because the Spirit has caused you to be born again.

          Paul says that this is the most important thing.  It is more important than the many things we think we need.  It is more important than the things for which we want to give thanks.  He states in this letter, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.”

          Through the work of the Spirit, you are in Christ.  You are found in him as you live by faith in Jesus.  Because this is so, God considers you to be righteous. He considers you to be holy in his eyes – you are a saint. This is the status that you possess now.  It is the status that will be declared on the Last Day.

          This is what enables us to give thanks in all circumstances.  The blessing that we have received in Christ allows us to look at our life and see the many blessings that God has provided – blessings great and small.  We give thanks for all of them as we live in Christ Jesus. 










Sunday, November 19, 2023

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 9:18-26


Trinity 24

                                                                                      Mt 9:18-26



          In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is approached by two people who have a very different social status.  We learn that a ruler came to Jesus.  From Mark and Luke we understand that this man was a ruler of the synagogue.  He was a respected leader in his community and a person of significance.

          On the other hand, a woman came to Jesus.  We learn that she had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years.  This condition made her ritually unclean.  Anyone who touched her would become unclean, and then would have to go through the process of removing the uncleanness.  Her affliction meant that she was a social outcast. 

          Yet while these individuals have a very different social status, they are united in two ways. First, they both have afflictions for which they desperately need help. And second, they both have faith in Jesus Christ.  Both have heard about the Lord Jesus and come in the faith that Jesus can help them.

          Our text this morning is found in the section of Matthew’s Gospel that encompasses chapters 8 and 9.  Here Matthew shows us that Jesus carried out powerful deeds of healing.  Chapters 5 through 7 have just presented the Sermon on the Mount.  The reader learns that Jesus was active in word – in preaching.  Now Matthew presents Jesus as powerful in miracles.  The section contains ten miracles as Jesus heals and casts out demons. Our Gospel lesson is actually a two for one because it contains two miracles that are intertwined with each other.

          We learn that a ruler came in and knelt before Jesus, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”  The man had experienced a terrible tragedy.  His daughter had just died. However, Jesus was in the area so he approached Jesus in humility as he knelt before him. His request was simple.  He said that if Jesus would come and lay his hand on the girl, then she would live.  The man was confident that Jesus’ power could overcome death itself.  He believed that Jesus’ touch could restore life.  Death was present, but because of Jesus there was hope. And so the man came to Jesus in faith.

          Jesus rose and followed the man.  But there was someone else who had come in faith.  She believed that Jesus could heal her. The woman with the flow of blood had come because Jesus was present.  In humility, she didn’t even try to speak to Jesus.  Instead, she came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment.  She had such great faith in Jesus’ power that she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”

          Our Lord knew what she had done.  He turned to her and said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was healed.  The woman had approached Jesus in faith – trust in his power to heal.  And she received deliverance from her affliction.

          After healing the woman, Jesus continued on with the ruler to his house.  There he saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion.  This was a scene of mourning after a death as it was done Palestine.  But Jesus had not come to mourn.  He said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.”  The people laughed at Jesus because the girl had most certainly died.

          However, when the mourners had been put outside, Jesus did as the father had asked.  He touched her as he took the girl by the hand and raised her from the dead.  Jesus’ touch overcame death and restored the girl to life. 

          In our text, Jesus says to the woman, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” This is an entirely correct translation.  However, the notable thing is that the Greek word that Jesus uses is actually “saved.”  Literally, our Lord says, “your faith has saved you.”  This word encourages us to recognize that Jesus’ healing miracle is part of something bigger.  Jesus brings physical healing, but this is only one part of something even greater.

          In the previous chapter we read, That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” 

          These words are from Isaiah chapter 53.  Matthew teaches us that Jesus’ healing ministry is part of his greater work to remove sin.  In that chapter Isaiah says about the suffering Servant, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

          Jesus Christ was Immanuel.  He was God with us.  He was God with us in order to provide the answer to sin.  Sin is the root cause of all that is wrong in the world.  It is the source of the strife and jealousy in our life.  It is the source of pain and sickness that we experience.  Ultimately, it is the source of death that afflicts all people.

          God sent forth his Son into the world to provide the answer to sin.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ had come to offer himself in our place.  At his baptism Jesus was designated as the Servant of the Lord.  Though he had no sin he submitted to a baptism of repentance because he was taking our place.  He took on the role of the suffering Servant who would be crushed for our iniquities.

          Jesus’ baptism set him on the course that led to the cross.  There he received the judgment against sin that we deserved.  He cried out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me” as he received the judgment of God that should have been ours.  Jesus Christ suffered and died in our place in order to give us the forgiveness of all our sins.

          Dead and buried in the tomb, it looked like that was the end.  The One who had raised the dead had been defeated by death.  But on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus rose from the dead on Easter.  He appeared to Peter and the twelve.  He appeared to more than five hundred people at one time.  He appeared to James and all the apostles.  Finally, he appeared to Paul.  He demonstrated in unmistakable ways that he was alive as he ate and drank his followers, and as he taught them during the course of forty days.

          In his resurrection Jesus has conquered death itself.  He has given us salvation that encompasses body and soul.  The miracles in the Gospels show us this.  They show Jesus bringing the reign of God that overcomes sin in all of the ways that it afflicts people.

          The ruler and the woman came to Jesus in faith.  They trusted and believed that he was able to provide healing and rescue from death.  This faith in the Lord is the same way that we come to Jesus.  We come believing and trusting in Jesus Christ as the One who gives forgiveness and rescues from death.

          We don’t always trust as we should.  When faced with sickness and suffering we are tempted to doubt.  When we experience hardships and difficulties our faith can waiver.  We are tempted to question whether God really does love and care for us.

          When we experience this, we need to look again to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In the cross we have received the forgiveness of all our sin.  In the resurrection of Jesus we find the guarantee of God’s love and care for us. There we have God’s great “Yes!” that overcomes all that would lead us to doubt. The crucified and risen Lord calls us to believe and trust in him because he has already won the victory for us.

          He has won the victory for us, and that shapes the way we look at the present.  In our text we see Jesus heal the woman and raise the girl from the dead.  We live with physical ailments and face the threat of death.  We pray for healing and for deliverance. We ask knowing that according to his will God does grant these things. At other times his answer is that his grace is sufficient for us as he sustains us in the midst of suffering. 

But the guarantee that we have in Jesus is that we will receive complete healing and deliverance from death.  In Jesus’ resurrection we see the final fulfillment of his healing ministry.  Jesus Christ has risen with a body that is perfect and will never die again.  This is the existence that awaits us when our Lord returns in glory and raises us from the dead.  We will be rescued from all that sin has caused as we live with our Lord forever.

In our Gospel lesson the ruler asks Jesus to touch his daughter, and the woman seeks to touch Jesus’ clothing.  To sustain us in faith, our Lord continues to touch us.  This he does in the Sacrament of the Altar.  He gives us his true body and true blood into our mouth. 

Through this gift our Lord delivers forgiveness to us.  He applies the saving work of the cross and leaves no doubt that it is for us.  Through this gift our Lord assures us that we will share in the blessings of his resurrection.  We receive the body and blood of the risen Lord into our body.  Our Lord has promised, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Bodies that receive the Sacrament will be raised and transformed to be like Christ when he returns.

 The ruler and the woman approached Jesus in faith.  They believed that Jesus had the power to heal and defeat death.  We come to Jesus with the same faith because he died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead.  In Jesus we find the comfort of forgiveness and peace with God. And in him we have the guarantee that we will live eternally with bodies like that of our risen Lord.     













Sunday, November 12, 2023

Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity - Mt 22:15-22


Trinity 23

                                                                                                 Mt 22:15-22



          When I go to the mailbox, there is one piece of mail that I never want to see.  I dread the idea of it showing up in my mail.  I am referring to correspondence from the Internal Revenue Service. 

          I don’t want anything to do with the IRS. Now don’t get me wrong, I pay my taxes.  Every year, there is the great push in February and March to get them done so that they will be ready for tax day in April.  I do my best to be honest and accurate so that I pay what I owe.  But once I file my taxes, I don’t want to think about the IRS for another year.

          A letter from the IRS is generally not good news.  It could mean that there was some error in my taxes, and it turns out that I owe more than expected.  I could mean the dreaded notification that I am being audited.  I don’t want to hear from the IRS because most likely it will cost me time and money as I deal with a massive bureaucracy.

          The residents of the Roman province of Judea didn’t want to deal with the Roman tax administration either.  Like me, they didn’t want the hassle.  But there was a much more profound reason why they wanted nothing to do with it. 

          Roman taxation was the most direct way that the Jews in Judea experienced Roman rule.  It was a regular reminder that God’s people did not rule themselves.  Instead, they were ruled by Gentiles who worshipped false gods.  These pagans controlled the land of Israel.  The people longed to be freed from this foreign domination.  They wanted God to deliver them, just as he had rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt.

          During the reign of Herod the Great, and then his son Archelaus, the Jews in Palestine were not under direct Roman taxation. That changed in 6 A.D. when the Romans removed Archelaus and made Judea into a Roman province.  This meant the start of Roman rule and taxes.  The people were so upset that there was an uprising and the Romans had to send legionary troops stationed in Syria to restore order.

          This aversion to Roman taxation provides the background for our text this morning.  It takes place during Holy Week.  Jesus had entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as he was acclaimed by the crowd.  Then, the Lord began to engage in a series of debates with the Jewish religious leaders.  At the end of the previous chapter he has told the parable of the vineyard in which he condemns them for rejecting Jesus. Then we read, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.”

          The Pharisees were out to get Jesus.  In our text we learn, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.” They came up with a question that they were sure was a doozy.  They sent their disciples along with the Herodians who began by saying to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.”  They praised Jesus as someone who was true to God and was not afraid to speak the truth, even if this received opposition.  Of course, this is the very thing they hoped that Jesus would do.

          So they asked, “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  The Pharisees must have been congratulating themselves about coming up with such a tricky and dangerous question.  They were sure that they had Jesus.  If Jesus said that they should not pay taxes, then they had reason to bring accusation against him before the Roman governor.  After all, one thing you did not do was to mess with the flow of income into the Roman empire.

          On the other hand, if Jesus said that they should pay taxes, then they also had Jesus.  Such an answer would discredit Jesus with his fellow Jews who were strongly opposed to paying taxes to Rome.  Either way that Jesus answered, they had him.

          Or so they thought.  Jesus knew exactly what they were doing. He said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?”  Then he asked them to show him the coin used for the tax.  They brought him a denarius which was the standard unit of payment.  It was a coin that had the image of the Emperor Tiberius and bore the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus and High Priest.”

Jesus then asked them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”  Our Lord said that if the coin had Caesar’s image and inscription on it, then give it to him.  But he added that people needed to render to God the things that are God’s.  When his opponents heard this, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Our Lord did not answer their question directly.  He did not deny the need to pay taxes.  Yet he framed this in a way that subordinates the matter to what we owe God.  St. Paul gives us a fuller treatment of this in Romans chapter 13 when he says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  We learn that the authorities have been placed by God to restrain sin and evil.  God works through them and so Paul says, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” 

We recognize that the government is the means by which God rules in our world to maintain order.  This is a blessing because we need sin to be controlled or else there would be chaos.  At the same time we certainly know that the government is not perfect.  After all, our government allows, and even promotes abortion. We therefore work through the means available to us in order to bring about changes. God’s will needs to guide our voting on those matters where his word speaks clearly.  We vote for candidates who support life, and not for those who defend and promote abortion.  Ultimately, we will not allow the government to force us to violate God’s will.  When the government tells us to do something that is contrary to God’s word, then we disobey and accept the consequences that result from this.

We do this because our Lord tells us that we must render to God the things that are God’s.  Of course, all things belong to God, including our own lives.  This means that our lives are to be devoted to him.  We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

There are few things that we value more than our time and our money.  So are we rendering to God the things that are God’s?  Do you take time to pray each day? Do you take time to read God’s Word?  Do you take time to attend the Divine Service each Sunday?  How does the amount of time that you devote to God compare with the time you spend on sports, hobbies, and other activities that we want to do?

Are you rendering to the God the things that are God’s when it comes to your money?  How has the Lord blessed you beyond his promise of daily bread?  How does the wealth in your life surpass the needs of food, shelter and clothing?  As we experience this, are we returning to the Lord in our offering a portion that is commensurate with the blessings he gives us?  Are we using the wealth God provides in order further the work of the Gospel and to help the needs of those around us?

We often fail to render to God the things that are God’s.  We act in selfish ways as God takes second place … or doesn’t even come to mind.  Yet that is why the Lord Jesus was in Jerusalem during Holy Week.  Our Lord was there to render to God the things that are God’s.   He was there to provide the perfect and complete obedience that is so lacking in our life.

Jesus came to Jerusalem with a purpose.  Just before he entered the city he said, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Jesus went to Jerusalem to die.  Our Lord said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  He offered to God the things that are God’s as he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  He was obedient to the Father’s saving plan all the way to death – to death on the cross. 

Yet as Jesus predicted, that saving plan did not end in death.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  Through Christ’s resurrection God defeated death. He began the life that will be ours when Jesus returns in glory on the Last Day.

Through baptism you have shared in this saving death, and so are forgiven.  In the water of baptism, the Holy Spirit has given you new life.  He has made you a new creation in Christ. You are different because of the work of the Spirit.

This new life now seeks to live in ways that render to God the things that are God’s. God has given us everything in Christ.  He has given us forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.  Our response now is to serve God.

The surprising thing is that God wants us to serve him by serving our neighbor.  God wants our praise and thanksgiving.  But he also wants us to love and support our neighbor.  So pray for those in your life who are having difficulties.  Be intentional about praying for the needs of others. It can be hard to remember everyone when you are in the act of prayer.  So make a list and keep updating it.  Use that list in your daily prayers.  Let intercessory prayer be an important part of your spiritual life.

You know how God has blessed you.  Let that blessing flow on through you to the assistance of others.  Give donations to help the advance of the Gospel such as the through the work of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation or Lutheran Seminary Uganda.  Support work on behalf of life through gifts to Clarity Women’s Care.  Assist children and youth in our area by donating funds that our youth will use to purchase Christmas gifts for those in foster care.  We render to God the things that are God’s as we help in these and many other ways.

In our text today the Pharisees think they have the perfect question with which they can trap Jesus.  He evades their trap by pointing them to what really matters – rendering to God the things that are God’s.  Our Lord does so as he is about to do this very thing himself. By his death on the cross Jesus obediently served the Father’s will.  He won forgiveness for us, and now as the risen Lord he has poured forth the Spirit who helps us to live in way that render to God the things that are God’s.