The 16th Sunday after Trinity—16 September 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 7:11–17): 11 Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.  12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.  13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”  17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. (ESV)

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The 15th Sunday after Trinity—9 September 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Matthew 6:24–34): 24 [Jesus said:] “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (ESV)

What a blessing it is when Christian husbands and wives encourage one another to trust in the Lord.  Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina, had such a relationship.  There is a story of how one day Luther was in a dark mood, full of anxious and despairing thoughts, and so Katharina decided to put on a black dress.  Luther noticed this and he asked, “Katie, are you going to a funeral?”  And Katie responded, “No, but since you’re acting as though God were dead, I wanted to join you in mourning!”  And suddenly Luther realized that by giving himself over to despair, he was really living as though he no longer believed in God.

And of course, that is what you and I do every time we give ourselves over to anxiety—we act as though God were dead; we live as though we no longer believed in God.

Anxiety is an enemy of faith.  Faith looks to God alone, even when we suffer misfortune and distress.  Faith reaches out to God alone and holds on to Him, even in time of trouble.  The key word here is “alone.”  Like a newborn baby that is completely dependent on his or her parents, faith puts all its hope and trust in God alone.  In times of prosperity or poverty, of peace or conflict, or health or sickness—in all times, faith clings to God alone, trusting in His great promises.  But anxiety wants us to look to and hold on to the things of this world.  Anxiety may allow us to pay lip service to God, but anxiety wants our hearts to be far from God, snuggled up to our money in the bank or some other source of worldly security.  In short, anxiety wants us to act as though God were dead.  Anxiety always seeks to destroy our wholehearted trust in God.

Anxiety is like the Brown-headed Cowbird.  You see, Brown-headed Cowbirds never build nests or raise their own young.  Rather, the female cowbird lays her eggs in another bird’s nest, often removing that bird’s eggs to make room for her own!  And that is how anxiety works.  Anxiety tosses out from our hearts faith in the one true God and replaces that God-pleasing faith with a wicked trust in the things of this world.

You either trust in the Holy Triune God or you trust in the things of this world.  You cannot serve both God and the things of this world, for, as our Lord says, either [you] will hate the one and love the other, or [you] will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.  The King James Version translates this passage as You cannot serve God and mammon.  Mammon is not just money and possessions but all the temporal things of this world, including worldly comforts and pleasures, even our fame, abilities, and achievements, the things for which we are honoured in this world.  Mammon is everything that will not last for all eternity.

It is not necessarily wrong to use and enjoy the things of this world, but it is wrong to live for the things of this world.  In the Gospel of Luke, our Lord says: Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions  (Luke 12:15).   And in the verses just before today’s Gospel, Jesus says: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also  (v. 21).  Your real treasure—the focus of your heart—cannot be both on the eternal God and on temporal possessions; the centre of your life cannot be both the immortal Lord of heaven and earth and the mortal things of this passing world.

In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus comes to us like a heart surgeon who doesn’t waste any time with us but puts us immediately on the operating table.  Jesus cuts us wide open and exposes our hearts.  It is the kind of heart surgery we have been trying to avoid all our lives.  But the time has come.  Yes, the time has come for some radical open heart surgery.  And so Surgeon Jesus reveals the heart disease we would rather not see.  It is the root of all the rot and junk and filth in our life.  And what is this heart disease?  It is idolatry!

[You can’t] serve two mastersJesus says it flat out.  “If you love material things and worldly honour, then you will not love God.  If you love your earthly toys, then you will hate God.  There is no middle ground.  It is one or the other.”  You can not get any clearer than that!  Leave it to Jesus to unmask our idolatry, to give us the unvarnished truth of our heart disease.

Every time we sin, we are showing that we love some aspect of this world more that we love God.  Our misplaced loves and, of course, all of our anxieties show us to be people of little faith.  We live as if God does not exist, as though God were dead.  As if Jesus’ Good Friday dying is a nothing.  As if our Baptism is a nothing.  As if the precious word of Absolution is a nothing.  As if the holy feast of our Lord’s body and blood is a nothing.  We live as if we do not miss much when we do not take time to receive the holy things of God.  And we live as if this world and our lives are everything.  And so we fret and we worry about our lives, as if we were in total control.  As if our lives and all the creaturely things that go with it—like our prosperity and peace—all depend on us.  As if we are the Creator and not the creature.  Is it any wonder that we are people of little faith? 

We fret and worry as if God will not tend to us richly and daily provide for us in this life.  There is only one Person in all of history who has wholehearted trusted in our heavenly Father in perfect love.  That Person, of course, is our Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, God-come-in-the-flesh to save us!  Jesus lived His life as one who trusted His Father for everything that He needed to support His life.  Even when He was in great need, having fasted for forty days, Jesus refused to seek first the things of this world; rather, He confessed that Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God  (Matthew 4:4).  Jesus did not love Mammon; rather, He served and loved His Father in Heaven.  And He took upon Himself our sins, our unbelief, our fears, and our worrying, all the way to the Cross and He died in our place, suffering our punishment.  And then He rose as the Great Victor over the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come  (The Third Petition).

And now He comes in the waters of Holy Baptism to make us God’s dear children and members of the kingdom of God and He gives us a righteousness that is based not at all on our good works but on His righteousness alone.  And this kingdom of God comes to us daily as through Word and Sacrament our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives  (The Third Petition).

Our dear Lord Jesus sought first the kingdom of God perfectly.  And now, baptized into Christ, we who are so often anxious, we who so often struggle to serve and love God more than Mammon, we too seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  Of course, our seeking of God’s kingdom is not perfect, as is our Lord’s.  But because we have been covered with Christ in Baptism and because we are filled with Christ in the Holy Supper, we are empowered by God’s grace to be true seekers of the kingdom of God.  Seeking the kingdom of God means simply seeking Jesus and the gifts which He ever desires to give us.

That is why you are here today, because our Lord Jesus comes among us with His kingdom and His righteousness.  He comes in the victory of His Good Friday death to cover your sins and your idolatry with His holy precious blood.  This blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin.  His blood cleanses your heart.  Your heart disease is forgiven, for He went into death and damnation for you.

In Christ Jesus, you are worth more than birds and lilies.  And so now, what shall you wear?  Well, that is answered in your Baptism, when Jesus clothed you with the white robe of His righteousness won on the Cross.  And what shall you eat?  Well, He gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink for the remission of all your sins.  Faith looks to what Christ did on the Cross as all the certainty we need in this world.

We are clothed and fed in Christ, and so the promise God made to Jeremiah echoes in our hearts, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

This does NOT mean that we will never have troubles, but our Lord Jesus tells us that the only troubles we must deal with are the ones for today.  The past is forgiven.  The future rests in the hands of the Savior who lived and died and rose again to redeem us.  All that remains is to face the challenges of the day, and we do not even face those alone.  The Spirit of Christ, poured out upon us in Holy Baptism, abides with us each day of our lives.

Our Lord has promised to provide for every need of this body and life, and so we do not need to worry about the future.  Now this is not a simplistic solution, like singing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy…”; rather, the reason that we can let go of our worries is because our faith rests in the One True God.  By grace, through faith in Christ, you believe that your Father in Heaven loves you.  You believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has forgiven the sins of your past.  You believe that He alone controls the future and has promised to bless you.

In Christ Jesus, you are worth more than birds and lilies.  So, do not worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Jesus has taken care of the big things—He has rescued you from sin, death, and the devil; He has given you forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Now you can trust Jesus with even the little things, the things of this world.

You are now people of GREAT FAITH.  Your faith is great because your hearts trust in Jesus, the Son of God.  And Jesus is greater than any and all of your sins, including the idolatries of the heart.  You are redeemed.  You are His own and you live under Him in His kingdom.  Just as He has risen from the dead, so He lives and reigns to all eternity FOR YOU.

Therefore, set your hearts not on what is passing but on what endures for all eternity.  Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  In these uncertain times, do not worry, for the Lord is with you, to turn your fears into faith and to turn your worries into confident trust in your Father’s loving care.  Cast all your care on God, for He cares for you.  He will sustain you.  In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The 14th Sunday after Trinity—2 September 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Epistle (Galatians 5:16–24): 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (ESV)

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The 12th Sunday after Trinity—19 August 2018

  • 5212053Our text is today’s Epistle (Romans 10:9–16): 9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
    14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (ESV)

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The 11th Sunday after Trinity—12 August 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 18:9–14): 9 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (ESV)

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The 10th Sunday after Trinity—5 August 2018

5212053Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 19:41–48): 41 When [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,  42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold,  46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him,  48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. (ESV)

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Jesus is Our Good Shepherd

Due to freezing rain, the service at Trinity this morning (April 15) has been cancelled. Our Sunday of the Good Shepherd will be transferred to next Sunday. In lieu of a sermon, then, Pastor Ritter has posted the following devotion:

jesus:lambJesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is the one who cares for His sheep, even to the point of giving His own life.  He is not a hired hand who leaves the sheep at the first sign of trouble.  No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who feeds and cares for and protects the sheep.

And we sheep are in desperate need of protection, for Satan would like nothing more than to lead us away from quiet waters and give us the poison of false doctrine instead of the green grass of God’s Word.  Satan would love to see you leave God’s presence and go off foraging on your own in the world.  For without the protecting care of the Good Shepherd, you are a lamb for the slaughter.

This is why it is so dangerous for us to abandon hearing God’s Word and receiving His body and blood here in His Church.  There is always one part of us that honestly believes that we don’t need God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection is all fine and good, but when it comes to my salvation, well, that’s my own problem.  I’ll work out my own faith and life, thank you very much.  But this view completely misses point of our text, and really the whole point of the resurrection.

Let me explain.  Our Lord promises that He Himself will feed His flock and care for them.  God Himself will feed and take care of you.  So where does God feed you?  He feeds you here, at His altar, with His very body and blood.  This isn’t simply a rite we do because we’ve always done it.  The Lord’s Supper is the very heartbeat of the Christian faith.  All of God’s work on the cross and in the empty tomb goes into your mouth and soul in Holy Communion.  This isn’t like an option on a car, where you can get the electronic windows if you want them.  Jesus is what shapes and defines your faith, for He is the one that gave you faith.  And the way Jesus shapes your faith is by coming to you in his Word and in His Sacrament.  Without Him, you are a lost sheep, hopeless and alone.  But with Jesus, you are a part of God’s flock, and He Himself takes care of you.

Listen to the deep connection between the Father and Jesus and you.  Jesus says: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.   What our Lord is saying is that the connection between you and Jesus is as close as the connection between Jesus and the Father.  As Jesus said elsewhere in John, I and the Father are one.

We live in a day and an age when it is so easy to feel alone or to be alone.  Television has made it possible for a million people to laugh at the same joke at the same time and still feel lonely.  But this is not only true of television.  Our lives are so compartmentalized and categorized that we can easily be disconnected from our family, from friends, from church, and it seems even from God Himself.  This loneliness in some ways is an extension of the separation and loss that we all experience because of sin.  Sin drives a wedge between you and God, and between you and others.  It creates gaps and holes of loneliness that we all feel at time.

This is where Jesus’ words in our text bring such comfort to the lonely and downtrodden.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.  Jesus is not simply the God who died and rose again from the dead three days later.  He is the God who has come into your midst, who binds up your wounds, and who leads you beside the quiet waters of Holy Baptism.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is the one who can restore your soul.  He is the bridge that reconnects you to God Himself.  He is the link between you and all eternity.  He is the door to the heavenly mansions, and the one who will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death.  By His stripes you are healed.

So where does this put you, as we reflect on the tender mercies of God?  It puts you in His care.  It means you are not alone.  Indeed, it means that when you eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, that you are connected to God in a way that is more profound and deeper than any kind of emotional high or feeling could ever give you.  God’s tender mercy toward you means He cares for you so much that He sent His Son to die.  It means that this same risen Son is now in your heart and soul through Holy Baptism, and that when you hear His Word you are connected to eternity itself.  Now that may sound kind of pie-in-the-sky or unrealistic.  I suppose it is to the world.  To the world there is nothing happening here.   But to you, God Himself is giving you everything, for in the Word and Sacraments, God forgives you and gives you life and salvation in Jesus’ name.

We are God’s flock, God’s church.  We are in this together.  By participating in Christ’s life through Holy Baptism, we have life in each other.  You are not alone.  We in the Christian Church hope in the mercy of God.  God will see you through whatever troubles may come upon you.  Now that doesn’t mean He’ll wave a magic wand and make everything better.  Rather, it means that God will give you the most important thing of all: He will give you Himself.

God calls you and gathers you together into His holy flock.  You are not alone.  You are now a part of God’s family.  So rejoice in His Easter mercy!  For this is what Christ won for you at the cross and in the empty tomb.  The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.  And that goodness comes to you now in His risen Son, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Amen.