Friday, March 16, 2007

Lent 4 Preaching - Wenesday

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

I Cor.1:1-13/LentWed4.07

Dear Christian, it is one thing to speak, as we must, about having nothing to do with our salvation. It is another thing to conclude from that that there is nothing we can do. We hear this evening from St. Paul, how Israel all passed through the sea and were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. That was God’s rescuing them with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Adults came out of Egypt through the water, and infants too. I wouldn’t doubt that children in the womb were carried by their mothers, and thus were born in freedom, when apart from such deliverance, they would have been born slaves to Pharaoh. This was all God’s doing, to save His people.

God’s doing alone is what saves us. But having been saved; having learned that we are not to speak as if God does His part and we do ours, and so we have to work toward our salvation, hand in hand, cooperating with God, as those who would deny God’s saving water to an infant say. Having learned to confess properly that salvation is the work of God alone, Who even rescues helpless children, let us not fall into thinking we are helpless. Taking Israel as our example, learn that when they gave themselves to sin, God was not pleased with that. He did not set them free that they might passively return to slavery, as if they had no choice, no power, no freedom. Speaking to the Baptized children in the church at Corinth, then, the Holy Apostle writes: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

On Ash Wednesday, we heard about God’s Law. It teaches us, as sinners, that we do not love God or trust Him as we ought. A week later, we heard about God’s Gospel, the Creed. In it, we say we all believe and rightfully confess the God Who saves us by His grace, by Jesus. Last week, we heard about the Prayer our Savior taught us. In it, you pray as children of the Father, as His sons. You pray like Jesus! And that, dear Children, no one but the baptized do. I don’t mean that those who aren’t yet baptized cannot pray as Christians. We confess that the Word of God can work a saving faith that leads us up to Holy Baptism, and according to our rites, we never baptize ANYONE—infant or adult— as if they DON’T believe the Faith with us, but as if they DO.

In the Lord’s Prayer, the Baptized and believing pray to God for all that

His Commandments say. We can do that, as if the Only God there is our Dear Father, and we are His dear children. We are learning to fear and love and trust in Him above all things. We are learning to Hallow His Name, which we receive in Holy Baptism. We do that by confessing and believing properly, and living godly lives according to it. We pray for His Kingdom, which comes as He gives us His Spirit, so that we believe His Word and gladly hear and learn it. We pray, “Thy Will be Done,” and thus we honor our dear Father, as Jesus did the Night He suffered for us, praying in the Garden, saying: “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will be done.” When we pray for daily bread, we pray for all that helps us and supports us and our neighbor in every physical need. When we pray our Father to forgive our trespasses as we forgive each other, what better strength against all bitterness and strife? Husbands, wives, pray constantly that God would grant you His forgiveness, so that hearing me say, “I forgive you all your sins, in Jesus’ Name,” you learn to speak to one another! Then pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” That is, keep us from adultery and fornication. Keep us from dishonesty and stealing. Keep us from all lusts and passions of the flesh. Keep us from believing we are slaves, instead of perfectly free lords of all in our baptism, subject neither to pharaoh nor to Satan nor to our sinful flesh!

Dear Baptized, this little summary of what we heard last week is for a reason. You all were baptized into CHRIST (or soon will be), in the Water and the Word. In that, GOD saved you. As Peter tells us, “Baptism doth now save us,” the way that Noah once was saved inside the ark atop the waters; the way that Israel once was saved from pharaoh’s army by the water of the sea. You were saved by God’s own mighty, outstretched, nail-scared hands when you were baptized. That set you free to assault the ears of God with your petitions, as you war with everything that wants to drag you back to slavery, to false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. For by such, Satan only wants to make you doubt and worry: “Am I REALLY in God’s image? Am I REALLY God’s dear, baptized child in JESUS, with whom He is well pleased?”

It is such a grave mistake for us, as Lutherans, to believe the lie that Baptism is plain, useless, ordinary water. Recite your Catechisms daily. Remember that Baptism is the water included in God’s command and combined with His Word. His Word created all the universe in just six days! His Word became flesh for us, and rescued us by dying in our place. Then, having risen from the dead, He said to His disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Return to Paradise and read the first two chapters of the book of Genesis this week. Notice how the Spirit of God is hovering on the waters; how the ground from which God fashioned Adam is ground that has been watered. Dust won’t stay together apart from water! Then notice, after God has fashioned Adam, breathed him—Spirited him—into a living being; after God has fashioned Eve from Adams side—notice that God says to them, “Be fruitful. Multiply. Subdue the earth; rule and fill it!” From that, understand what Christ, our Second Adam, means by saying—after He has gone into the Sleep of death for us, and blood and water have poured from His side. The resurrected, wound-bearing Jesus tells His washed ones, His Body and Blood fed ones, “Be fruitful. Multiply. Subdue the earth; rule and fill it” —by baptizing and teaching the baptized to hold to everything the Lord has spoken.

Baptism is GOD’S own, blessed, saving, recreating work, by which He fills the earth with Christians! The preaching of Baptism is the Word that recreates us in God’s image! It is the preaching of Noah, by which God ushers sinners into safety in His ark, the Church. I cannot say enough of what Baptism does! It “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” And what are those words and promises? Christ says in the last chapter of Mark, “Whoever believes AND IS BAPTIZED will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

The world wants to rip faith away from what God does and gives and says. Resist that temptation, dear Christian. Apart from what God does and gives and says there can only be believing leading to death. Everyone believes, but most will not believe what God has said. Jesus says, “whoever believes AND IS BAPTIZED,” teaching clearly the necessity of Baptism. And whoever does not believe – Believe what? Whoever does not believe what Jesus says: That Baptism is necessary. That your baptism is something to believe in. That faith goes hand in hand with what God does and gives and says, even in such simple means as Water! Believe, dear Baptized: Baptism doth now save you!

And that is saying more than that some water saves! Lots of folks go on and on about the power of water. I saw a charlatan the other day on TBN or some such network, promising that if you send him money, he will send some water he has blessed, and it will make you well or wealthy or whatever you desire! Such satanic trickery! In the Old Testament, God’s Spirit hovered on the waters. The world was judged and Noah saved by water. When Moses was just 3 months old—the same age I was when I was baptized—his mother put him in an ark and set him in the Nile, and so that prophet, as an infant, was delivered from the hand of Pharaoh, by water! No surprise, then, that when God delivered Israel, it was—once again—by water! In the wilderness, God opened up a rock and saved His people—yes, by water. St. Paul says,, “That Rock was Christ!” When Israel passed into the promised land, again, they passed through water, the SAME water by which St. John the Baptizer would administer baptism to our Savior, and over Him, the Spirit would descend in the form of a dove, the heavens would open and the Father would say, “You are My Beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

It is not just water that does what God has promised, but the

Word of God —His promises —His promised SON —for you in the water! Christ HIMSELF baptized you, making baptism a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit and Jesus go together in the Water, and where they are, there is the Father’s grace. St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior!” That makes us heirs of heaven! It makes us sons of God. It sets us free from sin and death and judgment. It makes us Satan’s own worst enemy!

Of course, it makes us OUR worst enemy as well! That’s why we have

the warning of St. Paul tonight. Israel was baptized into Moses through the sea. Yet, they were overcome. They returned to bondage, without even going back to Egypt. They engaged in sexual immorality. They grumbled against the leadership that God provided them in Moses. They mixed, not just their bodies but their hearts and minds, their worship and their thinking and believing with the pagan world around them. They forgot who they were: God’s baptized sons!

The Baptized of the Church in Corinth were forgetting also. They were living as if they had no strength, no choice but to get caught up in petty quarrels, in bickering, in sin. They were living as if God’s salvation, free and clear in Jesus, meant that they could just throw caution to the wind and live the way they wanted. One man was living with his father’s wife. St. Paul says to excommunicate him! The Baptized do not live like that—in open, willful sin.

So, what does baptizing with water mean for us, dear Children? “It means that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

You were baptized into the death of Christ. As Jesus died, so you have died with Him through Holy Baptism. And just as Christ is risen, so you are also risen from the death of sin to walk in Him in newness of life. You are a new creation! You are a New Man in Christ Jesus! The last thing God your Father wants for you, dear children, is for you to fall back into slavery, into sin. There’s a new show on TV called Intervention. I sorrow over one young man who says, “I’m dying for something to live for.” With his needle in a spoonful of Oxycontin, there’s no wonder. What sorrow. What slavery. What shame!

Your Father did not set you free in Jesus for you to forget who you are, to quit believing in your baptisms and make yourselves again weak, helpless slaves to worldly passions, to sin, to wicked desires that want to rob you of your freedom. Your baptism makes you lords and masters. It begins new impulses, new desires, creates in you a new and right spirit and gives you the mind of Christ. In short, it makes you your own worst enemy, because, as long as you are in this world, you’ll always have yourSELF, your SINFUL self to deal with. But you also have your Baptism, your Jesus, and with that, His Holy Spirit. You have your Father’s pleasure and His Name to call upon in every need. And when you’ve fallen? When you, with Israel and Corinth, have forgotten? You have that Name, dear Children! Call on it, especially then, like children crying to their father when they’re bleeding or in danger. The devil may succeed in tricking you to wander back into his sphere. Our sinful human natures go along with that. But do not let him rob you of your right to call on God as Father when you need Him most. When you need the Lord’s forgiveness. When you need your Father’s servant to declare to you that “I forgive you all your sins,” and thereby set you back upon your feet as lords and masters, that is, as God’s own baptized sons and daughters in Christ Jesus! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Lent 3 Preaching

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Brandon, MS

Ezek 33:7-20; I Cor. 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9/Lent3.07

Dear Christian, we walk in danger all the way, and so the Lord does not permit His mouthpiece to be quiet, as if sin were not an issue. This world, our friends and family, our sinful flesh—all of that transpires against us —to make it seem as if God’s Word is not of any real importance. Oh, sure, God’s Word says such and such . . . But what does any of that have to do with me and how I think or speak or live?

St. Paul warns the people in the Church of Corinth that Israel was baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all communed on Christ, eating and drinking from that Spiritual Rock of their Salvation, Who accompanied them. Yet, warns the Holy Apostle, God was not pleased with most of them, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

That happened as an example, says St. Paul, for the Church in his day. Take it as an example and a warning for yourselves, dear Christians, and do not be idolaters. Israel, who communed with God, who sat down in His presence and ate and drank, got up to play. They engaged in sexual immorality, and twenty-three thousand fell in a day. That happened in Numbers 25 when the Israelites began whoring with Moabite women. One Israelite took a Moabite woman into his tent, in full sight of God’s people. Phinehas impaled them both on a spear.

Learn your Bibles, folks, and do not put Christ to the test. Israel did, and they were destroyed by serpents. They grumbled against God, and were destroyed by the Destroyer. We know about this for our instruction. For our repentance. We know this, that we might live the Baptized life, putting to death the Old Adam, so that by contrition and repentance we die to sins and all evil desires, and a new man daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

I have no choice but to poke around and raise a stink today, dear Baptized. You’ll understand. God tells the prophet he’s a watchman for the house of Israel. If God warns the wicked, yet the prophet does not repeat that warning and the wicked continue in their wicked ways and die in their iniquity, their blood is on the prophet. He is held accountable, and that can’t save a soul.

So, please don’t be surprised that—contrary to the false Christ who is leading people to hell in Houston right now, saying there IS no sin! —or your friends, who go along with your sin —or even your family, who may complain, but still enable your sin —don’t be surprised that your pastor, mindful of St. Paul’s admonition in I Cor. 5 not to even eat with those who won’t repent of their sins —don’t be surprised if your pastor actually warns you, maybe even telling those who won’t repent to stay away, excommunicating them from this altar.

I’m not trying to make anyone more holy and righteous by doing that, the way people think, who take such pride in cleaning up their lives. Your sins can’t make you worse and your not sinning can’t make you any better. I warn you because of what St. Paul says in today’s epistle. When you kneel down to eat and drink the Lord’s Salvation . . . When you pass through the Water, being baptized into Jesus—and then, rise up from His forgiveness to play —that is, to join the world in its behavior—that’s idolatry. It’s unbelief.. Left unchecked, it can destroy many!

There is a reason we keep living like we’re of this world and not of Christ. We believe we can. We believe it doesn’t matter. We believe God’s Word is just white noise we can ignore, and that preacher’s only spouting off. If he were more in touch with life here in the real world, he wouldn’t expect us to be any different from what’s going on around us.

Dear ones, that’s just plain unbelief. It’s calling God a liar and following your own religion, which can only damn you, dragging with you anyone who follows your example. As Jesus puts it in our Gospel today, “Unless you repent, you will all perish.” Shut off the TV then, and forget about what’s making headline news, what horrible person is doing such horrible things. Recite the Ten Commandments and learn to recognize the sin that YOU’RE withholding from the Lord’s forgiveness. Yes, that sin you think is not a sin—that sin that you indulge in, because it’s only what your friends are doing and you think it’s not that bad.

Dear Christian, if it’s not that bad, it isn’t something Jesus had to die for. And if He didn’t die for it, it’s all on you! THAT’S the danger St. Paul wants to rescue us from here today! THAT’S why the holy prophet has to speak and warn the wicked. THAT’S the reason Jesus tells His parable about the fruitless fig tree, saying, “Unless YOU all repent!”

Jesus is the LAST person who is going to pretend there’s nothing wrong with sin! He dug around in how we live, and came up stinking! One day, folks raised a fuss with Jesus over Galileans who were slaughtered. Then Jesus speaks about the 18 who were crushed beneath the tower in Siloam. Jesus knows that all of these were sinners. He’s heading to Jerusalem, remember? He’s heading to the cross where He would die beneath God’s wrath because of all our sin. Jesus KNOWS what bad can happen on account of sin. It raises enough of a stink without us pointing fingers, thinking we can pinpoint how much worse a sinner someone is than we are! No, says Jesus, pay attention to yourself. Get a whiff of YOU! YOU repent of all the things YOU do, or don’t be so surprised if someone drops a house or something worse on YOU!

These are some pretty hard sayings this morning, aren’t they? Don’t think they’re coming at you from the blue. This is the speaking of the God Who tells His Father, “Leave that fruitless tree alone a year, and let me dig around it for awhile. I’ll put manure on it, and if it then bears fruit, well, fine. If not, then cut it down.”

Jesus dug around, dear Baptized. Dug around in your life and mine and died for all our sins. Now, He’s digging even more in what we’re all about. We get so packed into our sinful ways, we even take the Gospel and transform it into something self-destructive! “God forgives me, so it doesn’t matter what I do.” Do you realize what faithless, godless unbelief that is? As if Christ is of no benefit at all! As if what matters only is what I want and what I like and to hell with anybody else!

Dear Christian, do not fall for the lie that since we’re saved by grace we ought not fight temptation. Pray, “Lead me NOT into temptation!” Pray that God would not allow you even in temptation’s neighborhood! But when temptation comes, as it comes to all of us, remember: Your sins have been forgiven. You are God’s dear sons and daughters, having passed through the waters when you were baptized into Christ. You kneel down and you eat and drink. His Body and His Blood have made you lords of life, and one day, even death will have to bow to that and recognize you as its master! So, when temptation comes your way, hold onto the Gospel! Recite your Catechism, pray the Creed, turn to your Father for help, and know that He will give it! Only, do not make your being saved in Jesus some excuse for giving way to sin.

St. Paul says, “Be careful, lest in thinking that you’re standing firm, you falter!” Be sure of God’s forgiveness, because I point you to your baptism, and because I say that “I forgive you all your sins,” and because you are admitted to the Body and the Blood that say you’ll live forever. Be sure of all of that. But then, be careful. Satan roams around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; wanting to unseat you from the Gospel and drag you back beneath the Law. He wants to corrupt your freedom and turn it into license to sin, so that, instead of a clean conscience, you have a troubled one. Instead of boldness and confidence before God, you live in secret, shameful ways, hoping nothing happens that will make “it” public.

Christ did not redeem you, children, so you would have to hide in fear like that. That’s what SATAN does. Christ sets you free, and now, be sure that no temptation is beyond what you are able. Not because YOU’RE strong enough to get THIS close to sin and not go all the way! Jesus didn’t even think like that, but prayed for Himself in the wilderness and in the garden! So, when some temptation comes YOUR way, know this: GOD is faithful. HE won’t let you face temptation without also giving you the means to bear it. And here is how you bear it. Say, “Jesus has defeated sin and death and Satan in my place. I am baptized into Christ! My pastor called my sins absolved; he said it here again this morning. He feeds me Christ’s own Flesh and Blood in bread and wine. My JESUS says I have no sin now, Mr. Satan, so WHAT, please tell me, are you trying still to wrap me up in?”

The answer to that, dear Christian, is “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” You and I are sinners. The devil cannot make us more than that. He can only make us LESS than sure of what we are in Jesus. In Jesus, you are holy. In Christ, your sins have been forgiven. The ONLY thing the devil’s able to accomplish is to make you doubt what God has said. And that’s idolatry, believing more the shame of sin and the strength of its temptation than you do the grace, the mercy and the peace that come to you in Jesus. Don’t fall for it, dear Christian.

The Israelites ate and drank and then got up to play, becoming sexually immoral. The Corinthians bickered and fought, and even boasted in their freedom to live whatever way they wanted. Jesus says He’ll dig around in that awhile, and pour on His life-giving fertilizer. That’s where I come in! The Lord dug around in what we are and died for it; for YOU. Now, He’s digging even more, exposing roots, so that He can get at them and do some good. “O son of man, warn my people!” I am. I hope you hear that clearly. But then, He says He’ll pile on His manure. That’s laying Christ on you, dear children, the smell of death to those who now are perishing, but the sweet and savory aroma of God’s acceptance in His Son. A load of you know what to most people—who think that such manure as this can’t really make a difference. But Jesus says, “I’ll spread it anyway. I’ll pile it on. I’ll tell you that the devil’s been defeated and your sins have been forgiven.”

And He hopes that makes a difference. It’s the only thing that can. So if it doesn’t? “Then cut it down.” There’s nothing left to do. But as long as He is piling on the Gospel, His forgiveness; as long as sinners are passing through the Water and sitting down to eat and drink the Body and the Blood of Jesus, there’s hope. There’s life. There’s His salvation. For you! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lent 1 Preaching

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Brandon, MS

Romans 10:8-13/Luke 4:1-13/Lent1.07

Dear Christian, it's Lent, so let's just cut to the chase! Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, is not like us at all. For Jesus, Baptized with the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, takes that as His daily living - even more than stuffing food into His face. Jesus, drenched with His Father's blessing from on high, "This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well pleased" . . . Jesus, with heaven open over Him like that, and the Spirit descended and the preaching of the prophet pointing His way, saying: "Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world," Jesus actually TRUSTS that makes a difference. How much different Jesus is than we are. And that's for our salvation!

It's Lent, dear Christian. Time to fight fire with fire! It's time to say, on a day like this, when even GOD lives from what no man seems to get around to, when Jesus looks to His Baptism as if it could save Him . . . It's time to say: "Undermine the Gospel by denying that Baptism saves. . . Contradict the proclamation that salvation rests entirely upon the doing and the speaking of the Son of God made Man. . . Equate the Spirit with some feeling in your heart instead of the revealed, inspired, inerrant Word of God. . . Reject the baptism of an infant because it cannot DO what sinners HAVE to do in order to be saved. . . Or claim that men cannot forgive your sins, though Jesus sends them out to . . . Disbelieve that the God Who gave His flesh and blood upon a cross now gives the SAME to you in bread and wine for your salvation - Well, it's simply time to say to all of that: 'Get thee behind me, Satan!'"

The tactic of the devil that we see this morning is a simple one: Deny, deny, and then, deny. That's the way he did it in the Garden. "Did God REALLY say?" "Surely, you won't die." "God only said that because He doesn't want you being just like He is."

That's how it went for Jesus, the Son of Man, the Son of God, our Second Adam, baptized for us and full of the Spirit and the speaking of His Father (though He was empty of bread) out in the wilderness. Forty days, and the devil came and told Him, tempted Him, "IF you are the Son of God . . ." "IF you will worship me. . ." "IF you are the Son of God . . ." And the devil even threw in THIS: "It is written . . ."

Understand now, once and always, just how different Jesus is than you and me. He actually BELIEVES what He has heard! Trusts what God has said. He HOLDS to everything He has been given.

That, dear Christian, is the Faith that saves us, because Jesus - full of the Holy Spirit and wet with the Baptism meant for sinners - is driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, to defeat the devil, by living from His Baptism and the speaking of His Father.

Now you know exactly what to do with all those preachers who make hay with a text like Romans chapter 10 this morning. Don't they just LUV it! "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." Pay attention how they LUV the same word Satan loves to throw around at Jesus. IF.

Don't get me wrong. "If" is a perfectly fine little word. All words, nearly, are perfectly fine. Your dictionary gets along just fine without the few most people find offensive. "If" is not among them. Even Lutherans don't have any trouble with how God uses "if."

But, God using "if" and the devil using "if" are entirely different things. Jesus confesses what God had said and so confronts the devil's tempting in the wilderness. Jesus speaks in keeping with all the Father gave to Him and said to Him in Holy Baptism. The devil also quotes the Word of God, saying, "It is written." Only, the devil speaks the perfectly fine word of God and by it hopes to undermine the Gospel, unseat our Lord, deny the speaking and the giving of the Father through Word and Water. He aims at our salvation! Pay attention.

When the Holy Apostle uses "if" this morning, he's saying what we all confess and hold as true. Salvation rests entirely on Jesus. Salvation isn't a matter of what we do. It's a matter of what God gives. So, salvation's all wrapped up in this: Jesus is the Lord Who saves us. "Lord" means that He gets His way, gets to call the shots. "Lord" means, if Jesus says you're saved, you're saved; and no little peon, plebe or poverty-stricken beggar's gonna have a thing to do or say about it.

We don't have kings and such in our country, so stretch your mind a bit. If the king walks up and says you're free, you're free. If he doesn't, then you're still in the state that you were in. If the king says you're a member of his household now, you don't have to finish that some way or mull it over and then get back to him, as if it rests on you. You are what he has said you are. That's the power of a king.

St. Paul uses the little word "if" today because there really is a difference between those whose faith is entirely in Jesus, and those whose confidence is in themselves. "If" means folks can say a lot about the God Who made us and redeemed us, and go on all day about the Holy Spirit, but if they're telling you that Jesus and His speaking do not settle where you go for all eternity - if they say YOU have to settle that by some decision, some change of life, some devotion of the heart, some adjustment in yourself - they're not saying Jesus Christ is Lord at all. Because no king, no lord needs peons to complete what he has spoken.

So, learn the lesson Eve forgot, and pay attention to the Word of God. Run back to your Bibles in the next few hours and read again how God had said, already, in the chapter just before the devil spoke to Eve, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth'."

And along came Satan, saying there was still some question, whether all of that was really true, whether it was enough that God should SAY that Eve and Adam were like God already. The devil, the oldest preacher of that false religion that resides in each of us, said that Eve still needed to do SOMETHING, if she was to be like God.

Folks, you're baptized into Jesus. You are in the image of God because of that, although you still are sinners. Christ and His perfect life, His innocent suffering and death, His resurrection and eternal life beside the Father were laid over you in Word and Water. Baptism saves you.

By that, rule over the earth and subdue it, especially that creeping thing that moves along the ground, forever eating dust, and always, only, wanting you to join him. He will use the Word of God against the Word of God, and so, against the likes of you and me, whose only hope is that the Word of God says Jesus died in place of us, and now, laid over us through Word and Water, heaven smiles on us, the Spirit rests on us, and the Father speaks of sinners just the way He did to Jesus: "This is My Son, Whom I love; With you I am well pleased."

And whatever word the devil borrows from the Lord, be sure he aims to undermine your confidence! So when he uses that fine little word that St. Paul uses, "If" - he doesn't mean to make you sure that Jesus Christ is Lord and therefore, what HE says about forgiveness, life and salvation's all you'll ever need. No! The devil uses that fine little word, "If" - to try and turn the whole thing upside down, as if - not the lordly speaking of Jesus - but the confessing and believing of us SINNERS makes the difference between heaven and hell. "IF you confess and believe in your heart! If YOU confess and believe in your heart." The devil always preaches like that that, and if you believe it, that heaven depends on whether you have done what is required of you and really meant it, you'll not only then be really, you'll be most sincerely dead!

Dear Baptized, it's time to fight fire with fire; time to put that dust-munching, carpet crawler in his place. It's time to spell it out: If Jesus had believed the tempting of the devil and let go the Word of God, let go of His Baptism, tried to add something to it, as if He needed to do ANYTHING to prove or show or make Himself the Son of God, not one of us would now be saved. So, don't believe that YOU can fall for the devil's preaching, adding to the word of God, and not lose heaven!

You are the Baptized, image-bearing, Christ-born, children of the Father. It's time to rule over the creatures who can only harm you. The devil is the first of them, dear sons and daughters of the Second Adam, Jesus! There are more, but Satan is the father of them all. Resist them, and they'll flee. Hold fast to your Baptism. It settles everything for you in Jesus. Trust the Forgiveness of sins, which Jesus speaks to you through sinful men. It makes heaven yours. Believe in the Body and the Blood once given and shed for you and yours to eat and drink in bread and wine. The devil cannot overcome what has already crushed his head.

Jesus, holding to His Baptism and His Father's Word, defeated Satan for you in the wilderness. Jesus, still holding to His Baptism, all the way to Calvary, passed through death for you and was raised up again for your salvation. That's what raises YOU up, Christian. It's what saves you. Confess it and believe it, and don't let anybody rip it from you. They only want to steal you from the King's domain and return you to the gutter. You weren't meant for shame like that. So, resist them.

What saves you isn't high up, for you to bring down out of heaven. It isn't low, that you must reach into your heart and raise it. The Word is near you. It is watered on your head and planted in your ears. The Word made flesh and blood for you is even in your mouths this morning. So confess it, dear Christian - against the preaching of the devil and the tempting of your flesh - against your sin, your grave and anything that speaks against you being sons of God in Jesus. Against all that, believe THIS in your heart and confess it with your lips. Say, "I am baptized into Christ." And by it, crush the devil.

The devil's in a dry place, dear Christian, dry and dusty and very, very bitter. But you are wet with Jesus. You have the Spirit and the Father's favor, and are lords, like Eve and Adam in the Garden, subject to none - certainly not to the creeping, crawling, dust-munching devil and the desires that only want you rolling with him in the gutter. God has delivered you from all of that. He has brought you into a land that flows with more than milk and honey. He has brought you into Jesus, the First Fruits of those God made from dust and who, though we return to dust awhile, are watered now, and on account of that, forever eat and drink in the Paradise of God. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

For Sunday's Ears, and All Week, Too

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

Luke 13:1-35/Lent2.07

Dear Christian, there are some things even God can't do. He can't be untrue to His Word. He can't deny Himself. And so I want you to put away all frustrations over those who will not gather at the Supper of our Lord; those who, no matter how we urge them toward the Gifts, simply will not come.

I'm not saying to quit praying for them, or to quit speaking the truth to them in love. I am not saying you should pretend that all is well and that it doesn't matter that they are not eating and drinking, hearing and confessing what will save them. It is not well with them at all. That is why our Savior grieves today: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"

This is the great sorrow of our Lord, which even He can't change. Jesus came to save His people from their sins, yet men prefer the darkness to His Light. Jesus will NOT therefore become darkness! He came and gave His flesh for the life of the world, yet men complain, "This is a hard saying," and they turn away. Jesus will NOT therefore quit giving us His Body and His Blood in bread and wine. But He also doesn't pretend that men not having Him is fine. He says, "Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Jesus is willing to leave men to their unbelief, if they insist. What else is He to do? Change His Word? He makes no such effort to be different than sinners need. He doesn't panic, as we do. We say: "What have we got to do or change to get people into the church?" OK, your pastor thinks like that. I panic over lots of things, as if I'm greater than God. But in this morning's Gospel, Jesus isn't panicking. In Him, the Kingdom of God has come. In Him, God smiles on sinners. In Him, the world is reconciled to the Father. In Him - by way of His cross and empty tomb, which now men say is not as empty as we thought - "Oh, no! What are we going to do?!" Relax. In Jesus, we have peace that passes understanding. Apart from Him? There simply is no peace at all!

And that's not something Christ can change. I'm not trying to question God's omnipotence, His all-powerfulness. I'm not saying God is limited. I'm saying that God has limited Himself and only works in certain ways. There is no being saved apart from Jesus! That's what Christ is saying in our Gospel for this morning. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . How I often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings . . ." Oh, come on! Just cut to the Almighty God part! What's up with WANTING people to be saved, and moaning over the fact that they aren't? Aren't you - GOD!?

There are whole groups of Christians who have trouble with this, so pay attention. People wonder how Jesus can REALLY mean to save all sinners, really WANT Jerusalem to come to Him, and then not have that happen. I mean, there just CAN'T be ANYTHING God cannot do, right? But that's what we hear today. "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How I would . . .but you would not!"

Again, don't make me out to be some kind of heretic; not for this at least. I'm not saying Jesus isn't God or that God's not almighty. I'm saying, God can't save a soul apart from Jesus! And Jesus cannot save a soul by being what He isn't. People want Him NOT to be the ONLY reason that we'll go to heaven. People want Him NOT to give out heaven just as freely as He does. People want Him NOT to pour out His forgiveness, even onto babies, in His Water and His Word. They want Him NOT to speak forgiveness to poor sinners through the mouths of men. And they want Him NOT to be the kind of God Who gives His Flesh and Blood for us to eat and drink in Bread and Wine.

Dear Christian, Jesus doesn't panic over that - how men do not believe, how they won't have Him as He is and how He gives Himself to us. He doesn't panic that they do not run to Him and live from everything that He commands. He DOES, however, grieve over it. But that won't make Him change His ways or be less of the Savior that God sent Him to be. Thank heaven!

In this morning's Old Testament reading, the people didn't like the way that Jeremiah spoke. He was telling them ALL the words that God had given him to speak, and some of them were not so easy. They were hard words, about God's judgment and wrath against men's sins.

In this morning's epistle, St. Paul says to keep our eyes on him and others like him, who hold to his example. "Many," says the Lord's apostle, "walk as enemies of the cross of Christ." He says that with tears, with sorrow. But he's not about to change the preaching of the Gospel. "Many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their god is their belly. They glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things." Paul says that through tears. So should we.

The enemies of the cross will never confess, "Baptism saves me." They'll never look to the absolution for their consolation in times of temptation or trial. They're sure they're really not that bad, and if they are, they'll just try to be a little better. They'll never live as if their one assurance of God's heaven is His Flesh and Blood for them in bread and wine, and so, they won't care what gets between them and this blessed Communion. Jerusalem of old was not attracted by God's Gifts, and people aren't today. They want to hear about success and how they get to make their own way with the Lord. No one's gonna tell them anything. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I would - But you would not."

Jesus and St. Paul grieve over that, but neither changed their preaching. How could they? God can't save a soul by lying, by casting Christ aside, by market-testing His Ministry and doing what appeals to sinners. I don't know if God - being God - could have saved the world a DIFFERENT way, but in the beginning, as we heard this Wednesday night, He promised He'd send JESUS. HE'S the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says our Lord, and NO ONE comes to the Father, except through Him.

So, through His grieving over men who will not have Him, far from changing His Gospel, Jesus tells Jerusalem, "You will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.'" He was pointing to His suffering and death, the innocent blood He'd shed for sinners. He was pointing to Palm Sunday, when crowds would line the streets and fill Jerusalem with cheering. Finally, Messiah had come! Only, He wouldn't end up being what they wanted. By Friday, He was just another disappointment. Nothing like they'd HOPED for. So they cried, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

God just can't make anybody happy, it would seem. Please don't say it's any different for you, dear Christian. If He's not satisfying your appetites, don't you growl like an empty stomach? If He isn't saying you can wallow in your filth, pursue your passions, set your hearts and minds on earthly things, don't you let folks hear about it? Check the way you speak to Mom and Dad when they are not accommodating your demands. And if someone rescues you from the endless downward spiral into godless self-destruction that we all, by nature, seem to find? If some Jeremiah warns you, "You're despising God and what He says"? If I told you that you're killing your kids by keeping them away from Jesus' Faith and Service, would you thank me? OK. You are!

Learn today - Lent just started! - that there's no being saved except where Jesus is for your salvation. Learn that when He says, "You will not see me till you say, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord,'" that means something more than just being in the crowd Palm Sunday. It means that Jesus comes to us in Word and Sacraments. He, who went to a cross for us, comes lowly, gracious, riding - not upon a donkey - not yet on the clouds - but He comes near to us through Words and Water, Bread and Wine. By these, He says your sins have been forgiven. By these, He says you live forever. By these, He rescues you from all that speaks against you or controls you.

Apart from these, where Christ has placed Himself for you, there's just no way for me to speak of God for you at all. People would LUV me to make up some new Faith, that says people who have no use for the preaching of the Gospel, who don't need to live from God's forgiveness, while we poor helpless brood take refuge under Jesus' healing wings - people would LUV me to say, "Sure, we wish they'd come, but we can't say they're not forgiven if they don't, as long as they believe!" Jesus says, "You will NOT see Me - apart from saying, 'Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!'"

It's a miracle if anyone repents and holds to what I'm saying. We sing it every Sunday, as the Lord comes near to us in Flesh and Blood. We sing with the believers that Palm Sunday, and with Angels, Archangels and all the company of heaven, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, Who cometh in the Name of the Lord."

How the Lord would draw all men to THAT! To believing and confessing that the LORD is here to save us. Yet many remain enemies of it, of such a cross and its delivery to sinners. I know. I've preached it now for twenty years almost, and I can only ache for those who won't be gathered to it. I don't know what to do. GOD can't make them come, not if they're after something different; not if they won't have Jesus as He gives Himself to us. How He would gather them - on His own terms. But they will not. Such sorrow!

That's the cross we bear, dear Christian. Don't be its enemy. We so easily believe the Gospel's not enough! We so often worry that if we say EVERYTHING God says, men will stay away and be offended. But if only we'd conform to what they want - more exciting worship, shorter sermons, open communion - THEN we'd win them over! Or, as many say, if we'd just be less concerned about doctrine and more about the saving of men's souls - THEN our church would get somewhere! That's not friendship with the cross at all!

As foolish as it would be to scold a doctor for being concerned about a right procedure and demand instead that he just be concerned about the outcome of the operation, so foolish is it to say we ought to be less concerned for what God says and only be concerned for rescuing men's souls. A doctor who wants a good outcome must first of all concern himself with good procedure. So the church must always, above all else, concern itself with everything God says.

Whether we gain friends or make enemies because of that can't be our worry. Jesus grieved over an entire city one day. But He didn't panic. He didn't look for a new way of doing things, He didn't reinvent Himself, as if something other than His Gospel, His cross, His Ministry would save the world. He simply died and rose - even for the ones who would not have Him.

No one will be rescued by anything except such preaching - Christ Jesus and His Gospel. Grieve over those who remain enemies of it. Sorrow and lament that false teachers lead so many astray. And when you meet with someone who will not have Christ the way He is, who will not sing with us and gather with us and all of heaven, saying, "Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord," assure them, with all tenderness: "How we'd love to have you come. How we'd love to teach you, to wash you and forgive you. How our pastor would love to hear your confession, absolve you and admit you to Christ's Supper. How we'd love you living here with us beneath Christ's wings!"

Tell them that I'll even preach and teach toward that as if there's no tomorrow, as if we had all the time in the world and there's just no end to what I'm saying. You KNOW I will! It's why my sermons run so long and my Bible classes too. It's why I urge you all to absolution and to every opportunity to hear God's Word. Oh, Jerusalem, how Christ would have us live beneath His wings! But whether people will or not - we leave that to the God Who shed more than His tears for them. He shed His blood. He gave His life. Not only for the ones who will not have Him, but even for you and me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

St. Patrick and The Gang

Every at this time my class schedule begins to open up. We are in the fourth quarter and the end of the school year is near. March Madness has a different connotation. Spring fever hits hard.

We gained a new student in January, one who returned to us after three years in public school. He has turned the Troublemint Twins into a trio. He announced one day that he was the “mastermind” and his intention was to have the others as “henchmen.” The gang thinks that because it is March they must wear green every day. He who does not must be pinched. The one who came up with this idea is the lead pincher himself. The Pinching Machine was devilishly active for the first two days of March, not even respecting the wearing of the green. I nipped his little pincers yesterday when I told him that St. Patty’s Day was only one day out of the whole of March—and during Spring Break when he and his gang would be at home terrorizing parents and grandparents, not at school—so his two digits best remain to himself or he’d suffer consequences he hadn’t yet dreamed of. His little hand relaxed. Wise move. He’s a quick learner.

For all his wildness the kid’s a lot of fun. As soon as February ended he was excited about March. He danced into the room with a jig and wanted to know if we could speak “Scottlish” all month. He asked questions about St. Patrick, whether we would learn about him. Of course we would, I told him. And leprechauns, and post of gold, too? No, we don’t talk much about those things.

We learn about St. Patrick himself. He is a good saint with which to acquaint children—not so much as a model and an example, but for his writings. Patrick’s Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, The Lorica (or Breastplate), and his Confession are excellent study resources for children to learn how others have confessed their Christian faith. While Patrick is not necessarily an easy read, he is worth the effort. For the well-catechized child, his words are not only familiar; they prove also to contain the true treasure for which his day is remembered. It is not with gold and silver that Christ rescues us in and from this world, but with his holy precious Body and Blood.

Good resources for teaching St. Patrick are Fr. Tommy Lane and Love to Learn Place. Fr. Lane has a short homily that includes biographical details. Love to Learn is a homeschooling resource I recently discovered and will be utilizing in the future. On that link are Patrick’s Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, The Lorica (or Breastplate), and his Confession along with study guides. Each is available in .pdf file. All look to be excellent for both at home or in classroom study.