Fishing with the Word

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 5:1 – 11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Peter knew how to fish. It was his life’s work. Through years of experience he and his partners knew where to fish, how to fish, and when to fish. But on this night, they had fished all night and caught nothing.

Jesus told Peter to go out into the deep and let down their nets. Simon Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Since Jesus said it, Peter did it.

The result of Jesus’ Word was that the nets got filled with fish. They got filled to the point that they were breaking. Help was needed from the other boat to haul in the catch. And even so, the boats were so full that they began to sink.

But Jesus wasn’t giving Peter a fishing lesson. Jesus wasn’t teaching him a better time of day to fish or a better location to fish. Jesus was teaching Peter the power of His Word. At Jesus’ Word, the nets were filled with fish to the point that they were breaking. What these fishing experts would have least expected to be successful, was extremely successful. In fact, it could not have been more successful without completely breaking the nets and leaving the boats at the bottom of the lake. And that would be no success at all.

And then, Jesus called Simon Peter to follow Him saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Again, Jesus wasn’t teaching Peter to fish. He was teaching Peter to catch men. Peter would be sent out as an apostle to fish for men. But how? With what? That’s what Jesus was teaching Peter. The power to fish for men is Jesus’ Word. That is the Word Peter was to preach.

Preaching is in some ways like fishing. Sometimes we’ve fished all night and caught nothing. We might be tempted to change our fishing strategy. Let’s use bigger nets. Let’s get bigger boats. Let’s use some new lures. This might work for fish, but it doesn’t work in the church.

In the church it sounds like this: Let’s add more razzle dazzle to our Sunday mornings. Let’s get rid of the liturgy and the liturgist and get some entertainment. Let’s get some catchy beats and a great big screen. Let’s get a band that uplifts the mood. Let’s not preach the Law that kills or the Gospel that makes alive, instead let’s talk about things that make us feel good about ourselves – that’s what people really want to hear.

But this is all wrong. The focus with all of this is on us and what we do. It completely ignores the power of Christ’s Word. We don’t need attractions to draw people into the church. The power is in the Word of God.

Sometimes to us, it might not feel so powerful. There are many congregations that are shrinking. Some are closing. All are struggling in one way or another. The question is: Is God’s Word being preached in its truth and purity? If so, then it is being done right, and we wait patiently. God will provide the catch. We should not get impatient and desire to find a new fishing strategy. If we start to try and draw people in through attractions and entertainment, then we are no longer bringing people into the church, but rather into an entertainment venue that cannot compete with other forms of entertainment.

But we have the Word of God; the Word of power. St. Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).” This Word is folly; it is foolishness to the world. It is the foolishness of dropping your nets into the deep after having fished all night and catching nothing.

To those who are perishing, the Word of forgiveness is foolishness. Those who are perishing look for what is attractive and successful. What’s attractive and successful about a church that is greying and shrinking? What’s attractive about pouring water over the head of an infant? What’s attractive about a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine? To those who are perishing, these are foolishness; they are utter nonsense.

In the ancient world, the cross was shameful and offensive. Only criminals and disobedient slaves were crucified. Yet the cross is the centrepiece of the Christian Church. God’s Son came to earth in order to be charged as a criminal. God’s Son was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver – the price of a slave. Christ took the form of a slave and died as a criminal – for you! This is foolishness to those who are perishing.

But to you who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God – the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word has the power to save because it does what it says it will do. When God says I make you my child in Baptism, then you are His child. When God says He forgives your sins through the word of Absolution, then you are forgiven. When He says, “Take eat, this is my body,” and, “Take drink, this is my blood for the forgiveness of all your sins,” then you are forgiven, because God’s Word does what it says it will do.

Peter was called to preach that folly, that foolishness; the foolishness of the cross. Because the word of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. There is no power for salvation in entertainment or in razzle dazzle. There is no power for salvation in our ideas, bright or dim – none of those can save a single soul. There is power only in the word of the cross.

And our witness to the world is then through the world calling us fools. We are considered fools by the world for trusting in God for every need of body and soul, whether rich or poor, whether in joy or grief. We are considered fools for relying on the Word of Christ. But as St. Paul writes, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 1:20)?” “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27 – 29).”

The world can think the word of the cross is foolishness, but it is the word of the cross that saves from hell. The Word that filled Peter’s nets with fish is the same Word through which the universe was created, and it is the same Word by which you were baptized, and by which you are absolved and communed.

At Jesus’ Word, we do what He has instructed us to do, knowing that His powerful Word has caught us in the nets of His Church and will bring us safely to our eternal home. His Word will do it all, so we cling to it and trust it to do what Jesus has promised us it will do. His Word will save us eternally. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Word of God

Sermon for Judica based on John 8:46-59

Dear hearers of the Word of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Speaking to the Jews, Jesus addressed Himself with the divine name, “I AM.” This is the name God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:13-14) Jesus said to the Jews, “Before Abraham came to be or was born, I AM.”

There never was a time that God the Son did not exist. He never came into being. He is eternal. Before Abraham was born, He is. He always has been. He always is. He always will be. He is the eternal God worthy to be held in reverence by all people everywhere.

Instead of bowing down to worship Him, the Jews picked up stones to kill Him. The hostility of the Jews toward Jesus increased until it culminated in His crucifixion on Good Friday.

We see that it is nothing new to claim to be a believer, but to actually be a child of the devil. These Jews claimed to be God’s people, children of Abraham, disciples of Moses, and children of the kingdom of heaven. But here Christ says that they are ungodly people, rebellious children, disobedient disciples, and children of damnation, for they followed neither Abraham nor Moses, but their father the devil (Spangenberg).

Children of God hear God’s Word, receive it with a believing heart, and conform their lives to it. Children of the devil cannot hear God’s Word. They reject it with a hard heart and do not conform their lives to it. They may appear godly and holy before men, but they are bound for the depths of hell. They may be nice and friendly and cheerful, but when they hear the Word of God which convicts them of sin, instead of repenting, they get angry and hostile to God’s Word and to the messenger speaking it.

Such hostile people, filled with hatred and spite, wrath and fury oppose Jesus’ Word. It only makes sense that such stony and stubborn hearts would pick up stones to kill Jesus and crucify Him not much later.

It is a very common thing to claim to love God and yet oppose His Word. They essentially say: “I love God but I don’t like what He says about this or that topic. I am a Christian, but I reject what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. I believe in God, but not what the Bible says about sin.” This is nothing other than creating a god in your own image and rejected the true God. It is creating an idol, a cult, a false religion.

Jesus says to them concerning God the Father, “You say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I were to say that I do not know Him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His Word.”

You cannot know God apart from His Word. God does not speak to you apart from His Word. Faith does not exist apart from the Word of God. God’s Word is the difference between truth and lies, between faith and unbelief, between life and death.

Thus Jesus says, “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never see death.” This means that those who claim to love Jesus but reject His Word will see eternal death. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’.” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Cling to the Word of God and you will never see death. Hear God’s Word, receive it with a believing heart, and conform your life to it.

This does not mean that we will not die from this life. We will die from this life, but it will be a slumber and a departure in peace from which Christ will awaken us to live forever. Clinging to the Word of God means that we will not die eternally, but will live forever in the joys of Paradise.

How can words have such power? How is the Bible so powerful? It is because it is God’s Word. The same Word with which He created the heavens and the earth. The same Word which commands the wind and the waves, and life and death. The same Word which became flesh and dwelt among us.

Only in the Bible do we learn of the peace God’s Son won for us by His suffering and death. This is the Gospel that has the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). It saves us because it tells us that we are not left by God in our sin. We are not left on our own to face the accusations of our conscience, of the Law, and of the devil. Christ Jesus has taken all those accusations and died for them.

Jesus asked the Jews, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” He asked this to show that they had no accusations against Him. They could not convict Him of sin. He lived a perfect life of obedience to the Law of God. Yet, on the cross, He was found guilty of our offences. Our lust, our greed, our laziness, our indifference was charged to Jesus. He who never sinned was charged with all our sins and all the sins of the whole world.

This is the power of the Gospel. It lifts you up from despair. You need not fear punishment for your sins. You need not fear Judgment Day. You need not fear hell. Christ our Lord has conquered sin, death, and the grave. He had barred the gates of hell for all those who cling to His Word.

The eternal Son of God has sent His eternal Gospel into all the world so that everyone who believes in Him will be saved. He is the great I AM who has always been opposed by the world and who has always been loved by His children who hear His Word and keep it.

Cling to the Word of God and you will never see death. Hear God’s Word, receive it with a believing heart, and conform your life to it. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Not All Seeds Grow

Sermon for Sexagesima based on Matthew 20:1-16

Dear hearers of the Word of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus tells a scary parable in today’s Gospel lesson. He says that many of those who hear God’s saving Gospel will still end up in hell. He says many people who are believers during their lives will still end up in hell.

There are three enemies to the Word of God bringing about the fruit of faith: the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. The devil snatches away God’s Word that is sown like the seed on the path that was trampled underfoot and snatched away by birds. The world brings about testing and affliction so that faith withers like the seed sown on the rock. The sinful flesh chokes faith with cares and riches and pleasures of life as the seeds sown among the thorns were choked.

This means that very few people will be saved. We can sure see it in our day. There has been a mass exodus of people who have left the church and many more who were never part of the church. We see our numbers dwindling, as is common in churches everywhere. But it is not uncommon that believers would be in the minority.

In the time of Noah, only eight souls were saved in the ark out of all the souls on the earth – Noah with his sons and their wives (Gen. 7:13). In the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah only four souls were saved – Lot, his wife, and his daughters (Gen. 19:16). Even then, Lot’s wife’s faith was choked by the life and its pleasures she was leaving behind, and she was turned into a pillar of salt, reducing those saved to three (Gen. 19:26). In the days of Elijah, there were only 7,000 men out of all of Israel who had not bowed the knee to the false god Baal (I Ki. 19:18). Of the 600,000 men who left Egypt through the Red Sea, only two made it into the Promised Land – Joshua and Caleb. The rest were overthrown in the wilderness (Nu. 14:38; I Cor. 10:5). As Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14)

The devil, the world, and our sinful nature are always working against the Word of God, so that it would bear no fruit in us; that the Word would be trampled and snatched from us; that the Word would wither; that the Word would get choked.

When you hear the Word of God, does it penetrate your heart and cause you to turn away from your sin, or do you continue to live in the sin from which the Word tells you to turn away? A hard heart tramples the Word underfoot and the Word is then snatched away by the devil.

Is your faith rooted in the Word of God which you daily study and regularly hear, or is your faith without root and when trials and tribulations come, you will fall away?

Is your faith of secondary importance, so that you hear it and read it only after you have dealt with all your dealings with and pursuits of the cares and riches and pleasures of life? If so, your faith will be choked by the things you hold to have higher importance.

Scripture tells us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10:12) Do not presume that God is okay with the sins from which you have not turned just because He has shown you kindness and been patient with you. Don’t you know that His kindness and patience are meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4)

To those who refuse His counsel and won’t have His correction, God says, “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock you when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then you will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them” (Prov. 1:26-32).

God does not will the death of anyone, but that we would all turn from our sins and live. (Ezek. 33:11) That is why God sends His Word to be sown everywhere. He wants it to break down hearts of rock that would trample it. He wants to water it so that it would have moisture, and clear it of thorns that would choke it. He has His Word scattered everywhere so that all might be warned to flee from the wrath to come and take shelter under the cover of Christ’s righteousness.

You cannot bring yourself to faith, neither can you keep yourself in the faith. God is the one who gives you faith. God is the one who keeps you in the faith. But He doesn’t do it through magic. He brings you to faith through water and the Word. He keeps you in the faith through His Word and through the Sacrament of the Altar.

God knows the devil is after us. He knows the world is full of trials and temptations. He knows that we are weak and frail.

Therefore He scatters the seed of His Word to our ears which says “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.” (Ps. 103:10-13)

God shows you compassion for the sake of Jesus, who was shown no compassion. No one had pity on Him when He was charged with all of your sin. In His suffering, pain, and death, He was only mocked. He was even forsaken by God the Father, so that He would show compassion to you. Jesus suffered and died for your sins and sends His seed to be scattered to you, so that you would believe and be saved.

The seed that God sows is His saving Word – His Word that is connected to the water of Baptism to save you; His saving Word that is spoken to you in Absolution; His Word with which He gives us the true body and blood of Jesus to save us from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

God’s Word has produced faith in you and keeps you in the faith. The devil only snatches away the Word that does not penetrate a hard heart. He cannot snatch away the Word that is in your heart. Faith only withers if you believe that you have root in yourself so you no longer need to learn God’s Word or study it. Faith that is being nourished by the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper will not wither. The cares and riches and pleasures of this life can only choke faith that is of secondary importance; when we have higher priorities than our faith.

Hold fast to the Word of God. Turn away from sin. Do not fear the trials of this life and do not cling to the cares and pleasures of this life.

God’s Word that is sown is not dead, but living and active. Therefore it will produce fruit with patience in you. It will grow and yield a hundredfold. It will not be snatched, it will not wither, and it will not be choked. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God’s Word is Eternal

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Luke 21:25-36

Dear believers who cling to the Word of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This heaven and earth are not eternal. They will not last. But God’s Word is eternal. It will last.

Therefore, you have a choice of clinging to that which will pass away, or to that which will not pass away. You can cling to the mammon and treasures and pleasures of this life which will all be burned with fire, or you can cling to the Word of God which leads to eternal life. Clinging to that which will be destroyed by eternal fire means that you will be destroyed by eternal fire. Clinging to that which does not pass away means that you will be saved eternally.

God’s Word is eternal. It has been proclaimed on the earth since the beginning. Adam was a preacher. So were Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The preaching of the Word has been since the beginning, and has always been the same: the preaching of repentance and the promise of the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. It has always been about turning away from idols, turning away from that which will pass away and holding fast to that which is eternal, to that which will not pass away.

The first writing down of God’s Word that we have recorded in Scripture, is God Himself writing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. Over the next thousand years, the rest of the Scriptures were written which we call the Old Testament. Our epistle lesson tells us, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The Bible was given to us so that we would learn from it, and that we would have endurance, encouragement, and hope.

After a period of silence which lasted four hundred years, God the Father sent His Son into the world. The Word became flesh. God again spoke, and the New Testament was written.

The Old and New Testaments are God’s Word. Everything that is written down in them was inspired by God, so they are free from error. Second Peter 2 says, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (1:20-21) Everything that is written by men is subject to error. Because God is responsible for the words written in the Bible, it does not have errors. It cannot have errors, because God does not have errors or make errors. The Bible is perfect and reliable.

The Bible is therefore the only authority by which the church, its teaching, and its teachers are to be judged. The church does not decide any point of doctrine. The church is to submit to the doctrine revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. That’s why you cannot have votes on matters of doctrine. A church committee or council or convention or voter’s assembly cannot make decisions on matters of doctrine. A pastor cannot make decisions on matters of doctrine. The entire church must submit to God’s Word as the sole authority on all things spiritual.

That’s why Saint Paul writes to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (II Tim. 3:15-17)

Scripture is God-breathed. This means that God is the source of Scripture. It is for teaching. This means it teaches us God’s doctrine. It is for reproof and correction. This means it calls us to repentance over our sin. It is for training in righteousness and equipping us for good works. This means that it teaches us that we are declared righteous by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, so that we would live a God-pleasing life.

What is it that Saint Paul writes is the main purpose of the Bible? To make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This is what Saint John also writes, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

The main purpose of the Bible is not to be a book of rules and commands for us to follow. In fact, the first purpose of the Bible is to show us that we cannot follow the rules and commands God has given us. The second, and main purpose of the Bible is to tell us how Jesus died for our sins so that we have the promise of the forgiveness of sins. These are the two major divisions of the teaching in the Bible – Law and Gospel.

Law and Gospel will never pass away. They are eternal.

The Law of God is eternal because it is the will of God for us which is holy, and righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). In eternity it will no longer accuse us because we will fulfil the Law perfectly in heaven. We will no longer sin. We will live according to the Law of God in thought, word, and deed.

The Gospel is eternal because it is an enduring message of deliverance from evil (cf. Rev. 14:6). We will no longer need the Gospel because we will no longer need the forgiveness of sins, but its effect is eternal. Because of Jesus’ death for us, we will spend eternity in heaven with Him and see Him face to face.

This is why even though heaven and earth will pass away, God’s Word will not pass away. His will for us remains forever and His promises to us remain forever.

This eternal Word of God makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This eternal Word of God gives you faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and thus gives you life in His name.

Don’t cling to the things of this life that will pass away. Whether God gives these earthly things or takes them away, say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (cf. Job 1:21)

Cling to God’s Word which is eternal. God’s Word will bring you to eternal life because it tells you about Jesus, the Word made flesh. He joined our human race in order to take upon Himself the sin the kept us away from God. He removed it from us by bearing its penalty in Himself. Christ crucified is the chief and main topic of the Bible as well as of the preached Word of God. He who created all things in the beginning and joined His creation in the fullness of time sends us His Holy Spirit, who daily and richly forgives us all our sins. This is how He keeps us united to Him in faith until the very end. This world will pass away, but the words of Jesus and those who cling to them in faith will endure forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Offended by Jesus

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on John 6:51-69

Dear followers of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We live in days when pretty much everyone is pretty much always offended. Everyone is so self-centred that they cannot even tolerate hearing a point of view different from their own. People are offended by natural marriage and families. People are offended by those who want to protect the lives of the unborn. People are offended because everyone doesn’t bow down to their newly fangled ideologies and perversions.

As the morals of society change, what is offensive changes. This is certainly reflected in the media. Things that used to be offensive to society and would never have been seen in television and movies are now common in most media. Yet things that used to be common in older movies and shows are now deemed offensive.

What has not changed and will not change is that the world will be offended by Jesus. Jesus has not changed. His Word is the same as it has always been. When people are offended by what Jesus says, they either twist it or stop listening to it.

In our Gospel lesson, many of Jesus’ disciples were offended by Jesus. They had been following Jesus, but then He said something that offended them, and they turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. They said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They said that Jesus’ Word was difficult to accept, intolerable, and offensive. They did not want to listen to Jesus’ Word. They didn’t want to listen to Jesus.

Jesus was teaching them about the manna God’s people of old received from heaven, and said about Himself that He is the bread that came down from heaven; that He is the bread of life. Those who ate the bread in the wilderness died, but those who eat the bread of life will live forever. Whoever feeds on Jesus’ flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.

Many of Jesus’ disciples didn’t like Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures as He taught them in the synagogue that day. They thought they could be disciples of Moses and followers of the Scriptures and faithfully attend the synagogue, but reject Jesus. They neglected to understand that the Scriptures speak about Jesus; that Moses spoke about Jesus; that the synagogue was the place to hear about Jesus.

Jesus had earlier said to the Jews seeking to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Jn. 5:39-40)

The Scriptures all speak of and point to Jesus for eternal life. He was there before their eyes and they were offended, and they rejected Him and refused to hear Him teach anymore. The words that Jesus said are spirit and life to them, they did not want to hear.

We too can be offended by Jesus’ words. We too have been so influenced by the rapid demoralization of the world around us that Jesus’ words can offend us. Jesus tells us to purge the unrepentant person from the church (I Cor. 5:13), but that sounds offensive and unloving to world-influenced ears. Jesus tells us to practice closed communion (I Cor. 11:17-32), but that too sounds offensive to world-influenced ears. Next week’s Epistle lesson tells wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). There’s not much that will more offend this feministic society we live in and those influenced by it.

However, the reality is that the Law of God is not what causes people to stop walking with Jesus. That God gives rules and has standards for behaviour does not cause people to part from Him. Everyone expects that God should have standards and rules.

Look at what happened to the disciples in our Gospel lesson. Jesus didn’t give them an extra commandment, causing them to say, “Hold on, that’s one too many. We’ll take the Ten Commandments, but we can’t handle eleven.” They didn’t fall away because Jesus told them to work for their daily bread. They fell away from Him because He said that He is the living bread that will cause all those eating His flesh to live forever.

Instead of giving them more rules, He was giving them Himself and thus promising them eternal life; promising to raise them on the last day.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Many of Jesus’ disciples found this offensive.

What we have to understand is that when we find God’s Word offensive, that is our sinful nature rebelling against God. It’s our sinful heart saying, “I know better than God.”

When we find God’s Word offensive, we need to drown the Old Adam is us by contrition and repentance. We may not understand why God says what He says, but we must cling to His Word as the truth, because it is the truth.

The cross is a scandal and an offence because we don’t want to admit that we are sinful. We don’t want to admit that it was for our sin that Jesus suffered and died. We don’t want to admit that we need God’s forgiveness every day.

Yet, Jesus gives us the forgiveness of our sins. He gives us the gift of faith. He gives us His true body and blood. We feed on His flesh and drink His blood, so Jesus promises us that He is in us and we are in Him. He promises us that we will live because of Him. He promises us that He will raise us on the last day and we will live forever.

Do we understand this perfectly? No, but we still trust Jesus’ word.

Do you want to go away from Jesus and hearing His Word along with those who are offended by His Word? No, you don’t. We answer with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

You trust Jesus, because you know He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. You trust Jesus because He is the one who took all your sins onto Himself and suffered and died for you, taking the punishment you deserve because of your sins. You trust in Jesus because He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink so that you believe and have come to know that all your sins are forgiven and you will live forever.

There will always be those who are offended by Jesus and thus turn away from following Him. We however will follow Him, because God the Father has granted to us to come to Jesus. We follow Him because He paid the price of our sins. We follow Jesus because He alone has the words of eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Word – Opposed, but Salvific

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:14-29 (Amos 7:7-15)

Dear hearers of God’s Word: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The preaching of God’s Word is opposed everywhere it is heard. The prophet Amos was told to leave the land of Israel and never again prophesy there; never again to speak God’s Word to them there. John the Baptist wasn’t just asked to leave and never preach again. He was beheaded in prison.

Both messengers of God had merely preached the Word God had sent them to preach. Amos called the people of Israel to repentance over their idolatry and various other sins such as taking bribes, fornication, and not helping the needy. John certainly called the Israelites to repentance over many sins, but it was his calling of Herod to repentance over adultery that he was put to death.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are despising God’s Word when you don’t come to church. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are robbing God by not giving more offerings to support this congregation. You don’t like it when I tell you that sex outside of marriage is sin and that those who live together outside of marriage are to repent. God knows what discord and conflict has been caused in this congregation when I have called couples living in sin to repentance.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant, but it is necessary for salvation. It is necessary that you have God’s Law preached to you so that you would recognize sin to be sin and repent. It is thus necessary that you support this congregation so that it can remain here, and the preaching of God’s Word can be heard here.

If you don’t support this congregation, and it does close, where are you going to go to church? An ELCIC “Lutheran” church in town? They don’t call sinners to repentance. They harden sinners in their impenitence. Did you know that at their sister church’s teen assembly in the U.S. earlier this month they had a boy who says he is a transgender girl speak to the teens about God’s call for him to be transgender? This was received with loud cheering by the teenagers. They had a woman who cross dresses as a pastor have the teens repeat after her that homosexuality is beauty. She also has drag queens perform at her church, calls some of Scripture “wretched,” teaches that hell is not real, and views the Wiccan goddess as an aspect of God. (See for this and much more.)

Is that where you are going to go to church and is that where you’re going to send your children and grandchildren for youth camp, or are you going to support this congregation so that God’s Word can still be heard here in this place?

No one else is going to support this congregation. Those who are on the membership rolls but despise God’s Word aren’t going to give a red cent. Nor should they. Why would they support the preaching of God’s Word which they don’t want to hear? Why would they support the preaching of repentance which they despise? They’d sooner support an ELCIC congregation that encourages them to keep sinning. They need to be removed from membership, but that’s another matter. The point is that you need the preaching of God’s Word here, and in order for you to have it, you need to support it.

It is not for my sake that I say this, but yours. It doesn’t matter what happens to me. Like Amos, I can be told to leave here and never again preach God’s Word to you. Like John the Baptist, my preaching can be stopped by the authorities who hate God’s Word. For your sake, you need God’s Word preached to you. You need to support this congregation so you do not lose the great treasure of the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

God can keep this congregation here until Christ returns. If He does so, it is not for your sake that He acts, but for the sake of His holy name, which you have profaned (cf. Ezek. 36:22). You have profaned it by not supporting the preaching of His Word or gladly hearing and learning it. You have profaned God’s name by your sins which have caused God’s name to be blasphemed by unbelievers (cf. Rom. 2:24).

But God does not save you because of what you have done or left undone. He saves you for His own name’s sake. He has sprinkled you with water and cleansed you from your uncleanness, and from all your idols He has cleansed you. He has given you a new heart, and a new spirit He has put within you. He has removed the heart of stone from your flesh and given you a heart of flesh. God has put His Spirit within you, and He will cause you to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules (cf. Ezek. 36:22-27).

And God says to you, “Bring the full tithe… And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:10-12)

God promises you every blessing in giving your tithes and offerings to Him. The greatest blessing is that your offerings ensure that His Word remains in your midst; that Absolution is still spoken to you to forgive your sins; that Christ’s true body and blood are still given to you to nourish and strengthen your faith.

The truth is that you have supported and do support this congregation, otherwise it would not be here today. God has already moved your heart to give to Him, and He continues to move you to give.

I am confident that you will ensure that God’s Word is preached to you, not just today, but for years to come.

In this world that has abandoned sanity, you need God’s Word preached to you in its truth and purity. In a world that watches some vile, bottom-feeder from Hollywood say, “God bless abortions” on her Netflix special, you don’t need a church like the ELCIC that encourages abortion. You need to hear the truth that God abhors abortion as a detestable and horrendous sin.

In a world which cannot differentiate male from female, natural from unnatural, or good from evil, you need to hear the truth that God created us male and female, and that He instituted marriage for one man and one woman for life.

You need to hear what is right and true so that you will also recognize where you have departed from God’s thinking and followed the world’s thinking. God has His Law preached to you so that you would turn from sin and receive forgiveness.

Forgiveness is after all what God wants for you. It doesn’t matter the sin, God wants to give you His forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable, whether it is living together outside of marriage, homosexuality, divorce, or abortion. Jesus knows these sins. Jesus died for these sins.

Jesus didn’t think that He was coming to die for people that were overall pretty good. He knew our detestable and wicked sins of rebellion and selfishness, and He came to earth to die on the cross for them. He came to forgive sin. He came to give new life. He came to soothe guilty consciences that have made decisions that cannot be undone. He came to give comfort to you, living in this world of confusion and chaos. He gives you His body and blood to keep you in Him to life everlasting.

Cling to God’s Word and do everything you can to ensure it is preached to you. The Law that points at our sins is not pleasant to hear, but it diagnoses our sinful condition, so that the soothing ointment of the Gospel will comfort us with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). Cling to its light to stay on the path that leads to everlasting life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Mere Words Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 4:26-34

Dear pleasant planting of the Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Talk is cheap, it is said. This is of course true of man’s word. It is far easier to talk of great things than accomplish them. It is easier to say that you care than to show that you care, just as it is easier for politicians to make promises than to deliver on those promises once elected.

We are so experienced and familiar with empty talk and vain words, that we tend to hold words to be of little significance or value. Even worse, we recognize our own gossip, slander, complaining; our own name-calling, cursing, and lying and we may indeed say silence is better than words.

Yet God has chosen to save us through words. Not just any words, but His words. God has chosen to save us not through miracles that we witness; not through astonishing incidents we experience; not through overpowering sensations we feel. God has chosen to save you through the humble means of human words. He has chosen to save you from eternal death and hell by His Word.

They are very particular words that save: words that express the Gospel – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins on the cross; particular words that tell you that God loved you so much that He sacrificed His Son for you; particular words that proclaim you justified, that is, declared not guilty for Christ’s sake through faith, when you believe that you are received into favour and that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.

These words are sown into hearts. The sower sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The sower simply scatters the Word. He’s not worried about the outcome.

Anyway, the growth is not in his hands. The earth automatically produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

It may seem like a small, insignificant seed. Just mere words. But these seeds grow up and become larger than all the garden plants and put out branches so that birds can make nests in their shade.

God’s Word produces. It produces faith – saving faith which brings us to heaven. It produces works – good works which serve our neighbour and supply the proof that faith is living. God’s Word produces. It does not return to Him empty, but accomplishes that which God purposes, and succeeds in the thing for which He sends it (cf. Is. 55:11)

This is true for Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well. Without God’s Word, the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit.

Without God’s Word, the bread and wine are plain bread and wine and no Lord’s Supper. But with Christ’s words, “This is my body… this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” He gives us exactly what He promises: His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

God’s Word does what it says it will do. It produces faith and it produces good works, which are the fruit of faith.

Jesus continued the parable saying, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Scripture often calls the close of the age or Judgment Day, the harvest. Once the grain is ripe, it is harvested.

There is only one Judgment Day, but in way, it does not come at the same time for all of us because we all die at different times. As the book of Hebrews tell us, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Heb. 9:27) After death, there is no opportunity to repent or believe or do good works – these are all to be done while we are still alive.

Do not look at death from an earthly perspective. Look at death from God’s perspective. When the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come. When God has called His elect to faith and He has produced growth in them so that that are ripe, He harvests them into His barn. He takes them home to heaven.

From an earthly perspective, we sometimes hear it said that it was too soon. My parents were taken too early. My spouse died too soon. My poor little child died too young. God says, when the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come.

The earthly perspective forgets that heaven is our aim, our goal, our home. It is God’s aim, goal, and home for us. When our loved ones die in the faith, that is God harvesting His ripe grain. It is God taking His children home.

We have the same aim and goal as all believers – to be forever with the Lord. However, since we are still here on earth, that means it is not yet time for our harvest. It means that we are not yet ripe. We are still here to grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith. Even bed-ridden believers can pray for others while on their deathbeds and provide a witness of hope in God’s promises to their families. We can grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith until we are ripe, and then the harvest comes.

The harvest will come. The time will come when your appointed time to die arrives, and then comes the judgment. Because God’s Word has been sown in your heart and faith has sprouted and grown, you will be ripe for the harvest.

You have nothing to fear in death or on Judgment Day because Jesus has already been judged for your sins. You are baptized into His death and resurrection and you eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of all your sins, so you will receive your promised inheritance of eternal life.

This is not empty talk or vain words. It is almighty God’s promise to you that is sure and certain. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s promise to you will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). Man’s words are empty. But when God speaks, it is already done. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Preaching is Better than Healing

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:29-39

Dear hearers of preaching: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

God is not a vending machine. You don’t put in a dollar and then make your selection of what you want.

This is the way false gods are worshiped. The prophets of Baal thought that the longer they prayed, and the more intensely they prayed, the more they would be heard by Baal. When they would not receive an answer, they would cut themselves in the hopes of getting their false god to have compassion on them and answer their prayer (cf. I Ki. 18).

Offering sacrifices to idols was in order win to the favour of the idols. If food offerings didn’t result in an answer to their prayers, then they would try animal sacrifices. When animal sacrifices still did not result in the idol answering their prayer, they would even offer their children to be sacrificed, as the followers of Molech did. The thinking was that if you wanted the god to answer your prayer, you had to offer a sacrifice that was great enough. You put in your dollar and make your selection.

Atheists use a similar misunderstanding of God as an argument that there is no God. They say, “I prayed to God and He didn’t give me what I wanted, so there is no God.” I made my selection on the vending machine, but I didn’t get what I wanted, so I do not believe.

But God is not a vending machine, regardless of how people think of Him. He’s got better things prepared for us than we can even understand.

The whole city gathered at the door of the house where Jesus was. They wanted healing. They wanted sicknesses and diseases gone. Jesus did heal many. He healed many who were sick or oppressed by demons, as He had healed Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever.

However, Jesus said He came to preach. As more people came looking for Him desiring healing for themselves or their loved ones, Jesus departed to go on to the next towns in order to preach. Jesus did not heal everyone in the city, even though He could have. Instead of healing, Jesus did the more important thing – preaching. He said to His disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Preaching is better than healing. Healing leads to living longer in this sinful world, but preaching leads to eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.

Yet, how often do we pray for preaching? “Dear God, grant me to hear more sermons.” How often do we spend time listening to sermons and reading sermons? Okay, maybe we’ll hear one on Sunday morning, but what about hearing God’s Word throughout the week? I hardly think too many of us pray for more preaching. I don’t think anyone prayed this morning, “Dear God, grant my pastor to have an extra long sermon this morning.”

Yet, we do pray for healing. We pray for healing for ourselves and our loved ones. We keep hitting the healing button on the vending machine and are disappointed if all we get is preaching. We’d rather have the healing than the preaching.

It’s not that healing is bad. Healing can mean less pain. Healing can mean more time to spend with our families before we die. Healing can mean hearing more preaching before we die.

Healing is, however, temporary. We will all still die. Healing just puts off the inevitable for a little while longer. Illnesses and sicknesses will return. Death will come. In the end, healing makes us no better off.

Preaching teaches God’s Word and tells us what God’s will is for our lives. Preaching convicts us of sin and brings us to repentance. Preaching creates and sustains trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and it thus makes us eternally better off.

Sometimes we need illness. We may need it to humble us. It is a very humbling thing to have your body or mind fail and require the help of others. It is humbling to be bedridden or confined to a wheelchair. God certainly can use illness to crush our sinful pride and give us humility.

Illness also can make us think of eternal matters. When we are healthy, we are busy with the things of this world. Illness can make us reflect on the fact that we will all die. Illness can prompt in us a greater desire to hear preaching and the Word of God. God can use illness to turn us away from the world and open our eyes to better things.

Whether God sees it fit to give healing or not, He does not give it because of anything we have done. God does not answer our prayers because our prayers are long or well-worded or intense. He doesn’t answer our prayers because we have sacrificed greatly or given Him offerings.

Everything God gives to us, He gives only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. Even the illnesses that He gives to us, He gives to us out of love, desiring what is for our eternal good.

Unlike a vending machine, what God gives to us is not His response to what we have given to Him. It’s the other way around. God gives to us first. He gives blessings to us, so that we have something to give to Him as an offering. He gives us the greatest good – the forgiveness of sin – so that our hearts would be freed to give offerings to Him willingly and joyfully, not under compulsion. He gives us eternal life, so that we will not cling to the things of this earth like they are going to last, but that we would release our hold of what God has entrusted to us and use it for the eternal good of others, by supporting preaching here and around the world.

Preaching is better than healing, because it brings not just temporary healing, but eternal healing. If you do pray for healing from illness, just know that God may say no to healing in this life, and instead bring you into His eternal joys where you will have eternal healing.

Pray for preaching. Pray that God will graciously grant you to hear the preaching of His Word for all the days of your life. Pray that God would grant your children and grandchildren preachers who preach His Word. Pray that God would give you a desire to hear His Word, and that He would give you wisdom and understanding when you hear it preached.

There is nothing better than hearing the Gospel preached to you. Jesus died for you, so your sins are forgiven. Your sins which plague you cannot keep you from heaven because your sins have been removed from you. You have the promise of eternal life. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You have the promise of being healed eternally from all illnesses and sicknesses, where you will see God face to face, and He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Eternal healing is God’s promise to you, and that promise gives you trust in God through all the illnesses of this life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Devil Cast Out

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:21-28

Dear people saved from the devil: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Talking about the devil is not a popular topic of conversation. It is not even common in sermons these days. People want to hear good and pleasant things, not about the devil or about hell. “Tell me about Jesus blessing the children or calming a storm, not about the devil or his demons.”

This is understandable. It is not nice or pleasant to hear about the devil. Yet, it is important that we hear about him. It is important that we hear about this great enemy of ours who is scheming to tempt us and prowling to devour us. It is important that we know that he is wily and cunning, a murderer and a liar, and that we understand that he unceasingly wages war on the Church of God through every means possible. This means the devil wages war on you.

Ever since tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, the devil has been tempting mankind to question what God says. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” he asked, twisting God’s Word. (Gen. 3:1) “Did God actually say,” the devil continually asks.

The devil has his successes. The Bible tells us the devil incited King David into sin which resulted in God striking the people of Israel so that 70,000 men died from pestilence (I Chron. 21). The devil enticed King Ahab into a war which resulted in his death (I Kings 22). It is the devil who forbids marriage (I Tim. 4:1-2) and who tempts married people to infidelity (I Cor. 7:5), which we know goes everywhere. The devil snatches God’s Word out of hearts who hear so that they would not believe and be saved (Luke 8:12), and he sows his evil children among the children of God to cause strife, discord, and fighting even in the church (Matt. 13:38-39).

Do you think the devil is not behind the evil we see in the world? Do you think he is not behind the teaching of evolution that is taught to our children in school that denies what Scripture teaches? Did God actually say, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first billion years”? (cf. Gen. 1:5) Do you think the devil is not behind the murder of unborn children, whose blood cries up to God from the ground? Did God actually say, “You shall not murder, unless the child is not yet born”? (cf. Ex. 20:13) Do you think Satan is not behind homosexuality, transgenderism, pornography, and every other perversion of God’s gift of marriage? Did God actually say, “You shall not commit adultery, unless you were born that way”? (cf. Ex. 20:14)

The devil has so blinded the minds of this world that they will unhesitatingly and unblinkingly call black white and white black (2 Cor. 4:4). His power in the world is so great, that Scripture even refers to him as “the god of this world.” (2 Cor. 4:4)

Unbelievers are completely under the power of Satan until God’s grace and power deliver them from the domain of darkness and transfer them into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).

This then is why we hear about Jesus casting out a demon in Epiphany. Yes, it reveals that Jesus is God, but it also reveals that the coming of the promised Saviour means that the reign of God has arrived in the person of Jesus, as He takes men captured by the devil away from the devil with nothing more than His Word. “Be silent, and come out of him!” is the command from Jesus for the devil to release his grip on the man and depart. It is the revelation that Jesus was beginning to turn back the forces of the devil and drive him to destruction.

Just before His crucifixion, talking about His own death, Jesus announced, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31) Jesus’ death appeared to be Satan’s victory, but in reality, it meant his overthrow. It meant the casting out of Satan from power and his reign ended.

The world was judged when Jesus was judged. The world was found guilty, but Jesus took that guilt on Himself. Jesus was punished for the sins of the world as He suffered and died.

Death was unable to keep Jesus. Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead. This means that Satan’s threats of death because of our sin are vain and useless. Our death is now nothing to fear, since we will rise from the dead as Jesus rose from the dead. Everyone who is in Christ has conquered death. Everyone who is in Christ will rise to everlasting life.

Thus, remain in Christ. Remain in Christ by remaining in His Word. Remain in Christ by receiving His body and blood. Being in Christ is your protection from Satan and his attacks and temptations, and from his fiery darts with which he seeks your eternal ruin.

Do not think that God gave you His Word for nothing. Do not think Christ commands you to abide in His Word (John 8:31) for no reason. God gave you His Word and commands you to abide in it because you cannot defend yourself from the devil on your own. Abide in Christ’s Word so that you will not fall for every trick and temptation of the devil.

If you do not abide in Christ’s Word, when the devils tempts you and asks, “Did God actually say…” you will have no idea of what God said or didn’t say. If you do not abide in God’s Word, you will be blown around by every false teaching and false teacher because you do not know what God has actually said.

And do not think Christ Jesus instituted a useless meal. Do not think He commands you to commune often for no reason. Christ gives you His body and blood to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith often so that you are always protected from the devil. Martin Luther wrote, “If you knew how many fiery darts the devil was shooting at you, you’d run to the Sacrament of the Altar every chance you got!”

Christ’s body and blood keep you in Christ, which means His righteousness and perfection cover your sin. Christ’s body and blood keep you in Him, safe from the devil’s ugly accusations, safe from a guilty conscience, safe from hell.

Christ gives you His Word and His body and blood because He doesn’t want to lose you. He refuses to allow the devil to take you. He yearns jealously over you (James 4:5) because He wants you completely for Himself.

The devil is more powerful than we are. He is smarter and more cunning than we are. He is our great enemy who is scheming to tempt us and prowling to devour us. But he cannot have us. He has been defeated and his power has been destroyed. He bit Jesus’ heel, but he bit off more than he could chew as Jesus crushed his head.

Christ has given us His Word so that we won’t fall for Satan’s twisted lies. Christ gives us His body and blood, so that even when we do fall into sin, the devil still can’t have us. Christ’s Word and His body and blood strengthen and preserve us in body and soul to life everlasting.

That’s why we can talk about the devil all we want without fear or unpleasantness. The devil is powerless. He’s been cast out. He may convulse and cry out like the demon did, but he must obey Christ who conquered him. His reign is ended. His power is gone.

Did God actually say that the devil, the ruler of this world be cast out? Yes, He did, and then He died and rose again, and actually did what He said and cast the devil out. His power over us is finished, and we do not need to fear him. That is both a nice and pleasant thing to hear. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Come and See

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany based on John 1:43-51

Dear people who hear the Word of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Come and see.” With these words, Philip invited Nathaniel to come and hear Jesus. It’s not a very complicated evangelism program. It is a simple invitation to come hear Jesus’ Word.

When we think of evangelism, that’s not what we normally think about. There are those who would like to sell us on the idea that evangelism is handing out tchotchkes like What Would Jesus Do bracelets, Jesus Loves You pens, or craftily devised cards and pamphlets. They would like to sell us on the idea that evangelism is wearing a God Loves You T-shirt, putting a float in a parade, and leaving gospel tracts in public bathrooms.

Evangelism is a whole lot easier than that, and cheaper than that. You don’t have to buy expensive evangelism kits. You don’t have to memorize “clever” sayings or slogans. Evangelism is as easy as saying, “Come and see. Come to church and hear Jesus’ Word.”

You cannot convince someone to believe. I cannot convince someone to believe. The only way that anyone comes to faith is through the Word of Jesus. The only way that anyone comes to faith is through hearing that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness and that Jesus has died for you and gives you forgiveness freely. This we hear in Jesus’ Word.

We fight against it because we think it’s too easy. It’s too cheap. It doesn’t involve our work or effort. It doesn’t require an evangelism committee or an evangelism budget. All it requires of us is to say, “Come and see.”

Furthermore, inviting someone to see what goes on in church… well frankly, that’s a little embarrassing. There’s not too much to see that goes on here.

Inviting someone to go to the football game? Well, that’s exciting! Inviting someone to our favourite concert? Well, that sounds great! Inviting someone to see the latest blockbuster at the theatre? Well, that’s some real action and exhilaration!

But inviting someone to church? Boring. Not too much to see here.

We sing. Sometimes not so well. A pastor talks. We sing some more. Maybe a song we don’t know so well, so that’s no good. The pastor talks again. He gives out a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine. We sing. Then we leave. Not so much to see.

The truth is, if that is all that happens here, we shouldn’t invite anyone to church. We ourselves shouldn’t come either. By every worldly standard, there is no greater way to waste your time on Sunday morning. If what we see is what we get, stay home.

Is that all that happens here? Come and see.

It is true that we don’t have exhilarating close calls on the side-lines or the latest beats. We don’t have Dolby digital surround sound or action sequences that make our hearts race and put us on the edge of our seats.

We do have something far better. We have the Word of Jesus, which is the Word of life. We have God’s voice from heaven, printed on pages we can read, and which can be read to us.

We have something better than seeing heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Heaven is open as we join the angels and archangels in praising God with the same words they sing in heaven. Heaven is open as we join our loved ones who have died in the faith in communion with each other and with Jesus Christ, the head of the Church. Heaven is open as the Son of Man descends here with His true and resurrected body and blood, so that we will ascend into heaven with Him.

We don’t see it. We can’t see it.

Thus, we fight against this also. It cannot be. I don’t hear the angels. I don’t see my loved ones. I don’t see Jesus.

You cannot convince someone to believe. I cannot convince someone to believe. The only way that anyone believes is through the Word of Jesus. What is this Word of Jesus? Jesus says, “Take eat; this is my body… Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28) It is as simple as that. And, “You have come to… the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven… and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24). It is as simple as that.

Yes, come and see, but you may not see what you want to see.

Do you think there was so much for Nathaniel to see when Philip invited him to come and see Jesus? Come and see Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Come and see the blue-collar worker’s son from the despised city of Nazareth, where no one expected any good to come. Come see the carpenter’s son who was born in an animal feeding trough and had to flee from danger like any ordinary, weak human.

To identify Jesus as the one of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, as Philip did, was not the result being convinced by seeing anything special in Jesus. He looked like an average man from a below-average town.

Do you think that the disciples in the upper room saw any more than we do, when Jesus said, “Take eat; this is my body… Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood…” Do you think they saw more than bread and wine? They did not. There was no special light or sound show that accompanied Jesus’ institution of the meal.

Do you think the disciples who believed in Jesus saw a special twinkle in His eye as He walked about teaching? Do you think that Jesus had a halo around His head everywhere He went as He is typically depicted in drawings and art? I assure you, He did not.

Isaiah writes that Jesus had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Is. 53:2-3).

Jesus could not have looked weaker, more miserable, more detestable, or more despised than when He hung on the cross to His dying breath. Yet, come and see, for that is where He shed His blood for thee.

Come and see, but you may not see what you want to see.

Jesus on the cross was not a beautiful sight to behold. Neither is Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Yet both are the simple realities of Jesus’ Word. You are a sinner in need of forgiveness and Jesus has died for you on the cross and gives you forgiveness freely in His body and blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

You cannot convince someone to believe. I cannot convince someone to believe. The only way that anyone comes to faith is through the Word of Jesus.

So, come and hear the Word of Jesus.

Invite others. We don’t need distracting flashy gimmicks or useless silly tchotchkes to give away. We don’t need anything other than the Word of Jesus, which is the Word of life.

Come and see. Come and hear. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.