Audio version of this sermon can be listened to on FaceBook.
“Tychicus.and Onesimus will tell you of everything that has taken place here... Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you... Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you... Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea , and to Nympha and the church in her house.” --- Colossians 4:7–15 (selected)
Have you ever wondered why Paul’s letters include lists of greetings at the end? Take, for instance, Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colosse. He spends eleven of the eighteen verses in chapter four greeting people. No theological points, no explanation of Old Testament texts; just the names of people saying hello, short pieces of advice (in 1 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to drink a little wine since he has an upset stomach. Ha!). Why weren’t these parts edited out so that we could just get the theological treatise?
Why? Because ministry—and theology—is about people. Remember, the Colossians are a church that Paul was called to for a time until the Lord called him away. He is remembering and greeting the Church in Colosse—the people of God who are the Body of Christ in that place.
Ministry and theology are about people. People gathered to receive God’s good gifts in Divine Service. People studying God’s Word for the wisdom to act righteously. People confessing their sins and then confessing what God has done despite their sin. People acted upon by God and sent to do what God directs.
It’s the same reason for the lists of names in the Old Testament book of Numbers. It’s the same reason for the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. It’s the same reason for the God worked and works through a broken and sinful people to somehow do his perfect will, and he caps it all off by breaking into our broken world so that his holiness and righteousness in Jesus Christ can sit beside us, and so that he could redeem people, through his death and resurrection.
I’ve been your pastor since September 22nd, 2013. Since then, we have celebrated (roughly) 1,950 Divine Services. Since then, the pastors of Trinity have baptized 214 babies at our altar and have seen 149 young people confirmed. I’ve been privileged to preach at 43 funerals and at 25 weddings. Those are the numbers, but simple numbers belie the fact that behind each and every number, there is a story—a congregation that gathered to celebrate the Divine Service, a family that sought baptism and pledged to raise their child in the faith, a young person taking an oath to be faithful to the Lord Jesus until death, a family gathered to remember the hope of the resurrection for someone dearly beloved.
Thank you, because it is a privilege and an honor to walk with many and to minister to you in your stories of faith for the time that the Lord has allowed.
Thank you, because you have ministered to me and to my family. You have walked with me, corrected and trained me, loved and cared for my family in our story of faith for the time that the Lord has allowed.
We (Pastor, Laura, Benjamin, Amos, and Josiah) are grateful beyond words for you.
Pastor Paul Muther
Remaining Steadfast Under Trial
First in a series, “The Pious Life of a Christian”
Mark 1:9–15 // James 1:12–18 // Genesis 22:1–18
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today includes all three readings, beginning in James, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial...” Our text thus far.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today we consider the pious life of the Christian. As we consider James chapter one, Genesis chapter 22 and Mark chapter one, we think about how the pious life of the Christian includes remaining steadfast under trial.
Which is, frankly, something that I haven’t had to deal with much in this life. I’ve lived a marshmallow kind of a life. I haven’t had to face the trials of various kinds that many other have had. So, do not rely on my experience; rely on God’s word.
To be steadfast is to remain. That’s a transliteration of the Greek word from James chapter one. Hypomeno. To remain under. The image behind it is of a person keeping their form even when under pressure. Like a weightlifter keeping his back straight and his eyes up when he does squats. Like a point guard keeping the ball in triple-threat position even when he’s guarded closely. Like a running back protecting the ball high and tight even at the end of the game when he is tired. Like a post player shooting free throws at the end of the game. Form matters. To remain, even when under pressure.
The effect of the pressure of trials is chaos. When we get under pressure, the neat life that we have starts to get muddy. The direction and trajectory of our days starts to get confused. The way that we made life meaningful disintegrates, becomes chaotic.
The kingdom of heaven is like men and women, families and friends that know the feeling of being under pressure. They know what it is like to remain under pressure. They know the nerves, the worry, the anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen next. And when they don’t know where life is going, they once again go back to the basics. They gather to hear God’s Word. They receive the strength and peace of the sacraments. And this orders the chaos of their world.
To be steadfast is to speak the truth when it matters. Abraham says it throughout his trial: God will provide a sacrifice. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew speaks God’s Word in response to every temptation. James calls a man “blessed” who is steadfast under trial. To be steadfast is to speak the truth when it matters.
Oftentimes, my wife is my counselor. Sometimes, my counselor is my counselor. But here’s the thing: much of the time, I know what they will say. Why? Because I’m usually the one saying it to someone else. I am the one counseling someone to be patient, to keep perspective, to search the Scriptures, to view the other person as a human being dealing with the stuff that human beings deal with rather than some evil automaton sent to make your life miserable.
Oftentimes, I am that person, but here’s the key: when I need counsel, I need someone else to say that to me. I need someone to remind me to be patient, to keep perspective, to view the other person as a human being.
I remember before Benjamin was born, Laura and I had a miscarriage. We found out at 12 weeks and went through the months of grieving and healing that have to happen. But I do remember that first day, coming to church after we found out. Pastor Griffin came in and sat down next to us. I asked him about this a little while ago and he said, “I had no idea what to say.” But what he said is what we pastors know we should say. We tell God how much our hearts hurt, and we remember his promises in Psalm 23, in Psalm 27.
You see, the temptation that we can fall to under pressure is this: let our trials distort the truth that we need to hear. We can distort the truth. We can condemn what God has not condemned or cling to what God has not promised. We can let our trials drown out what God has done.
The kingdom of heaven is like a church family in every chapter of life letting their growing history together drawn them further into God’s word. The Father of Lights has once again shown his word of truth. Every sin against them is an opportunity to forgive. Every failure is an opportunity to confess. Every trial is a place and a time when they can hear God’s word more and more.
To be steadfast under trial is to speak and hear the truth knowing that God has a hand in your trials.
Pastor Griffin would say that his prayer life in the smooth sailing days was never nearly as sincere as it was in the days of trouble. So, when life was going too well he would pray for a little trouble.
I’m not inviting you to go looking for trouble, but I will tell you what I do know. The Spirit, not the devil, drove Jesus out into the desert. God, not Satan, told Abraham to sacrifice his son. God has a hand in your trials. God tests even while the devil tempts. God’s will is not that we would stay comfortable, but that in every chapter of life, we would turn toward him.
As I’ve read the Gospels, I’ve often thought about how frightening it would be to speak to Jesus. He never seems to say what a person expects. He always seems to take the conversation a different direction. He doesn’t usually answer the question that you’re asking; he often answers the question you should’ve asked.
So, if you were talking to Jesus (which you can do daily) what’s the right answer? What can you say? I would submit to you that the only right answer, that anyone ever gives to Jesus in the gospels, is the one that he asks for, right at the end of our reading: Repent.
It seems that the only right response in the Gospels is to repent. To follow after Christ wherever Christ is going. To know that Christ will rock your world and your conscience with his word on a regular basis. To be perfectly comfortable weeping your eyes and your brain out with those who are mourning, knowing that you will receive comfort every time you come to the Sanctuary. To be perfectly content to spend your time, your talents, and your treasures building a kingdom that lasts for eternity. To be ready and willing to examine on a daily basis and to fall on the grace of God. To know that the Old Adam in you day by day is going to rise up // the Old Adam in you is daily needing to be drown so that a new man can arise.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town freed, absolutely freed to repent. Throwing off the sin that so easily entangles and clings so closely, they daily set out to run the race marked out for them. They are no longer bound by their faults and their failures but are compelled by the Love of Christ.
To be steadfast under trial is to speak and hear the truth knowing that God has a hand in your trials.
Amen and amen.
The Word of the Lord Disrupts the Course of the Whole World
Ninth is a series, “The Disruptive Word”
Isaiah 9:2–7 // Titus 2:11–14 // Luke 2:1–14
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text this Christmas night is the Gospel reading from Luke chapter two, “And she wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed him in a manger.” Our text thus far.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christmas is a time when the Word of the Lord disrupts the course of the whole world. He meets our violence with his peace. He meets our hate with his love. He meets our might with his weakness. He meets our poverty with his riches. He meets our sin with his salvation. The Word of the Lord disrupts the whole world on a quiet night, outside of a little inn, with the birth of a baby whose name is Jesus.
We’ve been meditating on this truth for the past four and a half weeks, that the Word of the Lord disrupts our lives especially when we’re stuck in harmful patterns and we can’t get out.
There’s this place near Rockford, IL, where Interstate 39 and Interstate 90 merge. It was on my way from home to St. Louis, there was regularly construction on the roads, and more than once, I can tell you that I turned off when I should have stayed on.
But here’s the thing about this particular junction. Usually if you take a wrong turn, you can turn it around or find a different route. Not so here. I can say this with experience: if you turned off the freeway onto I-90, you were stuck. You were on that toll road for 10, 15 miles before you could turn around.
30 minutes and a couple dollars worth of change later, I finally got turned around and headed in the right direction, but here’s the point. There was a time when, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t stop. Even after I knew my mistake, I couldn’t change. I was stuck.
Because we have all felt stuck.
Not too far away from here is a man sleeping in his car who has been stuck. His actions hurt his family, and he couldn’t seem to stop. He saw it coming from a mile away, and still couldn’t seem to help himself. He feels stuck, because there’s no way to make his family whole anymore.
And not too far away from him is a family who feels trapped. They can’t do any of the normal things to blow off steam. They are on top of one another. Moms and dads, brothers and sisters can’t seem to talk anymore. The pressure is mounting, and they feel trapped.
And not too far away from them are you and I. Are you feeling stuck, feeling trapped tonight? Sitting in a sanctuary that can hold twice its number today, bringing all our selves into the very presence of God—all of our struggles, all of our fear, all of our anger, all of our sadness, all of our change.
As the darkness of December deepens, once again we find ourselves at the foot of the manger, listening to the voices of angels singing. Once again, we remember the quiet faithfulness of Mary and Joseph. Once again we remember the miraculous vulnerability of our God, that all of God is contained in human flesh, that in Jesus, the course of the whole world is unstuck.
In Jesus, we are all disrupted.
Two thoughts as we consider how the Word of the Lord disrupts the course of the whole world. Two harmful patterns that the Lord breaks us out of, that we couldn’t get out of on our own.
First, God disrupts the pattern of this world’s cares.
Second, God disrupts the deep darkness with his light.
First, God disrupts the pattern of the world’s cares. Know this, that Caesar Augustus didn’t decree that all the world should be registered because he knew the Savior needed to be born in Bethlehem.
Quirinius the governor of Syria was not sitting at the edge of his seat wondering if the king of the universe was to be born during his first term of office. King Herod the Great didn’t even particularly know that Jesus was born until Magi from Persia came and told him. Even the people in the house upstairs from the stable wouldn’t have thought anything besides that a regular baby had been born in the regular way, albeit in a strange place.
And yet in the affairs of the nations, of the regions, of the cities, even in the heart of the innkeeper who gave his stable for Jesus, God had been fulfilling prophesy. Without as much as anyone noticing, God was using all things to disrupt the course of the whole world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says much the same thing during his last months of life. He was a German pastor who turned double-agent for the Allies, started an underground seminary in Germany, but the most remarkable part of his life were his last months. You see, he was sent to prison for the last nine months of his life and executed at the end. And his calling in those months was as remarkable as it was ordinary: to minister to his neighbor—his fellow prisoners and his guards. And whether he could see it or not, the Lord used those months powerfully.
It would be easy for him to feel as though the affairs of the nations had swept him away from the work that he was doing, that he was trapped by the greater political machine, but the greater reality was that God had worked through his ordinary calling, God had directed the affairs of those nations. God was in control.
Peter Rollins says it much the same way about Mother Teresa: “Mother Teresa neither protested the caste system (of India) nor did she affirm it. She simply lived in a different reality.” As a Christian, we simply live in a different reality. We care about things differently.
These are days when we can feel swept away by the world’s cares. Political strife runs deep. Frustration boils over. People feel powerless. It’s easy to feel stuck.
But the Word of the Lord disrupts the cares of the world. In the babe of Bethlehem, all of the world’s hate meets all of the love incarnate of God. All of the world’s war meets the peace of the Prince of Peace. The strength of the world’s sin meets the weakness and foolishness of the God of the universe who would die on a cross for you and me.
First, God disrupts the pattern of this world’s cares. Second, God disrupts the deep darkness with his light. That’s the bright promise of Isaiah 9.
When I think of deep darkness, I remember being a college student and living a college student lifestyle. I decided that I would start my homework at 10 or 10:30pm, which meant that I could go for a run at about 9pm. Now, unfortunately for me, the fitness center had sensible hours and was closed, but I thought that I was smart. I knew that the track was open. I thought that it was clear, and so I ran out to the track. One mile in, two miles in, I was feeling good. But I had slowly been widening my circles around the track until, I was really cruising, coming around the bend, in the pitch black, Huuuuuuuuu! I hit a track hurdle. And that was the end of that.
But the point is, in the darkness that hurdle came out of nowhere. Totally unexpected. In the light, I could’ve seen it from a mile away. Totally obvious.
Darkness hems us in. Darkness hides the danger. Darkness makes the way confusing and treacherous.
So it is with our sin. Sin hems us in. Far from setting us free from God’s demands, sin enslaves us to something worse. Sin hides its danger under the guise of not hurting anyone, or being my own problem, of not being so bad.
And the babe of Bethlehem, who is love incarnate, would say to you this very night, “I am the light of the world. Follow after me. As I love, so you love. As I do, so you do. Where I lead, there you bear your cross.”
You see, the test of the Christian is to ask this: “Could I add “I love you, and” to the thing that I’m going to say?” If you can’t, then don’t say it. Can you add “I love you and” to the action you’re about to do? If you can’t, then don’t do it.
For love came down at Christmas, love incarnate, love in the flesh. Love came down at Christmas and love grew up and began his ministry with his baptism at the Jordan River. Love incarnate walked among his disciples. Love incarnate called the Pharisees out in their hypocrisy. Love incarnate longed to gather Jerusalem like a hen gathers her chicks yet they would not. Love incarnate spoke words of Law and words of Gospel. Love incarnate died your death for the entirety of the world’s sin. Love incarnate rose for you and for me.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who is living in a new reality. He hears the words echoed in his heart, do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who lost everything only to realize that her treasure is hidden in Christ on high.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family growing on up in their Savior Jesus Christ, learning to love what he loves and learning to follow where he goes.
The kingdom of heaven is like brothers and sisters gathered in a Sanctuary, gathered with all of their fears, all of their hopes, all of their doubts, all of their prayers.
They confess their fears and know that their God says, “You do not have to fear, even if you are afraid. God’s got this.”
They lay out their hopes and their doubts, knowing that God knew them already, and, in his word, he answers.
They pray that God would hold close the people that they can’t be near this year. They find it in their hearts once again to remember that God is directing all things, and when Christ comes for the second time, he will make all things right.
The Word of the Lord disrupts our lives.
God disrupts the pattern of this world’s cares; he creates a different reality for Christians to live in.
God disrupts the deep darkness with his light; his love is the light that leads us.
Amen and amen.
The Word of God Disrupts the Life of Mary
Seventh in a series, “The Disruptive Word”
Luke 1:26–38 // Romans 16:25–27
Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for the Fourth Sunday in Advent is Luke chapter one, beginning with these words, “In the sixth month (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy), the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.” Our text thus far.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In the days of waiting and preparing for Christmas, in the season that we call Advent, we consider the disruptive Word of God. We consider how the Word of God does not leave us alone. It does not let us be, but instead that every advent is another calling for you to consider and reflect on your own lives, a time when you get to long again for Jesus Christ to come back and make all things right, a time when you pray for hope and ask God to remind you what hope is, pray for peace and ask God to remind you what peace is.
Today, we consider how the disruptive Word of God disrupts the life of Mary in Luke chapter one, and disrupt her life it does.
Now, I’ve never been a pregnant teenage mom, and I never will be, but when I think of this story, Mary finding out she is going to have a baby, Mary unexpectedly seeing her life turned upside, Mary and her remarkable response to God’s plan of salvation, when I think of this, I think about when I first found out that my firstborn Benjamin was on his way.
We had been trying. We had been waiting. We wanted to start a family, and we expected this, but I still remember as we realized that Laura was pregnant, I still remember that it was not pure joy for me. It was that bubbly joy that makes you go “WOO!” but it was mixed with a weight, a weight of responsibility, a realization of what it would mean. “I’m going to be a Father!” “Oh, I’m going to be a father.” This is a vocation that I will hold for the rest of my life. What starts here is a work that God will not finish until I pass away. That’s a heavy realization of the future.
Three thoughts for our sermon today, based on three quotes, one from the angel and two from Mary. One command, one question, and one statement. First, the angel commands, “Do not be afraid.” Second, Mary asks, “How can this be?” Third, our reading concludes with Mary stating, “I am a servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”
First, the angel says, “Mary, do not be afraid.” When God’s plan for Mary disrupts Mary’s plan for Mary, there is fear. Why would that be? Well, notice what Gabriel does promise her and what he doesn’t promise her.
Gabriel told her she had favor with God; he didn’t say that she would have favor with her neighbors. Gabriel told her she was going to have as a son, the Son of God; he didn’t say that her relatives would believe her. Gabriel promised her that even as she remained a virgin, she would conceive. He didn’t promise her that she would have a husband to see her through this.
Now, there will never be another Mother of God, but God makes promises to you and to me, too. “Never ever will I leave you nor forsake you.” “No one can snatch you out of my Father’s Hand.” “My peace I give you, my peace I leave you.” Those are the good promises.
But listen to what he doesn’t say you. He doesn’t promise you a white picket fence and 2.3 kids. He doesn’t promise you a life free from pain. He doesn’t promise you that you won’t struggle with your sin. He also promises more. “In this world, you will have trouble.” “Blessed are those who are persecuted and reviled for my sake.”
So, this is the heart of Mary that we see in our text. This is the heart of a woman to whom the angel Gabriel says, “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid, even if you have real things to fear. Do not be afraid, because god knows even the needs of the sparrows and the lilies. Do not be afraid, because not only can God answer the prayer that you pray; he can and does lead us toward the great, the deeper, the more eternally important truths.
Second, Mary answers the angel by asking, “How can this be?” Notice this, that her words are almost the exact same words as Zechariah when he finds out that Elizabeth will be pregnant, and yet Zechariah is chastised, struck dumb for 9 months, but Mary is not. To use the same question, how can this be?
Let me quote a commentator, “In contrast to Zechariah’s skeptical question, Mary wonders in faith. Zechariah walked away unable to speak, but Mary burst forth into holy song.”
It wasn’t so much about the “What” of what they said.... it was the “How” of how they meant it.
So faith is not so much to have all the answers as it is to trust the one who does have all the answers. Faith is not so much having it all figured out as it is walking one day at a time, one step at a time, trusting in God’s grace.
Yet here, Mary, in faith, asks the question, “How can this be?” She is faithful and she has room to wonder about the practical implications. Or think about an example from the Old Testament.
Moses and the people Israel were both hungry and thirsty in the desert. Israelites cried out in their hunger and thirst, saying, “God you never liked us and you’re going to leave us to die in the desert.” Moses cried out, “God, you have always loved us, and I trust you to provide, even when I am hungry and thirsty.” Both were physically needy, both cried out, but one cried out in complaint and the other cried out in faith.
Or, take another example. Habakkuk the Old Testament prophet. He is crying out twice in his little three-chapter book. He’s angry with God. He questions God, but he questions him in faith. He is angry, but he listens for God’s answer in faith.
You can be honest to God, in faith. You can ask questions of God, in faith. You can even be afraid, in faith. Faith clings to God, knowing that what he wills is better than what we will. Or, as Paul says it, all the revelation of the mystery has now been disclosed and made known to all the nations, my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.
Third, our reading concludes with the words of Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”
These are, once again, remarkable words. Said by a teenage, pregnant, engaged gal. Said in response to the revelation that she would be bearing the Son of God. But the greater mystery is this: she is a servant of the Lord, but she was bearing the one who would serve the whole world. She might be a servant of the Lord, but the mystery of salvation is revealed in Christ that he will be servant of all, to bear the whole world’s sin. She may be servant of the Lord, a most remarkable woman, but the greater mystery is that God would deign in flesh to dwell among his people, to walk alongside of them, to speak with them, to reveal the mysteries that the ages haven’t unraveled, and to reveal them as a little baby is born in Bethlehem.
One wonders if these words in response to the angel were some of those things that Mary pondered in her heart when she saw the shepherds coming the night Jesus was born.
One wonders what Mary thought as she saw Simeon and Anna in the temple, telling her that a sword would pierce her own heart too as she saw her son be salvation for the people Israel and a light to reveal God to the Gentiles.
One wonders what Mary thought as she saw Jesus growing in wisdom and stature among the priests and Pharisees at the temple.
One wonders what Mary thought of these words as she saw her son, the Son of God, hanging derelict and still upon the cross. I am a servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.
One wonders as she was there at the tomb to see that it was empty and Jesus was raised from the dead. Her life would never ever be the same. Her savior was raised. Our life will never ever be the same. Our savior died our death, and is risen for our life.
We are servants of the Lord, let it be according to your word.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters