Following Jesus in Suffering
Matthew 10:34–32 // Jeremiah 28:5–9
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text today begins with Jesus at the start of Matthew 10, These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today we finish the little commission of Jesus in Matthew 10, which looks a lot like the Great Commission of Jesus in Matthew 28. The Little Commission is 42 verses of instructions and warnings and encouragement. The Great Commission is just a command and a promise: “Go and make disciples baptizing them and teaching them.” And “I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” In the little commission, he sends out a few. In the Great Commission, he sends out his whole church. In the little commission, he sends them out to the lost sheep of Israel. In the Great Commission, he sends us to out all nations. In the little commission, he sends them out for a time. In the Great Commission, he sends us out until he comes back to make all things right.
Today, in this last portion of Jesus’s speech, we consider the effect of Jesus’s words. We consider what Jesus says will happen when the disciples proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand and when they heal the sick and raise the dead and cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.
Two groups that will be affected by this proclamation. Two ways in which they will be affected.
Group number one that Jesus describes is Those who hear the word.
Group number two is Those who speak the word.
First, the effect of Jesus’s words on group number one, on those who hear the word. When the lost sheep of Israel hear what Jesus sends the apostles to say, then “Do not think that I have come to bring peace. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Wait, what? Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, the disciples are supposed to let their peace rest of the homes where they stay, Jesus in John 16 says, I say these things so that in me you may have peace. Jesus says in Matthew 5, blessed are the peacemakers. So, what does he mean here?
He’s speaking about a paradox. The Gospel of peace will cause division. The Gospel of love will cause hatred. The Gospel of joy will cause sorrow. It’s a paradox. But why does that happen?
Here’s how the Gospel of John says it, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” And again in John 3, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
There’s a paradox, a push and a pull between darkness and light. Jeremiah 28 captures this very well. Jeremiah is in a knock-down drag-out fight with a false prophet Hananiah, who’s been telling everyone what they want to hear and passing it off as the Word of the Lord. In this chapter, he says that all the vessels hauled away from the Temple were going to be returned in two years, and notice what Jeremiah says in return.
He says, “Ahhh, I wish I could believe that. I wish that it could be like that, but God didn’t call me to tell comforting lies. He called me to speak the truth in love.”
Here, in Matthew 10, Jesus says, my words are like light in the darkness. They will divide the seen from the unseen. He says, my Gospel—my love, my peace—divides the world like light cleaves the darkness.
And then he quotes Micah 7:6, “Brother will deliver brother, a father his child, children their parents.” When the light of his gospel shines, it will even divide families.
Why? Because here’s the deep truth of the Gospel: to say it a different way, what Jesus proclaims is a truth deeper than blood, deeper than family. What Jesus proclaims supercedes family; it does not abolish it; it fulfills. He unites us not by bloodline, not by color, not by culture, not by history but by baptism into the One Body of Christ. Then, Jesus goes one startling step further. What Jesus proclaims supercedes life. His Gospel word is more real than what we can see, what we can taste, what we can feel, what we can touch. His Gospel goes deeper than the life we live in this world, and because of that he can (and must) say, “Whoever finds his life will lose, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
So, if that’s true, if the Gospel is light shining in the darkness, like a truth that goes deeper than anything else, (and it is), I would ask you, have you been seeing the people in your life that way? As either a brother and sister in Christ? As a person for whom Christ died? Are you dividing your life by the love of Christ? Or by something else?
Group number one were those who heard Jesus’s words. Group number two are those who spoke Jesus’s words. The sent ones. The apostles. They are affected by the words they speak. And what Jesus says has everything to do with their reward.
If you treat a good person good you get a good reward. If you treat a righteous person righteously, you will get a righteous reward. But what is the action and what is the reward for the kingdom of heaven?
The action is this: If you give even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones. That means, even if you do the smallest of gestures to a little one, (and catch this next part) if you do this BECAUSE you are a disciple..... you will surely not lose your reward.
Essentially, he’s applying the same logic to the sent ones as he is to the ones who are hearing. He’s saying, you are rewarded based on the deepest possible identity you can have, as a child of God, as a disciple of Jesus Christ. You are rewarded when that identity flows out into everything that you do, when it is the dividing line in your life, when all in your life gets meaning from what he has done.
If you do these deeds because you are a disciple. If your actions flow from your identity deeper than blood. If your deeds flow because you are learning at the feet of Jesus, you will surely not lose your reward.
So, if that’s true, if the sole motivation of your actions big or small is because you are a disciple, what do your activities look like if you put “Because I am a disciple” before them?
Because I am a disciple, I can give a cup of cold water to one of these little ones. Because I am a disciple, I can keep my cool when I drive on the road. Because I am a disciple, I can suffer what I need to suffer. Because I am a disciple, I will love my children. I know I should love my children anyways, but as a Christian, I love them for the love of Christ. Because I am a disciple, I will lay down my life for my wife.
The kingdom of heaven is like a community of disciples, always learning from their master. In a world divided, they find they are united by the love of Christ. They connect their faith to their life, knowing that as Jesus sent the apostles that one day, so he is sending them into every circle of their life. They are working with his energy. And they are finding their rest in him.
Amen and amen.
For the Forgiveness of Sins
Holy Trinity Sunday, 2020
Genesis 1:1–2:4 // Acts 2:22–41 // Matthew 28:16–20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon will encompass all three texts read, thinking about the mystery of the Trinity, remembering Peter’s sermon, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today is Trinity Sunday, and you just got done confessing your faith in the words of our most obscure creed, the Athanasian Creed, confessing that our God is the Father Unbegotten, the Son begotten of the Father before all ages and born of the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Spirit, not begotten but proceeding from the Father and the Son, but we do not have three Gods but one God, not three lords but one Lord.
Did you get all that?
Now, we’re pretty early on in the sermon, but you might be wondering, Pastor, why are you talking about this? There are all sorts of other things you can be talking about today. There are protests and riots and trials and viruses and turmoil and tornadoes and National Guard orders and movements and condemnations and conspiracies and whatever else has happened since I wrote these words!
So, why take the time to recite (recite!) an unfamiliar creed and go on and on about how the Christian believes that God is one in three and three in one?
Why? Because our God is a God of relationship. Three thoughts for today as we consider the nature of our God. First, in creation, our God is a God of relationships. Second, in redemption, our God is a God of relationships. Third, if both of these are true (and they are), then redemption, the forgiveness of sins, is reconciliation.
But first, what do I mean by relationship? I’ll tell you what it’s not: I’m not talking about relationships. I’m not talking about relationships like kissy-kissy faces, heart-shaped balloons, and chocolates on Thursdays. Instead, I mean that all creation is created in relation to everything else. The things you do affect others. The way you are affects the way other things are. We are in relationship with all around us.
In Creation, our God is a God of relationship. Notice that all three persons of the Trinity are there in the creation account, if you have eyes to see them. God speaks, and the Spirit of God hovers over the waters. God creates all of creation by means of His Word. God breathes the breath—the Spirit—of life into man and man becomes a living being.
God creates humanity to be in his likeness, in his image. What does that mean? Humanity is to do what God does, to go where God goes, to be God’s hands and feet among his creation.
In the Fall into Sin, our catechism says that we lost the image of God given to man in creation. We lost his likeness. That means, we lost our right relationship with God; we lost our righteousness. We lost our ability to do what God does, to go where God goes, to be God’s hands and feet among his creation. We fell out of fellowship with God. We got lost.
Our God is a God of relationship that created all people and all of creation to be in relationship with him, as he is in relationship to himself, one in three and three in one.
These are days when we very clearly see that we are not in relationship with God, one another, or creation. Creation rebels when viruses wreak havoc. Creation cries out as we see livestock wasted, as we see the fruit of our land lay waste.
We see it in our relationship with each other. Anger is boiling over. Conspiracy theories abound. It’s hard to know what whose perspective to trust.
One Facebook user put it this way: “I feel like most people do, I feel lost and somewhat hopeless. There’s so much sadness in the world right now and I’m feeling like we’re going backwards instead of forwards. We need a plan to get back on the right track. I’m feeling some days when I pray that it’s not helping. I’m feeling lost.” Have you felt like that? What is a person supposed to say to that?
In Redemption, our God is a God of relationship. Notice the three persons of the Trinity in Acts. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches that Jesus, exalted at the right hand of the Father, received the promise of the Holy Spirit and poured it out that very day. Notice this, that it’s the power of the Holy Spirit that unites all nations to hear the very same Gospel message: Jesus Christ, whom you crucified, died for the forgiveness of your sins.
The Father sent the Son to win redemption. The Father and the Son send the Spirit into our hearts. The Spirit witnesses to the Father and the Son, restoring to us our relationship with God.
And they were cut to the heart. They were punched in the gut. They had a moment when the people in the crowd said, something’s not right here. Something has to change.
If our God is a God of relationship in Creation, and if he is a God of relationship in Redemption, then when Redemption comes to us, it’s called Reconciliation. Notice this, that the very next verse, verse 42, after three thousand are added to the apostles that very day, they go ahead as of one heart and mind, devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They are reconciled to one another; they are in right relationship with their God and with their brothers and sisters.
The Triune God, the one in three and three in one, brings us into fellowship with himself. In baptism, you were born into the one family of Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, you eat and drink with the whole communion of saints. As you exit the sanctuary, you are given the strength to go about your Father’s business, the business of reconciliation.
Reconciliation begins with studying the words of the confession every time you say them. Reconciliation continues with listening to the words of absolution every time you hear them. Reconciliation finds its completion as we see and love our neighbor as those Jesus loved enough to die for.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that through the good days and the bad continues on its Father’s business. They see brokenness and pray for peace. They see hurt and find ways to heal. They see sin and proclaim forgiveness. And by the power of the Spirit, one step at a time, one day at a time, their community is transformed.
Amen and amen.
Holy Spirit, now outpoured
Pentecost Sunday, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon today is the story of Pentecost, the story that we now know is one full of power and the glory of Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
1,990 years and fifty days ago, or thereabouts, Jesus rose from the dead. 40 days after that, he ascended into heaven. 10 days after that, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles with power on the day called Pentecost, and 3,000 were added to their number that day, and the next days more and more people came to faith and the ones that didn’t come to faith saw them and were in wonder.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day when we celebrate how the Holy Spirit came in a mighty rushing wind filling the house of the apostles with the presence of God. Today we celebrate how the Holy Spirit divided like tongues of fire among the apostles, filling them with power. Today we celebrate how the Holy Spirit gave the power to undo the curse of Babel, allowing the apostles to speak in all languages, undoing the confusion and frustration that happens when the person you’re speaking to can’t understand what you’re saying.
Today is also the first day we’ve been back in our Sanctuary since March. The first time when we can gather in this sacred space to receive the good gifts of our God.
Today ought to be a triumphant day, but it doesn’t quite live up to that.
Because not too far away from here is a family who found their dad just got called up to service again, now in the twin cities. They’re scared. They don’t know what’s going to happen. Today doesn't feel like a victory to them.
Not too far away from them is a family whose angry, angry at justice gone wrong, angry that they can’t escape a cycle that’s much larger than they are. They can’t get away; they’re caught in the middle; today doesn’t feel like a victory to them.
And not too far away from them are all kinds of people watching, waiting, anxious and fearful, wanting to do something, wanting to be part of a solution rather than a problem, sick to their stomach without any way how to know what to do, and the preacher’s up here preaching about victory. Today doesn’t feel like a victory to them.
Three powers that the Holy Spirit grants to God’s people. The ways that we would once again listen to the steady and calm voice of our Savior in the middle of the chaos that our world has always been.
First, he gives the power to receive the forgiveness of Christ. Notice who speaks on Pentecost Sunday. It’s Peter. Peter the impetuous. Peter who denied. Peter who wept bitterly. Peter who was reinstated with the words, “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”
His denial tracks with Judas’s betrayal. Jesus predicts both. Both do as Jesus predicts. Both instantly regret their actions. But when Judas despairs, Peter is forgiven.
Why? Because we don’t even have the ability to receive the forgiveness of Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit. We are helpless in every way. We are dead in our trespasses until the wind of the Holy Spirit makes us a live in Christ.
It’s Peter that speaks on Pentecost. The forgiven, the beloved, the sinner-made-saint, the denier whose Lord is faithful, and look what God does when the power of the Holy Spirit gives you the ability to receive the forgiveness of Christ; your whole life becomes a statement of who Christ is.
Second, the Holy Spirit gives the power to bridge the confusion of Babel. Way back in Genesis 11, the descendants of Noah decided to make a name for themselves and God confused their languages. From them came all the languages of the world, and all the confusion that comes with them.
Confusion. Chaos. Just one aspect to what we call sin. People cannot understand one another anymore, not without extreme measures.
But for that moment, as the apostles lifted up their voices, all the nations around them could hear and understand. There was nothing lost in translation. There was no more confusion. The curse of Babel was undone for a time.
Third, The Holy Spirit gives the power to bear the cross of Christ. Notice Peter’s opening Scripture reference. It’s Joel chapter 2, in these last days. He’s saying what Lutherans say, which is that everyone who’s lived ever since Jesus ascended into heaven has lived in the endtimes, in the last days. Things will get worse before they get better. Remember that the apostles didn’t know how their lives would end. They did not know that at the end of this speech 3,000 would be added to their numbers. Seven chapters later, they didn’t know that they would be fleeing for their lives after Stephen died. They didn’t know if they would survive. They didn’t know that St. Paul would be the greatest missionary the church had ever known. They didn’t know the amazing things that would happen to them from that time to their last days. They didn’t know the horrible things that would happen to them along the way.
They didn’t know that. But this they did know: that Jesus, who once was dead, is alive. They knew that their lives were hidden with Christ on high. They knew that Jesus said, if anyone would follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
So, they could walk through whatever else they needed to walk through, because their worth was not of this world.
Come today to our Lord’s Supper and taste the victory that truly matters, Christ’s victory over death. Come today and eat and drink the peace that surpasses your understanding that will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Come today and receive the strength that only your God gives, and receive it especially when your strength is running out.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family that prays not only for their father called to duty but also for all those who are protesting, praying for their souls, praying for healing, praying for help.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family praying for an end to anger, for an end to hatred, for an end to racism.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of people that are often tempted toward anger, often tempted toward despair, often tempted toward anxiety and fear. They feel their emotions rising up on the inside, but in the end, they come back to the eternal truths that center their faith. The come back to the victory already won for them. They come back to Christ.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther