Heaven on Earth: Offering
October 27 and 28, 2018
Romans 12:1-8 / Mark 10: 17-27
Micah 6:6-8 – With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Dear Christian Friends,
We are four sermons into a series of six on our liturgy. We’re asking why we do what we do, what it means to worship the way that we do, how the liturgy is supposed to form not just this hour but every hour, every day, every year of our lives. And to that end, we study the portion of our liturgy known as the Offertory, that time of the service where we receive the offering and say our prayers. I direct your eyes to the sanctuary screen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgX9UAaYB80&feature=youtu.be
(Story of a friend of mine, I’ll call him Karl.) He finds himself in all kinds of trouble these days – financial trouble, relationship trouble, legal trouble. Much of his trouble is self- inflicted, he’s made all kinds of mistakes, fallen into all kinds of foolish habits, he would not deny it. In a recent conversation, I learned that his mother died holding him at age 7 in her arms, his dad really hasn’t been a part of his life, one of his grandmas stepped up as best she could, he was pretty much on his own at age 16. I came away from this conversation with my heart breaking for the road Micah has had to travel and my mind racing through all of the blessings and advantages I have enjoyed in days gone by and in these days.
One of the most important differences between Karl and me is that my parents took me to church every Sunday morning and his parents didn’t. Divine Services page 5 and 15 out of the Lutheran Hymnal, 1941 edition formed me, not so with Karl. My parents made sure I learned how to confess my sins instead of explaining, they insisted that I sit still and listen to the appointed readings and the sermon every Sunday, I watched as they put in a church envelope week after week, I endured the long prayers of my faithful Pastor Dierks again and again, not so with Karl.
You may remember that in last weekend’s study of the Service of the Word, the question was “how does the Service of the Word form us?” Answer #1 was that Christ is our down arrow. In other words, it is Christ who is pursuing us in the Service of the Word, it is His Word that is making us clean again and again, it is His Spirit who is grabbing ahold of us in a regular way and correcting and instructing us.
Answer number two was that our response ought to be “thanks be to God.” Usually when preachers start talking about the Christian response to all of the grace and the mercy and the peace that God has poured into our hearts and souls, we imagine that here it comes, hold on to my checkbook, he’s going to be asking for my hard earned money. In our video, we made the point that our response to Christ suffering, dying, and rising again on our behalf is about so much more than giving money.
In Divine Service, it’s first of all about confessing the nature of God in the Creeds. Second it’s about thanking Him with songs of praise and words of adoration. Third, it’s about praying for all kinds of people with all kinds of petitions. Fourth it’s about serving Him with our gifts of treasure, time, and talents. Confessing, thanking, praying, and serving.
These are today’s answer’s to last week’s question – what does it look like when we spend our days saying “Thanks be to God!”
Paul answers that question in our Epistle lesson for today by inviting us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus answered by telling the rich young man to keep the commandments. When the rich young knucklehead said he had already done that, Jesus said, then go sell all that you have and give to the poor.
The prophet Micah first tells us what it doesn’t mean. He says it doesn’t mean that you try to earn God’s favor by coming before him with burnt offerings, it doesn’t mean you try to deserve God’s mercy by sacrificing thousands of rams or giving ten thousand rivers of oil, it doesn’t mean, as some pagans thought, that you sacrifice your firstborn child to the gods. No, spending our days saying thanks be to God, according to Micah, means that we do justice, it means that we love kindness, it means that we walk humbly.
First, it means to do (justice) To do justice means to act according to God’s standards of justice. Which is another way of saying to live according to God’s commands. If you love me, Jesus, says, keep my commands. If you love me, make sure the widows and the orphans in your midst are provided for and protected. If you love me, don’t be using my name in vain. If you love me, bring an offering and come into my sanctuary and worship my name with a sincere heart. We would keep God’s commandments not as a way of earning the love of Jesus, but because He loved us first. Christianity 101, right?
The kingdom of God is like a woman who keeps on confessing her belief that Jesus loves her, even though her world is crumbling all around her. It’s like an elderly woman who is grateful for her family even though they have disappointed her in so many ways. It’s like a citizen who prays for his president even though he strongly dislikes him. It’s like a volunteer who keeps on giving and serving at the church even though he wonders if anybody appreciates him.
Again we ask, well how do we spend our days saying “thanks be to God? First it means to do justice, and
Second, it means to love (kindness). In this school year, our faculty is studying a book with the title “You Are What You Love.” The author’s premise is that the most important question of life is this one, “What do you love?” Keep that in mind as we think about what Micah meant when he urges us to love kindness.
Another translation would be to love mercy. From beginning to end of Scripture, this is God’s great desire – to have mercy on sinners. Beginning with the first promise of the Savior to Adam and Eve to the mysterious visions of Revelation, it’s all about Jesus, every single prescribed sacrifice in the Old Testament pointed forward to Jesus, and every properly written and delivered sermon in the New Testament Church directs the hearer back to Jesus.
Listen carefully dear people of God, when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, he was fixing his eyes on us. His mission in life was to suffer all that we should have suffered, his dream was to grow up and to be crucified until he was dead and buried on our behalf. His joy was, is, and ever shall be that our sins would be washed away, that the wrath of His Father would be satisfied once and for all, that our debt would be cancelled, that we would in face inherit eternal life.
To love kindness is to spend our days being patient with each other as our Father in heaven has been patient with us, it is to go looking for people to forgive, as we have been first forgiven, it is to find good reason every day to be cheerful instead of walking around with a chip on our shoulders. Christianity 101, right?
The kingdom of God is like a man who keeps on confessing God’s goodness, even though bad people in his workplace seem to be prospering. It’s like a teenager who is grateful for her home life even though school these days is a disaster, it’s like parents who keep on praying for their adult children to come back to church, it’s like a young mother who keeps on serving and cleaning up after her family, even though their attitudes leave much to be desired.
What does it mean to spend our days being formed by Divine Service on Sunday morning and saying thanks be to God all week long? First, it means to do justice, second it means to love mercy, and
Third, it means to walk (humbly). God pleasing humility is found only in the presence of a holy and just God. When we see ourselves as God sees us, we notice that we are sinners deserving temporal death and eternal punishment, we know that we came from dust and will return to dust, we know that apart from Christ, we are as a mist here today and gone tomorrow, we daily sin much and are delighted that God isn’t giving us what we have coming.
On this Reformation Sunday, churches all over the world are focused on the simple truth that we are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone. The older he got, the more Luther was certain that we can do absolutely nothing to merit God’s favor. At one point he summarized the Christian life as “mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.” In his last moments, Luther was asked by his friend Justus Jonas, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” He answered emphatically, “Yes!” Luther’s last words were: “We are beggars. This is true.” Christianity 101, right?
The kingdom of God is like a man who wakes up in the morning, he slowly makes his way to the mirror, he makes the sign of the cross, he confesses the simple truth that he has been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, he is ever so grateful to remember that he is a precious, redeemed, forgiven son of his father in heaven, he prays that God would show him that very day how to do justice, he prays that God’s Spirit would work him in the kind of faith that loves mercy, he prays that God would help him, as his father used to say, not to get too big for his britches.
Heaven on Earth: Service of the Word
Third sermon in a series of six
Isaiah 55:6-11 // Romans 10:14-17 // Luke 19:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You’ll notice that I’m in the pulpit today, and that’s because today we meditate on the Service of the Word, the first high point in the Divine Service. Our sermon pursues all three texts read, especially these words from Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Dear friends in Christ,
We are three sermons into a series on the liturgy, asking why we do what we do, what it means to worship the way that we do, how the liturgy is supposed to form not just this hour but every hour, every day, every year of our lives. And to that end, we study the Service of the Word. I would invite you to turn your eyes to the screen.
One question for our meditation today, two answers. The question we ask of the Divine Service is this: How does the Service of the Word form us? What kind of a pattern is it supposed to make in our lives?
Answer number one for today is that Christ is our down arrow. Answer number two is that our response ought to be “Thanks be to God.”
Christ is the down arrow – he’s God in pursuit of us. That’s what we find in Luke 19. Christ comes to Zaccheus. He pursues him. He invites himself into the man’s house, and then he declares, “The Son of Man came for the purpose of seeking and saving those who are losing themselves to ruin.”
This distinguishes Christianity among world religions. In no other religion but Christianity does God humble himself in order to die for our sins, so that he can pursue the world’s people with his gifts of salvation. In no other religion but Christianity does God wrap us in the robe of his righteousness, for the sake of the blood he shed while we were still sinners.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that are purused by their savior. Their salvation is wholly in his hands, and they rest in his amazing grace.
It’s like a mother and a father who could be all kinds of worried about how their kids will grow up, but they know that their children are children of the heavenly father, who neither slumbers nor sleeps.
It’s like a bunch of 7thand 8thgraders that are learning again how their God has spent all that only God can spend to purchase and win them from all that can truly hurt them. Christ is the down arrow; he’s God in pursuit of us.
Our response is “Thanks be to God.” That is to say, in every and any circumstance, find a way to be grateful. I think about this in Isaiah 55 – those beautiful words of promise, that as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it before they water the earth making bread for the eater and seed for the sower, so shall my word be – this is God talking here – that comes out of my mouth, and here’s the promise God’s make: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
So, the question is, “What is the purpose of God’s word?” Much of the time when confronted by questions like this, I need to use the theologian’s primary answer: “I don't know.” But for this question, we know well: the purpose of God is that which has revealed as his purpose, as his essence, as his chief quality: his desire to have mercy.
All his Scripture as written to that end. All of his work in the world is to that end. All that our God does to bring this age to a close is so that all would see his mercy.
The trouble, of course, is that there are so many places where that mercy seems very far off, so many times when it seems impossible for us to know what God’s purpose is, let alone to say, “Thanks be to God.” And one of those places was the Siberian prison camp in communist Russia. I want to read you a story, from a priest who died last year.
“Father Placid, a 100-year-old Hungarian priest, a ... happy, gentle man [that] had spent 10 years of his life beaten, starved, and forced into hard labor in an inhumane Siberian prison camp.” What did he do to survive? Four things:
1. Don't complain. It makes things worse. Philippians 2:14-16
2. Find reasons to rejoice (an extra piece of potato in your thin soup; a guard who doesn’t make you remove your hat in the icy wind). Philippians 4:4-9
3. Remember you're never alone. Jesus is with you. Hebrews 13:5
4. Show the guards you're different because of your faith. Matthew 5:16
These principles can help us think and act like Christians whatever our circumstances, freeing us from all types of "prisons."
Thank-you, Father Placid!”
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that know their salvation is won by the merit of Jesus alone. They know that this truth doesn't change, and every week they come back again and again to remember it again.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man having a really bad day, the kind of day where everything is going just about as wrong as it ever could, and still it has been his habit to be grateful from the good, to be seeking out when and how to say, “Thanks be to God.”
It’s like a woman who’s first inclination is to let the few bad things in her life color all of the good, but then she steps back, she remembers how her savior has served her, and she can let everything be whatever it is.
It’s like farmers and city folk, young and old, clean cut and shaggy, suits and blue jeans, police and felons all coming into the same sanctuary to hear the same word, to respond the same way and to know that the same savior knows them better than they know themselves, the same savior has paid more than they can imagine for them, the same savior has given them a love that surpasses their understanding.
Thanks be to God.
Amen and Amen.
Confession and Absolution
October 13 and 14, 2018
Second in a Series of Six Sermons / “Heaven on Earth”
I John 1:9-10 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Imagine that you were a college student and that you landed a summer job that paid $50 an hour and that it included washing windows on a high rise apartment building. Now imagine that you were given a choice between two options of how to do your job. Option #1 would be that you would hang onto a rope with one hand and wash windows with the other hand. Option #2 was that a rope harness would be placed securely around your body and you would use both hands to wash windows. Obviously option #1 would require faith in your own ability to hang on tight, and option #2 would require faith in the one who manufactured and installed the harness.
So also do we have at least two options for how to be facing our challenges and living out our lives as Christians. Option #1 is to carry out our vocations in life with our own human strength and to cry out for God’s help as a last resort. Option #2 is to rest in His strength even as we cry out for His help day after day.
Or to say it another way, we rest in God’s grace day after day, even as we cry out to Him for mercy. Last week we focused on The Invocation, where we make the sign of the cross and remember that in Baptism, the Triune God has claimed us to be His very own sons and daughters. Today, as we continue the Divine Service, we do so confessing the truth about ourselves. We don’t just amble into the presence of God as if we belong here, we admit again and again that we have fallen short of keeping the Ten Commandments, we acknowledge that we have missed the mark in terms of loving God with all of our hearts / souls / minds and that we have more often than not loved ourselves more than we have loved our neighbors. To use the language of Option#2, we would not only rest in God’s baptismal grace, we would return to that grace again and again by confessing our sins with every expectation that God’s forgiveness would sweep over our souls and be ruling in our hearts and having its way in our minds.
Three truths we would note in our readings for today about the confession of sins. First, the confession of sins is our duty. Secondly the confession of sins is our privilege. Third, the confession of sins is life changing.
First, the confession of sins is our (duty). To do something out of a sense of duty suggests that it isn’t something we prefer to be doing, it isn’t something we want to be doing. King David preferred not to admit that he was an adulterer, he preferred not to admit that he was a cold blooded murderer, he preferred not to admit that he was a low down liar. It was only when the Holy Spirit got ahold of David through the witness of the prophet Nathan that David realized it was his duty to come clean.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the prophet Isaiah urges the confession of sins with words like, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…he says that are sins are like scarlet, they are red like crimson”. In today’s Epistle lesson, John writes that if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we say that we are in fellowship with the light of the world and yet walk in darkness, we are in fact lying and not practicing the truth.
The confession of sins isn’t something that comes naturally, what comes naturally is the explanation of our wrongdoing – tell a boy on the playground to quit hitting the other boy, and more often than not he will explain that the other boy started it. Tell an older sister to quit being mean to her younger sister, and she will explain that the younger sister was being really, really, really annoying. (Story of Eddie and Leroy trying to kick each other in the head in my confirmation class).
Truth #1 today is to learn again that the confession of sins, the coming clean on the subject of our guilt doesn’t happen easily, it is a duty that needs to be commanded and taught. We recognize that what comes naturally when confronted with our failures and our faults is to explain, it is to defend, it is to excuse, it is to rationalize, it is to stay silent.
Secondly, the confession of sins is our (privilege). It is the privilege of called and ordained pastors to speak in the stead and by the authority of Jesus Christ words of absolution. It is the privilege of every Christian to look repentant sinners in the eyes and say that Jesus Christ paid for those sins,(to use Isaiah’s language) though they be like scarlet, they are now white as snow, though they are red like crimson, today they have become like wool.
To use King David’s language, there is no greater joy than to have your transgressions be forgiven, there is no greater joy than to have your sins covered, there is no greater joy than having the judge declare you not guilty.
Dear Christian friends, whatever personal failures or frailties are weighing heavy on your heart today, whatever personal darkness is making your eyes water today, whatever mistakes of the past that are haunting you this morning, know that even as you confess them, forgiveness is yours. Even as you apologize, the angels and the archangels of heaven are rejoicing. Even as you make a promise to do better, your Father in heaven is well pleased, Jesus is holding you close, the Spirit of God is changing you from the inside out. Which brings us to our third and final truth
Third, the confession of sins is (life-changing). The prophet Isaiah makes it clear that once the people of Israel had made themselves clean through repentance, they were to remove the evil of their deeds in God’s sight. They were to cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. The apostle John makes it clear that if we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we will be walking in the light and no more in the darkness.
James makes it clear that while it is true that we are saved by faith alone, it is also true that saving faith in Jesus Christ never comes alone. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who gather each week in the Name of the Triune God. Again and again they admit that the good they have wanted to do, they have not – and the evil they have wanted to avoid, they have done. Again and again they hear with their own ears their sins are forgiven, their souls are washed, their debt is cancelled, their status is restored.
The kingdom of God is like a husband who goes home that very afternoon from church, looks his wife in the eyes and admits that he has been out of sorts recently, he’s not sure why, he is sorry, he wants to do better.
It’s like a wife who goes home, looks her husband in the eyes, she admits that she has been holding a grudge, she has no explanation, she feels bad about it, she wants a new beginning.
It’s like people of all ages, all sizes and shapes, all walks of life who go home today, they look their Savior in the eyes, they admit they are broken, they’re messed up, they have no excuses, they are sorry, they wonder out loud if they could have an extra measure of grace.
Praise be to God, their lives are never the same again. Amen.
Heaven on Earth: Invocation
First in a series of six
Acts 2:37-41 // Romans 6:4-8
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are beginning our sermon series today on the Liturgy. This is the stage-two ouf our annual theme for the year, HEROES, HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint, and for the last few weeks, we have been walking through parts of the book of Daniel to see how Heaven has been reaching out through Daniel and his friends, in their exile, in a time and a place when their faith looks very different from the culture around them.
And today, we turn to stage two. Stage one we asked, How is heaven reaching out through every saint? Stage two we ask, “How does heaven reach out to us? How does heaven break in tour lives? And the answer is that it breaks into our lives in the Divine Service, in this pattern and order of liturgy that we do week after week, year after year. The words we say and the actions we take here are important; the are supposed to order our actions on every other day.
And so, with that, today we begin at the beginning, with the Invocation. Please direct your eyes up to the video screen for a brief time of teaching.
One question that I put before you today, based on the Invocation and upon our readings, two answers that I would submit to you today.
The question is this: How does the Invocation form us?
Answer number one is that in the Invocation, in the name of God, God names us. Answer number two is that in the invocation, God orients us.
How does the Invocation form us? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In it, God names us. I think back to the day when my firstborn son was born, September 30th, 2015. You see, we chose not to know the sex of our baby in the ultrasounds leading up to that day, and so we had two girl names picked out, and two boy names picked out, and we thought we would make a decision the day of. And I remember, at 3:12pm in the afternoon, the doctor gathered this little baby up into her arms, she said, “He’s a boy!” I looked at him, and I thought, “He’s a Benjamin.” Laura looked at him and said, “He’s a Benjamin.” It just fit. We looked at him and, here’s the point, there was no other name that we could give to him.
We go to our readings. Look at Acts 2. Remember, this is Peter’s Pentecost sermon, the first sermon of the Christian church, and Peter’s giving it in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead. Our reading picks up where Peter ends the sermon. But look back a few verses – he says, “this Jesus, whom YOU crucified, God has raised and made both Lord and Christ.” And its very likely that there were people there that day that had been in the crowd before Pontius Pilate, crying “Crucify him, crucify him!” And do you see what this does to the people? Cut to the heart, they say, “Brothers, what are we going to do?” And do you see what Peter tells them? Repent and be baptized. Every one of you.
That is to say, in Baptism, they enter into the Christian life. In baptism, they are covered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In baptism, all of the sin and stain that they have done, however great it may be, even to the point of killing the author of life, all of that sin and stain is wiped away, and they by the name of Jesus their names are written in the book of life.
God’s name brings you into his family. He calls you: renewed, reborn, redeemed, holy.
How does the Invocation form us? Answer number one is that in the Invocation God names us. Answer number two is that in the Invocation, God orients us.
I can tell you now that in my house, I have two little sermon illustrations running around, and the younger one is named Amos. Amos is now a little over a year old and he has started to walk. But you see, when he sees his dad or his mom, what he does is he will crawl over all the way to you, He’ll climb up your pant leg, and then cling on to you as he takes a step. And as long as you stay there, he’s fine. He’ll take a step, then another step, then another, as long as you’re still there. But if you move – if you try to start cutting potatoes again to make fries, or if you try to sneak downstairs to change the laundry like you should’ve done hours before, then he knows. You see, and here’s the point, ,he orients himself toward you. He looks back to you, and as long as he knows that what’s important is still there, he rests secure.
We go to our text in Romans 6. Here we see the inner workings of baptism, that in Baptism, we die Christ’s death so that we live his life. We are buried with him so that we can be raised from the dead from him, and as the video relayed, this changes our orientation.
For the Christian, you see, the first day of our life becomes not so much the day of our birth but the day of our baptism. The last day of our life becomes not so much the day of our death but the return of Christ when he comes again to give us eternal life. We are oriented toward something entirely different, something entirely other-worldly.
And so, the entire Christian life is a journey between these two bright points, between these two promises. It is a journey that looks backward to baptism and knows that your God has spent all that only God can spend on your behalf to wash you clean of far more than you could know about. It looks forward to Christ’s resurrection and knows that neither death nor life, nor anything in this world and the next can separate me from the love that I find in Christ Jesus my Lord.
It is a journey that orients our weekly worship. It is a journey that forms us into the people of God, caring about the things of Christ, living under the name of Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther