John 8:31–36 // Romans 3:19–28 // Rev. 14:6–7
Reformation Day Observed
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Our text thus far.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today, it is the truth that sets you free. And we’re not just taking about finally being confirmed after months of pandemic and planning.
It is the truth that sets you free. What is truth? What is the kind of truth that Christ talks about? How can the truth set you free? What does it mean to be free indeed?
Not too far away from here there’s a family that’s gathered around their mom. She’s in her last days, and it feels too soon. Even if she’s in her 70’s, even if she’s had a long fight, even if she says she’s ready, it feels too soon for her grandkids. What does it mean that the truth will set her free?
There’s a man, only 28 years old, no reason to think that anything is wrong except that, at a routine doctor visit, they pull him aside and tell him he has cancer. He has weeks to live. There might be an experimental procedure, but he has to get his house in order. He’s confronted with something he’d really rather not think about. What does it mean that the truth will set him free?
Jesus doesn’t use a lot of words to speak in our Gospel text for today, but he says a lot. He speaks the truth about ourselves, and he speaks the truth about our God.
First, the truth about ourselves. If you went to a doctor, you would want the truth. You don’t want them to sugarcoat any conditions you might have. You don’t want them to lie and tell you your arm isn’t broken. You want the truth.
The Bible gives us the spiritual truth about ourselves. None of our good works can save us. Salvation doesn’t come to good people because they do what is right. No, the point of doing the right thing—what Paul calls the works of the law—has never ever been that they justify. Following the Ten Commandments from One to Ten was and is never about how to earn heaven.
The truth about ourselves is that we are in need of amazing grace. The truth about ourselves is that we regularly get it wrong, miss the mark, mar smudge and twist God’s word. The truth about ourselves is that we can’t often handle the truth and often don’t understand the truth about ourselves.
I remember Becky Cardarelle in eighth grade. I remember not wanting to square dance with her because she had a mole on her arm, and it took me a decade and a half to realize that that wasn’t very nice. It took me a long time to realize my sin and failure. It took me a long time to figure out my fault. It took me, in this small and silly little case, a long time to figure out the truth about myself.
Second, we remember the truth about our God. He knows all of this already. Have you ever wondered that? God knows who you are even more than you know. He knows more about what you are like than you can know. He knows more about your sin, your faults, your failings, than you will ever know.
Do you remember Becky Cardarelle in eighth grade? Know this, that as long as it took me to realize my sin and failure, my God knew it first. As deep as I have seen my mistake go, as silly and nonsensical as it was, God knows it deeper.
But the truth is that God knows, and here’s the further truth. God knows and he loves you in a way that ends in perfection. He knows and his grace doesn’t ignore your sin; it goes even deeper than your sin. He knows and he forgives every portion. He knows and he does more than we can ever imagine in order to do all that is needful to bring to you amazing grace, unfailing love, to take our place, to bear our cross.
Dear confirmands, you are going to be speaking words, taking oaths today that few teenagers could understand the full import of. You are swearing upon your own honor to uphold the faith that you have been taught, throughout a whole life full of everything that you haven’t gone through yet.
You are saying before God and this congregation that you look to God’s word for guidance in your life.
You are taking an oath to come regularly to this Lord’s Supper and to be faithful in listening to your pastor and remembering the truth of God’s word.
You are pledging to be faithful to this particular way of life for the rest of your life.
You are pledging to hold fast to your faith even when it means your own death.
These are words that matter. You are taking up your Christian faith as adults in the faith. There are only a few days in your life when your words matter like they do today.
I remember another day in my life like that. It was I love you. Those are the words that I said to my wife, May 27, 2012, eight years and four months (minus two days). And it was good to say them that day. But they couldn’t possibly mean then what they mean now. After eight years of caring and loving, of crying and laughing, of three boys, of three trips to the NICU after they were born, of all the ups and the downs, those words mean far more now than they did then, because we’ve said them often and well.
And I tell you that to tell you this. The truth of the words you say today will mean more very time you journey back to this sanctuary, every week that you hear of God’s forgiveness in this particular chapter of your life, every time you hear again what God has spent in order to purchase and win you not with gold or silver but with his holy and precious blood, with his innocent sufferings and death.
To say it the way that Jesus says it in our Gospel reading, if you abide in me, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family gathered around their grandma to hear her last words, and her last words are they she gets to go home. They say the truth of the Gospel at the funeral, they say it every week, and every time they take the Lord’s Supper, they hear the dismissal blessing to be what it is, In Christ’s body and Blood, we live in the truth, and we depart in peace.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man diagnosed with a terminal cancer. His days on earth are numbered. But as he continues through life, the words of Jesus ring in his ears, The Truth will set you free. And as his restrictions increase, still he knows the truth will set him free. As he is tied down by more and more machines, even as he prays for a cure, he knows, the truth sets him free.
Amen and Amen.
Here's a newspaper particle that I wrote for the local paper. It's also on Facebook too.
“Teach us to number our days, so that we may get a heart of wisdom.” --- Psalm 90:12
Numbering our days. This phrase comes up throughout our English language.
“Your days are numbered!”
“Enjoy these days because they grow up quick.”
“He’s in his last days.”
In this little chapter of my life as a pastor, I’ve had the opportunity to pray the words of Psalm 90 with all kinds of people—the young, the old, the married, the single, mothers and fathers, grandparents and great grandparents, the sick and the healthy, the joyful and the sorrowful—asking that the Lord would teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. But what does that mean?
It’s a reminder that all your days string together. From Day 1 to Day 36,501, each day is full of its own possibilities, yes, and it follows on the heels of the day before it.
It’s a challenge to value every day. When our loved ones pass suddenly, we value that they did not suffer long. When our loved ones decline slowly, we value that we get the grace of time with them.
It’s an honest admission that your days will one day end. Psalm 90:12 declares, it is wise to admit one’s own mortality. It’s foolish to avoid our mortality. It’s wise to admit it.
More than all that, for the Christian, we find that an honest admission of our mortality turns us once again toward Jesus Christ who died to redeem our mortal bodies and was raised to life and immortality in order to raise us to new life.
And how is this done?
Just like the Psalmist would remind us, we cannot merely catch this thought and move on. Instead, we gain wisdom from this thought as it comes back to us in every chapter of life, as we move through the life that we are numbering. As we number our days, then and there wisdom comes, not in one grand gesture, but instead in bits and pieces along the way.
Pastor Paul Muther, Trinity Lutheran Janesville
Hope Like Moses in the Wilderness
Second in a series, “Faith, Hope, and Heart”
Exodus 2:11–3:8a // Hebrews 13:1–6 // Luke 19:1–10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text today is from the historical book of the Exodus chapters 2-3, and our sermon theme is Hope Like Moses in the Wilderness.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Today we continue a three part sermon series on our annual theme for the year – Faith, Hope, and Heart. We pulled that from our theme song for the year – Confidence by Sanctus Real. “Give me faith like Daniel in the lion’s den. Give me hope like Moses in the Wilderness. Give me a heart like David, Lord, be my defense, so I can face my giants with confidence.” What we will come to understand is that what kept Daniel faithful, gave hope to Moses, and heart to David is the understanding that God is merciful and just. They believed that their salvation was sure despite what others could or would do to them. They had confidence in God, not in others or themselves.
Today we explore the confidence that we have in Christ as we examine the kind of hope that Moses had and the circumstances that he had hope in.
So, who is hope for?
Not too far away from here is a woman in interminable pain. Nothing she does helps. Her existence seems to be one of constant torture. She never gets an answer, never gets a release, never gets relief.
Not to far away from her is a young man who is impatient, but that’s not what he would say. He would say that he likes to get things done. He doesn't like to sit around. If he’s not on the move, he’s not doing enough.
And not too far away from him is a middle-aged man who does nothing but sit around. He waits, and doesn’t even know why he’s waiting anymore. There is no goal, no purpose, no reason to go. He hasn’t done anything significant in years.
These are the people who need hope. People who are living in tension. People who are living in the uncomfortable present. People who are living in suffering.
It reminds me of the weeks that we spent in the hospital with Josiah. Not nearly as long as others, but still we worked through the same steps. The qweful realization that all is not well. The fear of the unknown as you try and understand. The challenge of the milestones they need you to hit. The distance and exhaustion when you realize that real life has to go one, and one of you can stay but the other is going home. The relief when you finally come home.
In those days, we desperately needed to cling to hope.
So, what is hope? One definition of hope comes from Romans 8: For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
To hope is to persevere, to wait eagerly for that which we do not see.
One of the Old Testament words for hope is QAVAH, which is related to the word cord. It means something held in a state of tension until that tension is released. It’s trying to describe that feeling of tension and expectation while you wait for something to happen. Give me hope like Moses in the wilderness.
We go to our text. Moses is seeing the oppression of the Israelites and he cannot wait any longer. He cannot stand idly by while an Egyptian was beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He is not able to persevere. He does what, by all rights, seems to be their Boston Tea Party moment. Their Braveheart moment, when victory is on the way, when the revolution had begun. But it doesn’t happen that way.
The Hebrews reject him, saying he’s got more in common with Egypt than with Israel. The Egyptians reject him, because he was trying to free the Hebrews. So he’s in limbo. No one to rely on. No family to speak of. Israel rejects him, so he rejects Israel.
But God doesn’t. Through the years, as Moses forgets Israel and makes a new life, God remembers. Though Moses moves past it, God dwells with his people.
And then this amazing thing happens. When Moses isn’t looking, God calls him to save his people. When Moses had forgotten about the loose ends in his life, God was busy tying them together. When Moses was beyond the suffering of the Israelites, God in a slow and quiet way, in a loud and eye-catching way, in a way of power and of weakness, brings back the hope that Moses lived in.
First, God calls us to love those with whom we have a history. The people of Israel and Moses do not have a blank slate. Pharaoh’s family and Moses do not have a blank slate. Moses has history with all of them. But often, God is calling us to minister to those we have a history with.
Second, God’s timing is often different from out own. Or, to say it in a different way, hope is recognizing that God’s timing is not my timing, hope is submitting to God’s plan above and beyond my plan. Hope is living in the tension between what we long for and what we have.
Third, sometimes, we are able to see God’s timing. Sometimes, like Moses, we can see what God has been building while wee were out in the wilderness. Sometimes, we look back and can see the way that our lives intersect with others. Sometimes, we can. Most of the time we cannot. And here is where hope and faith connect. By faith, we cling to this unseen truth: That God is working whether we see him or not, that God is working whether we know the end of it or not.
Hope is living in the tension between what God has in reality and what we can see for the moment. That’s what’s so amazing about the story of Moses. He could see so little of what the Lord would do through him, and yet we know how the rest of the story goes, how the Lord worked powerfully through him.
Fourth, and here’s the Gospel, the Christian has faith that our whole lives are wrapped up in the cross. All the loose ends of our lives are drawn together by the cross. Everything that has meaning in our lives is meaningful because Jesus ied and was raised to life. Everything that we do has significance because of the blood poured out for you and for me. And our faith causes us to hope that this Jesus who was crucified, who was raised to life, this Jesus is coming again to make all things right. He and his return is the object of our hope.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman in pain who fixes her eyes on the author and perfecter of her faith, and she knows that he will come back to make all things right in her.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who learns patience, who learns kindness. He learns to be strong, to take heart, and he learns to wait for the Lord.
The kingdom of heaven is like large church in a small town full of folks that have no idea how much the Lord is working through, but they pray for him to work nonetheless. They have no idea the impact that they might have in the lives of others, but they pray that the Lord would know and that the Lord would be using every one of their days to serve their neighbor. They have no idea all that their Lord is doing now, but they do know what he did, he died and rose again for them. They do know what he will do, that he will come back to make all things right.
Amen and amen.
Above All Powers: The Cornerstone
First in a series of two, “Above All Powers”
Matthew 21:33–46 // Phil 3:4b–14 // Isaiah 5:1–7
Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is the Gospel reading, beginning with a parable about a vineyard and tenants.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We are working through a mini-sermon series, a two-parter, on Matthew 21 and 22, as we ask the question, What authority does Jesus have? Today we consider this title of Jesus as the Cornerstone, next Sunday, we consider Jesus as the Bridegroom.
Jesus tells a parable. He echoes the words of Isaiah 5 and the song of the vineyard, but he changes and develops it in significant ways. For Jesus, the point of the parable focuses not on the fruit (like Isaiah 5) but instead on the role of the authorities – the chief priests and the Pharisees, in the parable called the tenants.
The tenants were given the vineyard to produce fruit and to give it to the farmer, but they were breaking this agreement. They wanted to keep the fruit for themselves.
The Farmer is God. The messengers are the prophets. The Son is Jesus, and the tenants are the religious authorities over the people. Properly interpreted, this parable applies first to those in authority over the church—the leaders and the pastors of your church.
This parable comes down hard on church leaders. It’s the same thing that Paul says too that the leaders of the church the pastors and elders and bishops of the church will be judged beyond others because they are held responsible for the eternal spiritual health of their people. The church leaders need to focus on what matters.
So, what were the Chief Priests and Pharisees focusing on? First, let’s say what they weren’t focusing on. They were not interested in the truth. We find this out just before the first parable in this set of three. They asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things?” And Jesus replies, “I’ll tell you that if you tell me this. The baptism of John, was it from God or from man?” Their reply is so telling. They are not concerned at all about the truth of the baptism of John.
What are they focused on? They are concerned about winning the argument, about looking good, about what they thought mattered. “If we say from God, he’ll ask why we didn’t believe. If we say from man, we are afraid of what the crowds will do to us.” Nothing from their answer has anything to do with the truth. And that continues at the end of this parable.
Notice this, that the Chief Priests and Pharisees have given the correct answer to Jesus’s question (which is difficult to do, if you read the Gospels!), but even being correct isn’t enough. Even having and speaking the truth with their own lips isn’t enough. It isn’t enough because they are not focused on what matters. They are concerned with appearances.
So, what are they focused on? It’s easy for us to armchair quarterback from the 21st century, but remember, they were focusing on some real and imminent dangers. They were afraid of the crowd. Hundreds of thousands of people swelled the city Jerusalem during the Passover. Just one or two days before this little conversation with Jesus, those same hundreds of thousands of people were waving palm branches and crying, “Hosanna!” Saying the wrong thing in a crowd could mean the anger of the people turning against you, and you end up being torn limb from limb. They were afraid of the Romans. Saying the wrong thing to the Roman Government, and they could come down on everything, tearing down the temple and destroying Jerusalem (Which they did because of someone claiming to be the Messiah 40 years later!).
What real and immanent dangers are we tempted to focus on? Perhaps it's the mix of truth and lies that are being told about your candidate. Perhaps it’s dangerous conditions in the streets of the cities. Perhaps it’s your own mortality, brought to light. Perhaps it’s our own vulnerability.
I’m not telling you “don't act.” No, when you see hurt and evil and sin and danger, please, do act! But act as you keep your eyes focused on Jesus. There were real and immanent dangers that surrounded them, but still Christ calls them to focus on something more important still, that he is the cornerstone.
And then, as Jesus often does, Jesus goes further. It turns from a parable condemning the Pharisees to a parable proclaiming Christ. Jesus quotes Psalm 118, “The stone the builders rejected”—the son the tenants killed—“has become the cornerstone”—has remained the heir. Jesus subverts—he changes—the focus of the parable from the wickedness of the church leaders of the day to the proclamation of the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone.
Notice the wild amazing truth of the Gospel here. Jesus takes this tale of stubborn unbelief and proclaims the Gospel through it. He takes a tale of murder and rebellion and in the end God uses it for life.
It’s the same thing that God has been doing from the beginning. “He will crush the serpent’s head; and the serpent will strike his heel.” It’s captured in the iconic phrase of Joseph in Genesis 50, after everything his brothers did to him, he says, “You intended this for evil, but God meant it for good.” It’s what allows Paul to say, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all.” What was he counting as loss? Everything that he had once found valuable. His name, his reputation, his pedigree, his status, his possessions. Everything that did not point to Christ was counted as loss. Everything that did point to Christ was now Christ’s.
So, what matters in this parable? Two thoughts in conclusion. It matters in this parable that the fruit belongs to the farmer, and it matters in this parable is that the son who was rejected is still the cornerstone.
First, it matters that the fruit belongs to the farmer. For church leaders, that means that my flock, my congregation belongs to Christ. I’m just an undershepherd. Your true pastor never changes; he’s Jesus Christ. Undershepherds come and go but the Good Shepherd stays the same. It matters that the fruit belongs to the farmer.
Second, it matters that the son who was rejected is still the cornerstone. That's the story that changes every story. It changes the rejection of the Pharisees into the sacrifice of God’s Son for our sins. It changes the punishment of the cross into the victory of the resurrection. It changes the wall of death into the open door of eternal life.
And so, if God can continue and change those stories, how much more can he do for you in your story?
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther