Monday, July 27, 2020

Sermon July 25 -26, 2020 Pastor Emeritus William Merrell

Title: No Worries Because We Have God's Love!
Text: Deuteronomy 7:6-9

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9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sermon July 18-19, 2020

Title: God’s children are wheat in his barn!
Text: Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43

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30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Over the last few years we’ve been tearing out some old bushes and adding in new plants. My daughter-n-law Elizabeth has been doing much of the planting. Occasionally she’ll say to me Pop’s you have weeds here growing. “Looks like a plant to me”, I reply. It is that way with weeds. They can get so mixed in with the plants that it can be hard to distinguish one from the other.

Last week we discussed the parable of the Sower who sowed seed, throwing it everywhere, on the path, the rocky ground and even in good soil. The parable was explained by Jesus that the seed was the word of God and the Gospel proclamation that went forth transforming hearts of stone to good soil where the word takes root and brings to faith those called by God through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s parable builds on that by saying:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.

So in explanation to this parable, Jesus says that He is the one who sows the good seed and that the world is the field and the wheat that grows, which sprouts from the good seed, are those who are the children of the Kingdom by faith.

The weeds, we are told, are those who are sons of the evil one which is the devil himself who sows the lies that Jesus is not who he claims to be, the way the truth and the life.

So as is made clear in our text, the world will consist of both those who believe and those who don’t believe. The church also being in the world, we will have its share of believers and unbelievers … or weeds among the wheat. (believers)

So as the church, shouldn’t we look to pull out those weeds among us?

Who’ll be first? What should we use to judge each other?

We all who have been baptized have been made good soil - by God’s Holy Spirit - washed clean by the water and the word and so we are clean.

We are wheat. Aren’t we?

But what if we are acting like weeds?
What if we avoid God’s word and teaching?
What if belief gives way to unbelief?
What if we live as an unbeliever?

Paul tells us in Romans 10 how we can know our own belief in Christ.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10

And then he continues:

11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.

Or, even adult and child.

VBS is not happening on site this year due to the virus and concerns for group gathering. The Board of Education made packets for the children who are active and have been active in VBS for home use and while this is not the same thing as being here for VBS it is another way to reach and keep these little ones and youth helpers connected.

So belief is what justifies or makes righteous and those who believe will not be put to shame but will be saved. It is good to do all we can to help them stay connected during this time apart for some.

In the parable of the wheat and weeds today the servants ask the master about both the weeds and wheat growing together.

28 “do you want us to go and gather them?”

29 [The master] says, ‘No, because in gathering the weeds you may pull up the wheat as well. 30 Let both grow together … until the harvest, and then I will tell the reapers to Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

In other words … the wheat is left behind after the weeds are gathered to be burned and then gathered into the Lord’s barn.

It is Christ’s desire that all would be saved and come to knowledge of the truth, 1 Tim 2:4 - even those whom we believe are far from the Lord and his reach.

Through the proclamation of the Gospel, God will bring to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit those who will believe, and by God’s grace, he continues to do this.

Even children at our church who have received VBS packets for home use this year, God by his work, will continue to give them the comfort of forgiveness in Christ’s finished work and strengthen their faith in him.

We also know from the parable today, that some, those who are called weeds in the parable are those who are the sons of the evil one, the devil, and that they will reject the saviors blessed call through the gospel message and through this unbelief be destined for destruction.

This will be of their own choosing as they reject the work of the Holy Spirit choosing to remain dead in trespass and sin.

43 But you who believe, the righteous … will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Sermon July 11-12, 2020

Title: The seed of the word produces a great harvest!
Text: Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23

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23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

When I worked in sales in the piano business and began waiting on customers there’s a principal we all learned: It is called the “KISS Principle,” as in, K-I-S-S: And it means, Keep It Simple, Stupid! In other words, if you want people to understand what you’re saying, and in my case showing them the benefits of owning a piano, I was reminded by the KISS Principal … to keep it simple. Don’t talk to technical or in ways that people can’t understand what you are really trying to say.

It seems a bit strange then that Jesus would use parables or stories that were something like a riddle at times to teach the crowd. How will they learn from these parables? Wouldn’t this complicate understanding? The disciples even asked about this: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v 10).

Actually, hearing God’s Word with understanding isn’t just a matter of “getting” the parables. Understanding God’s Word is hard anytime, and there are good reasons for this, but particularly when Jesus speaks in parables.

Jesus knows his audience well. There are things He knows that are keeping them from hearing and understanding what He is saying. Jesus teaches his disciples that even though 12 the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, Heb 4:12, the hearer – which is you and me - in our sinful state has the ability to resist and misunderstand God’s word.

As Luther says in the explanation of the Third Article of The apostles Creed:

I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

We understand that faith is a gift of our loving God. So what is it that keeps us from hearing … understanding and bearing fruit?

First, Jesus says, it’s the devil. He is like the birds that come and snatch the seed off the path. Certainly, we all can attest that the devil exists … because we notice the sinfulness of our thoughts even, at times as we wonder off while listening to a sermon. No that would never happen.

What are you thinking about right now? Are you thinking about what you did last night or what you might do after church? Whatever it is … you can be sure that the devil will shorten your attention span and even introduce thoughts into your mind … that have no business being there at this time!

The second thing Jesus says is that it’s your flesh. The sinful flesh, yours and mine, looks for the next spiritual high. As long as everything is going well, we’re all for the Word. But when problems arise, or when tribulation and persecution come, we’re quick to abandon the word and leave it far behind. This is like the seed that falls on the rocky soil. We avoid suffering and substitute something more palatable and to our liking.

Third, Jesus says it’s the world. We have many cares, some that even steal away the joy of listening to the Word. Yes, at times the word of God is joyful but we have work to do, whether from our employer or a teacher at school or even well intention friends. We may be concerned about our income, our children, the rising expenses of health care, and other essentials to our life – as our costs go up … sometime our income goes down. Is it the Panmdemic and Covid 19? Some places cases have gone up but over the last 10 weeks deaths have dropped 94%. What to believe, what to do?

When you deprive yourself of preaching and the word you steal the Good News God wants you to hear.

The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh make up the unholy trinity that keeps us from hearing and bearing fruit – they block the word if you will. The meaning of the Third Commandment, thou shall keep Holy the Sabbath day, calls on hearers not to despise preaching and God’s Word. It needs to be “set apart” which is what holy means, yet when you are listening problems and a lack of understanding happen and then this is precisely what occurs. The Preaching … and God’s Word are both despised.

But when God’s Word is heard, and when it is - understood - what a blessing it is!

Jesus said to the Twelve,

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (vv 16–17).

How does that happen? Jesus answered the disciples’ question this way:

“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (vv 11–13).

Did you hear that? Hearing and understanding God’s Word … is given; and it’s a gift.

You have just been gifted … Just now. Again … you have been given the Spirit of God in Christ. For many of you, that first happened at your Baptism. Your eyes have been opened to see that Jesus truly is the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world by dying for you on the cross. And you continue to hear God’s Word that kills the sinner inside and raises the new man to life … just like the seed that dies in the ground and then sprouts and grows and eventually bears fruit. It is the listening to God’s Word and his preaching that does this.

With his death on the cross, Jesus has conquered the devil, the world, and our flesh. This gives us the authority and the comfort to pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” This evil is not just some impotent, inanimate, impersonal substance. It is the evil one, who steals the Word from our hearts, who tempts us with suffering, and coaxes the world to follow him.

But our Lord has overcome the evil one, and in faith in his victory we may pray confidently and resist the snares and traps he sets. Our Lord has chosen you – dear friend - to receive this gift of faith so that you may hear and understand. This is grace and grace alone. No merit on your part has caused this, but our Lord and his love for you give it freely.

Jesus teaches the disciples to sow the Word of God liberally. There are no places, regardless of their potential to grow, where the Word of God may not or should not be preached. The Sower, in the parable is spreading seed everywhere … over the path, the rocks, and the weedy areas. That’s because God’s grace is for everyone. Everybody who hears the words you have heard today may be certain that Jesus really has died and has risen for them, has forgiven them, has given them eternal salvation.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Sermon July 4-5, 2020

Title: Rest in the love of Jesus!
Matt. 11:25-30

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28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How many of  you have ever been stuck on  a movie line or at the grocery story and there is someone behind you talking loud enough that everyone in the area knows what he is telling his friend?

There is a scene in the movie “Annie Hall” where Woody Allen’s character is standing in line to at a movie theater and the man behind him is talking to a lady about the influence of TV and media on society. He’s speaking about Marshall McLuhan – an English professor who wrote an important book on the subject called, “On the Media.”

Woody Allen continues to look and speak to the camera when he says: “What can you do when you get stuck on a movie line with a guy like this behind you?”

He turns and speaks to the man directly: “You don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan's work”— to which the man replies: “Really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called TV, Media and Culture, so I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity.”

Woody then does a really funny and insightful thing. He says, “I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. Come over here for a second?” He brings the man out of the movie line where Mr. McLuhan is standing and says to him: “Tell him.” So Marshall McLuhan looks at the man and says: “I heard, what you were saying. You, know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.”

The scene ends with Woody Allen looking straight at the camera and us and saying: “Boy, if life were only like this.”

Sometimes man’s wisdom can cause him to trust in his own reason and understanding, leaving little room for anything but an idol made out of his own self-serving image.

The people needed to be compelled. Jesus calls - “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt: 11:28)

There were some who, through their own wisdom, reason and efforts thought that they could find their way and make peace with God. They would be confounded in their efforts. God keeps Himself hidden.

He conceals himself from them. No amount of human effort, by the wise and learned of their day, can find Him and that is why God is so confounding to them. To confound is an interesting verb. It causes one to become confused or perplexed, to fail to distinguish and to mix up, to make something bad … worse, to frustrate or even to damn.

The scribes and the Pharisees of Israel saw themselves as the caretakers of the wisdom and understanding of God’s Law. The Law showed them all God demanded and what He required. The Gospel remained hidden from them because it is only found in the finished work of the God/man Jesus Christ.

27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Matt. 11:27

Those who were seeking the Father on their terms didn’t find him. The Father and Son know each other intimately. To know the Father they must know the Son and the Father can only be accessed through the Son by His revealing.

We too can find ourselves looking for God apart from His revealing. We too need to be compelled to cast all our cares on Him. But we too can fall short as we, through our own reason and understanding, seek to make peace with God and know the father on our terms.

You must accept the Son just as a little child does. Through the waters of Baptism the fullness of the Father is known through His revelation in Jesus Christ, His Son our Lord.

Belief is not attained through reason or effort but only through faith by God’s gracious will. Many today still fight against this.

We who celebrate our independence this weekend can attest to the blessings of freedom won through the reason, effort, lives, and death of many men and women - who sacrificed so much, so that you and I can live in a free society and have a voice in determining our future and the future of our country.

Many unfortunately though hope to direct God through their own wisdom in choosing what part of His word applies to them today. Many question the working of God even in the baptizing of an infant because it doesn’t fit their understanding of:

Freedom won (a decision or work we do) as opposed to,
Freedom given (a gift received).

Many still want their vote to count and to find God on their terms!

Those who do, through their own wisdom, might hear God say something similar to Mr. McLuhan: “I heard, what you were saying. You, know nothing of my work. Why you ever thought you could reach me through your own reason and efforts is totally amazing.”

Jesus thanks the Father for drawing those by childlike faith, through no wisdom or effort of their own, to find rest in Him and his Cross. (Matt. 11:25) 

His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:30) because He has carried all of the world’s sins upon Himself to the cross of Calvary and left them there. 

Eternal rest for the souls of those who labor and are heavy laden (Matt. 11:28) is found only in Christ, where by the call of the Gospel those with the faith of a little child believe, casting all their cares upon Him who is the one who truly brings real peace.

God gives faith to those who being in need rely on Him who was and is and will forever be God’s Son, the man Christ Jesus. No mere man could have offered words so full of heavenly majesty and divine comfort. He is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form the image of the invisible God. Col.2:9-12

Christ gives divine comfort to all who by faith believe this good news that peace with God is found only in Jesus Christ and that spiritual rest can truly be realized only through him and His cross alone.

Jesus comforts you and me too. His peace is your peace when by the power of the Holy Spirit you believe the Good News. Christ, through your baptism has washed you clean and you can remember this Good News daily by faith.

God has promised that your comfort and spiritual rest is ongoing because through faith in Him you have received the blessing revealed to the little children in our Gospel reading today and like them, you to believe.

Christ’s yoke is easy because He has carried it for you. He brings Peace because He is the very Prince of Peace. Because Christ has cast his vote for you – you can rest from your worry, wisdom, reason and efforts knowing that He has secured God’s peace for you and gives it to you freely by faith in Him.

The Father is revealed through the Son and the Son has, by grace through faith, revealed the Father to you. This is the comfort that little children and we receive and the same revelation that confounds and perplexes the wise of this world.

As we consider the peace we enjoy in the United States this Independence Day, consider also what Martin Luther said about temporal peace and where it comes from when he writes:

How many citizens or people do you suppose have ever once in their lifetime thought that their protection and safety in the city are a gift of God? …Ah, what a great gift of God it is that a man may eat his bit of bread and drink his draught of water in security and peace!

May you be blessed as you remember on this Independence Day the freedom you enjoy; that God has come to you by the working of the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ Jesus and the Father through Him to you giving you true freedom from the world, the flesh and the Devil.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.