Sunday, August 30, 2020

Sermon Aug. 29-30, 2020

Title: To die in Christ is life!
Text: Matt 16:21-28

Facebook Live: To die in Christ is life!

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Death is part of life. It’s heartbreaking. We see those we love … no more.

At times we can anticipate death and prepare for its arrival. Other times death is thrust upon us when we least expect it - leaving little or no time to prepare for the loss, confusion, and sorrow that is left behind.

At times death is met by denial.

No way! I don’t believe it! I was just with them!

Or … it is met with the sad question, “What’s in it for me?”

In our gospel for today and immediately following Peter’s confession of faith from last week that Pastor Merrell taught on, Jesus began to show his disciples [and to prepare them for death … his death] that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Death was real for Jesus. He knew it would come; he knew his purpose in our redemption … but his disciples didn’t yet fully understand.

Certainly Peter didn’t. For what a change we see in Peter, as he goes from confessing: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Receiving praise from Christ for his good confession revealed to him by the Father through the working of the Holy Spirit to in the span of 4 short verses saying: “Never, Lord!” … “This shall never happen to you!”

So much for building the church on Peter the man as the stern rebuke of the Lord confirms …

23 … “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me;
But also for each one of us (you and me) as we too wrestle with the Saint / sinner dichotomy within us both redeemed in Christ and bound in sin.

So, Jesus tells Peter: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Human concerns though, are real; especially when they affect us and we’d rather not think about the one major human concern that we all have - death and the consequences it brings.

As one loved one said to me after the funeral of her deceased boyfriend:

“We didn’t make plans for this. This was so unexpected.”
We are a self aware people and many look to self when death is near. For me as a pastor and for those under my care, it can be heartbreaking. I am always reminded of those blessed departed souls – family and Peace members - that are no longer here having departed to be with the Lord.

Planning for a funeral for we who remain has changed in these trying times as well, not only are funeral services limited in number but many who take care of the affairs of the deceased are no longer active church members themselves or at times even believers so the emphasis has gone:

From the pastor and the church - to the funeral director and funeral home

From the reality of death seen in light of Christ and his resurrection - to a simple celebration of life

From death as our enemy - to death as our friend at times even over age and sickness

From the congregation of the saints - to simple family and friends

From the resurrection of the body imperishable - to the immortality of the soul

From burial - to cremation

Rev. William Cwirla Reformation Insights into the Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying

These are just some of the changes I’ve seen inside and outside the church and as one who gets to proclaim Christ, to member and nonmember funerals alike, the trend has become similar.

Death becomes sanitized, life accomplishments heralded, and pictures of a life well lived celebrated.

It is good to celebrate life, it is a gift of God ... but so is eternal life.

But Jesus says in our gospel:

26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

For the Christian, sin and death has been killed with Christ’s death. And we who have been brought to faith in Christ have been raised with him in his glorious resurrection to a life eternal. So as we deal with the impending death of a loved one or think about death and that reality that waits in our own lives, how should we think?

Martin Luther in a letter to his dying mother thought this way and wrote in this way:

“Dear death, dear sin, how is it that you are alive and terrify me? Do you not know that you have been overcome? Do you, Death, not know that you are quite dead? Do you not know the one who has said to you, “I have overcome the world?”

Luther’s letter to his dying mother (Letters of Spiritual counsel)

Death is not good and death was not God’s plan … for you. Death is a result of sin and the fall and we are born in sin and born to die.

How else could we understand the lunacy that is this broken and corrupt world we live in? - Who desire to kill children that are alive in the womb and the elderly whom society deems less than useful through abortion and euthanasia?

But there is good news for we who hope in Christ! We have overcome death because Christ has overcome death triumphing over it at the cross for you and me.

Our church, like the whole Christian church on earth, is a dying church; and I don’t just mean declining members that we see in the pews or online in the earthly sense, because for us - death – closes the temporal exposing the immortal. We depart this life for the life etermal.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. 1 Cor. 15:42-44

Our hope is in Christ, whether we depart this life to be with the Lord at death or the Lord returns to gather you and me, the wheat into his barns, we will be and we have the guarantee that we will be raised with the Lord and will be with the Lord forever.

Those whose hope is not in the Lord, have no hope at all.

As Luther writes in his preface to the Burial Hymns:

“Since they are beyond the pale of faith in Christ, they must either, cherish this temporal life as the only thing worthwhile and hate to lose it, or expect that after this life they will receive eternal death and the wrath of God in hell and must fear to go there.”

LW 53:325-326

It is in keeping with the text of our gospel today where Jesus says:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life [in this temporal and broken world] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake [by being made God’s child through the working of the Holy Spirit] will find it.

In keeping with that joyful understanding of losing our life for Christ’s sake and receiving life eternal as we in this life take up our own cross, l will recite again the 3rd verse from out sermon hymn.

708 Lord Thee I Love With All My Heart.

3 Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.

Text and tune: Public domain

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


Monday, August 24, 2020

Sermon Aug. 22-23, 2020 Pastor Emeritus William Merrell

Title: We are called to confess that Jesus is the Christ!
Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Pastor Emeritus William Merrell

Facebook live: We are called to confess that Jesus is the Christ!

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Sermon Aug. 15-16, 2020

Title: By faith the Lord is yours!
Text: Matt. 15:21-28

Facebook Live: By faith the Lord is yours!  Cont. By faith the Lord is yours!

28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

St. Augustine reminds us:

Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.


Last week we took a walk on the water with Jesus and Peter. If you remember, Peter had his eyes focused on Jesus and he asked Jesus to call him out of the boat so he could walk on the water to where Jesus was. Christ said “Come” and Peter walked on the water to Jesus but as the wind and the waves raged Peter lost focus … he took his eyes off of Christ and beginning to sink, cried “Lord save me!” Jesus took hold of Peter and when they both entered the boat and the wind and the waves ceased.

Today’s reading once again has Jesus looking for a place of rest. The people had been following Him relentlessly looking for maybe a free meal here and there, healing for their illnesses, and any manner of a miracle – but they were not terrible interested in the gospel message that had been being preached. Sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it?

Many in our own day look for temporal blessings instead of eternal security. So Jesus withdrew from the populated area of the Sea of Galilee and went up north to the region of Tyre and Sidon in the district of Phoenicia.

22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

This woman knew about Jesus. Apparently His fame had spread beyond the region of Galilee. She also had been familiar with the books of the Jews and their coming Messiah, and by the working of the Holy Spirit came to believe that this Jesus was the one prophesied from long ago, calling him both “Lord” and “Son of David.” Her request is also a petition for the Lord’s mercy upon her situation. Her focus is upon Jesus.

To this the Lord remains quiet. We’re told that he didn’t even say a word, continuing on with His business as if he hadn’t heard a thing.

Martin Luther says: “Christ nowhere in all the gospels is painted as being so hard as here.”

And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”

The disciples didn’t want the bother, didn’t want the problem, telling Jesus to send her away. “She isn’t one of us.” You can almost hear them say. Once again the disciples fail to have or show compassion. Just as with the feeding of the 5000 they were content to send them away … until Jesus says, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matt. 14:16

The disciples are an interesting lot. First they cry out in fear as they are tossed by the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee.

They see a ghost which turns out to be Jesus. He calms their fears as he and Peter get into the boat and the sea is calmed. 

They all reply, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matt. 14:33b

Now, just as quickly, seeing someone else in distress, they want her sent away … they don’t want to be bothered.

The disciples are you and they are me, if we are honest with ourselves.

At times we don’t want to be bothered even though we have Jesus and His wonderful Good News and gift of faith. If there is a need, “Not me, I’ve done my time let someone else do it!”
Or, we’re too quick to see all that we do ourselves and we want maybe others to recognize just how much we do and how hard we work for the church and for Christ.
Both are wrong and both are sinful because you have Christ and His gift of faith which is to have you love others as Christ has loved you.
So Jesus says to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

To this Luther says: “Christ was a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, But when [Christ] came he found many Samaritans and Sadducees, as there are many, [skeptics] still today, but he was supposed to preach to the Jews, and afterward to the whole world through the apostles. Christ was therefore sent to the Jews in person because they had the promise. The Gentiles didn’t have the promise but they had mercy.

LW Vol.54. Pg. 451

The Canaanite woman replies: “Lord, help me.”

Here his words are stinging but true.

“It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”

It is implied that the Gentile woman and all her family and people were not God’s chosen people as were the Israelites, that they could be considered in the eyes of God only as dogs, while the Jews were His children. That’s a pretty stern judgment which the Lord gave, in which there surely appeared not a glimmer of hope for the distressed mother.

As Luther writes, there was not an absolute denial of her request; there was still room for an argument. And, besides, Christ had not compared her people and her family to the street-dogs, but to the house-dogs that live with their masters in the home.

Kretzmann Popular Commentary on the Bible NT Vol. 1 pg 84-85

If you have ever had a house dog you know that in many cases they live with their owners very well and receive many times … food from the table.

The woman does not lose faith or take her eyes off Jesus but simply replies, 27 … “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”

She says, yes sometimes even the dogs receive those crumbs, those blessings that she is looking for, because the dogs stay at the table. They are near the table and if your dogs are like my dogs … they don’t move … but sit waiting.

This woman would not be denied. She was keeping her eyes upon Jesus and knew by faith that He had the gift she needed, and the gift she wanted, both for herself and her daughter. To this Jesus says:

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Luther in his Table Talk discussions says: That Christ didn’t speak to us, but about us, [We who are afar off.] He wished to test this woman’s faith, and when she said, “Lord, it’s true, I don’t deserve it, and I know I didn’t have the promise,” Jesus heard her prayer.

LW Vol. 54 pg. 451

“God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing.”

Martin Luther.

Your prayers too are heard because you have faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ has had mercy upon you and has given you forgiveness of your sins. You are his child a member of his family grafted into the vine receiving all that is at His table.

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


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Sermon Aug. 8-9, 2020

Title: God knows!
Text: Matt. 14:22-33

Facebook live: God knows!

31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

Verse 1

The razor’s edge is going to cut you, deeper and deeper
You hate the way it hurts and the time it takes to heal
You cover up the wounds and hope no one will notice
The way the razor works and the way the razor feels

But God know, Yes God knows, God knows when you hurt

That was the first verse of a song I wrote many years ago for a Christian band I was part of in the 90’s called 2ND Chance. The razor’s edge was a metaphor for the pains in life that we all deal with, how we hide those pains and cover the wounds and how in spite of the pain God knows and hears us during the times of trial.

Last week’s message showed our Lord Jesus Christ’s compassion to the crowd that had followed Him when he went to a desolate place to grieve by Himself after hearing that John the Baptist had been killed by Herod.

After the feeding of the five thousand the day was drawing to a close, the people had been fed and the compassion of Christ had been made evident to all … especially His disciples. Now Jesus sends them all away so He can get back to the business of why He came here to grieve John’s death and to pray.

Jesus finally got about the work He came to do … to pray and grieve. He had sent His disciples back across the lake in the boat He had arrived in by Himself.

When evening came, he was there alone, Matt. 14 23b

I’ve often wondered what the disciples talked about as they contemplated the miracle they just had witnessed with the feeding of the large crowd with five loaves and two fish, or what they were now talking about as they departed in the boat across the lake leaving Jesus back on the shore.

It might have been a combination of bewilderment and joy?

“Can you imagine all the people that were fed and still we had twelve baskets of pieces left over after all had ate their fill?” one disciple might have remarked.

“It was truly a miracle!” another might have exclaimed as they all remembered the Quail and manna from heaven that God had fed the Israelites with as they made their Exodus in the wilderness so many years before.

“He is truly the Messiah!” another might have added all the while not aware that the winds had picked up and the little boat, beaten by the waves, was making small progress fighting across the lake towards their destination.

Verse 2

In life we got to stumble, little by little
Feeling for the bottom just to know which way is up
You look upon the journey and you think no one will hear you
Call out for a hand to reach and pick you up.

And God knows, yes God knows, God knows when you call.

25And in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" and they cried out in fear.

Fear, at times consumes us all.
It’s real and we all deal with different levels of it.

It could be the fear of life’s economic uncertainty.
It could be a change of location or a health concern.
It could be a random act of violence on someone we don’t know, someone we know, or the fear that it could happen to us as well.
Or, it could be just a change of wind that brings danger to a otherwise peaceful calm.

So call on the Father
And call on the Son
Together the blood of life was shed for everyone.

It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that we can we come to Christ or call on him. And as Jesus approaches the boat he comes to the disciples with these wonderful comforting words:

"Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." Matt. 14:28b

Jesus was there in the midst of the wind and waves with the calming reassurance for the disciples that it will be alright because He is in control of all in this world and the next. Even though storms, wind, and waves can cause doubt, we can trust that Christ is there with reassurance, though at times doubt still remains.

28And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Matt. 14:28

Christ was Peter’s focus in time of fear but he still needed proof. Take heart; it is I didn’t cut it for Peter. So Jesus calls him once again.

29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

10 feet, 12 feet 15 feet … it doesn’t say.
When Christ is Peter’s focus all is well. He hears the Lord’s voice and wants to be the first to embrace His Lord. Jesus calls Peter to come and the miracle of walking on the water is repeated as Peter, in faith, steps out of the boat.

30 But when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Matt. 14:30

Peter knew Christ, saw him and heard his voice. Yet in the storms of life the comfort of Christ can be overcome for us in the moment of affliction and fear.

Verse 3

A heart that’s broke or breaking starting to crumble
You feel just like the weight of the world is caving in
You call out for forgiveness you hope your prayers are answered
Seeds of doubt are planted every time that you begin

And God knows, yes God knows, God knows when you call.

God is the answer to Peter’s fear.
Christ is the focus of his call as his fear overwhelms him and he begins to sink. – Lord save me!
Jesus hears and responds to Peter’s cry in that:

31[He] immediately [reaches] out his hand and [takes] hold of him Matt. 14:31a

Christ is Peter’s strength in the midst of impending fear and doom. As the wind and the waves calmed and Peter and Jesus once again entered the boat, the words of Christ as he took hold of Peter’s hand again invaded Peter’s thoughts:

"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Matt. 14:31b

Christ is ready to take hold of you too as you worry through the storms of life.
He will reach out and take hold of you when you feel overwhelmed by Life’s fears.
He makes a way when there is no way. He says: "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." Matt.14:28b
Even when faith and doubt overwhelm us, He is the Peace that surpasses all human understanding.

But most importantly, Jesus has come to redeem the lost and has taken your sin and mine upon Himself, so that even though death is a reality in this life there is comfort that because he lives you too live – in him!

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


Song: God Knows - Russ Tkac 2020

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Sermon Aug. 1-2, 2020

Title: Our compassionate Lord is Jesus!
Matt. 14:13-21

Facebook live: Our compassionate Lord is Jesus!

19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And they all ate and were satisfied.

Our gospel begins:

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. (Matt. 14:13a)

The news that the disciples brought to Jesus was the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod. Hard news for anyone to hear especially if the news involves someone we know or are close to that has lost their life.

Jesus needed to get away to grieve. So He gets into a boat and goes across the lake to a place that is quite to be by Himself – to a place that is desolate.

But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. (Matt. 14:13b)

When you think of desolate you might think of a place devoid of inhabitants and deserted. A place that is joyless and sorrowful - as if separated from a loved one. A place showing signs of abandonment, dilapidated, devoid of warmth, comfort or hope. But what does Jesus find?

14When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, (Matt. 14:14a)

He went to get away; to be by Himself; to collect His thoughts; to pray and here he finds not a desolate place at all, but one filled with a very large crowd of followers.

I believe that even this crowd would have given Jesus a pass had he became agitated. But what does Jesus do?

… and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matt. 14:14b)

We too fail to see and reflect God’s compassion in our daily lives. Many times agitation - seen through the eyes of sin - become the first reaction we have before – we see through the compassionate eyes of faith given to us by our loving savior Jesus – by the power of the Holy Spirit

Compassion would show for a Christian the wonderful evidence of the fruit of the Spirit.

To think of someone else and their needs first and foremost is a Christ-like virtue.

[Stories of listening: 

For me as a manager listening to employees when business and life was going wrong.

Or how Ben my boss listened to me as he put his hand on my shoulder saying, “It will get better.”

Or, how I as a pastor need to hear with compassionate ears the people that the Lord has gives to my care.]

Jesus’ showed compassion to the crowd of people gathered at this place and His compassion extended to their physical need as well.

These five thousand men, women and children hungered and were fed in a miraculous way by Jesus, but the miracle was probably not even something they were aware of. God’s great blessing filled their hunger and showed the disciples the compassion and power with which Jesus was sending them out.

Each had a basketful of leftovers to testify to what Jesus has done and will continue to do through them.

God would be with them as they went forth. His miraculous work would be worked through them.

Jesus would speak as they spoke to others.

All that Jesus is and does would be with them as they walked in His place with His word, bringing freedom to those in need of the saving knowledge of Christ in a fallen world. The compassion that Jesus has would be the compassion they share with and give to sinners so that they are healed of their sin, fed by our precious Lord’s word, and satisfied of their wants and needs.

Jesus has compassion.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23)

His compassion is extended to all sinners who are lost and in need of salvation.

Jesus has compassion.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)

His compassion comes to us through the free gift of the gospel for the salvation of all who believe.

Jesus has compassion.

8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

His compassion comes to you and me even though we are sinners. He took our sin upon Himself at the cross and by grace through faith in His finished work we are free of sin and covered by his righteousness.

Jesus has compassion. 

9Because, by the power of the Holy Spirit in you, 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. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom. 10:9-10)

His compassion allows us by the power of the Holy Spirit to confess the truth of this good news for ourselves and to share this with others.

Jesus has compassion … on you!

13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Rom. 10:13)

He heals your sin and covers you with His righteousness so that you are, by faith, free of your bondage to sin, fed by his holy word, as well as His very Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper given and shed for you and for all who are satisfied and found in Him.

This, your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives you simply out of His Grace, mercy and love for you and with gratitude you are able to be compassionate and show compassion to others.

Finally, I leave you with a few of the wonderful words from what would have been our Sermon Hymn today.

Now Thank We All Our God

Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers' arms Has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us
And keep us in His grace And guide us when perplexed
And free us from all ills In this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heav'n adore;
For thus it was, is now, And shall be evermore.

In the name of the Father and on the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!