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4th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 11:33-36

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, have you heard of visual lethargy before? Even though you might not have heard that term, you probably understand the dynamic of it. Visual lethargy is something that artists speak about and it means that the more that you see something the less you actually see it. For example, the first time that you drove to your new job or school, you’re conscious of all the new sights and scenes along the way, you notice that nice park, that interesting house, that beautiful tree. But by your twenty-first trip, you’ve quit noticing those things and you’re anxious about the traffic going faster so you can get to work before you’re late. Has that happened to you? It seems inevitable but although you may see all those things, after a while you really don’t see them and you’ve lost a degree of wonder, a degree of thankfulness, a degree of gratitude at the beauty of things. The beauty that once captivated you is still there, but you don’t see it, and you can’t really celebrate that which you don’t see. Visual lethargy- you lose a certain sense of awe at something beautiful.

But that doesn’t just happen to us on our drive to work, does it? We can experience that same visual lethargy when it comes to our magnificent God. Have we lost some of our awe of God? You see, God has designed each human being to be in awe of Him, to worship Him. Every human being is designed by the Creator to worship Him. And so every single person is worshipping someone or something. Even the most irreligious person is worshipping- they may be worshipping themselves, may be worshipping their job, their money, their hobby, their social life, etc. Everybody is worshipping something, their hearts are in awe of something. But whenever you operate something contrary to its manufacturer’s guidelines you’re going to have problems. If you try to pop popcorn in a coffee maker, it’s not going to turn out right. If you put kool-aid in your car engine instead of oil, you’re not going to drive very far. If you operate against the manufacturer’s instructions you’re going to have problems. So it is with life. God has designed every person for worship. Everyone is worshipping something. If that something isn’t the God of the Holy Bible, you’re operating against God’s design and you’re always going to be lacking, missing, searching, and you will never have true and lasting joy and peace and satisfaction and contentment and a sense of purpose in life.

The Christian’s entire life is really meant to be worship. Every act, every word, every thought that we have is really to stem from a heart that’s in awe of God. Generally when we think of worship we think of gathering here in church to formally worship God – that’s certainly part of our worship, but for the Christian, their whole life is an act of worship to God. Awe of God is what we’re after when we come into God’s house. Literally what worship means is not that I’m coming here to be entertained, or I’m coming to benefit my life somehow, the real goal of worship is to come before God and give him awe and respect – that’s the goal of our worship. But that’s also the goal of our lives.

Awe and respect of God should be the reason I fill my head with the thoughts I think about. Awe of God should be the reason why I treat my wife the way I do. Awe of God should be the reason why I parent my children the way I parent them. Awe of God should be the reason why I wake up in the morning and go to work. Awe of God should be the reason why I handle my possessions the way I do. Awe of God should be the reason I manage my finances the way I do. Awe of God is meant to rule and influence and affect every aspect of my life. But is it? And if not, why not?

You see, the danger is, when we lose our awe of God, we’ll replace it with awe for ourselves. There’s only two options: live for God or live for yourself. If I’m not living for God, then I’m living for myself. There’s a war going on inside of you and inside of me between the awe of God and all the “awe-inspiring” things around us that God created. And perhaps it’s our visual lethargy of who God is and what God has done that has caused us to see God, but not see Him, to know God, but to not really know Him. Are you losing your awe of God?


What is capturing your awe in life? Where do you find the greatest happiness in life? Or, where do you find your deepest sorrows, because you lost what? You see what happens? When we lose our awe for God, when we become numb to the Lord and who He is and what He’s done for us, we’re going to search for awe in some created thing. Then our awe is kidnapped and we attach our happiness in life to the wrongs things, our sorrow in life to the wrong things, and our anger in life to the wrong things. If we lose our awe in God, we’ll find it in temporary, fleeting things that won’t ever satisfy.

How do we get our awe back? How do we continue to stand in awe of God? It’s seeing Him once again. Really looking, not just a passing glance. And that’s what the Apostle Paul does for us in this last part of Romans chapter 11. He’s been considering all these truths about God and he erupts into this awesome song of praise: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out.” No one will ever outwit or outsmart or stump God. His wisdom and knowledge are way too deep. It’s like walking out into a deep lake or ocean and you get out so far and pretty soon you’re too deep to stand anymore. His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God is never confused, God is never at a loss as to what to do next, God will never throw up his hands and say, “Oh no! What am I going to do?” God is not worried about hurricane Irma or Harvey, God is not afraid of the fires out west. He knows perfectly just how to do operate things in our world for the good of His people.

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Nobody can give God advice that He doesn’t already know. No one can give to God since God owns all things already. God has all things in His possession and He has power over all.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” Everything is God’s, He has all power, all might, all strength. He is infinitely more powerful than anything in all the world.

But what is absolutely jaw-dropping, astounding, amazing, and awe-inspiring is that our Creator God should use His infinite power and His infinite wisdom in order to rescue wayward sinners, like you and me. Why should the God of all the universe choose to save people like you and me who so easily and so often and so readily will lose our awe of Him for finding awe in things that are only fleeting and temporary? Why should God send His own Son into this world to suffer and die for sinful people like us who are all too prone to become bored and numb and careless about Him and His salvation?

There could only be one reason: awesome grace, mind-boggling love, extraordinary mercy. Instead of punishing us for our sins, God punished Jesus in our place, instead of sending us to hell, He made Jesus suffer hell in our place, instead of forsaking us, He forsook His own Son on the cross in our place. Why so? So that we would be His forever. What’s the only possible response to that grace? It can only be: Awe. Awe of Him and awe of what He’s done to save us. That’s worship. God is most glorified when we stand in awe of His love and His grace in sending Jesus to be our Savior. We do that in our lives when awe of God is at the base of all our thoughts, our words and our actions. We do that when we see signs of God’s awe all around us and it leads us to stand in awe of God and His grace. Signs simply point to something else. If you see a sign for Lake Bemidji, you don’t fish at the sign, the sign points you to the lake. So the beautiful, marvelous things of this world are signs, signs that point you to your marvelous and awesome God.

This week, worship your Lord. Stand in awe and marvel at who He is. And even greater, stand in awe of what He’s done for you in Jesus, rescuing you so that you can marvel at His grace throughout all eternity. Amen.


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3th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 11:13-15, 17-24, 28-32

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you struggle with envy? Envy is where you look at someone else and what they have and wish that you had those things yourself. “I wish that I had that person’s job, I wish that I had that person’s stuff, I wish I had that person’s money, I wish I had that person’s house, I wish I had that person’s clothes, I wish I had that person’s personality, I wish I had that person’s happiness, I wish I had that person’s easy life, etc.” Envy is wanting something someone else has. I think it’s safe to say that it plagues every person – children, teenagers, adults, elderly- to some degree or another. And the result? A discontentment with life, gnawing feeling of lacking in life, a bitterness and anger. Do you struggle with envy or do people envy you?

Did you know that there is no reason for you to struggle with envy, but there’s plenty of reasons for people to envy you? Why so? Last week we looked at the Old Testament church and saw God’s faithfulness through centuries in keeping His promise to send a Savior into this world. Well, it’s always been God’s will that Jesus would be the Savior not just of the Israelites but the Savior of the world. God used a specific nation, the nation of Israel, to bring the Savior into the world, but God’s intention and will was for people of all nations to be part of his kingdom. We saw it in the Old Testament as people from different nations came to faith in the God of the Israelites, trusted in God’s Word, and looked forward to a Savior, like Ruth. When Jesus came He spent most of His time sharing the good news that He was the Savior to the people of Israel because they were the ones who had all the promises of God. But God’s intention was always to bring the message to all people. So, when the apostle Paul went on his mission trips to various places, he usually started by going to the synagogue where his fellow Jews were. Some believed in Jesus, others rejected. When he was rejected he brought the gospel to the Gentiles or non-Jews.

And that’s what Paul is describing in our lesson with this image of grafting. Grafting is when you take a branch from one tree and splice it onto the trunk of a different tree. That branch then starts receiving nutrients and sap from the trunk and becomes a branch on that tree. Jesus is that trunk, He is the vine. His fellow Israelites who rejected Him as the Savior through unbelief were cut off. Gentiles or wild olive shoots were grafted in through faith in Jesus as the Savior. And in the New Testament (which is really just a continuation of the Old Testament church), Gentiles are becoming members of God’s household, children of God, recipients of all God’s blessings through the free gift of faith in Jesus as their Savior.  Throughout the ages Gentiles have been pouring into the church wherever the gospel is being proclaimed and becoming children of God. But in God’s master plan this also serves a saving purpose. As Gentiles pour into the church and receive every spiritual blessing from God, this is to incite the Israelites to envy in the hope that they too might be grafted back into the vine through faith in Jesus.

As a father I’ve done something similar with my children. One child has a toy, they see the toy of their brother or sister, lose interest in their toy and only want the other one’s toy. One thing you can do is take the original toy and really point out all of the different things you can do with it and it doesn’t work all the time, but sometimes they rediscover the uniqueness and specialness of their original toy and want it back again.

God’s master plan uses envy to bring people into His kingdom. This first applies to the Jewish people. The people God used to bring the Savior into the world. Many rejected Jesus and so were cut off, but they too can be grafted back in. I read a story about a Lutheran pastor who baptized a Jewish girl on Christmas Day, her mother and brother on Good Friday. The mother described how she had this Christian friend who always had a “sparkle” on her face when she talked about Jesus and the Jewish woman wanted that “sparkle” too. In a way she was envious.

But what about you, do people envy you? Do they envy what you have? I’m not talking about your stuff, your things, your personality, your position in life. I’m talking about what each one of you has. You have been grafted into the vine, you are a member of God’s own household, you are an eternal heir of the everlasting, almighty God! In other words, you’re rich! You’re infinitely rich in what really matters. Do people envy you? Do they envy what you have in Christ? I saw a statistic from the 2010 census that there are over 25,000 people in Beltrami county who didn’t indicate any religion at all. We live shoulder to shoulder with people who don’t believe, we experience the same difficulties, struggles, problems, but do they see a difference in us, in our attitude? Is there nothing that stands out in our words and behavior? Is our language just as filled with filth and gossip? Are we just as stressed, worried, anxious, prone to anger, discontent, jealous, proud, self-centered as anyone so that on the outside there doesn’t seem to be anything different about us and those who don’t believe? Nothing to envy? God’s NT mission plan is to use us to make unbelievers envious of what we have from Him. Why so? Because He wants them to come to faith too. But if we fall into the same sins and blend in with the unbelieving world- there’s nothing positively attracting about that. But why? Why would we not live differently from the sinful world? Isn’t it pride? Isn’t it an attitude of, “I’m in, I’m good. I can live however.”

Notice what God says here, “Don’t be arrogant, but tremble. If God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” Pride comes before the fall. Might we, too, be cut off if we keep sinning? The antidote to such pride and arrogance is God’s mercy. The only reason I’m here, the only reason you’re here, the only reason you and I are part of God’s eternal kingdom is the mercy and grace of God. We certainly don’t deserve it. But “God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” No one deserves anything from God, we’re all disobedient. No one can walk up to God and expect a paycheck, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But in mercy God graced us with full and free forgiveness in Jesus who paid for all sins with His life, death, and resurrection. There but for the grace of God go I.

But God’s mercy has the further purpose of igniting our hearts to share God’s mercy with any and all. That’s God’s plan for us NT Christians: that we bring the light of the gospel to others. No person should be regarded by us as hopelessly lost and beyond God’s grace, who knows how God may graft them into His vine? God uses us to incite envy in those who don’t have the hope that we have.

How to we make the gospel envious to others? How do we live with hope? How do we live as the salt and light of the world? It’s being reminded again and again what we have in Jesus. In Jesus you have eternal peace with God, everything is right with God. That means you have a peace that transcends understanding in the face of hurricanes and hate crimes, in the face of death and disasters, you have peace. Did you know that in Jesus you already, right now, are an heir of eternal life? That because of Jesus you’ll live in the riches of heaven forever? You know what having that does? It gives you contentment. What an incredible blessing! You don’t have to chase after the latest and greatest stuff, accumulate, try to get more and more, try to get ahead, in Jesus you have all you need for eternal life, you have contentment. Did you know that because Jesus died and rose for you that you have a undeflatable joy in any and every circumstance? A joy in good and bad times. Do you know how wonderful that is? You have purpose and meaning and identity, many don’t have that. You can be patient, kind, caring, and self-controlled. Why so? You know you’re forgiven. You know how rich you are in Jesus. You get to partake of the priceless body and blood of Jesus along with bread and wine in the life-giving Supper!

You have every spiritual blessing in Christ. You’ve been grafted into God’s eternal kingdom. God has mercifully made you rich in every way. Live as the redeemed, forgiven, blessed child of God you are. Lead those around you to be envious of what is yours in Christ so as to share the eternal treasure with them. Amen.


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12th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 9:1-5

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, George Santayana lived in the 19-20th centuries and was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. Perhaps he’s most famous for a quote that is often attributed to him, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is great value in studying history, isn’t there? There’s value in knowing where you came from. There’s value in learning from past experiences. There’s value in understanding how things originated. There’s particular value in studying the history of God’s people. Today we’re installing our Sunday school teachers and in a little over a week we’ll begin a new school year here at St. Mark’s. Much of what we do as a congregation is training, teaching, educating our children about the history of God’s kingdom on earth.

Why do we do that? Because our salvation is based on real, true, historical facts. God gives us in the Old Testament a record of how he kept alive the promise made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that He would send the woman’s offspring to crush Satan’s head. Then we have a record of God’s incredible faithfulness to His promises and His people’s incredible unfaithfulness.

Notice what we have throughout the Old Testament. After the fall into sin at the very beginning and more and more people were born in the world, we notice that many people follow the way of Cain. They rebel against God, want God’s stuff, they want God’s world, but they don’t want God. In fact, it gets worse and worse until the point where there’s only one faithful, God-fearing, believing family left on the earth – Noah and his family. So God sends a massive flood to wipe the world clean of all the evil and corruption. But after the flood we see that the same sin that corrupted the whole world still lived in Noah and his family. Years later, the descendants of Noah build a big tower in direct defiance of God’s command. So, the whole human race had become an unfit means for bringing the Savior into the world. But God doesn’t go back on His Word. So, God chooses one family, the family of Abraham as the means that He will use to bring the long-promised Savior into the world. But Abraham and his wife Sarah don’t have any children and it’s hard to have many descendants when you don’t even have one. Abraham then takes matters into his own hands and has relations with his wife’s maidservant, Hagar, who gives birth to a son. But this is not the son who would carry the promise of the Savior.

Already we sense something here. Being an Israelite didn’t depend on physically being descending from Abraham. Abraham had other descendants who were not part of Israel. Later, as God promised, Sarah, Abraham’s wife has a child who they name Isaac. This son would carry the promise. Later Isaac and his wife Rebekah have two children, Jacob and Esau, who were also twins. But again God says that only one of them, Jacob, is going to be part of Israel. So this shows that having both the same parents and even sharing the same womb doesn’t make someone a true Israelite.

Jacob at one point after God has blessed him with many children wrestles with God and God changes his name to Israel, which means one who wrestles with God. Jacob’s family then moves down to Egypt where they live to survive a terrible famine and for 400 years the nation grows in Egypt separate from all other nations. God leads them out of Egypt and they wander in the desert for 40 years being led by a visible sign of God’s presence, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They were able to see God’s incredible glory and power on Mt. Sinai when God gave them the law for their good and for their protection. They made it to the Promised Land and God gave them a beautiful land to live in. But over the course of time many fell into idolatry and unbelief and the nation split into two. Then later the kingdom in the north was destroyed and the southern kingdom of Judah was taken to exile in Babylon. So we see again that being an Israelite doesn’t mean living in a certain geographical area.

Finally, God leads a remmant back to the Promised Land. And at just the right time God sent the Messiah, Jesus was born to the virgin Mary. Jesus lived for 33 years and publicly ministered and shared God’s Word for 3 years all over Israel, sharing the message of salvation in Him to all the Jewish people of Israel. But what happened? Many rejected him and with the help of the Romans put him to death on a cross. So, again, we see that not all the people of Israel were really people of Israel.

So what is it that makes someone a true Israelite? It’s not that you’re descended from Abraham or Isaac or Jacob, it’s not that you lived in a certain geographical area, it’s not that followed all the OT rules and regulations. What it’s always been is that a true Israelite is someone who believes in the Savior. True Israelites in the OT believed in the promised Savior. True Israelites today, you and me, believe in the Savior who has come.

But here as Paul considers his own people, the Jewish nation, his own race, his own flesh and blood, and considers how many of them are unbelievers, how many of them have rejected the Savior, how many of them went to hell were headed to hell, notice what he says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” He’s deeply troubled. Then he even says, “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people.” See how deeply he cares about his own people, how deeply he cares that they would be brought to faith and not be lost eternally! So deeply that he says he could wish that he be lost, he be condemned, he lose out on salvation, if it meant his people would be saved.

They had so many advantages: adoption to sonship- they were considered children of God, divine glory – they saw the glory of the Lord, the covenants – they had precious covenants with God himself, the greatest being the new covenant of forgiveness and salvation in the Savior, they had the receiving of the law – they had the way to live a wonderful life in this world according to God’s laws, they had temple worship – all those signs, symbols, foreshadows of Jesus, all the sacrifices that pointed ahead to the one sacrifice on the cross, they had the promises of the Savior, they had the patriarchs, they had the human ancestry of Jesus! So many advantages and yet for the majority they turned away, rejected. Paul could wish himself condemned if it meant saving his people. Of course, Paul couldn’t do that. But Jesus did. Jesus was crucified on a cross taking the full punishment of all sins- Jews, Gentiles, Americans, everyone – on himself and suffering eternal death so no one would have to. But many turned away.

So what are our take aways? What should we learn from the past history of God’s people? Two things:

First, treasure what you have. Don’t despise the advantages that are yours. In incredible mercy God gave the Israelites advantage after advantage but a far majority turned away and were lost eternally. There’s a warning here for us. What advantages do we have? What high privileges do we enjoy?  We have the adoption into God’s family through baptism. We have God’s Word readily available to us all around, we have the Lord’s Supper offered to us, we get to worship God in peace and safety, we don’t just have promises of the Savior, we have the fulfillments to see and enjoy.  Germany once enjoyed a wonderful advantage – they had the likes of Martin Luther who rediscovered the truth 500 years ago, they were able to freely hear the unconditional gospel, the truth that our sins are forgiven in Jesus alone. But the gospel rain shower didn’t last long there. Today you go to Germany and Christianity is waning. The one church body that truly succeeds the Lutheran Reformation is only a hand full of churches and a few thousand members large.

But are we getting tired of the gospel? Are we getting tired because we’ve had it so good? Treasure what you have. Treasure the gospel, treasure your baptism, treasure your freedom to hear, read, and enjoy. Bring your children to this treasure by bringing them to the dayschool or Sundayschool or teaching them at home the truths of God’s Word.

The 2nd takeaway is this: have a heart for the souls of all people. Notice Pauls’ incredible desire for the salvation of his people. He describes himself having great sorrow and unceasing anguish for his people who have rejected Jesus. He even goes so far to say that he would pray that he himself would be cursed if it meant in exchange all of his fellow Israelites would be saved. Notice that. That’s the kind of desire he has. Do we have that? Do we have such a strong desire for the salvation of other people?

It starts right in our homes with our own families. Can I honestly say that my highest, my number one priority in my family is that my wife and children are in heaven? Who cares what sports they play! Who cares what grades they get in school! Who cares what university or college or scholarship they get! Is my number one desire that they end up in heaven? That’s going to affect and influence how I deal with them. Do I give them the impression that God’s Word isn’t really a part of my day-to-day life? Do I only give lip service to God’s directions for me in His Word? Do I honestly examine myself day by day to see what lies of Satan I’m believe, what sins I’ve accustomed myself to, in what ways my selfishness is controlling my life?

Paul is speaking about his kinsmen. What about our own “countrymen”? What about our fellow Americans, our fellow citizens of Bemidji? In the news there’s been a lot about racial tensions lately. But what does God say? There is no more important race than another. We are all the same, every person, sinners who deserve nothing but hell and eternal death. We are also all the same in that we all have a Savior who died on a cross and rose from the dead to win us our salvation fully and freely and offers it to all as a free gift. Have such a heart for the souls of all people. See each person as a soul for whom Jesus bled and died and who needs to hear the gospel just as much as you do.

In other words, have a heart like your God. That’s what we see when we look at the history of the Old Testament. God let nothing stop Him from sending His Son into this world to rescue you and me. That’s God’s faithfulness, that’s how much he desires your salvation. Have a heart for souls like He does. Amen.


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11th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:35-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what a “deathtrap” is? Now that word can be used in any number of situations, but perhaps the most familiar we are with such a concept is in either movies or books. A “deathtrap” as I understand it, is a literary plot device that puts a good character or hero or actor that you sympathize with into a very dangerous and lethal situation. You know, it’s the scene where the person is walking blindly into a very precarious situation. You as the viewer see all the dangers and threats and schemes that the enemy has put into place to trap the unsuspecting hero or heroine. Such a plot device builds tension and creates anticipation and makes you almost want to yell at the screen, “Don’t do it! Go back! They’re going to get you!” It fills you with fear as you sympathize with the character or anger as you think, “Don’t be so dumb! Can’t you see what’s going to happen??” It’s a device used both in all kinds of literature and movies for both children and adults. A deathtrap.

But have you considered the fact that, in a way, we’re all living in such a “deathtrap”? There’s so much that we can’t see about our own lives. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, we don’t know horrible accident is going to happen to us or one of our loved ones, we don’t know what illness or disease or sickness is waiting for us, we don’t know what’s going to happen with nuclear bombs or threats of war, are we like the character in the movie walking around in the midst of danger? But, far worse, is the fact that we can’t see what Satan and all of his demons have planned for us. Every day they are planning and scheming and devising deathtraps not just for our bodies but for our souls! The devil wants nothing less than to rip us away from God, to get us to doubt God, to weaken in our faith, and finally to no longer believe, that’s his goal. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Lord’s Supper, said this, “Now, what is the devil? Nothing else than what the Scriptures call him: a liar and murderer. A liar who entices the heart away from God’s Word and blinds it, making you unable to feel your need or to come to Christ. A murderer who begrudges you every hour of your life. If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as you can. The only reason we go about so securely and heedlessly is that we neither imagine nor believe that we are in the flesh, in the wicked world, or under the kingdom of the devil.

One of the truths of the Reformation is that God does not lie. All of Scripture is true. Even when- and especially when – God’s Word seems to contradict our reason and logical skills. What we’re looking at is one of the most comforting sections of Scripture. We need to take it in all seriousness, to trust in it with all earnestness.

But at the same time the Bible also clearly states that we can fall from faith. The Bible does not teach the error “once converted always converted.” The Bible doesn’t teach that if we can prove that we were saved at one point in life, then we’re good, we’re safe. Perhaps functionally a lot of people live that way. They may call themselves Christian, they may have grown up in the church, may have gone to Sunday School when they were young, but have “outgrown” church, they have very little to do with God’s Word and are busy with their lives. They think, “I’m good with God. I’m going to heaven.” When in reality they’re going to hell.

Perhaps there’s also a warning here for us. The Bible makes it very clear that we can fall from faith. The Bible gives numerous examples of people who were believers but then fell away. The Bible tells us “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). The Bible describes people who believe for a while but “in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:13) The Bible talks about some who have “rejected… and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Tim 1:19). The Bible clearly tells us that we can fall from the faith and be lost eternally. It’s horridly scary to think about the deathtrap we’re in every day or to think about times when we have indeed fell away, when we’ve rejected God’s Word and knowingly and pridefully flung ourselves headlong into sin.

But the Bible also clearly teaches the truths of our verses and many others. The Bible tells us “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Cor 10:13). Jesus said, “No one can snatch them (his believers) out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6). And then words our text, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What are we to make of this?

On the one hand, God clearly says that we can fall from the faith, lose our faith, and die eternally in hell. On the other hand, the Bible also clearly states God’s promises that God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, no one shall pluck you out of the Savior’s hand, and nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

Isn’t this a contradiction? It may be a contradiction to our minds, but it’s exactly what contradictory hearts like ours need to hear. Here’s the truth: The very person who is convinced that he can fall, that he may fall, that he is in great danger of falling away throughout his earthly life, can also be perfectly sure that he will never fall away.

Our hearts have such a contradiction in them. Our hearts are still terribly wicked, even though we’re Christian. There’s a part of us that wants to think, “I’m good, don’t worry, I’m fine, I can do it on my own, I’ll never fall away, I’ll never lose my faith.” So, we need to hear the serious and earnest warnings that God gives us: We can fall!

But our hearts are also timid, scared and weak and we desperately need reassurance. When I’m scared, when I think that I’m going to fall, when I’m afraid I’m not going to make it or afraid I’ll lose my faith and be lost eternally. My extremity is God’s opportunity. When I am weak, then I am strong. For when I know that I can’t stand on my own, that I cannot persevere on my own, that I am helpless on my own, then the Lord comes to me and says no one shall pluck me from His hand, nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We face many things, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. The word trouble is “pressure” anything that presses down on us, hardship is distress caused by pressures, sicknesses and surgeries, family problems and financial burdens, persecution – either physical or, perhaps more what we’re used to, psychological against you for believing God’s Word, danger and sword – constant threat to our bodies on the small scale- robbery or theft, and on the large scale to wars and nuclear threats. And all these threats are just like believers in the OT faced – deathtraps all day long.

But what is God’s blessed assurance for us? “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” “More than conquerors” that phrase implies a comparison. You take all the threats, all the dangers, all the deathtraps that our enemies have lodged against us on one side and weigh that against God’s love for us in Christ and we come out more than conquerors. God’s steadfast love for us demonstrated most clearly in sending Jesus to be crucified for our sins and raising him from the dead for our justification proves God’s eternal love for us and assuring us that the outcome for every believer is always and only victory.

And then 10 non-separators are listed as not being able to separate us from God’s love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, and finally, lest we think there was a loophole or lest we think something was missed, “nor anything else in all creation” will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What incredible comfort!

We might be the characters walking around with deathtraps designed by our enemies all over, but, look at the words that God, who does not lie, tells you, receive the assurance of God’s forgiving, pardoning, eternal love for you in the Sacrament this morning and be assured: NOTHING will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


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10th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:28-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Ira Yates lived in the first half of the last century around the time of the Great Depression. He was a sheep rancher in Texas and was struggling financially. He didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage on his land and for a while had to live on government subsidy. Day after day Yates would tend his sheep and wonder how he was going to pay his bills. But one day, on a hunch, he had a crew of men from an oil company drill a wildcat test well on his property. What they found was a huge, huge, reserve of oil. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. More and more wells were drilled and, as I understand it, some 90 years later, there are still over 300 wells drilling on Yate’s old property. In one day he took in $180,000 in oil leases. When he had first purchased the ranch he was interested in sheep grazing. There he was living in poverty but sitting on this mammoth underground reserve of incredibly valuable oil. What was his problem? He simply didn’t know the oil was there. He thought grazing sheep was the way to make money.

We look at that and think, “Wow! If only he had known what treasures he had, he wouldn’t have been living in such poverty for many years of his life.” But even all of his land and all of his wealth don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, all of that wealth that he made doesn’t even compare to the real wealth that is yours and mine right today. When Jesus returns, what will all of that land, wealth, and oil really be worth? Nothing. Zero. In fact, what will all the things of this life really be worth when Jesus returns on the Last Day? What will our homes, our cars, our bank accounts, our degrees, our collections, our stuff, really be worth on the Last Day? Nothing.

What will matter on the Last Day? What will matter and what ONLY will matter on the Last day are the spiritual things, the eternal things. It will matter that we trust in Jesus as our only Savior. It will matter that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave. It will matter that we were baptized, that we heard the Word of God regularly and received the Lord’s Supper often so that our faith was fed, that we were in worship and Bible study hearing, studying, learning and taking to heart the Word of God. That we opened God’s Word in our homes. That’s what will matter!

And yet, how much “sheep grazing” do we do? How often do focus on the short-term visible things to the neglect of the long-term valuable and often invisible things? How often have we skipped worship in God’s house for work, for pleasure, for _______, or just because we didn’t think it was that valuable? How many times have we pushed our children in homework or sports but failed to take time to have devotions with them, read the Word with them, pray with them? How often do we focus on “sheep grazing” when true wealth is right under our noses? THE treasures in life, THE important things are the eternal things which God has given to us.

And in our text this morning, God gives us just treasure after treasure after treasure. What are these treasures God has given to you and me?

Verse 28 is one of the most well-known and favorite verses in all the Bible: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” What a treasure! In all things – in the good, the bad, the blessings, and the sufferings – all of it – you have God’s promise that it will be for your good. But there’s more treasure here. Look at the word “know.” In the Greek there are several words that mean to “know.” The one used in this verse is “to know something intellectually, but not necessarily by experience.” So, everyone here knows Donald Trump. You know he is our president. You’ve heard him speak. But I’m guessing that no one here has spent time with him, spoken to him personally. You know him, but you don’t know him. On the other hand, you know each other. You’ve spent time with each other, talked with each other, laughed and cried with each other. You have experiential knowledge of each other. In verse 28, the word “to know” emphasizes intellectual knowledge, not experiential. God is saying to us that we know intellectually that all things will work together for our good. Our minds know it, because God says it.

But we might not experience it. We might not be able to figure out exactly HOW something’s working for our good. We might not FEEL like something is working out for our good. Here’s God’s treasure: not only WILL all things work for our good, but we don’t have to worry about figuring out how! You don’t have to worry about feeling like it’s for your good. We simply trust that what God says is true, whether we understand it or not, feel it or not. Some have said it’s God is weaving this beautiful tapestry or rug, all these threads are being woven into God’s great plan to bring us to heaven, but we’re looking at the bottom side of the rug, all we see is an ugly picture of strings and threads, but God sees it from the top and one day we will too.

And why does God work all things for your good? Because you “have been called according to his purpose.” What is God’s purpose? God’s purpose is to take you to heaven, to save you eternally. And that’s been God’s focus…forever!

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” God “foreknew.” Interestingly, God now switches to the word “know” that means to know by experience. Before the world was created, God knew you. He didn’t just know you intellectually or know the facts about you, but he knew you. He knew you in all your sins, weaknesses, failures, He knew how much you and I deserved to go to hell. He knew where, how, when we would live. Before you could do anything positive, good or pleasing, God already knew you. He knew us personally and individually. And yet, what did he do? He “predestined” you. Here the Greek word pictures putting a fence around in advance. God chose you to be part of his “fenced in area.”

We, like all people, deserve only eternal death in hell because of our sins. Although God created us, our rebelling against him removed us from his property. We landed ourselves on the other side of the fence. But God determined beforehand to put his protective fence around us. Before God even created the world He saw you, He saw me and said, “You are mine!” I claim you as my child! He placed His fence around us. What a treasure!

And this could only happen by conforming us to the likeness of His Son. Jesus became our brother. The eternal Son of God in time took into his person our own flesh and blood so that he could make the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. Through faith in Jesus we are given a new birth. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice God chose you and me to be His children, to be brothers and sisters of God! Talk about an incredible status! Talk about a treasure!

Predestination – God chose you in Christ before the beginning of the world to be His forever. That means that if we’re going to heaven God gets ALL the credit, He chose us before we could even do a thing! The Bible also makes it very clear that if someone goes to hell, they carry all the blame for rejecting God’s grace in Jesus. But what if I’m worried or I’m troubled? Am I one of God’s elect? Am I going to heaven? That was Martin Luther’s struggle when he was a monk. He was greatly troubled by this doctrine of election. Until a close friend came to him and said, “Brother Martin, first find yourself in the wounds of Christ, then you can be sure of your election.” In other words, when I’m troubled or worried or concerned whether or not I’m going to heaven, I don’t go to the doctrine of election, rather, if I want to know whether God loves me, I remember that God’s Word says that God loves the world and therefore me. If I want to know whether Jesus died for me, I will go to the passages that tell me that he died for all. If I want to know whether he took my sins away, I will remember that the Bible says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If I want to know whether God wants me in heaven, I remember that God wants all people to be saved.

The doctrine of election is meant only to be comfort to the believer. God so fully chose us in Christ before the world began so that in time, “Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” He called you in your baptism, wrote His name on you, claimed you as His child. Every time you hear the Word or come to the Supper, God seals the status of His child on you, reminds you that you have been justified, declared not guilty, and invited to the heavenly banquet feast. And He’s glorified you. Notice that it’s the past tense. God considers you glorious, right now! God considers you an inhabitant of heaven, right now! You are glorious to God, right now!

What a treasure! God chose you before time even began, in other words, loved you before time began, and in time rescued you by sending Jesus to be your Savior, then in your life called you to faith in Him, washed your sins away, and has already made you an heir of eternal life! That’s real treasure!

It’s so easy for us to be like Mr. Yates and only see sheep grazing in the field and miss the large treasure underneath the ground. We do that when we focus on the temporary, the fleeting, the cheap and miss the rich and eternal treasures. Dig into God’s Word! And when you do God will give you blessing far better than oil, gold, or money, rather He’ll remind you that all things are working for your eternal good, that he’s conforming you to the likeness of His Son, that you are right in the eyes of God, that you are already glorious to God. And when you have those treasures you have true, real, and rich satisfaction and joy in life. Amen.


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9th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 8:26-27

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how do you feel about prayer? What is your prayer life like? Are you content with the quality and quantity of your prayer life? As a Christian, you know the importance of prayer, but perhaps you carry around with you guilt about your lack of a prayer life or underutilized prayer life. Today we’re going to review what prayer is, then we’re going to look at the amazing promise that God gives about our prayers in our text, and lastly take a look at a few take-aways.

First, what is prayer? God doesn’t speak to us in our prayers. God speaks to us through His Word, He comes to us in His sacraments, He feeds our faith and as He does so He moves us to pray. Prayer is something only believers in Jesus are able to do. It is our way of talking with God. We talk to God about who He is, we praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us. We confess to him our sinfulness and unworthiness and our guilt. We come before God with thanks and gratitude most of all for the full and free forgiveness and salvation we have through Jesus Christ our Lord. We lay before God our hearts, our needs, our cares, our desires. Is prayer a duty or a privilege, a burden or delight? If a billionaire gave you his phone number and said, just call whenever you need anything at all- no matter how small or big – would you view that as a burden or a privilege? God, the almighty, powerful, ruler of the universe WANTS us to come before Him in prayer, LOVES to hear our prayers, and even promises to use our prayers, take our prayers into account into His masterful ruling of the universe. Our prayers are powerful and effective, they cause things to happen!

Perhaps one of the best illustrations that I’ve heard for prayer is that it’s like a loving parent’s relationship with their child. Every good parent wants their children to be able to talk to them about anything and everything. In fact, a good parent will be glad to hear their child’s voice at just about any time. A good parent will let their child just talk their ear off about the most inconsequential and mundane things and not mind it at all. But that same parent wouldn’t just let anyone do that, only his or her child, with whom they have a relationship gets that privilege. And a good parent will give their child not everything and anything their child wants, but always give their child what’s best, what’s needed. Why so? Because a good parent loves his or her child. That’s kind of like the relationship we have with God through prayer. He listens always, he loves to hear His children, and he always gives us what is best. There’s no reason NOT to pray.

Yet, there are times in life when we WANT to pray, but we just don’t know WHAT to pray for. And perhaps it’s most clear to us when we’re in the midst of very difficult suffering. On a personal note, when my father-in-law was fighting cancer, there were times when we didn’t know what we should pray for: should we ask god to give him a release from this suffering by taking him to heaven? Or do we ask God to give him the strength to go on bearing this trial? What should we pray for?

That’s exactly what the apostle Paul is dealing with in this section of Romans. He tells us “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” The Holy Spirit lends a helping hand to us in our weakness. Our weakness is that when it comes to our prayers we don’t know what we ought to pray for, we don’t know what is in line with the will of God.

It’s here, though, that God the Holy Spirit steps in. He pleads our case on our behalf. I’ve never had the experience of being the defendant in a court case. I’d be certainly happy if that remained that way. But I somewhat enjoy being a spectator of the court and court functions. Many of the shows that I enjoy often have something to do with the court. But I imagine that there’s a certain difficulty. Because of the court procedure, protocol, understanding of the law, if you were on trial and you had to stand before a powerful judge for a serious crime and had to speak in your own defense, if you didn’t have any training you’d be at a loss about what to say because you don’t know what the judge expects you to say. That’s why the government has established the 6th Amendment that says that every person has the right to an attorney.

What God is telling us here is that we have such a spokesman before Him. We have someone who stands up and says the right thing for us. In regard to our sins, we have a Savior who stands up for us. In suffering, we don’t know what God’s will is so we don’t know what to ask for. At such a time, the Spirit speaks for us and asks for the right thing on our behalf.

In a way there are kind of two components to our prayers. There’s a core part to our prayer and then there’s the dumb, ignorant part of our prayer. I’m sure this has happened to you and me many times in life, but to illustrate this I think of a situation that my younger sister was in. She had her heart set on the ministry, went through gradeschool, high school, and then went on to MLC to become a teacher in a school in our church body. She was a good student, worked hard, good grades. Since she wasn’t in a relationship or engaged or getting married at the time, she was able to go to any gradeschool in any part of the nation to teach. And I’m sure there were prayers to the Lord, fervent ones, she was ready to go wherever the Lord would send her. Call Day comes at MLC where they assign the graduates to different schools across the nation. And she was informed that there were not enough places to send graduates and that she was one of those who wouldn’t be assigned to any school. Do you know how devastating that can be to a recent graduate? She spent the next year working in an office and living at home with my parents. I’m sure there were many prayers that she said and her family said. But we didn’t know what to pray for. The following year she received a call to teach in a multi-grade classroom as one of the first teachers in a rapidly growing school in West Melbourne, FL. A position fit just for her, which she loved and not only that, but it was there where she met a wonderful Christian man and got married.

In a sense there are two parts to our prayers: there’s the core part and then there’s the ignorant part. In my sisters case the core of our prayer was: my sister is ready to serve you Lord, give her a place in your kingdom to serve full-time. The ignorant part of our prayer was: And this is the timetable that we want to see this happen. Then we wonder if God really heard our prayer when it doesn’t happen the way we want or prayed for.

But wouldn’t it be great if God always gave you what you would’ve asked for if you knew everything he knows? Wouldn’t it be great if God was so gracious that every time you prayed he would give you and only give you- thank goodness! – what you would have asked for if you knew every single thing He knew and you saw everything He could see?

The truth is, we do have a God like that. That’s what this text is telling us. It says, “Even when you don’t know how to pray the Spirit prays as you should be praying before the throne. That means you can come before God with confidence, to know he is going to give you what you would’ve asked for in spite of the fact that right now you probably don’t think that what He is letting you experience is a good idea, but he is going to give you what you would’ve asked for if you knew everything he knew.  God cares for you that much, that means you can approach God in prayer with incredible peace and calmness.

But how do we know for sure that God cares that much about us? Suffering is often that which prompts us to pray and pray hard, right? Perhaps we need to pray when we feel like it and even more when we don’t feel like it. We pray when we groan, we groan because we’re in pain. But here it says that the Spirit “groans” and the Father hears it and knows because the Father is on the same line of thought as the Spirit. In a way the Spirit shares our pain, picks up our groans and speaks to the Father on our behalf in a way that conveys the suffering we’re undergoing.

How can God understand the suffering we undergo? He can because he himself has suffered the epitome of all suffering. This word “groan” has the connotation of groan in pain and is also used for Jesus. Jesus “groaned.” He did so throughout his life but most severely when he hung on the cross and was abandoned by God the Father. He was plunged into suffering and groaning into depths no one has ever known. Why so? So that he could take the abandonment of God for all our sins in our place so that you can know that God will never abandon you. Because Jesus suffered and died and rose for you, God treats you like His very own child.  He loves to hear from you any time, any place, with whatever you want to tell him. He loves you so much that he will even take your prayers or even when you don’t know what to pray for and pray on your behalf so that in every instance He will give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything that He knew. So pray, talk to your Father in good times and in bad, when you feel like and especially when you don’t feel like it, the best way to pray is to pray and the way to pray well is to pray much. Amen.


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5th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 6:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

I like to fish. We didn’t fish much when I was growing up, but I’d say that since I’ve lived here in Bemidji for the last 6 years, I’ve fished probably ten times more in the last 6 years than I did in the previous 26 years combined. Last weekend we had some relatives visiting so we went fishing a couple of times and actually caught a few nice fish. We brought them home and cleaned them. So, afterward we were left with some nice fish filets and the unusable fish remnants. What do you do? The filets go in the fridge or freezer, but what about the rest of the fish? I’ve heard they make nice compost and since we have a garden I just threw the fish remnants in our compost bin. That was a mistake. Warm weather plus rotting fish doesn’t make a very nice smell, nor does it help reduce the fly population. Apparently, what I should have done, is bury the fish remnants in the ground. You see, that way, they’re gone, the stench is gone, the flies don’t find them, they’re gone. That’s the power in burial. We bury dead things, right?

The word that we’re focusing on this week is “buried.” You see each of us needed to be buried. We don’t like to hear this, but each of us was far worse than dead, rotting, stinking, fly-infested fish entrails. Remember how God describes our original state born into this world? We’re born dead in sins, hostile to God, enemies of God, we hated God, didn’t want anything to do with God, we were born into this world spiritually lost in our sins and condemned to eternal death. That is who we were. And God would have been perfectly fair, perfectly just, perfectly right in burying us in hell- out of his presence forever. I mean, you wouldn’t put a partially rotted, fly-infested dead fish on your kitchen counter, would you? Why should God do anything else rather than be done with us and our sinfulness forever?

But what did God do? He did the unthinkable. We’ve talked through it each week so far in this series: He atoned for our sins making us at one with him again, He reconciled us to himself changing our relationship from enemies to His own dear children, He clothed us with a perfect righteousness. How so? He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to live the sinless and perfect life in place of all people, to die on the cross for each and every sin, and to rise from the dead as proof of the world’s forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation have been won for all people. And God gives it as an absolutely and totally free gift.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone enjoys the eternal benefits of God’s saving work in Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Through faith I receive all the blessings God freely won for me in Jesus. How does God work faith? He works faith through the gospel. The gospel in Word when we hear in the Bible of God’s saving work. And the gospel in the sacraments. In the sacrament of Baptism, through water and the Word, God writes His name on that person, washes away all their sins, adopts them into His own family, clothes them with Jesus’ perfect robe of righteousness, and makes them an heir of eternal life.

In fact, describing the blessings of baptism Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism: “In short, the blessings of baptism are so boundless that if our timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they could all be true. Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon such a person! Because of the throng of rich people crowding around, no one else would be able to get near. Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps all people alive.” What a blessing to treasure!

But now, here’s the question: If God has saved us totally by His grace, freely, there’s nothing I have to do or can do, why not live any way that I want? Why live any differently than before? Why change? Why fight against sin? Or the Satanic thought will enter our minds, “God forgives me anyway, I’ll just do this sin or that sin, it’s not really a big deal.” “I’m just an angry person, that’s who I am, I can’t change.” “That’s just the kind of language I use, that’s who I am, I can’t change.” “My wife should have known that’s who I am, even though this causes huge problems in our marriage, that’s who I am, I’m not changing.” “I know I have this pet sin, I’ve tried to stop, I can’t, it’s no use, I can’t change.” What sins are you struggling with? What temptations do you continue to give in to? Which lies of Satan do you continue to believe? What rotting, stinking, maggot-filled fish are you carrying around with you?

See what God says: “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” And then God brings in baptism: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” You see, your baptism intimately connected you, united you to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Everything that Jesus accomplished is now yours. Think of it like this: a person becomes rich, how so? Through his or her own ingenuity, diligence, and effort. This rich individual then gets married. How does all that wealth then become the new spouse’s? By grace. By simply being married that person now has an equal share in all the wealth of the other. That’s what baptism did. Through your baptism you were intimately connected to Jesus. His death became your death to sin, His burial became your burial where your sins were left in the grave, His resurrection to new life became your resurrection to a new life.

Jesus came once to suffer for sins. The only reason people could lay their hands on Jesus while on earth was because He came to deal with our sins, He came to die for our sins, but now that our sins have been paid in full, now that Jesus has risen from the dead, Jesus has nothing to do with sin anymore. No one can harm Jesus any more, no one can lay their hands on him anymore, when Jesus returns in glory no one will be able to touch Him or put Him to death. He’s done with sins. That means we’re also done with sins, we’re dead to sin. “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”

Yes, we carry around with us a sinful nature. Yes, we have an old sinful self that clings to us and tries to bring us down into sin every day. But that sinful nature was drowned and buried in the waters of our baptism. And even though it springs to life every day because of what God has done for us in baptism we have the power to say, “No” to sin. We have the power in Christ to change hurtful, wrong, sinful behaviors. We have the power to bury the dead fish and be done with it. We are no longer slaves to sin. Our sinful flesh, the world around us, and Satan himself have lost their tyrannical power over our lives. How so? You were baptized, buried with Jesus in death and united with Him in resurrection.  You have the power to live a new and holy life.

One of the awesome pictures of baptism that God gives us compares baptism to a wedding. In Ephesians 5 God tells us how a husband is to love his wife and this is what God says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Whenever I read that passage I think about my own wedding day when Katie and I were married. On that day I didn’t see Katie at all until she was walking down the aisle with her dad. I have this image burned into my mind of that moment. I was standing up front and I saw her, my bride, decked out in a beautiful white wedding dress, hair done just right, make up on, no blemish, no wrinkle, no stain. And I remember thinking, “That’s my bride!” It took my breath away. Jesus says that He’s that bridegroom in front of church and you’re his bride. He washed you clean with His own blood shed on the cross, in the washing with water through the Word in your baptism He made you His, holy, blameless, without stain or wrinkle or any kind of blemish. He says, “You take my breath away.”

Now, would that bride, beautiful, no wrinkle, stain, or blemish on her wedding day, decide to go and clean out the pig pen and roll around in the filth and dirt and manure? No way! Just so, we who have been baptized into Christ, clothed with His garments of perfection, do we really want to roll around in sin, in selfishness, bitterness, jealousy, anger, envy, hatred, giving into sinful lusts and passions? No way! That’s not who we are! We’ve buried that stench in our baptisms!

This week, every morning when you wake up, remember what happened at your baptism. You were buried with Christ in the tomb, your sinful nature was drowned, although temptations may come, sin has no power over you, you can live a new life, washed, cleansed, and forgiven. So, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Amen (Titus 3:5, 7)

“No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire.” (Luther)


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4th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 5:6-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, what is it that makes life miserable? Now you might say, “There’s all kinds of things that make life miserable.” Maybe you think not having enough money makes life miserable. But the Bible says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil” and a little later “there was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.” Or, maybe you think, it would be miserable to be sick, to have some health problem. But again the Bible says, “Two are better than one…if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” You see, what really makes life miserable is broken, fractured, strained relationships. You can have great wealth, you can have great health, but be in incredible misery if you have no good relationships. And the opposite is also true. You see, in order to have a good life on earth, everyone really needs to have 3 things: A good relationship with God, good relationships with other people, and opportunities for meaningful service. Look at the Garden of Eden before the fall. Adam and Eve loved God, had a great relationship with God, God would come to the garden and talk with them. Adam and Eve also had a great relationship with other people. Adam first greeted his wife Eve by saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” And their opportunities for meaningful service abounded: rule the world, subdue it, take care of the garden. Everything changed, however, when they disobeyed God. Remember? They hid from God, they were scared of him, they were ashamed. What about their relationship to one another? They’re blaming each other, hiding from each other. And their opportunities for service were totally changed: thorns, thistles, pain and sweat. Where did it all go wrong? It was when they broke their relationship with God.

What about us? What is it that brings misery in your life? I would guess that the great majority of misery in our lives comes from broken, strained, fractured relationships with other people. Maybe it’s with our spouse, with our family, with our siblings, with our parents, with our children, with our coworkers, with our in-laws. There’s pain, there’s history, there’s words we can’t forget, there’s hurtful actions that we still feel, there’s anger, there’s resentment. And all of that makes life miserable and difficult. What we need is reconciliation. But before we have reconciliation with other people, we first need it with God. Our need for reconciliation, the method of reconciliation, the effects of reconciliation.

No matter how bad our relationship with another person may be, it doesn’t even come close to the brokenness of our relationship with our God. Notice that there are four words here in Romans 5 that God uses to describe our relationship with him: powerless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. First, God says we’re powerless. We all like to think of ourselves having some kind of strength, right? Mental, physical, financial strength. Something we can be proud of and boast in. But what does God say? To the world we might think we have something, but to God? We’re powerless, we’re weaklings, we have a total inability to do anything positive in our relationship to God. God also says we’re “ungodly.” That means we were godless, we despised God, we had no respect for God, we would just as well spit in God’s face if we had the opportunity. God also says that we’re sinners. That means people who are failures, people who over and over again fail to meet God’s standard of perfection. And God finally says here that we were His enemies. We were in a hostile relationship with God, our relationship with God could not be any worse than what it was. We desperately need reconciliation with God.

How does it happen? What’s the method of reconciliation? How does reconciliation work in normal human relationships? The word “reconcile” as we are used to means “bringing together again, uniting, bringing two people back to a mutual friendship.” And how does it normally work? You have an offender, the person who was wrong, did something bad, and you have the offended, the person who was wronged. Normally, the way it works in our human relationships is that the person who did the wrong realizes the wrong, is sorry about the wrong, goes to the person who was wronged, pays the price either through words or actions and the person who was wronged reconciles, that is, they accept the apology and the relationship is restored. But in the Bible this term “reconciliation” is a little different. In the Bible the one who does the reconciling is always the offended party, the offender can only be reconciled. In our case God is the offended party, it’s up to him whether or not he’s going to change the relationship between us and him. Literally, the word “reconcile” in the Greek has the meaning of “change.” Something is changed. But it’s not the nature of the person who has changed, it’s not God who has changed, it’s the relationship between us and God that has changed. Also, we notice that in human relationships there’s always a price to be paid, an apology given, something done by the person who has committed the wrong. But that’s not how it is with God. Notice what God says? “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” You see, God acted alone. There wasn’t a spark of good in us that led God to reconcile our relationship. Irrespective of us, God not only took the initiative, but He acted completely alone.

How is this possible? The offense has to be dealt with, sin has to be paid, the punishment has to be given. But what did God do? He sent His own Son, Jesus, who lived a sinless life, suffered the wrath of God on the cross, and died in the place of all people. That changed God’s relationship to the world of sinful people. God’s righteous anger against sin – all sin – was fully spent on Jesus. He suffered God’s full wrath for sin, he bore sin’s full curse as the substitute for the whole world. So there’s only room for God’s grace to people. So, it can never be someone’s sin that condemns them to hell, the only thing that will condemn someone is their rejection of God’s act of salvation on their behalf.

We didn’t change, God didn’t change, in Christ Jesus He changed our relationship to him. Here’s a brief illustration. This was a big thing a number of years ago, someone would change their relationship status on Facebook. Think about what that meant. Neither of the two people changed, their relationship changed. They went from being “single” to “being in a relationship” or “being in a relationship” to “engaged” or “married.” The relationship changed.

And that brings us to the effects of reconciliation. First and foremost, God changed our relationship status, God took us from being sinful, powerless, ungodly enemies of Him and He has made us not just former enemies, not just friends, but His own dearly loved children. In Jesus God has restored the relationship between Him and you. That’s reconciliation. In fact, God’s done that for everyone. 2 Corinthians states that “God reconciled the world to himself in Christ not counting people’s sins against them.” How do you know that you’ve been reconciled to God? He did it for all, therefore he did it for you! Second, your future is glorious. “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.” If, while were enemies of God, He sent Jesus to pay for all our sins, now as God’s children, how much more won’t he make sure we end up in heaven with him! Third, we boast, “we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” That means God fills us with such joy for being his children that we can’t stop talking about what God has done for us.

This has a tremendous effect on our relationships with other people. God has restored our relationship with Him. We were God’s enemies, now through faith in Him we’re His own dear children and heaven is our home. Everything is right between you and God. What is it that makes life miserable? It’s broken relationships with other people. How do relationships get broken? It happens when I think I have the right to be angry with someone because they treated me badly. I heard a pastor once tell this story. He said he used to get so upset with people who were late for appointments and meetings with him. Until something happened. He was supposed to conduct a wedding that he thought started at 7:30, but it really was supposed to start at 7. So, he arrived 15 minutes early only to find out that the wedding had been going for 15 minutes already. He felt awful. Fortunately there was a 2nd pastor involved who took over. Sheepishly he sat in the back tearing himself up- how could he?! On the way out, the couple healed him on the spot, they said, “It could have happened to anyone, we appreciate all the pre-marriage counseling, it helped us tremendously, come to the reception, we won’t bring it up again.”

You see, we’re so tempted to fill ourselves with anger, bitterness, rage, “Look at what he did to me!” But what we forget is what we did to God and what God did for us. We were sinners, powerless, ungodly, God’s enemies, and what did God do? He healed us. He died for us. He reconciled us to him.

When I remember who I was, when I remember what I did to my God and then remember what He has done for me, whatever grievances I may have against someone else, really don’t even compare. And if God could reconcile me to Him, how can I not be reconciled with someone else? Since I’ve been reconciled by God, it’s my job to reconcile relationships as far as it depends on me. If I’ve wronged someone, God wants me to initiate the reconciliation. If I’ve been wronged by someone, God wants me to initiate the reconciliation.  But what if I can’t? What if they’re unwilling? I can’t change them, but I can let go of the hate, the anger, the rage, the malice and always be ready to reconcile. Why so? Because God has reconciled me to Him forever. Amen.